Do you believe in hell?
Fifty nine percent of Americans do, according to a poll by the Pew Forum. But 74 percent believe in heaven.
In 2001, 71 percent believed in hell, according to a Gallup poll back then.
A recent article on the phenomenon by my friend Charles Honey for Religion News Service included this:
It was easier to believe in hell 20 years ago when missionaries tried to convert people in far-flung places, (Mike) Wittmer (professor of systematic theology at Grand Rapids Theological Seminary) says. In today’s global village, many live next to good, non-Christian neighbors and wonder why an all-powerful, loving God wouldn’t eventually empty out hell, Wittmer says.
“I’ve noticed in the last five years how that view is making inroads even in conservative churches, whereas five years ago it wasn’t even uttered or discussed,” he adds.
Americans’ optimism and tolerance for diversity complements a growing view of God as benevolent, not judgmental, other experts say.
“They believe everyone has an equal chance, at this life and the next,” said Alan Segal, a professor of religion at Barnard College and the author of “Life After Death: A History of the Afterlife in Western Religion.”
“So hell is disappearing, absolutely.”
Another RNS article asked pastors how they teach about hell these days.
Here’s a snippet:
“I think it’s such a difficult and important biblical topic,” said Kurt Selles, director of the Global Center at Samford University’s Beeson Divinity School. “There’s a big change that’s taken place as far as evangelicals not wanting to be as exclusive.”
At the recent annual Beeson Pastors School, Selles led two workshops to discuss “Whatever happened to hell?” He asked how many of the pastors had ever preached a sermon on hell. Nobody had, he said.
“I think it’s something people want to avoid,” he said. “I understand why. It’s a difficult topic.”