Skip to main content

EBS43: Heaven, Hell or Hoboken

Eric Butterworth Speaks: Essays on Abundant Living #43

Delivered by Eric Butterworth on August 11, 1975

Download the PDF for Heaven, Hell or Hoboken

Return to Eric Butterworth Speaks

During World War I, many of the troops embarked for Europe from Hoboken, New Jersey. That town became a symbol for home, and the troops longingly referred to “getting back to Hoboken”. Albert Jay Cook wrote in Stars and Stripes that it would be “heaven, hell, or Hoboken before next Christmas Day,” thus reflecting the predictions of individual soldiers that they would be either home or dead, and thus in heaven or hell, by Christmas day. This way of regarding the future prevails today to a surprising degree. Only the other day I heard someone remark that he was going to get to work or die trying. This is a praiseworthy type of dedication but it is poor spiritual psychology. Certainly, life is for living rather than dying. It is also for living abundantly, fully, healthfully, and prosperously.

It is time to take a long, hard look at our concepts of heaven and hell. What I call heaven and hell are not places in time and space. We do not go to them nor are we sent to them. They are simply states of consciousness determining our day to day experiences. About this John Milton wrote, “The mind is its own place, and in itself can make a heaven of hell and a hell of heaven.”

Over the years many fuzzy doctrines of heaven and hell have developed, and most of us have been exposed to some misconceptions in our lifetimes and carry false impressions in our minds. Radhakrishnan, the great intellect of India, wrote this of Christianity: “The doctrine of hell fire is inconsistent with Jesus’ life and teachings. Jesus asks us to forgive our brethren even if they sin against us seventy-times-seven. If He expects us to behave in this way, God cannot be different. There must be something undivine in God if He is responsible for everlasting fire.”

The belief in hell and in a personal force of evil originates, not in the Scriptures but in the primitive beliefs of antiquity. There lurked pervasively in the savage mind the sense of an evil will working behind all people, and this consciousness carried over to some Biblical writers. How can we explain the many Bible references to the Devil?

Certainly, the Devil and God must be opposites, i.e. whatever God is the Devil is not. So, since God alone is, therefore the Devil is not. Since God is being, the Devil is not being. The Devil is what might be called the power of the negative, or the power of darkness; it is only powerful when one is lost in it for want of light.

In the Acquarian Gospel, which some refuse to regard seriously, but which does contain a degree of inspirational material, attributes this statement to Jesus: “The only devil from which man must be redeemed is self, the lower self. If man would find his devil, he must look within; his name is ‘self’. If man must find his saviour, he must look within, and when the demon ‘self’ has been dethroned, the saviour ‘love’ will be exalted to the throne of power. The devil and the burning fires are both the works of man, and none can put out the fires and dissipate the evil one but man who made them both.”

Hell is not a place but a state of consciousness. The Devil is not a creature but a mythical collector of the hidden luxury tax of negative thinking.

The Bible clearly teaches that life is the expression of principle. When man lives in harmony with principle, he experiences a vitality of spirit that works in him as his own joyous life and purity and inspiration. But when through anger or worry or fear or various other negative expressions the laws of principle are disregarded, the mind and body are out of harmony with the principle and the fire of spirit begins to consume the works of ignorance and error. This is the hell fire the Scriptures talk about. This is analagous to electricity. When properly used it blesses us with heat and light and transportation. But if someone disregards its laws they risk unpleasant shock or severe burn.

Two clear examples of the misuse of principle are hatred and anger. Some persons never understand the difference between peace of mind and a peace of their mind. One thing is sure: you can have your hatred or you can have harmonious functioning of mind and body...but. you can’t have both. The ultimate of the consuming fire which we experience by ignorance and misuse of the vital forces within us is disintegration of the body, and so death is not the beginning of hell but the result of hell’s consuming fire.

There have been many erroneous interpretations of Jesus’s parable which says, “When the son of man (this refers to you) shall come in his glory and all the angels with him, then shall he sit on the throne of his glory; before him shall be gathered all the nations and he shall separate them one from another, as the shepherd separates the sheep frpm the goats; he shall set the sheep on his right hand but the goats on the left. Then shall the king say unto them on his right hand, ‘Come ye blessed of my Father, inherit the Kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.’”

Before we accept this parable as telling of a specific event, place and process, it is important to recall other statements of Jesus such as, “Now is the time of salvation.” The Day of Judgment is not a time when some of us will find ourselves sent to hell for punishment, but rather a constant process of spiritual tabulation in which the angels, or good thoughts of our minds, are separated from the negative thoughts, and we make up for any deficits.

Sheep and goats do not symbolize good and bad people. The idea is that the good thoughts will be separated from the bad thoughts, which will be consumed in a “fire of Gehenna”, which simply means that evil will perish and good will endure.

Some time ago I heard a church leader remark that all men are vile sinners and that the only hope of man is to admit his sinfulness and seek the grace of God. If I really believed that, I would give up on religion. Complete goodness and complete badness was the trap of Freudianism in the field of psychiatry. Fortunately there are those in the field of mental illness who are recognizing that neurosis is simply the frustration of potentiality and that the real need is to reactivate the process of growth.

Christianity is a dead-end street until it catches the message of Jesus concerning the divinity of man and the Kingdom of Heaven within. There are no bad people “out there” causing all of man’s problems. There are only good people who are unaware of their goodness, who are expressing themselves incompletely, and who are frustrating their potential. Evil is simply a concealment of good. Even the word “hades” is improperly translated to mean “hell”. The root word is “not to see”, and it means a blindness with respect to the good.

So, it is heaven or hell in Hoboken, wherever your particular Hoboken may be, depending on your attitudes, your self-image, and your perception of life. Jesus said, “The Kingdom of Heaven is like unto a seed.” It is the expanding and unfolding nature of the heavenly possibility of man. In fact, the Greek word from which heaven is derived means “expanding”.

Wherever your particular Hoboken happens to be, your every day will be heaven or hell as you choose to make it. Your consciousness makes all the difference. You can pay the penalty for negative thinking (and it’s the devil to pay) or you can inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. It is entirely up to you.

You can decide to live in negativity and darkness, or you can lift your thoughts to a higher level and perceive life through innate good, actually placing a plus sign on every experience and on every person you meet. The difference is you.

© 1975, by Eric Butterworth

Return to Eric Butterworth Speaks