Mind Matters: On hell, and its place in culture

Hell must be a bad place. I know that because individuals angry with me have told me to visit there. 

People talk about the weather being hot as hell. But sometimes we say the weather is cold as hell. Taylor Swift sings about a guy being handsome as hell.

Dante made hell an interesting if unpleasant place in his Inferno. In his hell, one first passes a gate that says: “Abandon all hope, ye who enter here.” 

There are different types of everlasting torture for different types of sins.

Satan is in the worst spot due to his treachery against God. Near him, locked in a frozen lake, are individuals who were treacherous to someone in a special relationship with them.

One example is Cain, who killed his brother, Abel. I don't know whether rolling a prime minister qualifies.

I often show my psychology students a video of a woman talking about her only child, who had developed intractable schizophrenia. She says that she would not need to go to hell to know what it is like.  

Christians, Jews, and Muslims all believe in hell. 

Many dead religions, such as the ancient Egyptian one, included hell for sinners.

But some other religions, such as Hindu, have no hell.

Hell can be a powerful part of a religion, because the risk of going there helps motivate believers to fit their behaviour into the rules of the faith. Hell is the ultimate threatened punishment. 

According to polling, less than one-third of Australians believe in hell.

The trend over time is in the direction of 0 per cent, but I reckon there will always be hell holdouts. 

Pat Benatar sings that “hell is for children.” She thinks children are more likely than adults to believe in hell. I agree. Children believe what they are told.

Some people make fun of hell. AC/DC sing happily about being on the highway to hell. Other people just reject the idea of hell. John Lennon tells us to imagine “no hell below us.”

I believe that there is a sort of hell below us. Go down 2km in a mine shaft, and the temperature will be about 50 degrees Celsius, partly due to radioactive decay in rocks closer to the centre of the earth.

But go deeper than 2km, and the temperature will rise even higher. You won't be singing then.

What are your thoughts about hell? 

John Malouff is an Associate Professor at the School of Behavioural, Cognitive and Social Sciences, University of New England.