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Church of England Commission Says Hell is Same _ Only Different

January 17, 1996

LONDON (AP) _ A Church of England commission has rejected the idea of hell as a place of fire, pitchforks and screams of unending agony, describing it instead as annihilation for all who reject the love of God.

``Whether there be any who do so choose, only God knows,″ said a report by the church’s Doctrine Commission, titled ``The Mystery of Salvation.″

Rejecting the medieval vision of the underworld, the report said: ``Christians have professed appalling theologies which made God into a sadistic monster and left searing psychological scars on many.″

The report, released last week, said belief in everlasting punishment has steadily faded.

``There are many reasons for this change, but amongst them have been the moral protest from both within and without the Christian faith against a religion of fear, and a growing sense that the picture of a God who consigned millions to eternal torment was far removed from the revelation of God’s love in Christ,″ the report said.

``Hell is not eternal torment, but it is the final and irrevocable choosing of that which is opposed to God so completely and so absolutely that the only end is total non-being.″

That is much like the definition of hell in the catechism of the U.S. Episcopal Church: ``eternal death in our rejection of God.″

Both churches are part of the Anglican Communion but go their own ways on doctrine _ for example, the Episcopal Church moved first to ordain women as priests.

The catechism of the Roman Catholic Church says that ``the chief punishment of hell is eternal separation from God,″ but it also holds that the damned ``suffer the punishments of hell, `eternal fire.‴

The Very Rev. Tom Wright, dean of Lichfield Cathedral and a member of the Doctrine Commission, said its definition of hell was not new.

``Indeed, it was a kind of mediating position, as you might expect in classic Anglican style,″ he said in an interview.

``Because on the one hand, these days there are lots of people within Anglicanism who would want to be some kind of universalist and say, well, anyway, God is going to save everybody,″ he said.

``On the other there is a strong conservative (group) _ probably just a minority _ who would say it is eternal torment, punishment and fire and all that stuff.″

A Gallup Poll last March found that 24 percent of Britons believe in hell _ as many as believed in reincarnation. About half believed in heaven and 60 percent believed in God. The poll had a margin of error of about 3 percentage points.