ORIGIN OF THE DOCTRINE OF ETERNAL PUNISHMENT
DOCTRINE OF ETERNAL PUNISHMENT
Origin of the doctrine of eternal punishment – Arguments in support of eternal
punishment – Physical impossibility of eternal punishment – The doctrine of eternal
punishment has become obsolete – Declarations of Ezekiel against eternal punishment and
1. The belief in eternal punishment is losing ground so rapidly, from day to day, that the gift of
prophecy is not needed to enable us to foresee its extinction at no distant time. It has been combated
by arguments so powerful and so unanswerable that it seems almost superfluous to trouble ourselves
with disproving a fallacy that is dying out of itself. Nevertheless, we cannot close our eyes to the fact
that this doctrine, in spite of its declining influence, is still the rallying-point of the adversaries of
progress, the article of their creed which they defend most obstinately, precisely because they feel it to
be its most vulnerable aspect, and because they perceive how dangerous a breach its fall will make in
the theological edifice. Regarded from this point of view, the doctrine in question may still be held to
merit serious examination.
2. The doctrine of eternal punishment, like that of a physical Hell, was useful while the
intellectual and moral backwardness of humankind required that they should be held in check by the
fear of incurring the doom thus held up before their imagination. While they remained at too low a
point of advancement to be efficaciously acted upon by the prospect of merely moral suffering, it is
evident that they would have been as little restrained by the idea of any merely temporary punishment;
and it is equally evident that they would have been incapable of comprehending the justice of
graduated and proportionate penalties, because they could not have appreciated the various shades of
right or wrong action, or the relative importance of either extenuating or aggravating circumstances.
3. The nearer humans are to the primitive state, the more closely they are allied to materiality;
for the moral sense is precisely the faculty of the human mind, which is the last developed. For this
reason, they could only form to themselves a very imperfect idea of God and of God’s attributes, and
an equally vague conception of the future life. They molded their idea of the Deity upon themselves.
For them, God was an absolute sovereign, all the more formidable because invisible, like a despotic
monarch who, hidden within his palace, never allows himself to be seen by his subjects. Having no
conception of moral force, they could only conceive of God’s power as being of a physical nature;
they imagined God wielding the thunderbolt, moving in the midst of lightning and tempests, and
scattering ruin and desolation around Him after the fashion of earthly conquerors. A God of love and
of mercy would not have seemed to them to be a God, but a feeble being unable to secure obedience.
On the contrary, implacable vengeance, chastisements the most terrific and unending were quite in
harmony with the idea they had thus formed to themselves of the Divinity, and offered nothing
repugnant to their minds. Being, themselves, implacable in their resentments, cruel to their enemies,
pitiless for the vanquished, it appeared to them perfectly natural that God, whose power was superior
to their own, should be still more implacable, cruel and pitiless than themselves.
For the influencing of such human beings, a religious belief in harmony with their rude and
violent nature was necessary. A religion of spirituality, of love and of charity, would have been
impossible with the brutality of their usages and passions. The Draconian legislation of Moses, which
represented the Divine Being as a jealous and revengeful God, scarcely sufficed to keep within bounds
a stiff-necked people committed to his charge; the gentle doctrine of Jesus would have awakened no
echo in their hearts and would have been powerless to influence their action.
4. In proportion as the spiritual sense of humankind has become developed, the veil of
materiality has become less opaque, and human beings have become better fitted to understand
spiritual things; but this change has only taken place very gradually. At the time when Jesus came
among them, it was possible for him to proclaim a merciful God, to speak of his “kingdom” as not
being “of this world,” to say to men and women, “Love one another,” and “Return good for evil;”
whereas, under the Mosaic Law, God was represented as sanctioning the principle of revenge summed
up in the dictum, “An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth.”
What, then, was the state of the souls who were living upon the Earth at the time of Jesus?
Were they souls who had been newly created and were then incarnated for the first time? If so, God
must have created in the time of Jesus, souls of better quality than those that God created in the time of
Moses. But, if that were the case, what has become of those earlier-created souls? Have they been
condemned to languish forever in the brutishness of the primitive era? Simple common sense suffices
to show us that such a supposition is untenable. No; the souls incarnated upon the Earth, in the time of
Jesus, were the same souls who, after having lived here under the empire of the Law of Moses, had
gradually acquired, in successive existences posterior to that period, a degree of development
sufficient to enable them to understand a teaching of a higher nature, and who, at the present day, are
sufficiently advanced to be able to receive the still higher teaching now being given by Christ’s
command, in fulfillment of his promise.
