Holy Week seems like an appropriate time to ponder the existence of hell, something I stopped believing in decades ago.

It was harder to let go of the idea of hell a century ago.  Some seemed to think that there had to be a hell if there was to be a heaven.  Others thought the threat of hell was needed to maintain social order.  Such people didn’t like John Emerson Roberts when he started preaching against dogma.

Roberts was a successful Baptist preacher until some questioned his orthodoxy.  He may have believed his congregation agreed with him when he made statements like these in 1884:

Why do you punish your child?  To save him from greater wrongs and greater punishments.  Is not God our Father?  . . .”Whom he loveth, he chasteneth”

Against the theory of endless punishment, the universal moral sentiment stands unitedly arrayed.

But this did not satisfy his congregation.  In the end he said, “hell begins where sin begins, and is where sin is.  hell is no postponed catastrophe; it is here now.”  And the congregation cancelled his contract.  For more on John Emerson Roberts see the Books page.

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