Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters. (Bible, Matthew 12:30)
This statement by Jesus is but one of many passages in the New Testament of the Christian Bible revealing his unforgiving and harsh character. He preached acceptance of degradation, suffering, and torment on this world, promising his followers that the souls of their oppressors would be tortured for all eternity in a gratifyingly ghastly manner!
A fresco on the ceiling of the crypt of a church in Gargilesse-Dampierre, France, depicts Jesus as a stern judge with a sword in his mouth. (photo by Author)
And into whatsoever city or village ye shall enter, search out who in it is worthy; and there abide till ye go forth. And as ye enter into the house, salute it. And if the house be worthy, let your peace come upon it: but if it be not worthy, let your peace return to you. And whosoever shall not receive you, nor hear your words, as ye go forth out of that house or that city, shake off the dust of your feet. Verily I say unto you, It shall be more tolerable for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah in the day of judgment, than for that city. (Bible, Matthew 10:11-15)
Many other passages in the New Testament of the Christian Bible repeat this promise of eternal, horrid torment of the souls of sinners and unbelievers.
And these shall go away into everlasting punishment: but the righteous into life eternal.(Bible, Matthew 25:46)
What a wonderfully comforting concept. Jesus promises divine vengeance upon your unbelieving enemies upon whom you are too weak to revenge yourself! (To the right, you see a photograph from the town hall in Leuven, Belgium, where Jesus is busy tipping one of these loathsome sinners into the firey maw of some horrifying creature from hell (photo by Author).
By believing in the reality of hell, followers of Christianity implicitly accept the principle of divine everlasting torment being applied to evil persons, sinners, and unbelievers. An unspoken gloating belief that their oppressors would be tortured in a suitably horrible manner for all eternity during an afterlife in hell, was almost certainly one of the factors contributing to the initial success of Christianity among the first weak, enslaved, or oppressed followers of this religion.
Many devout Christians believe their view of hell to be the one true explanation. But is this so? Just look at this plate copied from the "Papayrus of Ani", an ancient Egyptian funerary text placed in the coffins of the wealthier deceased persons. This was a book of prayers and instructions for the afterlife dating back at least 2000 years before Jesus lived. Here we see the small figure of the soul of the deceased person standing next to a weighing scale on which his soul is being measured by Anubis, the dog-headed god. Thoth, is the ibis-headed god recording all that happens, as well as consulting a record on which the life of the deceased is recorded. On the righthand side is Ammet, the crocodile headed god whose function is to devour and destroy the souls of those found wanting...."
Move forward somewhat more than 3000 years to the imposing and beautiful cathedral of Saint Etienne in the city of Metz, France. Here again we see the souls of the deceased being weighed, their deeds and liives having been recorded in the book of Saint Peter. and the souls of those found wanting being ushered into the open maw of some hideous dragon or serpent to undergo destruction or hideous torment. The names have changed, but the belief remains the same. Fascinating ... Is it possible that fundamentalist Christians have simply and unknowingly taken over the belief system of the ancient Egyptians?
Part of the tympan on the exterior of the cathedral of Saint Etienne, in the city of Metz, France. (photo by Author)
This concept of eternal punishment of sinners, and reward of the good and the faithful, is deeply rooted in the psyche of all Christians. It has a profound influence on the visionary content of near-death experiences undergone by some people. Indeed, a small fraction of people tell of undergoing near-death experiences very similar to visting the hell promised by Jesus to all sinners and unbelievers. For example, a woman who nearly died whilst having a hysterectomy, once reported this experience to Margot Grey:
I went into St Giles Hospital in London, to have an operation. Sometime while I was under the anaesthetic I became aware that I was hovering above my body looking down at myself on the operating table. I felt very frightened and began to panic. I wondered why I was no longer in my body and thought I must be dead. I next found myself in a very frightening place, which I am sure was hell. I was looking down into a large pit, which was full of swirling grey mist and there were all these hands and arms reaching up and trying to grab hold of me and drag me in there. There was a terrible wailing noise, full of desperation. Then suddenly I found myself rushing back through this dark tunnel and I found myself back in my body in the hospital bed. As I went back into my body it felt like an elastic cord, which had been stretched to its limit and then is let go. I sort of snapped back again and everything seemed to vibrate with the impact. (pages 63-64 in: Grey M, (1985), Return from death. An Exploration of the Near-Death Experience. published by Arkana, London, UK, ISBN 1-85063-019-4)
Scene from hell on the outside of a church in Orvieto, Italy. (photograph by Author)
Another story of a hell-like near-death experience was related by a woman who took a massive dose of valium in a suicide attempt:
As I got drowsy, I remember going down this black hole, round and round. Then I saw a glowing red-hot spot getting bigger and bigger until I was able to stand up. It was all red and hot and on fire. The earth was like slimy mud that sank over my feet, and it was hard to move. The heat was awful and made it hard to breathe. I cried "Oh, Lord give me another chance." I prayed and prayed. How I got back, I'll never know. (page 96 in: Rawlings M, (1978), Beyond Death's Door, published by Bantam, USA, ISBN 0-553-22970-2)
Another hellish near-death experience was reported by a man who suffered two cardiac arrests and had several experiences, most of which were positive, but he also had an experience of hell. He said;
It was really like all the images I had ever had of Hell. I was being barbecued. I was wrapped in tinfoil, basted and roasted. Occasionally I was basted by people (devils) sticking their basting syringe with great needles into my flesh and injecting my flesh with the red-hot fat. I was also rolled from side to side with the long forks that the "devils" used to make sure that I was being well and truly roasted. I wanted to call out but no sound would come, it felt as if my brain or consciousness was buried deep within me and was too deeply embedded for either them to hear or for me even to make it work. I was overcome with the feeling of utter doom and helplessness. (pages 272-273 in: Fentwick P, & Fenwick E, (1996), The Truth In The Light. published by Headline, UK, ISBN 0 7472 4668 8)
Often such hellish near-death experiences have a rational explanation. In this particular report above, the man explained his experience as most likely a delusional interpretation, stating: "Hell has an easy explanation - I was wrapped in a tinfoil blanket, an electric heat cage was put over me, and during that time I was turned several times and innumerable injections were given." (page 273 in Fenwick 1996).