5. At the time of Christ’s appearance, it was impossible for him to reveal to humanity all the
truth in regard to their future. He says, expressly, “I have many things to tell you, but you could not
understand them; and I am therefore compelled to speak to you in parables.” In regard to all points of
morality, that is to say, all the duties of all human beings to their fellows, his teaching was explicit,
because, as those duties refer to the relations of daily life, he knew that men and women would be able
to understand him; in regard to all other matters, he confined himself to sowing, under the form of
allegory, the germs of the truths that were destined to be developed at a later period.
The nature of future rewards and punishments was one of those points which were thus left by
him in abeyance. He could not inculcate, especially in regard to future punishment, ideas so
diametrically opposed to those held by men and women of his time. He came to trace out new duties
for the human race, to inculcate charity and the love of one’s neighbor in place of the spirit of hatred
and of vengeance, to substitute abnegation for selfishness, and such a change was, in itself, immense;
he could not have gone farther without weakening the dread of the punishment in store for
wrongdoing, because it would have weakened the sanction of duty in the minds of his hearers. He
promised the Kingdom of Heaven to the righteous; that kingdom was, consequently, closed to the
wicked. Whither, then, did the wicked go? It was necessary to suggest an antithesis to the idea of
“Heaven” of a nature capable of impressing a salutary terror on minds still too much under the
influence of materiality to be able to assimilate the idea of spirit-life; for it should not be forgotten that
Jesus addressed his teachings to the multitude, to the least enlightened portion of the society of his
day, and that, in order to act upon the minds of those around him, it was necessary to present to them
images that should be palpable and not subtle. He therefore abstained from going into details that
could not have been appreciated in his day; he contented himself with holding up the opposite
prospects of reward and of punishment; and this was all that he could usefully do at that period.
6. While Jesus threatened the wicked with “everlasting fire,” he also threatened them with
being thrown into “Gehenna;” but what was “Gehenna?” A place in the outskirts of Jerusalem, into
which all the filth and rubbish of the city was habitually thrown. If we take the statement of
“everlasting fire” as being a literal truth, why should we not also take the statement about being
thrown “into Gehenna” as equally literal? No one has ever supposed the latter statement to be anything
else than one of the energetic figures employed by Jesus to strike the imagination of the populace; why
should we give a different interpretation to the “fire” with which he threatens the guilty? If he had
intended to represent their subjection to that “fire” as eternal, he would have been in contradiction with
himself in exalting the goodness and the mercy of God; for mercy and inexorability are contraries that
mutually annul each other. The whole teaching of Jesus is a proclamation of the goodness and mercy
of the Creator; and it is therefore evident that it is only through an entire misinterpretation of his
utterances that the latter can be held to sanction the dogma of eternal punishment.
In The Lord’s Prayer, he tells us to say, “Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who
trespass against us;” but, if the trespasser against the Divine law had no forgiveness to hope for, it
would be useless for him or her to ask for it. But is the forgiveness thus alluded to by Jesus as a
certainty, unconditional? Is it an act of grace on the part of God, a pure and simple remission of the
penalty incurred by the transgressor? No; for the obtaining of this forgiveness by us is made
conditional on our having forgiven; in other words, if we do not forgive, we shall not be forgiven.
Since God makes our forgiveness of trespasses against ourselves the absolute condition of God’s
forgiveness of our trespasses against God, God could not demand of weak humankind to do that which
God, with God’s almighty power, refused to do; and the teaching of The Lord’s Prayer is therefore a
standing protest against the doctrine which attributes eternal and implacable vengeance to God.
7. For men and women who had but a confused notion of the spiritual nature of the soul, there
was nothing absurd in the idea of a region of physical fire, especially as there was a common belief in
a Pagan Hell, universally divulged; nor was there, in the idea of punishment prolonged throughout
eternity, anything calculated to shock the feelings of those who had been subjected, for centuries, to
the penal code of stern and terrible Jehovah. As employed by Jesus, the threat of “everlasting fire”
could only be metaphorical. What did it matter that this metaphor would be understood literally, for a
time, if it was useful as a curb? He foresaw that time and progress would bring humankind on towards
a comprehension of the true meaning of this allegory, and according to his prediction, “The Spirit of
Truth” should come to enlighten humankind respecting “all things.”
