Belief in Hell might seem like the opposite of forgiveness. However, divine forgiveness is contingent on the possibility of divine punishment. Temporally, belief in divine retribution may also encourage human forgiveness, as believers recollect that they, too, need mercy. At the very least, they may overlook some wrongs on the basis that God will sort them out.
The prospect of Hell may allow for a moving-on even in cases of radical evil of the sort that Arendt deems unforgivable. Civil peace often demands leniency for horrific crimes. It is sometimes necessary that witnesses and informants be granted immunity for their crimes, that traitors and terrorists be offered amnesty, or that treaties be made with tyrants. In such cases, where reasons of state preclude justice in this life, belief that there will be an accounting after death may help restore and preserve peace, even without forgiveness. Belief in divine justice liberates humanity from the responsibility of administering perfect justice—an impossible effort that, because of human finitude and sin, itself produces injustice.
Recognizing the social utility of religious beliefs is not enough to preserve them. Still, such reflection aids in diagnosing the ills of a culture that abandons them. Declining belief in divine judgment may encourage some to indulge themselves, comforted by the belief that there will be no punishment. However, others will attempt to take the place of the absent divine judge.
Those who believe that the only justice to be had is that which they administer in this life will be neither proportionate nor merciful. And those who do not believe in Hell may attempt to create it themselves.
— WBUR (@WBUR) May 21, 2016