Seven Hells: An Incomplete Survey of the Afterlife

The Last Judgment by Frederico Zuccaro and Giorgio Vasari (©Corbis)

What are we to make of Hell?

If language is the operating system for the human mind, then we might consider religion a data-management program we install to provide us a certain view of reality. But just as your latest Adobe install may tack on an undesired antivirus program, religion often comes paired with a problematic theology of Hell.

Scare tactics and supernatural revenge fantasies aside, what does it all really accomplish? What sort of faith vitally needs a nether realm of endless rape and torture?

In this article I'd like to look at seven different ways we've come to view Hell. This is by no means a full exploration of Hell theology, but rather a brief overview featuring terrifying works of art. For more, I recommend the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy's entry on the topic and Alice K. Turner's "The History of Hell."

In the end, I hope you'll ask yourself which of the following views works best in your mind -- or if Hell seems an outdated and barbaric belief all together.

About the Author: Robert Lamb spent his childhood reading books and staring into the woods — first in Newfoundland, Canada and then in rural Tennessee. There was also a long stretch in which he was terrified of alien abduction. He earned a degree in creative writing. He taught high school and then attended journalism school. He wrote for the smallest of small-town newspapers before finally becoming a full-time science writer and podcaster. He’s currently a senior writer at HowStuffWorks and has co-hosted the science podcast Stuff to Blow Your Mind since its inception in 2010. In his spare time, he enjoys traveling with his wife Bonnie, discussing dinosaurs with his son Bastian and crafting the occasional work of fiction.