The Problem of Hell

In this concluding section of the course, we ask how we should deal with experiences of Hell on earth. Human beings sometimes do barbaric and unimaginable things to each other. Over our “Century of Hell” alone, consider such events as the Armenian genocide, the Holocaust, the communist extermination campaigns in Russia, China, and Cambodia, and the atrocities in Bosnia and Rwanda. It is hard to imagine that anyone among us can find the appropriate words to express the meaning and the gravity of these atrocities.

How should we respond, both as citizens and fellow human beings, to such acts of systematic evil? One possibility is to accept these horrors as part of the cold reality of life. Another is to make our peace, however reluctantly, with these events in order to create the necessary political conditions for a return to civilization. Still another response is to seek revenge on the evil doers. A final option is to use legal tools and institutions to bring the offenders to justice.

A related issue is how we as individuals should come to terms with these acts. As you know, this is a major theme in Christianity. But, our options often depend on our circumstances. First, if someone hurts us, we could demand retribution or we could practice forgiveness. Second, there is the possibility that we are the perpetrators. How should we expect our victims to deal with us? Finally, how can we come to an inner peace with our own offenses?

Image IX. Terrorism: “It was Hell on earth”

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”(Matthew 5:43)

27. Tuesday, November 30

The Essay Question for your Final Exam will be around HERE


Image X. Torture and Injustice: “To hell and back . . . ?”

“Forgive them Father, for they do not know what they are doing”
(Luke 23:34)

28. Thursday, December 2

Discussion: Practicing Hardnosed Indifference versus Caring for Others and Forgiving Ourselves

  • William Bole, “Forgiveness Makes the Future Possible”


  • CBS Reports: “Prisoner Abuse at Abu Ghraib”: SKIM
  • Department of Defense: “Report Faults Intelligence Soldiers at Abu Ghraib”: READ
  • Sworn Statements by Detainees at Abu Ghraib (These are graphic documents. Read only as many as you need to gain a basic impression of the issues.)
  • Abu Ghraib photos (These are graphic photos. Again, look at only as many as you need for a basic impression.)

29. Tuesday, December 7

Discussion:  Would a seminar entitled “Ten Images of Heaven in the Twentieth Century” be possible?

30. Thursday, December 9:  OPEN DATE

NOTE:  Please leave your technology at home. This includes electronic devices of any kind, such as laptops, i-Pads, cell phones, Kindels, video cameras, or other personal digital devices.