HELL: OUR FEAR AND FASCINATION,
ON ABC NEWS' "20/20," FRIDAY JULY 13
Do you believe in hell? If so, where is it? And who goes? Our perception of a brutal afterlife has been shifting since the first ghost stories were told in caves by firelight. Popular art -- from Michelangelo to Marilyn Manson, from Homer's Odyssey to Homer Simpson -- has shaped our image of the underworld through the ages, while almost every world religion threatens some form of torture after death. In today's age of reason and political correctness, do the fires of hell still burn bright? Bill Weir anchors a special hour-long report on our fear and fascination with the dark side, on "20/20," FRIDAY, JULY 13 (10:00-11:00 p.m., ET) on the ABC Television Network.
What is Hell? -- Hindus have more than 100 separate underworlds; Muslims describe seven types of fire of torment; and Jesus described the Christian version as a place where "the worm never dies and the fire is never quenched."
But, while the possibility of eternal torture makes some believers tremble, others scoff. "Am I going to hell when I die?," says rocker Marilyn Manson. "I'm going to say it would probably be a more comfortable place for me because everyone I know would be there and I wouldn't really be allowed to do anything in heaven that would be any fun."
"20/20" examines the evolution of hell through time and human attitudes toward crime and eternal punishment. "I do think that in the age of science, we're moving toward the idea that hell is a little too medieval. It's a little too extreme. There have been so many horrible humanitarian disasters on sort of massive scales that it's very hard to imagine something worse," Miriam Van Scott, author of The Encyclopedia of Hell, tells Weir.
To Hell and Back -- Most accounts of near-death experiences involve a visit to a happy, peaceful place believed to be heaven. That is what Matthew Dovel claims happened when he was nine years old. He tells "20/20" heaven was so perfect he spent years longing to return, so he attempted suicide. But this second near-death experience took him far from that ethereal bliss. Dovel gives a gripping description of his trip to hell, a phenomenon unexplained by science, yet so vivid it caused Dovel to radically transform his life.
The Face of Evil -- From Charles Manson to Jeffrey Dahmer, people are both repulsed and fascinated by human evil. What allows some people to kill without remorse? Are they possessed by some unseen force that makes a good person bad? And what will happen to men like them after they die -- will they suffer for their crimes? Or can a single prayer keep them from torment?
"20/20" interviews Ulysses Handy. He executed three people, laughed at their relatives in the court room, and remains unrepentant after serving a year of three life sentences. Weir asked him what he feels when he is hurting another person: "I always felt that no one else feels my pain� You don't feel half of what I feel inside. But I can give you a small taste of it, a small taste. If I hurt you, that pain you feel can't compare to mine -- and I am not alone anymore," Handy says.
A Modern Heretic -- Carlton Pearson was a charismatic megastar in the evangelical movement. In packed arenas and to vast television audiences, he preached fundamental Christianity -- that people are born sinners and will go to hell unless they accept Jesus Christ as their personal savior. But the more Pearson studied ancient scriptures, the more he lost faith in his own message. And when he started preaching that hell is a creation of man on earth -- that everyone goes to heaven -- he was labeled a heretic, demonized by his Christian colleagues and he lost congregants by the thousands.
Journeys into Hope -- Could you live through hell on earth? Weir speaks to three people who say they have survived hell created by man:
� Sister Diane Ortiz says she was brutally raped and tortured in Guatemala 20 years ago after being mistakenly suspected of supporting rebel fighters. She says the wounds are still so close to the surface that "every single day I get a glimpse of hell." She adds: "I carried so much anger� and it paralyzed me. And it made me feel like I could not trust in others. And losing trust in humanity is death. It's hell."
� Ishmael Beah, a child soldier in Sierra Leone, was forced to murder his own countrymen during a brutal civil war. "The first time you kill somebody, it's very devastating, it does something to your spirit, but as this goes on, it becomes normalized," he says.
� Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel tells Weir: "Man is capable of inflicting the worst humiliation on each other. Yes, it is possible to humiliate a person to the point that that person would rather be dead, and yet we must say that life is to be celebrated."
David Sloan is the executive producer.