The Gospel Truth

Hell’s Bells | January 23, 2013

Hell’s Bells was a phrase that a good friend of my mother-in-law in Charleston, Missouri use to exclaim when she got irritated or excited.

I am not really sure what it means but I always loved the way she said it with her Southeast Missourian twang.

It does raise the question as to whether or not Hell has any bells.

When John Donne wrote his poem No Man is an Island, in 1621 one of his most quoted lines, was For whom the bell tolls.

a universal call

Of course he was not writing of Hell but was referring to the universal call of death.

For the past half century, most intellectual currents of thought in the West have mitigated against the idea of sin.

If there was no sin, then how could an all-loving God condemn His creatures to the flames for eternity?

The Christmas issue of the British publication, The Economist, focused on Hell as its cover story.

For hundreds of years, Hell has been the most fearful place in the human imagination.

It is also the most absurd they said.

To the Economist, Hell is just a medieval relic.

vivid images

It went out with ducking stools and witchcraft.

Philosophically, Jean-Paul Sartre encouraged the idea that Hell is other people.

There may be some truth to that in that some people can often make life a hell on earth for you.

Theologically, even the Vatican now defines Hell as a state of exile from the love of God.

The devils and pitchforks, the brimstone clouds and wailing souls, have been retired to dusty vaults of irrelevance.

For some Hell still fits the description given in the fifth spiritual exercise of St Ignatius Loyola, in which the Jesuit novice, now as in the past, prays for an intimate sense of the pain that the damned suffer: to feel the fire, hear the lamentations, smell the brimstone, taste the tears.

a purging fire

Most cultures have their underworlds—Egyptian Amenti, Jewish Sheol, Purgatory—in which the spirits of the dead gather, are judged, and purify themselves for other lives or life in Heaven.

For fundamentalists, new and old Hell is a torture-place for the damned in which they are flayed or eaten alive, disembowelled or impaled on stakes, either for incalculable ages or actually for ever.

Yet the fire of Hell wasis—no ordinary fire. First, it needed no fuel, and second, it did not consume what it burned. Hell-fire, though it could melt both stars and mountains, did not eat away the damned, for that would have ended their torments; it simply raged and hurt.

The Great Divorce is a work of theological fantasy by C. S. Lewis, in which he reflects on the Christian conception of Heaven and Hell.

Monochrome head-and-left-shoulder photo portrait of 50-year-old Lewis

a theory on purgatory

Lewis’ title refers to the  The Marriage of Heaven and Hell, which was a book by the English poet William Blake, written between 1790 and 1793, in the period of radical foment and political conflict immediately after the French Revolution.

Blake’s title is an ironic reference to Emanuel Swedenborg‘s theological work Heaven and Hell published in Latin 33 years earlier. 

 Swedenborg’s conventional moral structures and his Manichean view of good and evil led Blake to express a deliberately depolarized and unified vision of the cosmos in which the material world and physical desire are equally part of the divine order, hence, a marriage of heaven and hell.

a marriage made in hell

Unlike that of Milton or Dante, Blake’s conception of Hell begins not as a place of punishment, but as a source of unrepressed, somewhat Dionysian energy, opposed to the authoritarian and regulated perception of Heaven.

In the most famous part of the book, Blake reveals the Proverbs of Hell.

These display a very different kind of wisdom from the Biblical Book of Proverbs.

Their purpose is to energize thought. 

The road of excess leads to the palace of wisdom.

The tigers of wrath are wiser than the horses of instruction.

When we first moved to St. Louis in 1969, an old friend from New York was visiting his transplanted folks in Kirkwood. 

His name was Charlie Burns...that’s with an S. J.

He had just been ordained a priest and I had known him since my old Sodality days at Holy Cross.

That few days we visited was one of the most remarkable in my early memories of St. Louis.

He was so vibrant, alive with the grace of God’s love.

He told me all the standard Jesuit stories that in his first two weeks he had heard every sin in the book, except suicide in the Confessional.

He also told me that as Catholics we have to believe there is a Hell but we do not have to believe that anyone is in it, except Lucifer and his band of rogue angels.

I lose track of him for years, only to see and read about his serious travails with the Church.

In the early 80s, he had gotten into an unwinnable argument with some of the most powerful figures in the Roman hierarchy, including a certain German Archbishop.

Pope Benedict XVI, Ratzinger

Charlie’s target

Charlie had publicly challenged the Archbishop in a My Turn column for Newsweek Magazine over the Church’s failure to address the world’s AIDs problem.

Push came to shove and the Jesuits kicked him out of the order.

I don’t know what happened to Charlie other than life had become a living Hell for him.

Hell, real or unreal is a scary place.

It has probably the one fear that has caused me the most anxiety over the course of my life.

It is this fear that has led me to be self-manipulating and seeking to control all necessary and rewarding intrusions on my person, including medical ones without trusting in God’s will and grace.

As I continue to get older, I think about this a lot more.

As my love for God intensifies and my ability to t rust myself to his saving  more to his love and grace increases, I don’t see how He could allow so many billions of his flawed creation to lose him for all eternity.

Purgatory to me has become the most logical and creditable of all the Church’s  teachings on morality, sin and forgiveness when taken in connection with its teachings on original sin.

a reasonable teaching

To see God imperfect man must be purefied…but maybe not by a punishing fire but an enlightening love.

I have also come to believe that this temporary state is not one of pure physical punishment but one of a loving guidance that challenges the soul to see the errors of his or her lives.

In Lewis’ book, the narrator inexplicably finds himself in a grim and joyless city, the ‘grey town’, which is either hell or purgatory depending on how long one stays there.

He eventually finds a bus for those who desire an excursion to some other place (and which eventually turns out to be the foothills of  heaven).

