Progressives On Judgment and Hell: Part 3, Moral Hallowing

Over the last two posts we've been talking about how many progressive Christians struggle with the language of eternal judgment and hell in the Bible. I've made two points.

First, prophetic speech is natural and ubiquitous among progressives. Consequently, I think progressive Christians are more at home in the moral universe of the Bible than they tend to imagine. 

Second, progressive Christians love Jesus, but Jesus spoke of judgment and hell all the time. Consequently, progressive Christians who want to pattern their life after Jesus need to wrestle with these aspects of his worldview.

Still, even if all these points are granted, I don't think progressives are lining up to hear hellfire and brimstone sermons.

So, how can progressives think about the language of judgment, damnation, and hell in the Bible?

First, I want to set aside biblical and metaphysical issues in this conversation. For example, to go back to Jesus, we can have a long conversation about what Jesus meant by "hell." I, personally, don't think Jesus was talking about eternal conscious torment. I think Jesus was mostly talking about the destruction of Jerusalem. We can debate issues like that.

For this post, I simply want to make a point about why language concerning judgment, damnation, and hell are helpful and necessary.

To state my thesis succinctly, I think the language of judgment, damnation, and hell are examples of what I'll call moral hallowing.

Hallowing, it will be recalled, is setting something apart, recognizing something as holy and sacred. Another way to say it is that hallowing creates an intersection, a point of contact, between Heaven and Earth.

Over the last few years, I've written a great deal about our need for hallowing to give life sacred texture and weight, and how everyone, even atheists, need to do this. Some places and events--births, deaths, marriages, tragedies--need to be set apart in ritualistic ways as sacred and special. Otherwise life becomes an undifferentiated series of meaningless events. Some things need hallowing.

The same thing goes for our moral lives as well. We need moral hallowing.

When we grab a word like "evil" we're engaged in moral hallowing, we're naming something so terrible that it's in a different class. That's a form of "setting apart," hallowing. The same goes when we praise acts of moral heroism and sacrifice. The language of "heroes" is an example of moral hallowing. Heroes are morally "set apart."

In short, whatever the language of judgment, damnation, and hell might be, it is laying a sacred, eternal perspective atop human moral actions. It is moral hallowing, viewing human moral actions sub specie aeternitatis, "from the perspective of the eternal."

Viewing human moral actions sub specie aeternitatis is simply to seek God's view, God's judgment, of human behavior, good or evil.

And here's my point: Everyone does this. Everyone, even atheists, engage in moral hallowing. Everyone evaluates human moral actions sub specie aeternitatis. Everyone cares about God's judgment.

True, we don't all agree on the metaphysics. And the language of Judgment Day and hell can seem antiquated and mythological to many, though even atheists say "God damn it!" and "You can go to hell!" But moral hallowing, if you look for it, is everywhere.

Everyone believes in judgment, damnation, and hell.

This entry was posted by Richard Beck. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply