Before I start, let it be made clear that the following statements are the product of my contemplation on certain issues. I claim not to be necessarily right, and certainly do not claim infallibility in what I write. I may be wrong, I admit. If there be found anything - also in my other posts - which is not in accordance to the teachings of the Holy Roman Catholic Church, then it should be known to all that it is obviously me who would be in error - not the Church - God forbid!
Now we all know that the teaching on the existence of an eternal hell is part of the Christian faith. With Jews, the issue becomes a bit different.
I should perhaps point out that when I speak of the "Jewish" concept in this blog, I shall be speaking of what I would term as "reactionary Judaism". This term I use to describe that community of God's chosen people which - to this present day - reject their own Messiah, Jesus.
Thus I use this term to refer to Jews who believe not in the Lord Jesus Christ.
In reactionary Judaism, hell - or rather Gehenna - is not eternal. It can be understood more along the lines of purgatory: a temporal process of purification of the soul through purgation of all that is evil in one's soul (purgatory is the cleansing from venial sins). Therefore - according to reactionary Jewish thought - no one will be eternally separated from God; everyone goes to heaven in the end: whether he likes it or not.
I was told that it could not be otherwise since the "Torah teaches that all creatures shall return to the Creator".
Before I address the aforementioned statement, I shall give my thoughts on why I find hell to be of necessity:
Heaven and hell are eternal consequences which bear testimony to objective Divine Law. If there is a Law, then there is punishment for its violation. The severity of punishment often affects how seriously we take a certain law or rule.
Now, within theology we have faith in an objective standard for morality. We firmly believe that morality itself is objective - Divinely ordained - and not subjective. Violation of the divine moral code constitutes grave sins.
Just think for a moment about atheism and morality: the notion of an objective, transcendent code of moral law is dismissed. Morality is thus subject to the Zeitgeist. In the system of subjectivism then, one cannot really say that something is truly good or evil. What is deemed evil/immoral by one, could be wholeheartedly accepted and even promoted by another. As each man can create his own "moral truth", this system then renders morality objectively meaningless. As one can twist it to anything one wants, the purpose of morality - which is to uphold that which is objectively good - fades away. It is then by necessity that a moral code is transcendent and objective: we are subject to objective morality, not the creators thereof with the power to arbitrarily alter it.
If morality is subjective, then - objectively speaking - riding one's bike is on par with multiple murder. If instead there exists an absolute and objective moral code, then multiple murder would always be wrong, regardless of one's subjective opinion towards such act.
Why did I even discuss this? I discussed this in an attempt to show that an idea which tries to equate things opposed to each other is intrinsically flawed. Riding a bicycle is not on the same moral level as multiple murder.
How does this connect to the eternity of hell?
Well, let us compare the two theologies:
Christians believe that the righteous shall be with God for all eternity, while the wicked shall be eternally separated from him (by their own choosing).
Reactionary Jews, on the other hand, believe that the righteous and the wicked shall spend eternity together in the presence of God. So an Anne Frank would be in the same place/state as an Adolf Hitler, Heinrich Himmler, Göring, Goebbels, Mao Tse Tung, Stalin, etc. according to reactionary Jewish beliefs.
The difference should be clear here: one position proposes a clear division between what is good and evil, moral and immoral, while the other simply combines the two.
One could argue that the wicked - in the reactionary Jewish concept - are purified of all wickedness after death and thus becomes as the righteous in Paradise. One might even say that this is the same concept as in purgatory, so why even have an eternal hell? It is because of choice: only those souls free of mortal sin can be purified in purgatory for nothing unholy can be in the presence of the Divine. Those souls guilty of mortal sin - a rejection of God's love -cannot be purified in purgatory as they - unlike people guilty of venial sins (most of us are) which only wound our relationship with God - repudiate the relationship with God: a mortal sin is a rejection of God. Therefore, we can conclude that purgatory is not the same as the reactionary Jewish concept of purification; as the former entails man's freedom, while the latter totally dismisses it: all are predestined to heaven regardless of one's own choices.
It is therefore that I say that reactionary Judaism is - in a certain way - similar to Atheism:
Both propose an idea that "all will be sitting in the same boat" after death: be it utter nothingness (see Wisdom 2) or heaven.
I could actually make a list of problematic consequences that follow from the reactionary Jewish understanding of "hell":
1) If all men will eventually end up in the same place/state, then why did God even reveal Himself to mankind?
2) Why did God reveal a Law unto mankind?
3) Why is there given a "chosen people" to be "a light to the Gentiles"?
4) Why is God presented in the Old Testament as being very furious against the enemies of His plans?
5) Why does God punish those who rebel against his Divine Will?
6) Why Divine Revelation, why send prophets, why warn of dangers, why teach against "abominations" and "errors" - if these lead to no serious consequences?
7) Why religion, why faith?
8) Why morality?
9) What would happen to a Jew who one day decides to not only stop practicing his religion and observing the commandments of God, but also starts to work actively against his religion and to blaspheme God? According to reactionary Judaism, he would have to end up in heaven.
10) What of free will?
11) What is this life for when we all end up in heaven? Perverse entertainment perhaps?
I watched a video today wherein an atheist's path to apostasy from his former faith was triggered by a simple statement: "you know what you believe in, but do you also know why?"
Why would God reveal Himself and why would we believe? Neither would have any objective meaning since - in the end - all end up in heaven.
In a way, to suggest that there is no eternal hell, is to suggest a unification of that which is good with that which is evil, of that which is Divine with that which is unholy: this idea renders the concepts of "Divinity" and "unholiness", of "good" and of "evil" objectively meaningless.
In contrast, the Christian believes that we are created by God out of love, to be loved and to love eternally. God being love requires that his creation provides for the possibility of evil - without necessitating evil itself. This necessary consequence is made manifest in man's free will, his freedom to choose either good or evil. And we know that the world is not perfect: creatures - not the Creator - have introduced evil into the world: sin is born. Sin is what misses the mark according to Hebrew thought: something made void of its purpose and its meaning. So to choose evil over good, to choose not love is a sin: as God is love, to sin is to choose a path that deviates from the path of God. It is thus a choice which leads to separation from God. As per Christian understanding, this life is where we learn and then come to - by our lives - show God which path we choose eternally for ourselves: that which leads to Him, or that which leads away from Him. God then respects the choices we made using our free will and grants us what we want most for all eternity: if we have chosen anything above God, then we will be separated from God and given over to that state without love, i.e. hell, which necessarily cannot entail any happiness; if we choose God above all else, then we are eternally with love and thus also with happiness.
Note: we cannot choose to be with God without God's grace. One may understand this as the bond of love emanating from the Creator to His creation. To commit a mortal sin is to choose to oppose this love: it is not a "minor" offense, but a rejection of God Himself: since possibility is part of man's freedom, then one cannot argue that God would simply ignore such freedom all of the sudden. The moment freedom is taken away from our theology, is the moment love ceases to be; it is the moment that we have to ask ourselves about God's existence.
I also think that the material world and the happenings therein reflect aspects of the immaterial, the eternal: if then we are called to a life of holiness in this world, why then should it be totally irrelevant to the outcome of the life to come?
It makes no sense to me.
Christianity eternally separates good from evil, while reactionary Judaism and Atheism lead to an ideology which provides only for one final destination for both the good and the evil.