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Look to the Gospels for Jesus' View of Hell

June 24, 2002

"Hold the Fire and Brimstone" (June 19), regarding "hell's fall from fashion," demonstrates one more time how hard it is to recognize a myth when we do not recognize that we are standing on another one. Religion has always been a product of a culture or cultures, has always been refined by a culture and, no matter how many creeds we create or how many dogmas we demand, culture will continue to influence religion. For God's sake, we can let hell go, at least as a place we might end up in after death. Hell was a creation of the late first- and early second-century Christians who wedded their religion with their Greek culture. The concept of hell was dramatically altered by Christians in the Middle Ages. Most important, it had nothing to do with the Sheol that Jesus may have spoken of in his teaching, as a first-century Jew.

Jesus' authentic teachings were far more concerned about how we live our lives in relationship with God through our love (compassion) for others than about how we avoid some bad place after death. The real tragedy is the way our culture's love for money, power and success has invaded our theology and our churches. The unfortunate teaching of hell and eternal damnation is just another way to maintain that power.

The Rev. Fred C. Plumer

Pastor, Irvine United Church of Christ

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Thank you for your excellent article. I would like to propose that the reason hell's flames are not as frequently fanned from the pulpit is because folks are reading the Bible more and have heard the good news that God is "patient and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love."

This message is what we preachers need to do a better job of announcing to our congregations and to our world.

The Rev. Charles S. Bunnell

Central Lutheran Church

Van Nuys

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It is very broad-minded and considerate of Christian clergy to stop threatening nonbelievers with eternal damnation and burning in hell. I hope other religious leaders will follow their example and stop preaching death to nonbelievers.

Arun J. Mehta

Northridge

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What a disturbing article about hell. The attitudes and beliefs of the quoted church leaders reveal them to be heretics--gutless hirelings catering to the masses.

The reason for the church is to teach the only way to escape from the coming judgment of hell, which is called the Gospel. To not be concerned with the possibility of going to hell is the chief indicator that you are.

Ray Martinez

Long Beach

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