The essential characteristic of irrevocable condemnation is its implication of the inefficacy of
repentance; but Jesus never said that repentance could fail to find favor in the sight of God. On the
contrary, he always represents God as clement, merciful, and ready to welcome back the returning
prodigal to the spiritual home. He never shows God as inflexible excepting to the unrepentant sinner;
but even while insisting on the certainty of the punishment that awaits the guilty, he holds out the
prospect of forgiveness as soon as the wrongdoer shall have returned to the path of duty. Such,
assuredly, is not the portrait of a pitiless God; and it should never be forgotten that Jesus never
pronounced an irremissible sentence against anyone, not even against the most wicked.
8. All the primitive religions, in accordance with the character of the peoples among whom they
took their rise, have made to themselves warrior-gods whom they supposed to fight for them at the
head of their armies. The Jehovah of the Hebrews furnished the “chosen people,” on innumerable
occasions, with the means of exterminating their enemies; Jehovah rewarded them by giving them
victories and punished them by allowing them to undergo defeat. Conformably with their idea of God,
the primitive nations imagined that such a God was to be honored and appeased by the blood of
animals or of human beings; hence the sanguinary sacrifices that have played so prominent a part in so
many of the religions of antiquity. The Jews had abolished human sacrifices; the Christians,
notwithstanding the teachings of Christ, believed, for many centuries, that they honored the Creator by
giving up thousands, of those whom they styled heretics to tortures and to the stake, thus continuing,
under another form, the traditions of human sacrifices, for such were really the atrocities in question,
since, according to the received formula, they were perpetrated “for the greater glory of God,” and
with an accompaniment of solemn religious ceremony. Even at the present day, nations that call
themselves “Christian” invoke “the God of Armies” before the battles and glorify this God after their
victories; and they do this even when the purpose of their fighting is as unjust and as antichristian as
9. How slow is humankind in getting rid of its prejudices, of its habits, of its early ideas! We are
separated from Moses by forty centuries, and yet our Christian generation stills retains traces of the
usages of his barbarian time, consecrated, or, at least, approved, by the religions of our day! To put an
end to the use of the stake, and to give currency to a more just idea of the true greatness of God, has
required all the force of the opinions of the non-orthodox, of those who are considered as heretics by
the Church. But although the stake has been abolished, social and moral persecutions are still in full
vigor, so deeply rooted in the human mind is the idea of a cruel God. Filled with the notions that have
been instilled into them from their infancy, men and women naturally see nothing strange in the
statement that God, who is represented to them as being honored by barbarous deeds, should condemn
human beings to eternal tortures, and behold, without pity, the sufferings of the damned.
Yes, it is the philosophers, those who are qualified as “impious” by the Church, who have been
scandalized at seeing the name of God profaned by being associated with deeds unworthy of God’s
goodness; it is they who have presented to humanity a nobler idea of the greatness of the Divine
Being, by stripping away from that idea the passions and pettiness attributed to God by the
unenlightened beliefs of the primitive ages. The religious sentiment has thereby gained in dignity what
it has lost in external show; for, while there are fewer devotees of ecclesiastical formalities, there are a
greater number of men and women who are sincerely religious in heart and feeling.
But, besides the latter, how many are there who, going no deeper than the surface, have been led
to negation of the idea of Providential action! Through its failure to harmonize its doctrines with the
progress of the human mind, the Church has driven some to Deism, others, to absolute unbelief,
others, again, to Pantheism; in other words, it has driven humankind to make gods of themselves, for
lack of any higher ideal.
ARGUMENTS IN SUPPORT OF THE DOCTRINE OF ETERNAL PUNISHMENT
10. To return to the dogma of eternal punishment, the principal argument invoked in its favor is
It is admitted, among humankind, that the heinousness of an offence is proportioned to the
quality of the offended party. An offence committed against a sovereign, being considered as more
heinous than it would be if committed against a private person, is therefore punished more severely.
God is greater than any earthly sovereign; since God is infinite, an offence against God is infinite also,
and must consequently incur an infinite (that is to say, an eternal) punishment.
Refutation. The refutation of any argument is a reasoning that must have a definite starting-
point, a basis on which it rests, in a word, a clear and stable premise. We take, as our premise the
necessary attributes of God, that is to say, the attributes without which God could not be God.
