Hellbound?: Theologians (and Others) Consider the Fiery Afterlife

Pope John Paul II made hell briefly unfashionable, but the administration of Benedict XVI has retrieved Gehenna from metaphorical downgrade into the more familiar lake of fire and brimstone—and so the debate on final judgment continues eternally, without cease. In Hellbound?, Kevin Miller, a prolific Canadian documentarian with a preference for religious subjects, has created a forum for those who have thought long and hard on the subject of perdition to have their say. For entertainment purposes, Miller’s film incorporates sideshow visits to the more theatrical earthly interpreters of hellfire, including Fred “God Hates Fags” Phelps’ Westboro Baptist Church (in New York City picketing the 10th anniversary of 9/11), a black-metal concert, and a fundamentalist hell house. More centrally, however, Hellbound? uses extensive interview footage to frame the debate between “narrow-gate” interpreters of Scripture—mostly evangelicals, who seem always to be themselves heaven-bound—and Universalists who see heaven as (potentially, eventually) open to all. To the atheist, the various interpretations might seem like so many angels dancing on the head of a pin, but any admirer of good talk will be impressed by the scholasticism and pulpit-trained oratory here, as well as by some choice fighting words: “Evangelicism in America is what the Pharisees were to ancient Egypt.”