World

Is Hell Real? This Is What Christians, Jews and Muslims Say About the Afterlife

The Italian newspaper La Repubblica got the world thinking about hell on Thursday after publishing an interview with Pope Francis in which he appeared to suggest that hell does not exist. The Vatican quickly walked back the statement, claiming that the paper’s editor had not published an accurate transcript of the conversation.

Nevertheless, the suggestion got people wondering what religion really says about hell. This is what the three largest religions in the U.S. say about the afterlife: 

Death is a complicated subject in the Bible, and stories about what happens after we die are often contradictory. But according to the catechism of the Catholic Church, “the New Testament texts speak of a final destiny of the soul—a destiny which can be different for some and for others.”

“Each man receives his eternal retribution in his immortal soul at the very moment of his death, in a particular judgment that refers his life to Christ: either entrance into the blessedness of heaven—through a purification or immediately—or immediate and everlasting damnation,” it continued.

Jewish tradition, on the contrary, makes very few statements about what happens when we die. The Old Testament, which is followed by Jews, refers to a place called Sheol, which is spoken of as “the Land of Forgetfulness.” Similar to the Christian version of hell, Sheol is described as a deep and dark pit. Unlike the New Testament’s version of hell, Sheol isn’t believed to be a place where people go to be punished. In fact, the books of Ecclesiastes and Job claim that all of the dead go down to Sheol, whether good or evil.

Jewish tradition also describes a Garden of Eden, where truly righteous souls go when they die. Everyone else goes to Gehinnom, according to Jewish mystical tradition, where they sit in purgatory for 12 months before they can descend to the Garden of Eden. Both Sheol and Gehinnom are meant to be places where souls can work through their sins and reflect on their life.

Muslims, meanwhile, believe in a type of afterlife that more closely resembles the Christian concepts of heaven and hell. In Islam, people believe that they stay in their graves until Allah decides it is their day of judgment. After judgment day, those who were good during their lives will enter Jannah, which refers to paradise. Like the Jewish Garden of Eden, Jannah is a peaceful place of everlasting bliss.

Meanwhile, those who are bad go to Jahannam, a version of hell. Like the Christian hell, Jahannam is described as a fiery pit where disbelievers and evildoers will suffer.