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Atheists may still experience everlasting bliss


Is there a modern version of hell that avoids the medieval image of demons thrusting the souls of the damned into hellfire? Indeed there is. In Catholic circles, hell is defined as an eternity spent in the absence of God.

Priests reassure those of the faithful for whom the idea of hell is a stumbling block, that, though it is part of the Catholic faith, there is no requirement to believe there is one single soul in it. Hell is logically necessary because it is possible for someone to turn down the offer of everlasting bliss by devoting their life to evil.

The Bible reserves its starkest threats of hell for those who oppress widows and orphans, and employers who deprive workers of their due wages. According to the Jesuit theologian Karl Rahner, those who don’t, whether atheists or followers of other faiths, may be regarded as “anonymous Christians”. They have the right values but the wrong beliefs. On dying, they will receive God’s mercy.

As for hell – one does rather hope the likes of Hitler are somewhere getting their just deserts. But if he really is in hell, he got there entirely by his own efforts.