Letter: Truth of the Christmas story and the reality of Hell

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The Independent Online
Sir: It seems that the approach of the end of the year and the Christmas season has led to increased agonising among churchmen regarding the theological basis of Christianity. If this leads to increased questioning of the moral and ethical basis for our actions, it can be only to the good. However, Hugh Montefiore (15 December) appears to be in such a rush to jettison traditional Christian teaching that he distorts the historical basis of Christianity itself. Whether he finds it acceptable or not, the concept of Hell and damnation is not a fundamental Jewish concept, and is in no way based on the relationship of Christianity to older religions, such as Judaism.

I am surprised that he believes the idea of Hell as a place of eternal retribution is related to the derivation of Christianity from its Jewish origins; he would find it difficult to locate any reference to Hell in any part of the Old Testament, except quite elliptically and in a minor key. There is a passing reference to the concept of Satan (literally, 'an accuser') in the Prophets, but this is put forward in a purely allegorical and symbolic fashion.

Many of us from orthodox religious backgrounds who have moved to a more rationalist position would only applaud churchmen such as Hugh Montefiore in their attempt to strip religion to its absolute fundamentals and to emphasise the core concept of the mystical quality of love. However, I am sure that many others will find this a long and difficult road to travel, and it is not helped by misrepresenting the relationship of Christianity to other religions.

Christianity may have replaced the avenging God of the Old Testament with a more 'human' representative, but it also introduced the whole Pauline baggage of sexual fear and medieval eschatology.

Yours faithfully,

ASHLEY GROSSMAN

London, EC1

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