Although the country is the most beautiful they have ever seen, every feature of the landscape (including streams of water and blades of grass) is unyielding solid compared to themselves: it causes them immense pain to walk on the grass, and even a single leaf is far too heavy for any to lift.

I tried writing a play on Purgatory, which I called For the Love of Dickens.

I chose a NYC subway train for my version.

The saved were required to ride the city’s vast system, reading the Great Books about life and love and so on.

While I did create some interesting characters, the main character was, to put it frankly, boring.

It was during one of my regular massages with Lena about 18 months ago that it dawned on me that if she could literally push the pain out of my back and lower extremities with her heavenly touch, why could not an angelic therapist do the same for the residue of sin, guilt, sorrow, weakness and so on?

Massage Therapy Massage-Therapy.jpg

a perfect metaphor

I think it is theologically correct and I hope it inspires many people to start thinking about what happens next!

For a synopsis of this play, and an entire scene please check my post:

Or if you would like to read the whole thing, just use my e-mail address:

GABY’S PEOPLE is scheduled for its first public  reading at Big Daddy’s restaurant (2nd fl) (771-3066) at 1000 Sydney St., through the auspices of the First Run Theater Group.  The date is Monday night February 4th at 6:30. For information please contact:

First Run Log

First Run Theatre
314-865-1296;  (Mario)





  1. I do recall my mom saying: “Hells Bells.” I think it was
    kinda like: “Oh Heck!” Much better expression than
    the crude four letter words which are all too common

    It is difficult to believe that anyone deserves eternal
    punishment yet someone who has a deathbed conver-
    sion and is baptized goes STRAIGHT to heaven no
    matter how bad they have been.

    Thinking people do wonder about such things and
    quesstion them.

    Years ago a protestant friend said that he thought
    God had a list of what we do that is good and of
    what we do that is bad and he hoped his list of good
    deeds would outweigh the bad ones – seemed to
    think that would be the way he would be judged.

    Who knows??? We must just trust that God knows
    the hearts of man, his intentions and loves and
    forgives him as we as parents do to our children.

    After all, man is stuck with original sin to start with
    through no fault of his own so he can’t possibly
    be as pure as our Heavenly Mother.

    Did you ever wonder WHY we inherit the sin of
    Adam and Eve but do not inherit our biological
    parents sins? Maybe you would like to write about
    that sometime.

    Recently at our neighborhood rosary meeting we
    got discussing the above – multiple opinions surfaced.
    How about indulgences???

    PS – Interesting comment from a friend some years
    back: Nobody goes to hell because they don’t
    ask to be born!!!


    Comment by MFritz — January 23, 2013 @ 4:05 pm

  2. Good question about biological inheritance of sin. I think what we got from our “first parents” was a universal attraction for that which is not good for us. Similarly we do sometimes do get a predisposition for some evil from our biological parents but there is no sin until we actually act upon that pre-disposition. BB

    Comment by bbprof — January 23, 2013 @ 8:07 pm

  3. Very thought provoking, BB. my husband (before he died) used to say often: “God is merciful and just and its the just part that I worry about. “God gave us a free will which he will never take away and he gave us a church, sacraments, grace, commandments and its up to us (with His grace) to do our best to love Him and our fellowman, repent when we sin and leave the rest to God. Unless you become as little childlren, you shall not enter paradise. TRUST GOD.

    Comment by Mary B. Lachney — January 23, 2013 @ 11:31 pm

    • Profound thought. Hope this finds you well and at peace. BB


      Comment by bbprof — January 24, 2013 @ 2:04 pm

  4. My concept of a purgatory: everything you go through in life which makes you question the value of being alive.

    My concept of hell: When you die you finally figure out that there is nothing more and that the meager rewards pertinent to being alive were insufficient compensation for all the events which made life unworthy of experiencing it.

    The “eternal torment” is that your very last thought ( which considering some of my “extreme experiences” to date might seem to stretch on forever ) gets to be “I’ve been screwed!” rather than “ahhhhhhh”.

    Isn’t that bad enough?

    I’m guessing that the rules for living said to be given to men by a supernatural all-knowing deity and which could lead to “heaven” are really just methods of maximizing the number of experiences which might lead one to have the last thought “ahhhh” seeming to stretch on eternally rather than the “I’ve been screwed” thought.

    Isn’t that good enough?

    Comment by James Stenzel — January 30, 2013 @ 7:29 am

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About author

After graduating from Holy Cross, Bill Borst earned an MA in Asian History from St. John's University and a Ph.D in American History from St. Louis University. (1972) A former New Yorker, he taught for many years in the St. Louis area, while also hosting a weekly radio show on WGNU from 1984-2006. He currently is a regular substitute for conservative Phyllis Schlafly on KSIV radio. (1320) He is the author of two books on social history, "Liberalism: Fatal Consequences," and "The Scorpion and the Frog: A Natural Conspiracy." He just retired as the Features editor of the Mindszenty Foundation Monthly Report. In his 11 years from 2003-2013 he wrote nearly 130 essays on Catholic culture and world affairs. Many in St. Louis also know him as the "Baseball Professor," because of a course that he offered at Maryville College from 1973-74. It was arguably the first fully-accredited baseball history course in the Midwest.The author of several short books on the old St. Louis Browns, he started the St. Louis Browns Historical Society in 1984. In 2009 his first two plays were produced on the local stage. "The Last Memory of an Ol' Brownie Fan," ran six performances at the Sound Stage in Crestwood and "A Perfect Choice" ran for two performances at the Rigali Center Theater in Shrewsberry. His third play, "A Moment of Grace," ran six performances at DeSmet High School in January of 2011with First Run Theater in January of 2011. He is currently working on a 4th play, "A Family Way," which is a comedy about a happy dysfunctional family. He can reached at







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