God is unique, eternal, immutable, immaterial, all-powerful, sovereignly just and good, infinite
in all God’ s perfections.
It is impossible to conceive of God otherwise than as possessing the infinity of God’s
perfections; were God otherwise, God would not be God, for there might be some other Being
possessing the quality, which God lacked. In order for God to be above all other beings, God must
necessarily be such that no other being can surpass or even equal God in any respect. Consequently
God must be infinite in all God’s attributes.
The attributes of God, being infinite, are not susceptible of increase or of diminution; otherwise,
they would not be infinite, and God would not be perfect. If the smallest particle were taken from any
of God’s attributes, God would no longer be God, for there might be some other being more perfect
The infinity of a quality excludes the possibility of the existence of any quality that is contrary
to it, and which would be capable of annulling or of lessening it. A being that is infinitely good cannot
possess the smallest particle of wickedness, any more than a being that was infinitely bad could
possess the smallest particle of goodness; just as no object could be absolutely black if it had the
slightest tint of white, or absolutely white, if it had the smallest speck of black.
This basis and starting point being laid down, we oppose, to the proposition brought forward
above, the following arguments:
11. It is only an infinite being that can do anything infinite. Humankind, being limited in its
virtues, in its knowledge, in its power, in its aptitudes, in its terrestrial existence, can produce only that
which is limited.
If humankind could be infinite in what it does amiss, it could also be infinite in what it does
aright, and, in that case, it would be equal to God. But, if humankind were infinite in what it does
aright, it would do nothing wrong, for absolute goodness is the exclusion of all evil.
On the other hand, even if it were possible to admit that a temporary offence against the
Divinity could be infinite, God, if God sought revenge by the infliction of an infinite punishment,
would be infinitely vindictive; if God were infinitely vindictive, God could not be infinitely good and
merciful, for the former attribute is the negation of the others. If God were not infinitely good, God
would not be perfect; and, if God were not perfect, God would not be God.
If God were inexorable towards the repentant sinner, God would not be merciful; if God were
not merciful, God would not be infinitely good.
Why would God impose on humankind the law of forgiveness, if God did not also forgive? If
such were the case, it would follow that men and women who forgave their enemies and returned good
for evil would be better than God, who remains deaf to the repentance of the weak creatures that have
sinned against God, and who refuses to grant to those creatures, throughout eternity, the slightest
mitigation of the torments which their weakness and their inexperience have brought upon them!
God, who is everywhere and sees everything, must see the tortures of the damned. If God
remained insensitive to their groans throughout eternity, God would be eternally devoid of pity; if God
were devoid of pity, God would not be infinitely good.
12. To this argument it is replied that the sinner who repents before dying experiences the pity
of God, and that, consequently, the very greatest sinner may find favor in God’s sight.
This is admitted on all hands, and it is but reasonable to assume that God forgives only those
who repent and that God remains inflexible towards the unrepentant; but, if God is full of pity for the
souls who repent before quitting their fleshly bodies, why should God cease to be so for those who
repent after death? Why should repentance be efficacious only during an earthly lifetime, which is but
an instant, and inefficacious throughout eternity, which has no end? If the goodness and mercy of God
are circumscribed within a fixed time, they are not infinite, and, if such is the case, God is not
13. God is supremely just. The most perfect justice is neither that which is utterly inexorable,
nor that which leaves wrongdoing uncorrected; it is that which keeps the most exact account of good
and evil, which rewards the one and chastises the other with the most perfect equity, and which never
makes the slightest mistake.
If, for a temporary fault – which is, always, a result of the imperfection of human nature, and,
often, of the surroundings in which the wrongdoer has been placed – the soul were to be castigated
eternally, without hope of forgiveness or of any diminution of suffering, there would be no proportion
between the fault and its chastisement, and, consequently, no justice in the chastisements of the future.
If those who have committed evil retrace their steps, repent, and demand of God to be allowed
to make reparation for their evil deeds, this change of mind constitutes a return to virtue, to rectitude
of feeling. But if the castigation of the other life were irrevocable, such a return to virtuous sentiments
would remain sterile; and as, in that case, God would take no account of their desire for amendment,
God would not be just. Among human beings, convicts who repent and amend obtain a commutation
of their punishment, or, sometimes, even a full pardon; so that there would be more equity in human
jurisprudence than in the penal code of the Divinity!
