Hell is Necessary

It has become unfashionable to talk about the afterlife, particularly the most punishing parts.

by Shadi Hamid at Wisdom of Crowds: I’m thinking about hell (again). What can I say? I find it a particularly compelling topic. No one talks about hell anymore, or at least not much in public debates and political commentary. Which is too bad. I do recall John McCain, with casual yet somehow admirable bluster, shouting out things like “God may forgive you but I won’t.” Is that apocryphal? I’m not sure. I’m looking for it now and it doesn’t seem to exist. Did I imagine it? Either way, it’s a great quote. But, while this some kind of final judgment and therefore presumably the existence of an afterlife, it seems to be more about heaven than hell. John McCain, or someone like him, will give you hell in this life, because you deserve it, but that doesn’t preclude the possibility that God will forgive you in the next.

I was thinking about hell in the context of our surprisingly combative episode with Martha Nussbaum, who I think it is fair to say one of the most important and consequential living American philosophers. There were a number of tense moments in our back-and-forth. One such moment came when I said that many of us are afraid of death because we’re worried about punishment or some kind of limbo phase (which would presumably be nerve-wracking).

She seemed to find my mention of partial or eternal damnation somewhat odd, and in some very real sense it was odd. She responded with the following:

I think nonetheless that religions today think of the afterlife as a source of hope rather than fear. I just wrote a book that’s coming out in the fall about Benjamin Britten’s war requiem. And what’s interesting is the more wrath-filled parts of the requiem mass have now dropped out. No one uses them anymore… They don’t talk about eternal punishment. If you look at the requiem mass for Queen Elizabeth, for example, it’s all about love and togetherness in the afterlife.

More here.