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. Kevin Miller, a prolific Canadian documentarian with a preference for religious subjects has in Hellbound? created a forum for those who have thought long and hard on the subject of perdition to have their say. For purposes of entertainment, Miller’s film incorporates sideshow visits to the more theatrical earthly interpreters of hellfire, including Fred “God Hates Fags” Phelps’s 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 to always be themselves heaven-bound—and Universalists who see heaven as (potentially, eventually) open to all. To the atheist, the various interpretations might seem as 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 some choice fighting words: “Evangelicism in America is what the pharisees were to ancient Egypt.”
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