Confucianism, Dante, and hell

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Since I've been writing about the disappearance of hell (here and here), I thought Pyromaniac's Monday menagerie post today was interesting -- he covers a Confucian exhibit he visited, "The Ten Courts of Hell", which graphically illustrates some Confucian teachings on their idea of hell (or perhaps more accurately a sort of purgatory). He writes this about the exhibit:

Here is where several generations of Singaporean parents have brought their children to scare them straight.

As an aside, it's worth pointing out that this isn't why I think hell and God's holiness and judgment are an important part of understanding the Christian message. Rather, as I argued in the comments on the last post, I think we need to understand the punishment we deserve from God, so that we can properly understand what he has done in sending Jesus Christ to die for our sins. And we need also need to understand what we deserve so that we will turn to Christ for salvation, rather than relying on ourselves or thinking we'll earn our own way to heaven.

This business about earning our why to heaven is precisely why I don't think we can scare anyone into heaven by preaching about hell. We can't escape hell by trying to obey God, because as Isaiah wrote, all our righteous acts are like filthy rags. That is, the very best we can do still falls short of what God requires of us, and our motivations are often wrong, as well. We really need forgiveness, not just a scary story. So preaching about hell alone won't make people Christians, but it may be useful in bringing people to recognize their need of salvation in Christ. I know for myself, I never was much concerned about salvation until I realized that I deserved God's punishment for my sins, and that I could never be good enough to earn salvation on my own.

One final aside: The story Pyromaniac describes reminds me a bit of Dante's Inferno. When I was in school, I took a literature class where we read it, and I had to write an essay evaluating it. I forget the exact assignment, but I was able to analyze it from a Biblical point of view. It was an interesting exercise. I ended up disagreeing with Dante on a lot of his theology, but I also appreciated the book, because it's a (vivid) reminder that hell is real, even if Dante had a lot of the details wrong (or at least engaged in quite a bit of speculation).

2 Comments

Just a point of clarification there, Abednego: I don't think Confucianism has any theology of hell at all. Now, I might be wrong, but neither Confucianism nor Buddhism has a theology or a teaching about "Life After Life" When Confucius was asked by his students about heaven, he admited that he did not know. So did the Buddha actually. That's why in my original post, I used the term "Eastern Religions" because it is in Chinese folk religions that hell came into the picture. I wonder if this picture came from early Christians who interacted with the Chinese in the seventh century? I don't know, but the Chinese were very good syncretists.

Bloke,

I don't know, but visit the link -- I really know nothing about Confucianism but I thought Pyromaniac's post was interesting. He does say it's perhaps better described as a sort of purgatory. Anyway, I guess it's possible that as you say that's not part of the original religion, and came along later. But the fact is the Pyromaniac visited this display on hell from a Confucianist perspective...

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