If the sentence passed on the sinner were irrevocable, repentance would be useless, and the
sinner, being shut out forever from virtue, would be forcibly doomed to remain in evil; so that God
would not only condemn the sinner to suffer forever, but would also compel such a one to remain
forever in wickedness. But, in that case, God would be neither just nor good; in other words, God
would not be God.
14. Being infinite in all things, God must know all things, past, present, and future; and God
must therefore know, at the very moment when God creates a soul, whether or not that soul will go
widely enough astray to incur eternal damnation. If God does not know, God’s knowledge is not
infinite, in which case God is not God; if God knows, and voluntarily creates a being that God foresees
to be doomed, from its beginning, to the endurance of eternal misery, God is not good.
If God can be touched by the repentance of the soul that has incurred the penalty of its
wrongdoing, and can extend pity to that soul and take it out of Hell, there is no such thing as eternal
damnation, and the doctrine which inculcates that idea must be admitted to be of human invention.
15. The doctrine of eternal damnation, therefore, leads inevitably to the negation or the
lessening of some of the attributes of God; it is irreconcilable with the infinity and perfection of those
attributes, and we are, consequently, forced to the following conclusion:
If God is perfect, there can be no such thing as eternal punishment; if eternal punishment exists,
God is not perfect.
16. The advocates of eternal punishment bring forward the following argument:
“The rewards accorded to the good, being eternal, must have their counterpart in an eternity of
punishment. Justice demands that the degree of punishment should be proportioned to a similar degree
Refutation. — Does God create a soul with a view to rendering it happy or to rendering it
unhappy? Evidently, the happiness of the creature must be the aim of its creation, as, were it
otherwise, God would not be good. The soul attains to happiness as the consequence of its own
worthiness; that worthiness once acquired, its fruition can never be lost by the soul, for such a loss
would imply degeneracy on its part, and the soul that has become intrinsically good, being incapable
of evil, cannot degenerate. The eternity of happiness of the purified soul is therefore implied in its
But, before attaining to perfection, the soul has to wage a long struggle, to fight many a battle
with its evil passions. God having created the soul, not perfect – but susceptible of becoming such, in
order that it may possess the merits of its labors – the soul may err. Its lapses from the right road are
the consequence of its natural weakness. If, for a single error, the soul is to be punished eternally, it
might fairly be asked why God did not create it strong to begin with? The chastisement that the soul
brings upon itself, by its wrongdoing, gives it notice that it has done wrong, and should have for effect
to bring it back to the path of duty. If its punishment were irremissible, any desire on its part to do
better would be superfluous; and, in that case, the Providential aim of creation would be unattainable,
since, although there would be some beings predestined to happiness, there would be other beings
predestined to misery. But if we admit that a guilty soul can repent, we must also admit that it can
become good; if it can become good, it may aspire to happiness: would God be just if God denied to it
the means of rehabilitation?
Good being the final aim of creation, happiness, which is the result and reward of goodness,
must, in the nature of things, be eternal; but chastisement, which is only a means for leading the soul
to goodness and to happiness, must be only temporary. The most elementary notion of justice, even
among humankind, suffices to show us that it would be unjust to inflict perpetual punishment on one
who had the desire and the determination to amend.
17. Another argument in favor of eternal punishment is the following:
“The fear of eternal punishment is a curb; if that fear were done away with, human beings
would give free course to all their evil tendencies.”
Refutation — This reasoning would be justified if the non-eternal sins implied the elimination
of any penal sanction. If the happy or unhappy situation in a future life were a rigorous consequence of
Divine Justice, and the future situation of a good individual and a perverse one were equal, there
would be no justice even though it was not eternal; the punishment would, nonetheless, be a torment.
Moreover, the prospect of future punishment and this reality will necessarily be believed in, and
consequently dreaded, in proportion to the reasonableness of the aspect under which it is presented.
The threat of a penalty, in the reality of which human beings do not believe, has no restraining effect
on their action; and the threat of eternal punishment is of this nature.
The doctrine of eternal punishment, as previously remarked, was natural and useful in the past;
at the present day, it is not only inefficacious to restrain humanity from wrongdoing, but it causes
them to disbelieve. Before holding up that doctrine before the eyes of men and women as a necessity,
its advocates should demonstrate its reality, and they should also, as the most conclusive argument in
its favor, show that it exercises a moralizing effect on those who hold it and who endeavor to uphold
it. If it is powerless to restrain from wrongdoing those who say that they believe in it, what action can
it exert over those who do not believe in it?
