In his famous “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” sermon, Puritan preacher Jonathan Edwards attempted to literally “scare the Hell out of” his listeners, including the children in the audience. (See the earlier NonDante entry Fiery Blast from the Past.) But the impact of his message on young minds and hearts may well have paled in comparison to the “educational” efforts of John Furniss (1809-1865), an Irish Catholic priest. Furniss was head of an orphanage, and he wrote material for church education programs used in England and Ireland. He is most notorious for a little booklet titled “The Sight of Hell.” Consider how this material is described by Furniss’ church superior in giving it his endorsement:
I have carefully read over this Little Volume for Children and have found nothing whatever in it contrary to the doctrines of Holy Faith; but, on the contrary, a great deal to charm, instruct, and edify our youthful classes, for whose benefit it has been written. –William Meagher, Vicar General, Dublin, December 14, 1855
See if you agree that the cheery phrase “to charm” applies to these excerpts below from Furniss’ work. These excruciating details were provided to “edify” children so that they would know exactly what fate would await them in Hell if they didn’t follow the Roman Church’s teachings.
Come into this room. You see it is very small. But see, in the midst of it there is a girl, perhaps about eighteen years old. What a terrible dress she has on—her dress is made of fire. On her head she wears a bonnet of fire. It is pressed down close all over her head; it burns her head; it burns into the skin; it scorches the bone of the skull and makes it smoke. The red hot fiery heat goes into the brain and melts it…
You do not, perhaps, like a headache. Think what a headache that girl must have. But see more. She is wrapped up in flames, for her frock is fire. If she were on earth she would bev burnt to a cinder in a moment. But she is in Hell, where fire burns everything, but burns nothing away.
There she stands burning and scorched; there she will stand for ever burning and scorched! She counts with her fingers the moments as they pass away slowly, for each moment seems to her like a hundred years. As she counts the moments she remembers that she will have to count them for ever and ever.
Charming, isn’t it? But this was only one of many examples Furniss vividly described for the benefit of his young students. Here’s anothr.
The Third Dungeon—The Red Hot Floor
Look into this room. What a dreadful place it is! The roof is red hot; the floor is like a thick sheet of red hot iron. See, on the middle of that red hot floor stands a girl. She looks about sixteen years old. Her feet are bare, she has neither shoes nor stockings on her feet; her bare feet stand on the red hot burning floor. The door of this room has never been opened before since she first set her foot on the red hot floor. Now she sees that the door is opening. She rushes forward. She has gone down on her knees on the red hot floor. Listen, she speaks! She says; “I have been standing with my feet on this red hot floor for years. Day and night my only standing place has been this red hot floor. Sleep never came on me for a moment, that I might forget this horrible burning floor. Look,” she says, “at my burnt and bleeding feet. Let me go off this burning floor for one moment, only for one single, short moment. Oh, that in the endless eternity of years, I might forget the pain only for one single, short moment.” The devil answers her question: “Do you ask,” he says, “for a moment, for one moment to forget your pain. No, not for one single moment during the never-ending eternity of years shall you ever leave this red hot floor!”
But of course these examples were both of young teenage girls. Perhaps Furniss wishes to imply they “deserved” their punishments, perhaps for seducing innocent young men to fornication, or some other heinous crime.
Surely, surely he didn’t include small children in his “charming” tales of Hell.
The Fifth Dungeon—The Red Hot Oven
You are going to see again the child about which you read in the Terrible Judgment, that it was condemned to Hell. See! It is a pitiful sight. The little child is in this red hot oven. Hear how it screams to come out. See how it turns and twists itself about in the fire. It beats its head against the roof of the oven. It stamps its little feet on the floor of the oven. You can see on the face of this little child what you see on the faces of all in Hell—despair, desperate and horrible!…
This is a “little child” who stamps his “little feet.” No, Furniss excused no one from being the brunt of his charming stories.
This child committed very bad mortal sins, knowing well the harm of what it was doing, and knowing that Hell would be the punishment. God was very good to this child. Very likely God saw that this child would get worse and worse, and would never repent, and so it would have to be punished much more in Hell. So God, in His mercy, called it out of the world in its early childhood.
What an astounding assertion! Deliberately causing a little one to die in “early childhood,” and then confining him in the afterlife to a “red hot oven” where he will consciously burn forever, is evidence of the “mercy” of God!
One must really ponder what sort of “very bad mortal sins” a child of three or four … perhaps even two … could have premeditated and committed!
Here is another kind of oven–one used at the Dachau concentration camp to incinerate the bodies of Jews and other prisoners.
But even the Nazis, although they did cause great suffering and death, did not choose to use ovens such as this one to torture their victims, even for a short time! People were not put into Hitler’s ovens alive. How astonishing that many believe that God is far more cruel than Hitler’s Henchmen were. For of course Furniss has not been alone in his teaching that the vast majority of mankind from throughout history, up to the present day, have been consigned to just such a fate. It is a common teaching throughout most Protestant and Catholic Churches.
Most preachers in the 21st century just aren’t inclined to be quite as blatant or as graphic in their descriptions as Furniss was. But if questioned closely, most will admit that they believe in Hellish torments just as hot and just as eternal as that described by Furniss. And that indeed it will be the permanent “home” of many young women who died at sixteen or eighteen, who will be in excruciating pain for “an endless eternity of years.”
The fact that the Bible does not teach this doesn’t change the fact that most churches do.
The reality is that the doctrine of an ever-burning Hell, where the unsaved—the vast majority of all mankind who ever lived, according to most Christian groups—are perpetually tortured with unimaginable suffering throughout eternity, is not just a fringe doctrine that can be swept under the rug, or put on a shelf, or otherwise hidden from sight and ignored. It is, in one way, the centerpiece of a debate to define the very nature of God.
This NonDante blog is aimed at clearly establishing—through a lively examination of history, popular mythology, theology, and the Bible—the problems inherent in this doctrine. It is a primary goal of this blog to bring the full horror of this doctrine into sharp focus. Only when Christians can examine this doctrine in the clear light of day, with sound reasoning, and consider BOTH sides of the debate, will they be able to form a truly informed opinion on what the Bible actually says on the subject.