What’s the Word?

                                                           What’s the Word?

                                                              by Al Murdach

                                                                      No. 5   


     This is the fifth of a monthly series exploring today’s meanings and significance of some important religious words from the Christian tradition.  Today’s word is:




     All religious traditions, including the Christian, insist people are responsible and accountable in some way for their thoughts and actions.  In general, modern religionists have abandoned their forebear’s ideas of a coming “Day of Judgment” in which all to be held to account by a deity or supernatural beings and sent either to heaven or hell.  Instead, while religious liberals agree that judgment day is “ a-comin’” for each of us, they see it in social and not mythological terms. 

     In fact regarding judgment, many Christians today appear to agree with the liberal version. With the decline in belief in a literal and physical hell and heaven, most liberally-inclined religious people in the west tend to see judgment at or after death as the opinion of survivors about the deceased person and not as any kind of final supernatural verdict.  In Dicken’s A Christmas Carol, for example, Scrooge experiences true remorse for his hard-hearted ways when he overhears (thanks to the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come) the opinions others express about him just after his death.  That is the judgment he most fears, not some kind of divine condemnation.  Another factor that now diminishes the idea of judgment in liberal religious circles is the growing view (courtesy of the Universalists) that God is too loving to ever condemn anyone to eternal punishment but instead wants all to come to heaven.  As a famous church leader once remarked: “Hell exists but there is no one in it.”     

      This view, however, with its implication that people like Attila the Hun, Jack the Ripper, Hitler, and Stalin will not burn in hell for all eternity but will instead be standing among all the rest of us behind the pearly gates, makes many other people uncomfortable.  Consequently, more conservative religious traditions in Judaism, Christianity and Islam still emphasize a literal reward and punishment scenario at the time of death because it seems more in tune with the idea of “just desserts” for both good and dastardly deeds.  (Even religious liberals, who do not fear a harsh judgment experience at or after death, are not above wishing it upon other people they are not crazy about!)  Therefore, the idea of final, divine judgment will not go away soon because, even though it seems excessive at times, it ultimately seems fair to many people and indicates that even in these chaotic times the “divine policeman in the sky” is still in charge.








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