PHYSICAL IMPOSSIBILITY OF ETERNAL PUNISHMENT
18. We have hitherto combated the dogma of eternal punishment by argument only; we shall
now show that it is in contradiction with positive facts that we have before our eyes, and that it is,
consequently, impossible that it can be true.
According to the dogma we are considering, the fate of the soul is irrevocably fixed at death, so
that death constitutes an absolute barrier to progress. The one question, therefore, which has to be
decided, is this; – Is the soul capable of progress, or is it not capable of progress? On this question the
whole subject must be rested; for, if the soul is capable of progress, eternal punishment is impossible.
And how can we doubt that the soul has such a capability, when we behold the immense variety
of moral and intellectual aptitudes existing among the peoples of the Earth, from that of the most
savage to that of the most civilized, and when we reflect upon the differences presented by the same
people in successive periods of history? If we assume that the souls of a given people, at those
successive periods, are not the same souls, we must also assume that God creates souls at every degree
of advancement, according to some differences of times and places, thus favoring some, while
condemning others to perpetual inferiority; but such an assumption is incompatible with the Divine
justice, which must be the same for all the creatures of the universe.
19. It is incontestable that the soul, in the state of intellectual and moral backwardness that
characterizes the peoples that have not emerged from barbarism, cannot possess the same aptitudes for
enjoying the splendors of infinity as are possessed by the soul whose intellectual and moral faculties
are more largely developed. Therefore, if the souls of barbarians do not progress, those souls can
never, throughout eternity, and even while influenced by the most favorable conditions, enjoy
anything more than the low and negative happiness of the barbarian degree. The conclusion is
consequently forced upon us (if we admit the justice of God), that the souls of the most advanced
peoples are the very same souls that were formerly at the barbarian degree of backwardness, but that
have since progressed; and we are thus brought face to face with the great question of the plurality of
existences, as the only rational solution of the difficulty. We will, however, for the time being, set that
solution aside, and consider the soul in a single lifetime.
20. Let us suppose – what is so often seen – a young man of twenty, ignorant, vicious, denying
alike the existence of God and of the soul, and giving himself up to wickedness of every kind, until he
finds himself placed among new circumstances, and influences, that exercise a beneficial effect upon
his mind. He, then, relinquishes his former habits, enters upon a course of useful study, gradually
surmounts his evil tendencies, and becomes, at length, an enlightened, virtuous, and useful member of
society. Is not the fact of such a reformation – and we witness such reformations every day – a positive
proof of the progress of the soul during an earthly lifetime? The reformed rake, whose moral
advancement we are supposing, dies, at length, full of years and of honors, and no one has the slightest
doubt of his salvation. But what would have been his fate if some accident had caused his death some
forty or fifty years before? At that time he was, in all respects, just in the right condition for being
damned, and all possibility of progress would have been over for him. So that, in such a case, a man,
who, according to the doctrine of eternal punishment, would have been lost forever if he had died
when he was young – which might have happened as the result of some casualty – is saved, simply
because his life has been prolonged. But, as his soul was able to progress during his earthly lifetime,
why might it not have achieved an equal amount of progress in the same length of time after his death
if some cause, independent of his will, had prevented him from achieving that progress at a later
period in his earthly life? Why, then, should God have refused to such a soul the means of progressing
after death? Repentance, though tardy, would have been awakened in this individual in the course of
time; but if, at the very instant of death, his soul had been met by an irrevocable condemnation, its
repentance would have remained sterile throughout eternity, and its aptitude for progressing would
have been neutralized forever.
21. The dogma of eternal punishment is therefore irreconcilable with the doctrine of the
progress of the soul, to which it would constitute an insuperable obstacle. These two doctrines
mutually annihilate each other; if either one of them be true, the other must necessarily be a fiction.
Which of them is the true one? That progress is a law of nature, divine, incontrovertible, and not a
mere theory, is evident; for progress is a fact, the reality of which is attested by experience; and since,
on the one hand, progress exists, while, on the other hand, its existence is irreconcilable with the
dogma of eternal punishment, we are compelled to admit that this dogma is false, and that eternal
punishment has no existence. Moreover, the utter absurdity of such a dogma becomes at once apparent
when we reflect that Saint Paul, Saint Augustine, and half the saints of the ecclesiastical calendar,
would never, if that dogma were true, have been admitted into “heaven,” if they had happened to die
before the occurrence of the various incidents which led to their conversion!
