Sunday, May 04, 2008

Forever and a day

One of the stock objections to hell is that hell is unfair—unfair because the punishment is out of proportion to the crime. It inflicts an infinite punishment on a finite crime.

Actually, I’m not at all sure that the damned are entitled to fair treatment. Suppose a man was a grifter in this life. He made his living cheating widows out of their life-savings. Seems to me that it would be quite appropriate if God treated him as unfairly as he treated others.

However, that’s not the primary point I wish to make. We’re told that hell is unfair because the duration of hell is infinite. I don’t think that’s correct, but I’ll pass on that for now.

Suppose, for the sake of argument, that time, or future time, constitutes an actual infinite. That’s really irrelevant to the justice of hell, for the issue is not the ontology of time, but the psychology of time.

Even if time were infinite, our experience of time is finite. We don’t experience time all at once. Rather, we experience time moment by moment.

There was a time before I was born. But I have no experience of that timeline.

I experience my own past, but only incrementally. And once it’s past, I only remember it. Indeed, I only remember a fraction of my past.

I don’t experience the future ahead of time. I must wait to experience the future. I experience the future incrementally.

My direct awareness of time is severely limited. Limited to the present. And not even the entirely of the present. For my experience of time is also delimited by where I am at the time. If, at present, I’m in Seattle, then I experience a sliver of Seattle, not New York or London or Paris or Rome.

My indirect awareness of time is severely limited. Limited to what I remember or anticipate.

Time seems to pass because we remember time. If my short-term memory and my long-term memory were shot, I’d only be conscious of the instantaneous present.

As we also know from experience, our perception of time depends on what mood we’re in. Sometimes it seems to inch along, at other times it seems to zoom by.

Sometimes we look forward to the future. At other times we dread the future. The worst thing about hell may be the hopelessness of hell. It never gets better. It just goes on and on.


  1. I always saw the solution as being that the unregenerate were thrown in hell for their finite sins, and they stayed in hell because they kept on sinning without end.

  2. Saint and Sinner: If this is right you wouldn't be saying that the sins deserve an infinite punishment. That understanding of hell is not the one that I object to.