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Following Faith
Peggy Fletcher Stack
Peggy Fletcher Stack has been producing stories for The Salt Lake Tribune's award-winning Faith section for nearly two decades. Writing about contemporary faith, rituals, and spirituality as well as religion's conflicts and cohesion has always been Stack's passion. Follow her at facebook.com/peggy.fletcherstack, Twitter @religiongal

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Good heavens! No hell? Columnist plays 'devil's' advocate

New York Times columnist Ross Douthat has an interesting column this week on the flip side of bliss: hell.

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His column comes in the wake of the firestorm among evangelicals about the new book by one of their own, preacher Rob Bell. In Love Wins: A Book About Heaven, Hell and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived, Bell suggests there is no hell.

"Even in our supposedly disenchanted age, large majorities of Americans believe in God and heaven, miracles and prayer. But belief in hell lags well behind, and the fear of damnation seems to have evaporated," Douthat writes.

Indeed, a 2008 Pew Forum survey of more than 30,000 Americans found 74 percent of the general population believes in heaven, while 59 percent believes in hell.

Muslims, evangelical Christians and those who attend historically black churches have the highest belief rate — 80 percent to 82 percent — while 59 percent of Mormons and 60 percent of Catholics believe in hell.

The data is in the fine print of the U.S. Religious Landscape Survey.

Hell's "weakening grip," the Times columnist says, is a consequence of growing pluralism and a comfortable society's inability to reconcile a good creator with suffering.

But making God more humane makes human life less fully human, Douthat argues.

"Atheists have license to scoff at damnation, but to believe in God and not in hell is ultimately to disbelieve in the reality of human choices. If there’s no possibility of saying no to paradise, then none of our no’s have any real meaning either. They’re like home runs or strikeouts in a children’s game where nobody’s keeping score."

Kristen Moulton

Copyright 2014 The Salt Lake Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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