Why We Need the Language of Hell

I mentioned a few months ago that last fall I got to sit down with Kevin Miller for an interview for his upcoming documentary Hellbound? Keep an eye out as Hellbound? is coming out in a few weeks. Check here for viewings in your area.

Kevin has a post up over at the Huffington Post entitled "Why We Need the Language of Hell." In the piece Kevin wrestles with the religious language of hell and how, even in our modern age, it might be doing important work for us in describing cases of horrific evil and catastrophic suffering. The start of Kevin's essay:
James Eagan Holmes allegedly slaughters 12 people at a movie theater in Colorado. Survivor Stephanie Davies describes the event: "We were laying there, literally in the mouth of hell."

Anders Behring Breivik kills 69 people at a summer camp in Norway. Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg seeks to capture his grief: "It was a paradise of my youth that has now been turned into hell."

A tsunami devastates the Tōhoku region of Japan, killing thousands. Daily Mail reporter Alex Thompson describes the scene as "Hell on Earth."

Two planes hit the World Trade Center in New York City. Brian Williams describes the event 10 years later: "It was a day when hell rained down on earth from the skies and changed all of our lives forever..."

As these and numerous other examples demonstrate, when seeking to describe a natural disaster or manmade tragedy, hell is often the first word that springs to mind. And we don't just use "hell" to describe the event. We also demand it as punishment when human perpetrators are involved.
As a part of Kevin's essay there is some footage from our interview together:

Just a head's up that my footage will be showing up on the DVD in special features video. I'll let you know when the DVD comes out. For now, check out Kevin's article at HuffPost and look for Hellbound? coming to a theater near you.

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6 thoughts on “Why We Need the Language of Hell”

  1. Just watching that video and seeing someone talk about the issue of hell in such a manner (one that almost sounds unfamiliar given the hellfire and brimstone we're used to with evangelicals) reminds me why I read this blog religiously and why I enjoy it spiritually.

  2. Thanks.

    Expanding on the video...

    What I'm trying to do in this clip is connect the language of God's judgment with the pathos of God. In this I'm just borrowing from Abraham Joshua Heschel's work on the prophets. My "contribution," if one could call it that, is the argument that the language of hell in the NT only makes sense when its grounded in the prophetic imagination. For example, this post: http://experimentaltheology.blogspot.com/2011/08/my-heart-is-overwhelmed-universalism.html

  3. Hellbound is bound to stir both discussion and controversy. I'm very glad to hear that you are part of the conversation.

    As a Reformed tradition Christian, decades ago I had what today we call a near-death experience that was so disturbing it knocked me out of anything Calvinist and set my life on an unexpected course. For more than thirty years I have been studying these one-in-five near-death experiences that are not suggestions of heaven, of which a small but highly visible minority are described in terms of hell. From a religious perspective, they are extremely difficult to comprehend and talk about, because NDEs in general and distressing NDEs in particular do not conform precisely to the doctrinal demands of any systematic theology. However, doctrinal or not, such NDEs do keep happening, and to churchgoing and non-churchgoing people alike, who must then find language in which to relate the experience to their lives.

    What Kevin Miller is doing with Hellbound is a welcome opening of a conversation that seriously needs to happen. I am struck by the timing of the film and its website with this week's paperback release of my Dancing Past the Dark: Distressing Near-Death Experiences, an early addition to Miller's website recommended list, which explores the ways in which individuals make meaning of disturbing NDEs. Everyone, Christian, other religious, and secular, will have to struggle with these ideas and their histories; Hellbound offers a highly visible jumping-off place for what is bound to be interesting discussion.

    Nancy Evans Bush

  4. Why not just turn on your TV set where you will find a never-ending supply of visions of "hell". Or the now universal insanity which is now patterning every minute fraction of what we call our "culture".
    TV the now universal idiot/insanity machine which downloads its toxic message into our "living" rooms, and even into our bedrooms.
    How many TV sets or personal computers does the now "normal" USA family have in its house? Each member of the family alone in their own room tuned into their preferred version of the now universal insanity.
    We then wonder how some of our dreadfully sane fellow TV created Zombies ocassionally snap and thereby shoot-up their former work-place, neighbours, or campus.

  5. We missed you at the panel discussion on hell at the Chistian Scholars Conference at Lipscomb in June. Tom Talbot took your position of universal reconciliation.  Jerry Walls defended a very untraditional "traditionalism" involving eternal torment.  I urged conditional immortality -- the view that only the redeemed are given immortality in the resurrection. Meanwhile, since humans depend totally on God for continued existence, those who forever cut themselves off from divine grace,  in the end truly "die"  (Tom 6:23),  "perish"(John 3:16), and are"destroyed" (Matt 10:28),  Richard, see me at  the ACU Summit next month (naybe at the  movie "Hell  and Mr. Fudge" ) and I'll give you a copy of the new popular book, Hell--A Final Word (ACU Press/Leafwood, 2011).

  6. Hi Edward,
    I was so sad to miss that event. How'd it go? I've yet to hear. I'll look for you at Summitt. Love to make your acquaintance! And I'm really looking forward to the film.

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