Kevin Miller questions the existence of hell in Hellbound?
Kevin Miller is no stranger to controversy. The Abbotsford-based writer, who has worked on a number of documentaries (as well as an independent feature or two), butted heads with atheists and evolutionary scientists four years ago as one of the cowriters of Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed, a locally produced film starring Ben Stein that advocated a form of creationism known as “intelligent design”.
Expelled was celebrated by many figures on the right, but some of Miller’s subsequent films have fallen on very different points of the political and religious spectrums. With God on Our Side, for example, tackled Christian Zionism, and now Miller’s directorial debut, Hellbound?—which opens locally on Friday (October 12)—questions whether or not belief in hell is really all that necessary, even for Christians.
Although the film is sympathetic to those who question the existence of hell—indeed, it was recently panned by the evangelical newsmagazine Christianity Today for failing to affirm said existence—the film also allows for those who insist that if there really is an afterlife, then people like Adolf Hitler and Osama bin Laden must have gone somewhere other than heaven when they died.
“I think the notion of hell taps into a universal sense that there are bad things that happen in the world, many of which we are incapable of making right,” Miller says by phone, “and so we intuitively think that if there is a God, he damn well better make things right. Because if he doesn’t, then we live in an unjust universe.”
The problem, says Miller, is that belief in a place of eternal torment can affect how people think of the God who sends people there—and this, in turn, can have consequences for this world and the people who live in it. “Our beliefs about hell are a reflection of who we believe God to be. And if we believe that God is, in the end, retributive and violent, and that is how he will solve his problems, it’s no surprise that we live in a world where violence tends to be the last word. Because that’s what we believe God’s last word will be.”
In addition to a fairly broad range of Christian interviewees—ranging from self-styled exorcist Bob Larson to “emerging church” leader Brian McLaren (who recently caused a stir by participating in a same-sex wedding ceremony for his gay son)—Miller also interviews a handful of non-Christians, including screenwriting guru Robert McKee and some of the attendees at Copenhell, a heavy-metal festival in Denmark.
Miller toyed with interviewing non-Christian religious leaders as well, but decided against it because “it started to feel too much like a History Channel special”. Instead, he decided to focus on a growing controversy within evangelical Christian circles—epitomized by the furor last year over Rob Bell’s book Love Wins—in which belief in hell has been treated as a sort of “litmus test” to determine who is in or out of the group.
Miller himself resists coming down firmly on one side or the other of that debate, though. “If this film does take a position,” he says, “I think the strongest position it takes is that the most important thing is how we live today and that if your views are leading you to a place in your life that isn’t good, you might want to go reexamine your views.”
Watch the trailer for Hellbound?.