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I have listened to the above “Hellbound?” interview in Voice in the Dead Woods website. Overall, I think it was a great interview that introduces the movie documentary which itself analyses how the word “hell” was introduced into the christian religion, and how people can find freedom from such a fear-based religion that attempts to control people with fear.

I learnt from the producer Kevin Miller that the word “hell” may have been borrowed from the northern European religion, and it is unfortunate that the old biblical translations, such as KJV, have mistranslated the Hebrew word “sheol” and the Greek word “Gehenna” which means a valley in Jerusalem. Instead of transliterating these words, the translators have replaced them with “hell”, which distorts the true meaning of what the biblical writers were trying to say.

Jacob Israel said that he has heard stories of visions of hell with horrible images, and he thinks this doesn’t sound like a God of love. My take on such visions is that they have nothing to do with God or christianity, but rather these images are simply a manifestation of a person’s unconscious mind, speaking from a psychoanalytical perspective.

For example, this article shares some interesting facts about dreams, such as:

“Modern studies show that children have more animal dreams than adults. The animal figures that occurred most frequently are dogs, horses, cats, snakes, bears, lions, and mythical creatures or monsters.”

(From “99 Interesting Facts About Dreams“)

The above website also noted that dreams may have been influenced by books or TV shows or movies.

“Various famous authors attribute their classics to dreams. For example, Mary Shelly claimed inspiration for Frankenstein came directly from her nightmares and Robert Lewis Stevenson accredited his classic Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde to the same.

Those who watched black-and-white television as youngsters tend to have more monochrome dreams than children who watched color television.”

(From “99 Interesting Facts About Dreams“)

So if I were to read or hear about some self-professed christians or evangelists or preachers talking about so-called visions of hell, I would simply attribute their visions or dreams to their unconscious mind that manifested some images they might have seen in TV shows or movies, or read about in books.

Additionally, Carl Jung also wrote about the shadow archetype, which can appear in dreams or visions, and may take the form of a monster or demon or dragon and so on.

“The shadow is an archetype that consists of the sex and life instincts. The shadow exists as part of the unconscious mind and is composed of repressed ideas, weaknesses, desires, instincts and shortcomings. This archetype is often described as the darker side of the psyche, representing wildness, chaos and the unknown. These latent dispositions are present in all of us, Jung believed, although people sometimes deny this element of their own psyche and instead project it onto others.

Jung suggested that the shadow can appear in dreams or visions and may take a variety of forms. It might appear as a snake, a monster, a demon, a dragon or some other dark, wild or exotic figure.”

(From “Jung’s Archetypes“)

So, I would say such visions or dreams are simply a neuropsychological phenomenon, and the bible can be interpreted from a psychoanalytical perspective as well, since psychoanalysis has described how ideologies are formed as a result of people’s projection of their unconscious into the conscious world.

Jacob Israel noted that Jonathan Edwards had described vivid images of “hell” in his message “Sinners in the hands of God”, and I would say these images are only a figment of his own, perhaps overactive and stressed, imagination, that could be a result of his repressed emotions such as fears and anxieties from his unconscious mind. This is not surprising perhaps, since he had been subscribing to a fear-based religion during that time.

(From my understanding of the first speaker’s presentation in this video discussion on “The Unconscious in Everyday Life”, psychoanalysis deals with the interior where subjective experiences dwell and the exterior where cultural influences influence the person’s unconscious mind. So I think a person’s unconscious mind is very much influenced by the kind of cultural and/or religious background one grows up in. So, if Edward Jonathan or Kenneth Hagin were born in another place such as India or Tibet, and grew up learning transcendental meditation, I doubt they would be talking about visions of hell; instead, they would probably be talking about visions of Nirvana or paradise.)

Jacob added that Jesus spoke about the kingdom of God as a mystery, and Paul also wrote about types and shadows as allegories, and the use of imagery was found in the writings of King David, Jonah, and so on. He said that “the letter (literal interpretation) kills, but the Spirit gives life”. I agree that the symbols or pictures mentioned in the Bible are meant to be interpreted spiritually or metaphorically.

I noted that Jacob Israel shared that hell could be referring to a mindset, so to speak, that we can let ourselves in or out anytime – it can be seen as a place of ignorance that is a result of Adam and Eve eating from the tree of knowledge of good and evil. According to Kevin Miller, Jesus could be referring to a way of life that is inherently destructive, and such destructive behaviour could be motivated by fear. He said that he believed that all acts of violence are pre-emptive strikes, such that people always acted violently in order to prevent others from being able to strike them. I think such people would have to deal with their own inner fears and brokenness in order to be liberated from them.

