Finding Hell in the Oddest of Places

by Peter Morrow

Hell. It isn’t a doctrine we rush to discuss, and that is a good thing – we ought to fear Hell, and we ought to weigh our words carefully. Without a serious understanding of Hell we risk undermining the doctrine of the cross, the wrath of God, the magnanimity of grace and the import of our forgiveness.This ‘quick thought’, however, is not a précis on the doctrine of Hell, nor is it primarily an apologetic defence of the doctrine of Hell; it is, rather an observation based the defence of a form of eternal punishment found in the secular, scientific community.

The article, ‘Enhanced punishment: can technology make life sentences longer?’, was published on the University of Oxford Practical Ethics blog and makes for an interesting read. In the article Rebecca Roache argues not only for “the mainstream view of punishment in the UK legal system and in every other culture I can think of… retributive punishment”; but also for ways in which the severity of such punishment might be increased in certain circumstances (“how can we ensure that those who commit crimes of this magnitude are sufficiently punished?”)

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And what is particularly curious about this is that her suggestions do not relate merely to an increase in the length of sentence; rather, she argues on the basis of scientific and technological advancement – specifically, “lifespan enhancement”, “mind uploading”; “altering perception of duration” and “robot prison officers”. The details are easily accessed by reading the original article; but what is significant about each of them is that the punishment given is to be thought of as both “unpleasant” and potentially interminable.

Key phrases highlight this:

“life imprisonment could mean several hundred years rather than a few decades”…

“uploading the mind of a convicted criminal and running it a million times faster than normal would enable the uploaded criminal to serve a 1,000 year sentence in eight-and-a-half hours”…

“Our emotional state can influence our perception of how quickly time passes…”…

“the worst criminals (could be) sent to special institutions designed to ensure their sentences pass as slowly and monotonously as possible”

and, intriguingly, none of this is necessarily inhumane…

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Finding Hell in the Oddest of Places – Saints and Sceptics


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