Eternal damnation is an embarrassment to contemporary Christianity. Liberals tend to be universalists, to the extent that they articulate a position at all, and even conservatives generally downplay it, particularly given the hegemony of “seeker-sensitive” worship formats. Today, though, I saw a picture on Twitter of an 8-year-old girl who was shot in the face with rubber bullets by Israeli Defense Forces. As far as I can tell, she’ll be fine, but she easily could have been killed. And my thought was: the person who did that deserves to go to hell. I don’t care if they were following orders or responding to broader systemic forces or what — you have to be pretty far gone and irredeemable if you’re willing to shoot an 8-year-old girl in the face.
I’ve had similar thoughts in the past. Remember when a retail CEO was willing to go to the Supreme Court to keep from paying for his employees’ birth control, and remember when some smug little asshole wrote an opinion piece supporting him? Remember the cop who was indiscriminately spraying pepper spray on Occupy protesters like it was bug spray? Remember when Dick Cheney went on his media blitz to defend torture? Remember how Roger Smith destroyed the community that I was born into by dismantling GM in the pursuit of profit? Remember how Jamie Dimon once said smugly that financial crises are a natural occurence that we should expect every five years? I remember things like that, and each time, I think: damn you. Literally, damn you.
Perhaps the problem with the traditional doctrine of hell was that it was focused on the wrong types of sins. I’d be up for a circle of hell solely for shareholder-oriented management teams or deficit hawks. I’d certainly love to see an entire series of circles for those who defend national security, who secure our borders, who do the ugly but necessary thing. Every head of state should go to hell, and every urban cop who has ever donned riot gear to protect the public from a bunch of idealistic college kids. Every payday lender, every sheriff’s deputy enforcing eviction orders, every Master of the Universe who’s really counting on his bonus this year, every university president who covers for rapists and diverts money from the academic budget into another building — straight to hell.
Surely no one can believe there’s a heaven any longer, but we can at least cling to the hope that there’s still a hell. We need to believe that the powerful can suffer, that they can be humiliated, that they can be made to feel there is no way out. We need to believe that they won’t be able to pay anyone off, that they won’t be able to call in any favors. If there can’t be any hope for us, we can at least hope that one day there will be hopelessness for the destroyers of our hope.