Finding Hell in the Oddest of Places

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Hell. It isn’t a doctrine we rush to discuss, and that is a good thing – we ought to fear Hell, and we ought to weigh our words carefully. Without a serious understanding of Hell we risk undermining the doctrine of the cross, the wrath of God, the magnanimity of grace and the import of our forgiveness.This ‘quick thought’, however, is not a précis on the doctrine of Hell, nor is it primarily an apologetic defence of the doctrine of Hell; it is, rather an observation based the defence of a form of eternal punishment found in the secular, scientific community.

The article, ‘Enhanced punishment: can technology make life sentences longer?’, was published on the University of Oxford Practical Ethics blog and makes for an interesting read. In the article Rebecca Roache argues not only for “the mainstream view of punishment in the UK legal system and in every other culture I can think of… retributive punishment”; but also for ways in which the severity of such punishment might be increased in certain circumstances (“how can we ensure that those who commit crimes of this magnitude are sufficiently punished?”)

And what is particularly curious about this is that her suggestions do not relate merely to an increase in the length of sentence; rather, she argues on the basis of scientific and technological advancement – specifically, “lifespan enhancement”, “mind uploading”; “altering perception of duration” and “robot prison officers”. The details are easily accessed by reading the original article; but what is significant about each of them is that the punishment given is to be thought of as both “unpleasant” and potentially interminable. Key phrases highlight this:

“life imprisonment could mean several hundred years rather than a few decades”…

“uploading the mind of a convicted criminal and running it a million times faster than normal would enable the uploaded criminal to serve a 1,000 year sentence in eight-and-a-half hours”…

“Our emotional state can influence our perception of how quickly time passes…”…

“the worst criminals (could be) sent to special institutions designed to ensure their sentences pass as slowly and monotonously as possible”

and, intriguingly, none of this is necessarily inhumane  –

“Technology, then, offers (or will one day offer) untapped possibilities to make punishment for the worst criminals more severe without resorting to inhumane methods…”

Clearly the secular world has not abandoned the notion of retribution, righteous anger, or suffering for wrongdoing – it is even prepared to think  of an eight-and- ‘working day’  seeming like a thousand years (not an unknown idea); but why not a one month long sentence, or a year long sentence to fit the most heinous of crimes leading to a ‘virtual’ one million years in prison? – for these ideas are now possible.

After all, she raises the idea of “exile” :

“Between sunrise and sunset, then, the vilest criminals could serve a millennium of hard labour and return fully rehabilitated either to the real world… or, perhaps, to exile in a computer simulated world.”

In this scenario a ‘land of eternal youth’ (made possible by science) is not envisioned for all. Such a land retains the concept of justice, expects justice to be done and demands that it is seen to be done. Furthermore, it requires that such justice corresponds to the timescale of eternity enjoyed by the innocent and so provides for a ‘land of eternal punishment’ (also made possible by science).

The Christian doctrine of Hell is often attacked on the basis that it is cruel, unjust and that stands in opposition to love; but Hell it seems, is permissible, as long as we hold the keys to Eternity.

And who among the ‘forever young’ would agree to take the place of those in exile?

Guilty, vile, and helpless we, 

Spotless lamb of God was he, 

Full atonement, can it be?

Hallelujah! What a saviour!


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