Thursday, July 31, 2014

Eternal Hell with Finite Suffering

In Dante's Purgatorio there is a sense of the flow of time.  This is as it should be, since Purgatory is always thought of as having a finite duration as it will take some time--but not forever--to either pay the debt for certain post-baptism sins or (depending on one's view of Purgatory) to be made completely holy.  In Dante's Inferno, however, the sense of the passage of time is absent.  One gets the sense of eternal monotony.

Maybe he was on to something.  Or maybe not.  But the following view should appeal to certain annihilationists while still (trying!) to remain true to tradition: eternal punishment with a finite experience of that punishment.

Suppose that for the first objective year in hell it "goes by fast," so to speak (think watching a soccer match--it's hell watching sissies fake injuries for two hours but somehow it goes by fast).  The first year of objective punishment one only subjectively experiences the one year as 1/2 a year.  And for year two one only experiences 1/4 of a year....etc.; so one's eternal punishment feels like a year (think Zeno's Achilles and the Tortoise where Achilles completes an infinite series of 1/2 distances in going a finite distance).

Now if justice demands more "time" (for Stalin, Hitler, Nick Saban, SEC fans, et al.) then perhaps the first year feels like 100 years, the second like 50, etc.  The point is just that it seems possible that there could be an eternal punishment that's subjectively experienced as finite.

Here then is a principle (along the lines of Anselm) which might be worth thinking about: any unatoned sin against God merits an eternal punishment, but no sin by a finite person merits that person experiencing a punishment infinitely.  Is there a good argument for that principle?  Not sure.  But it's worth thinking about.

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