Jacob Israel shared that institutional religions often use fear to control people, such as teaching them that if they don’t do something, they would be going to be punished somehow. On a brighter note, he noticed that the pope recently said possibly even the atheists will be saved, so perhaps it is a sign of things to come, where we are starting to learn that if God is love, and the scripture says that love is patient, kind, does not condemn, and does not hold past accounts of wrongs, and perfect love casts out fear, then how does “hell” fit in?

Kevin Miller agreed, saying that the biblical definition of love based on 1 Corinthians 13 contradicts the teaching of a literal hell. So, the garden story could be about how we were originally naked and unashamed, until someone came along and told us how terrible we were and would be tortured, causing us to clothe ourselves with religious activities – which is a symbolic way of saying we have bought into the religious lie that we were separated from God. Believing in such a lie produces self-loathing, and causes people to live in fear and anxiety. On the other hand, love, instead of fear, is the motivator to live with love and peace with oneself and others. Fear-based theology causes people to be paralysed by fear as they are afraid to get things wrong in their lives. However, Jesus came to bring the truth that sets us free from the religious lie of separation and punishment, and free from fear. Thus, God’s plan is restoration, not condemnation. Love restores us to our original true identity which is made of God’s image.

In the second half of the interview, Kevin Miller shared that overall the reception to his movie documentary has been mainly positive so far, with many people thanking him for making such a movie that gives them something to think about and study more. The criticisms he received came from only a minority of people, which claimed he was leading people astray. He said one of the most personally satisfying things is that a lot of mainstream reviewers such as Vanity and New York Times were positive towards the film. I am happy to know this.

Then, Jacob Israel shared that the word “torment” actually means to stir up chemicals or precious metals, which has nothing to do with torture, but rather testing the materials. He added that the word “forever” is “aion” in Greek, which means periodic time, not endless. So the idea behind “tormented forever and ever” is about trying or testing (something) for a period of time until it becomes pure.

Kevin Miller said that the problem with reading the Bible in English is that people tend to read at the surface level and miss the nuances in the original meanings of the words. He added that the Bible is not meant to be read like a legal proposition, like the way people did during the Reformation, but rather to imitate Christ and become more like Christ.

Jacob then asked him whether there should be an end to forgiveness according to the Bible, and Kevin answered no, since Jesus taught people to forgive 7 x 7 times, which is idiomatic for endlessly. Jacob asked whether God is a hypocrite, and he answered no, so God wouldn’t tell people to forgive their enemies and yet doesn’t forgive his own enemies. He also agreed that the scripture says God finished his creation in victory.

Kevin noted that there are a number of universalists who sees “hell” as a kind of purgatory, and ultimate reconciliation will eventually occur, and this view was held by some early universalists too. However, he doesn’t subscribe to this view, and neither does Jacob, who does not believe that God would create such a place, so the literal hell does not exist. I agree with that too.

Jacob then asked “if a literal hell does not exist, what is it that we need salvation from?” Kevin said that we have to go back and ask “what is the primary predicament of humankind, and how did Jesus become the only way to solve that problem?” According to him, the problem is ultimately we are self-centred and self-destructive because we are the only creatures who are aware that one day we are going to die. This creates anxiety and fear, and we have been trying to find some ways to transcend death either figuratively or literally. At the centre of christianity is God’s coming in the flesh and he died on the cross and defeated death, so we are free now to live as one with Christ without fear of death. Jacob agreed, saying we are saved from ourselves, our ego, and the lies we believe. He said the devil is the father of lies, and the demons represent false beliefs that kept us in fear, whereas the truth casts out fear.

Kevin shared that he hopes those who are christians would relook at what and why they believe, and what kind of effect their beliefs have on their lives, and whether their lives are the best interpretation of their theology – whether they are exclusive or inclusive and whether they tear down our build up people. He added that since God is perfect love and not self-centred, then self-sacrificial love is part of God’s nature. Humans are the ones who demanded blood sacrifice and vengeance, which is part of the religious mindset, whereas God does not want human sacrifice. Indeed, as Jesus said, he desires mercy, not sacrifice. God is after social justice, not murder. I also noted in the closing moments of the interview that Kevin is working on his next upcoming movie about “Violence and the sacred”, in which he will be exploring the questions of “why are we religious?”, “why are we violent?” and “can we be religious without being violent?” This reminds me of Rene Girard’s scapegoat theory based on mimetic desire.

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