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Last Updated: Sunday, 4 December 2005, 19:04 GMT
Church survey shows hell beliefs
Church interior
Most churchmen do not view hell as politically correct
Up to a third of Scottish churchmen believe in hell, according to a survey.

A study into the beliefs of clergy was conducted by Eric Stoddart, a lecturer in Practical Theology at the St Andrews University School of Divinity.

The survey of 750 ministers and priests also found the majority believed there would be a Judgement Day.

It would involve people being separated into the "saved" and the "lost". Dr Stoddart said the findings made interesting reading.

He said the majority of clergy in the Highlands and Western Isles, who mainly served conservative Presbyterian congregations, believed more strongly in the idea of hell.

The beliefs that many clergy hold concerning the potential horrors that await the lost continue to be dark
Dr Eric Stoddart
St Andrews University

However, in east Scotland, where there is a larger range of beliefs, only a small proportion believed in damnation.

One third of those surveyed believed Judgement Day would involve "eternal mental anguish in hell", while a fifth believed such a fate would include "eternal physical torment".

The study also found that clergy did not necessarily follow their particular "official" doctrine, with members of the same church in opposite sides of the country holding opposing beliefs.

The analysis also found other interpretations of "lost", such as people without specific Christian beliefs or those who drank alcohol.

Dr Stoddart said: "The fire and brimstone of the past may largely have been extinguished.

'Doctrine of hell'

"However, the beliefs that many Scottish clergy hold concerning the potential horrors that await the lost continue to be dark and foreboding.

"All will not be well, if the majority of Scotland's clergy are to be believed."

He added: "The doctrine of hell is downplayed by most of today's churches, even by those who still believe in it.

"It isn't viewed as very politically correct even by a new generation of more theologically conservative ministers."

The report included views from the Baptist, Roman Catholic, Pentecostal, Methodist and Scottish Episcopalian churches - as well as the Church of Scotland, other Presbyterians and the Salvation Army.

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