No, says Mills, because none of the 3 theories of punishment he lists, deterrence, rehabilitation, and “separation,” are fulfilled by eternal torture.
Now first of all, there are 4 not 3 theories of punishment, the last one being retribution. The purpose of retribution is to restore order in the universe that was unseemly upset by a crime. A criminal has dared to raise his miserable hand against the holy right of another. He has bitten off some happiness for himself that he does not deserve, despising his fellow men in the process. By violating another’s rights, he treated him with contempt, as filth, as a tool, as someone with no moral standing, not as a man with innate dignity, and so unjustly. Justice demands that the offender’s ill-gotten gains be taken away and that he lose his social status to the same extent to which he viciously took it away from his victim.
Further, “separation” is better called condemnation or protection of society. One is permanently cut off from society as a wicked cancerous cell and “burned” as befits such a incorrigibly corrupt creature. But I’ve written on this extensively before.
Hell features precisely permanent and complete condemnation and not the other 3 theories. Mills objects:
(1) God, after a “sinner’s” death, could return the “sinner’s soul” to a state of nonexistence, as it was before his birth.
(2) God, after a “sinner’s” death, could transport the “sinner’s soul” to a location away from Heaven, but a location wherein he would not undergo pointless torture. (184)
However, (1) is impossible, since human souls or at least the immaterial intellects are naturally immortal. As God cannot turn Socrates into a pig (or vice versa), or make 2 + 2 be equal to 5, neither can He violate the essence of a man and annihilate his soul.
(2) will not work either, because the kingdom of heaven is a world without end. It extends everywhere except hell. The liberties of the blessed to visit any part of heaven, including even its lower but non-hellish regions, are unrestricted. Therefore, if a sinner’s soul ends up anywhere but hell, it will not be truly cut off from the communion of saints.
But why eternal torture? Well, humans can pursue happiness when their nature is intact, pure, and uncorrupt. Now the most general components of man are: will, intellect, and power. The soul is will + immaterial ½ of the intellect. The body is the material ½ of intellect + bodily power. Physical death is separation of body from the soul. It is surely a terrible thing. So, man’s body is already corruptible. But one can, through other-destroying crimes and self-destroying sins, corrupt his soul also. Hence spiritual death, the “second death” mentioned in Rev 21:8, further separates within the soul the will from the intellect. This is infinitely worse but essentially is self-inflicted. The everlasting torment of the intellect that remains is “natural” to a soul so fully corrupted.
The Catholic doctrine of purgatory further argues that while hell is punishment for the sake of condemnation, purgatory can indeed be punishment for the sake of retribution, deterrence, or rehabilitation. Follow these links for the full argument:
For example, retribution is suggested by: “Settle with your opponent quickly while on the way to court with him. Otherwise your opponent will hand you over to the judge, and the judge will hand you over to the guard, and you will be thrown into prison. Amen, I say to you, you will not be released until you have paid the last penny.” (Mt 5:25-26)
In short, hell- and purgatory-fire is such a perfect fear-inducing deterrent and stimulus to reform that in the end, it keeps everyone spiritually alive.