Putting hell first: cruelty, historicism, and the missing moral theory of damnation

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Recent work on the morality of hell spans the various subdisciplines of theology, with the ironic exception of theological ethics. An adequate defence of hell requires a positive account of how God’s eternally tormenting some humans is beautiful, just and worthy of worship. This suggests a short-term and long-term task. The short-term task, which this article pursues, tests whether an adequate moral theory is available by evaluating three possible candidates, the third of which is the most interesting, as it offers a historicist defence of hell: we believe hell is cruel only because of aversions to cruel and unusual punishment that emerged in modernity. Nonetheless, all three defences are inadequate, suggesting a longer term goal: we need either better moral theories or better accounts of hell, as well as greater analytic clarity regarding theological statements of the form, 'I want doctrine y to be true but believe doctrine x is true'.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-19
Number of pages20
JournalScottish Journal of Theology
Issue number1
Early online date25 Jan 2016
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2016


  • Hell
  • Universalism
  • Ethics
  • Punishment
  • Voluntarism
  • Cruelty
  • Anselm
  • History


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