Such are the hellish near-death experiences of Christians. But what about the followers of Asians, or oif followers of Islam? Mohammed, the prophet of Islam, lived from 570 to 632 CE. He revealed that Christian ideas of eternal torment in a life after death were incorrect in many details. The torments of the souls of unbelievers, criminals, and sinners in an Islamic life after death were even more ghastly than described by Jesus, or written in the Christian Bible. For example, revelations of God to Mohammed described that sinners' skins consumed by fire would be miraculously regenerated, enabling these repellent creatures to suffer the torment of fire afresh with new skins full of wonderfully sensitive new nerves.
Lo! Those who disbelieve Our revelations, We shall expose them to the Fire. As often as their skins are consumed We shall exchange them for fresh skins that they may taste the torment. Lo! Allah is ever Mighty, Wise. (Quran 4:56)
As if this were not gratifying enough, the Islamic afterlife provides other improved forms of suitably horrific heavenly chastisement. Jesus was born sometime around 30 BC, and Mohammed was born during 570 AD. This 600 year interlude was evidently filled with feverish research and development activities in hell, during which ever more fiendish torments were devised in expectation of an increased supply of sinners and unbelieving dogs after God revealed his message to Mohammed. We know this because the Quran reveals that God and the denizens of hell, do not only provide everlasting fire, but also offer differing systems of unspeakable torments for sinners, such as: dragging the souls of the damned into hell with manacles and chains (Quran 40:71-72, Quran 73:12, Quran 76:4, beating them with hooked rods of iron (Quran 22:21), showering them with scalding water as hot as molten lead (Quran 18:29, Quran 55:44), giving them festering water to drink (Quran 14:16), or forcing them to drink boiling water while cramming their stomachs with the evil fruits of the Zaqqum tree, the horrid tree of hell (Quran 37:62-68)! In other words, Islam provides for vastly improved methods of eternal torment, whereby differing systems of everlasting suffering can be tailored to the requirements of each type of sinner!
The simple application of eternal torment of sinners for all persons regardless of gender is insufficient for most religions. Women are considered special cases to be treated as intrinsically inferior beings (see website on religious discrimination against women). In general, most religions such as Judaism, Christianity, Asiatic religions and Islam regard women as friendly little creatures, necessary for fun, cooking, and children. However, these religions also consider women as inferior, usually ungrateful, and often sinful. Indeed, the ungrateful nature of women was confirmed by Mohammed who informed his followers that the majority of the inhabitants of hell were women (see also the Sunnah of Bukhari: 62:124-126).
Narrated Ibn 'Abbas: The Prophet said: "I was shown the Hell-fire and that the majority of its dwellers were women who were ungrateful." It was asked, "Do they disbelieve in Allah?" (or are they ungrateful to Allah?) He replied, "They are ungrateful to their husbands and are ungrateful for the favors and the good (charitable deeds) done to them. If you have always been good (benevolent) to one of them and then she sees something in you (not of her liking), she will say, 'I have never received any good from you.' (Sunnah of Bukhari 2:28)
N.B. The above photgraphs are of statues in Sanur, Bali, representing demons tormenting the souls of sinners in some nasty Asiatic religious afterlife. (photographs by Author)
On examining many "hellish" NDEs, together with the exact circumstances under which they occurred, such NDEs are often readily explained as delusory ideation during acute illness. The demons tormenting the persons concerned are often the nurses and doctors treating them, or other attendants. The experience of the man during his second cardiac arrest, and anesthesia are classic examples. But for this type of explanation to be possible, more information aboiut the circumstances is required. This does not mean these experiences are any less profound, because they certainly do have a profound influence upon those reporting them. The religious imagery is a product of the cultural upbrinig of each person. This latter is nothing new, as it is also described in the Tibetan Book of the Dead.
Accordingly, for a Buddhist of some other School, as for a Hindu, or a Moslem, or a Christian, the Bardo experiences would be appropriately different: the Buddhist´s or the Hindu's thought-forms, as in a dream state, would give rise to corresponding visions of the deities of the Buddhist or Hindu pantheon; a Moslem's to visions of the Moslem Paradise; a Christian's, to visions of the Christian Heaven, or an American Indian's to visions of the Happy Hunting Ground. And, similarly, the materialist will experience after-death visions as negative and as empty and as deityless as any he ever dreamt while in the human body. In other words, as explained above, the after-death state is very much like a dream state, and its dreams are the children of the mentality of the dreamer. Ra-tionally considered, each person's after-death experiences, as the Bardo Thödol teaching implies, are entirely dependent up-on his or her own mental content. (pages 33-34 in Evans-Wentz, 1960, "Tibetan Book of the Dead")
And one last remark. Acceptance of the concept of eternal torment for evil and unbelieving persons as being sanctioned by the gods of the afterlife is a disturbing aspect of human character. It implies that most people consider torment of those considered evil and wayward to be very justifiable. After all, if God sanctions torture of the evil and unbelieving, why should we not do the same? This implies that torture of the evil and unbelieving is divinely sanctioned, providing these "loathsome creatures" with a taste of hell on earth before they die!