(To see Cal Grondahl’s cartoon that goes with this post, click here.) I like the Mormon definition of hell. It’s called Sons of Perdition, which to me has always sounded like a sequel to the Laurel & Hardy film “Sons of the Desert.” We keep the criteria for Sons of Perdition very vague. To get in there, someone has to fight against the gospel while having a clear knowledge of the truth. That sort of closes the gates of Mormon hell to everyone who has lived on earth except for Cain and Judas, and maybe Harry Reid (just joking on that last name.)
What hell is like is an obsession for a lot of us out there. My brain is fried from watching a bunch of southern evangelical films of the early 1970s from the late Ron Ormond, who went from making cheap science fiction films in the 1950s, to making tame “adult” films in the 1960s to make “hell, fire and brimstone” cracker evangelical films in the 1970s.
Dig these titles: “The Burning Hell,” “The Grim Reaper,”(with a young, buttery Rev. Jerry Falwell!) and “If Footmen Tire You What Will Horses Do?” (The last one also includes commies as well as Christian-haters). It’s easy to ridicule these films. They basically have the same plot: Some people, mostly young, scorn Christianity and the warnings of real, burning hell that resembles Jonathan Edward’s “Sinners in the Hands of An Angry God.” One of the unbelievers has the bad luck to die — usually in a wreck. The camera then lingers lovingly for scores of minutes on the eternal tortures and miseries of the good old boy(s) who were earlier scorning God. Eventually, one of the unbelievers who is still alive wanders into a church. He listens to a Southern-fried preacher (in two of the films the preacher is played by a real preacher, the delightfully named Estus W. Pirkle). The climax of the film involves the disbeliever being so swayed by the Reverend Pirkle, and so afraid of hell, that he/she is born again and saved. It’s too late for the dead sinners, though, they keep burning forever.
The idea of the hell envisioned by Ormond and Pirkle still carries a lot of strength. The “Left Behind” series of books, which has sold 70 million-plus copies, imagines a post-Rapture where millions are consigned to a burning hell after prolonged suffering on earth. Today’s Islamic radicals consider the victims of their terrorism as “infidels,” and consign them to an eternal hell of suffering. And I recall watching a feature film on one of the SLC area TV evangelical channels, “Final Exit,” in which a woman murdered by a serial killer burns eternally in hell due to her promiscuous lifestyle. Her killer, however, due to a pre-execution conversion to Christ, is welcomed into heaven.
These depictions of hell, and what some people believe God will do to his children, are appalling. It is an evil doctrine, in opposition to God’s love for his children and, in regards to Christianity, it also mocks the suffering of Jesus Christ. This point merits expansion. Though Mormons are taught that Jesus Christ suffered far more in the Garden of Gethsemane than on the cross being crucified, the traditional viewpoint is that Christ’s, or God’s, atonement was achieved in part through the pain he experienced being crucified.
However, in these movies a mortal’s post-earthly existence in hell is forever, which includes eternal suffering, usually by burning, that of course never ends. The obvious question: why would God wish his children to suffer more pain than Christ himself suffered on the cross? To take this doctrine is to worship a vengeful God, the opposite of love and charity.
The absoluteness of this doctrine is evil. If one does not accept Christ in the same manner of someone else, that individual is consigned to an eternal punishment in hell. Taken to its absurd conclusions, the vengeful God that hell-believers worship would consign to eternal torture an infinite amount of devout Mormons, Jews, Muslims, Seventh Day Adventists, Buddhists, and so on, who reject the entreaties of those who see only a narrow passage to heaven and a vengeful God punishing those who don’t “dot their i’s or cross their t’s.”
To sum up, to teach of any ‘hell’ with endlessly burning sinners is evil. This doctrine hangs around still (has anyone been to an evangelical “hell house” for Halloween?) and it will always hang around. But as time goes, there are less adherents fooled, frightened by it.
(If anyone wants to watch those bizarre, hysterical evangelical southern cracker films from Ron Ormond and the Rev. Estus W. Pirkle, they’re available on that repository of culture, YouTube. ”The Grim Reaper” is here and “The Burning Hell” is here. “If Footmen Tire You What Will Horses Do is here. The far worse, 1995 “Final Exit,” is here. They are, literally, a trip.)