To this last remark it will be replied by some that the conversion of those saintly personages
was a result, not of any progress due to the spontaneous action of their soul, but of divine “grace,”
accorded to them from on high, and by which their conscience was miraculously touched.
But such a reply is a mere trifling with words. If they began by doing wrong, and, afterwards,
took to doing right, their change of action shows that they had become better, in other words, that they
had progressed. Why should such a favor have been granted to them and not granted to everyone else?
Why should we attribute to God a favoritism incompatible with God’s justice, and with the equal love,
which, being just, God necessarily bears to all God’s creatures?
Spiritism, in accordance with the express teachings of the Gospel, with reason, and with justice,
shows us that each soul is the artisan of its fortunes, both during life and after death; that it owes its
progress and happiness to its own efforts, and not to any favoritism; that God rewards its endeavors to
advance in the path of progress, and chastises its negligence as long as it continues to be negligent.
THE DOCTRINE OF ETERNAL PUNISHMENT IS A THING OF THE PAST
22. The belief in the physical nature and eternal duration of the future punishment of the wicked
has maintained its hold on the human mind, as a salutary restraint, during the ages in which men and
women were still too backward to comprehend the force of moral considerations. It has been with the
world, in regard to this belief, as with children, who are held in check, for a few years, by the
chimerical terrors which are brought to bear on them; but there comes a time when the minds of
children has outgrown the empty tales that formerly frightened them, and when it would be simply
absurd on the part of those about them to attempt any longer to influence them by any such means, and
when, if their parents or guardians pretended that those tales were true and were to be accepted and
respected as such, they would necessarily forfeit the confidence of their children.
It is thus with the convictions of humankind at the present day. The human race is passing out of
its childhood and shaking itself free of the leading strings of the past. People are no longer either mere
tools, yielding passively to the pressure of physical force, or credulous children, believing implicitly
whatever is told them.
23. Belief, at the present day, must be based on reason; consequently, no doctrine that is
contrary to reason can continue to maintain its hold on the human mind. The doctrine of eternal
punishment may have been not only harmless, but also even useful, at a given period of human
development; but it has become positively dangerous, now that the period of its usefulness has passed.
When the human mind has acquired the power and habit of reasoning, the attempt to impose upon it,
as the absolute truth, something that is contrary to reason, must necessarily lead to one of two
alternatives; either those whose minds are thus brought face to face with an absurdity wish to believe,
and seek out for themselves a more rational conception – in which case they break loose from their
official teachers – or they throw the very idea of belief overboard, and become skeptics or atheists.
For all who have calmly studied this aspect of the question, it is evident that, at the present day, the
dogma of eternal punishment has made more materialists and atheists than the arguments of all the so-
called philosophers put together.
The course of human thought is always onward. Humanity can only be led by considerations in
harmony with this progressive movement of human ideas; the attempt to arrest this movement or turn
it back, or merely to fall into its rear, while the current continues to flow on, must necessarily be fatal
to the influence of those who make the attempt. To follow, or not to follow, this onward movement of
the human mind is a question of life or death, for creeds as for governments. Is this to be regretted or
to be rejoiced in? Assuredly, it must appear regrettable to those who, living upon the past, see the past
slipping from under them; but, for those whose eyes are turned towards the future, it is the law of
progress, the law of God, against which all resistance is in vain, for those who fight against the Divine
Will won’t succeed.
But why should any person be determined to uphold, by main force, a belief that is not only
dying out from the convictions of humankind, but which, in point of fact, is far more injurious than
useful to the cause of religion? Alas! It is sad to have to make such a confession, but the fact is that, in
the desperate efforts now being made to keep up the doctrine we are considering, the question of
religion is subordinated to the question of pecuniary gain. The belief in eternal punishment has been
made a source of large revenue to those who have inculcated it, because there has been craftily
interwoven with it the idea that men, through the giving of money, can procure for themselves
admission into Heaven, and thus preserve themselves from Hell. The sums that this doctrine has
brought, and still brings, defy all calculation; it is a tax levied on the fear of eternity. This tax being a
voluntary one, its amount proportioned to the degree of belief accorded to the doctrine on which it is
based; if that belief should cease to exist, the tax to which it gives rise would also cease to exist. The
little child, who believes in the existence of the werewolf, willingly gives his cake to the bigger boy
who promises to drive the dreaded visitant away; but when the child has ceased to believe in
werewolves, he keeps the cake for himself.
