Is there really a hell? Should we be good simply to avoid punishment in the life hereafter? Just asking these questions theoretically doesn’t get us far, George F. Dole suggests, but examining the works of someone who has been there may help. Dole refers to Emanuel Swedenborg, the eighteenth-century Swedish scientist and statesman who over the last twenty-seven years of his life had the privileged status of an observer of non-physical worlds, including hell. Swedenborg wrote that we are unconscious residents of the spiritual world as well as the material world, and the hells he encountered have mirrors in our everyday lives.
Within this framework, Dole examines questions about evil and hell that have plagued thinkers for centuries: Do we have freedom of choice? Do our spirits exist after death? Does an all-loving God condemn us to hell? If not, can we ourselves become irredeemably evil? What distinguishes Dole’s approach to these questions is his open-mindedness and his hopefulness. Freedom and Evil brings us face to face with a God of mercy, and it is easy to believe, with Dole, that the gates of hell are not to keep people in but to keep people out.