In Christianity, the dominant approach to the doctrine of hell is in terms of punishment. This in turn has been challenged by philosophical criticisms questioning the fairness of condemning one to eternal damnation.
The characteristics traditionally outlining this punishment model involve the following theses (Walls, 1992): (a) Punishment Thesis: Hell exists to punish those whose behavior in their earthly lives warrants punishment; (b) No Escape Thesis: consignment to hell renders it metaphysically impossible to leave the said domain; (c) Anti-Universalism Thesis: there are people who would be consigned to hell; and (d) Eternal Existence Thesis: hell entails unending conscious existence.
The Punishment Model Among those acquainted with the traditional view of hell, the standard argument consists of an appeals to the principle of just punishment, i. e. punishment deserved as not simply a function of harm caused and intended but also of the status of the individual one has wronged (Adams, 1993). As such, all wrongdoing constitutes a wrong against God – this proves to be the most vulnerable point of the argument – as the claim is that people generally do not intend to harm nor defy God when they do wrong (Adams, 1993).
Is there a way out of Hell? ‘Escapism’ according to Buckareff and Plug Andrei Buckareff and Allen Plug (2005) argue that given God’s character and motivational states, it would be most rational for him to adopt an open-door policy so to speak, towards those in hell. In particular, this provision for reconciliation infinite in time would be motivated by God’s parental love for his children. This theory of hell, put forward by the two authors have come to be known as ‘escapism. ’ Their line of argument is as follows: For a God claimed to be a being of love it would logically follow that none of his actions towards his creations would be unjust or unloving.
If God would then not provide opportunities for salvation to those who are in hell, then such action (or inaction) would be deemed unjust or unloving, which is contrary to his claimed nature. Therefore, God provides opportunities for salvation for those languishing in hell. Buckareff and Plug (2005) thus appear to argue for every one in hell as having at least the minimal psychological capacity to accept any offer of reconciliation extended by God. The merits of such a theory are manifold, primarily lying on its being based on the actual world which generally fits moral intuitions.
Escapism thus appears to be unrestricted by the religious evaluation of what is under a person’s control, i. e. its non-commitment to the questionable claim of a person’s having a determinate degree of control, as well as the degree to which it becomes easy or difficult for a person to achieve salvation. Moreover, escapism does not lead to undesirable practical effect of causing humans to judge their fellow men more harshly, simply because it would not have us believe that any bad luck has effectively been cancelled out.
One possible consequence of this theory however, might be to lead to people to believe that there is no longer any need for them to live ‘morally upright’ lives as their fate for eternity would no longer be determined by their religious state at the time of death. Furthermore, it is worth noting that escapism is still subject to the criticism of universalism (as a significant departure from the dominant views of Christianity), though it would not be considered as too ‘radical. Similar to the traditional view of hell, it remains compatible with both the existence of hell and the possibility of its being populated for all eternity, though it does allow for the possibility of escape. The Case for ‘Retribution’ It would appear that ‘Escapism’ as formulated by Buckareff and Plug (2005) collides head on with retributivism, where hell as such is retributive, and its denizens eligible to leave upon exhaustion of their punishment.
Yet this in turn would run counter to the ‘No Escape’ thesis. Moreover, such state of affairs would not be willed by a God who desires reconciliation with his erring children. Thus from the researcher’s point of view, it would seem that applying the concept of retribution to God’s condemning his people to eternal damnation as a form of punishment for human follies committed during one’s lifetime is severely limiting on the nature of a being claimed to be both omnipotent and omniscient.
This posits an irreconcilable break, a dichotomy of sorts, wherein everything is neatly classified into black and white – you were either good or bad while you lived so one is either rewarded in heaven or punished in hell. While one is concerned with meting out justice in terms of giving everyone what they deserve in the afterlife for the way they lived their lives on earth, the other appeals to the merciful nature of God as a being of love.
Retributivism is thus, by its very nature and underlying principles, incompatible with escapism as formulated by Buckareff and Plug (2005). Escapism in its present form is already convincing with its line of argument as such, yet there would always be philosophical skeptics who would challenge it and find fault with its premises and logical soundness. Furthermore, escapism as such is not fully convincing for ultimately, it leads to still a lot more unanswered questions on the nature of God, the existence of hell and the problem of evil.