I’m hoping to get more substantial posts on the pragmatics of hell up soon, but for now, a–somewhat dated, and quite brief–report, based on her pastoral experience, from Marilyn McCord Adams (author of Horrendous Evils and the Goodness of God and of Christ and Horrors, both of which should be of great interest to many readers of this blog).  This is from a section of Marilyn’s essay, “The Problem of Hell” entitled “The Pragmatics of Universalism,” but what she’s really up to is comparing the pragmatics of universalism with my current topic, the pragmatics of fairly nasty doctrines of hell:

Surprisingly many religiously serious people reject the
doctrine of universal salvation on the pragmatic ground that it leads to moral
and religious laxity. Withdraw the
threat, and they doubt whether others–perhaps even themselves–would sustain the
motivation for moral diligence and religious observance. My pastoral experience suggests, on the
contrary, that the disproportionate threat of hell (see sections 2.2 and 2.3)
produces despair that masquerades as skepticism, rebellion, and unbelief. If your father threatens to kill you if you
disobey him, you may cower in terrorized submission, but may also (reasonably)
run away from home. -Marilyn Adams, “The
Problem of Hell: A Problem of Evil for Christians,” in E. Stump, ed., Reasoned
Faith: Essays in Philosophical Theology
University Press, 1993), p. 325

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