24. As the new revelation, inculcating more rational ideas in regard to the future life, has made
clear that each soul must work out its own salvation through its own efforts, it has naturally excited an
opposition that is all the more bitter in proportion to the importance of the source of pecuniary gain
which it destroys. The same angry opposition is always excited by every new discovery or invention
that threatens to change the habits of humankind. All those who have been accustomed to gain their
living by the old costly ways of the past, cry out in the same voice, and decry the innovations. Is it
supposable, for instance, that the art of printing, notwithstanding the immense services it was
evidently destined to render to the human race, could have been welcomed, at its commencement, by
the enthusiastic acclamations of the numerous body of copyists? Assuredly not; on the contrary, they
would naturally receive the new invention with curses. All kinds of laborsaving machinery, railways,
and the thousands of other inventions have met with similar opposition.
By the skeptic, the doctrine of eternal punishment is regarded as an absurdity that would be
impossible to discuss without a smile; while, in the eyes of the philosophers, it constitutes, through the
falsities it implies and the abuses to which it leads, a serious danger for society: the sincerely religious
man desires, for the honor of religion and the well-being of society, to see those abuses disappear
through the sweeping away of the unfounded and irrational assumption that is their cause.25
THE TESTIMONY OF THE PROPHET EZEKIEL
AGAINST THE DOCTRINES OF ETERNAL PUNISHMENT AND
25. To those who bring forward, in support of the doctrine of eternal punishment, certain Bible-
texts that may seem, at first sight, to favor that doctrine, we reply that the Bible contains other texts, of
a contrary character, and that are more clearly and decidedly condemnatory of that doctrine. For
example, the following passages from Ezekiel are an explicit denial, not only of eternal punishment,
but also of the condemnation supposed to have been entailed, by the sin of the father of the human
race, on his descendants:
1. The Lord spoke to me again, and said: — 2. How is it that you have among you this parable,
and that you have made of it a proverb in Israel, saying: —”The fathers have eaten unripe grapes, and
the children’s teeth have thereby been set on edge?” – 3. I swear by myself, said the Lord God, that
this parable shall no longer pass among you as a proverb in Israel; — 4. For all souls are mine; the
soul of the son is mine as is the soul of the father; the soul that has sinned, that soul, itself, shall die.
5. If a man is righteous, if he acts according to equity and justice; – 7. If he neither grieves nor
opposes anyone; if he gives back to his debtor the pledge he had received from him; if he takes
nothing from others by violence; if he gives of his bread to the hungry; if he covers with garments
those who are naked; – 8. If he does not lend on usury and receives no more than he gave; if he turns
away his hand from iniquity, and if he renders a just verdict between two men who plead against one
another; – 9. If he walks in the path of my precepts and keeps my commandments, so that he acts
according to the truth: he is righteous, and he shall surely live, said the Lord God. 10. If this man has a
son who is a robber, and who sheds blood, or who does any evil deeds, – 13. This son shall surely die,
because he has done that which is detestable, and his blood shall be on his own hand. – 14. But if this
wicked son has a son who, seeing the evil deeds that his father has done, is seized with fear and takes
good care not to imitate his wrongdoing, – 17. This son shall not die for the iniquity of his father, but
shall surely live. – 18. His father, who had oppressed others by his calumnies, and who had done evil
deeds in the midst of his people, is put to death for his own iniquity.
19. If you say: “Why has not the son borne the iniquity of his father?”, it is because the son has
acted according to equity and justice; because he has kept all my precepts and has practiced them; for
which reason he shall surely live.
20. The soul that has sinned, that soul, itself, shall die: The son shall not bear the iniquity of the
father, and the father shall not bear the iniquity of the son; the righteousness of the righteous man
shall be upon him, and the wickedness of the wicked man shall be upon him.
21. If the wicked man repents of all the sins he has committed; if he keeps all my precepts, and
if he acts according to equity and justice, he shall surely live and shall not die. – 22. I will no longer
remember the iniquity he had committed; he shall live in the deeds of righteousness that he has done.
23. Do I desire the death of the wicked? Said the Lord God; and do I not, on the contrary,
desire that he should be converted, and that he should turn from his evil path, and that he should live?
– (Ezekiel, chap. XXXIII v. 11, and on)