There is definitely no such thing as hell

If I’d designed the atheist bus campaign, it would have said:

There is definitely no hell. Now stop bothering me and enjoy your life.”

There is probably no god. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life.

Ariane Sherine and Richard Dawkins launch the original atheist bus campaign, 2009. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

The doctrine of hell is the cause of about 95% of what’s wrong with fundamentalism. I admit that I do not know whether any gods exist, but I am certain there is no hell. And if everyone would just realise that hell is imaginary, religious conflict would mostly go away.

[I should mention that most mainline Christians don’t believe in hell anymore, especially not in a form anything like the traditional fire and brimstone. For a Christian’s explanation, see Tim Chastain’s blog (short version: it’s not Biblical) or a  recent post by Lotharlorraine.]

To believe in the traditional Christian version of  hell, you must believe the following:

A God who is completely loving, and who never does anything unjust, will send some people to a destiny of eternal torture beyond imagination.

Because God is perfectly just, you have to believe that it is possible for at least some people to deserve eternal torture.

This is madness. Even the most determined and efficient psychopath could not get through enough evil in one lifetime to deserve eternal damnation. This is the central problem with the doctrine of hell, and though there are many attempts to refute it (I expect some will show up in the comments of this very post, given enough time).

I would like anyone who defends the idea of hell to tell me their response to this scenario:

You know a child who is a little scumbag. They are deliberately evil at every opportunity. At five years old, they deliberately bite their sibling on the nose, causing permanent scarring. They scream whenever they are told to do anything. They knock over bookshelves because they think it’s funny. They write their name on car doors. With keys. They mutilate animals for fun.

The child’s mother warns them that if this continues, she will hold the child’s face on a hot stove for five minutes. The child ignores repeated warnings over a space of several months. Eventually, as the child had been told she would, the mother takes the child and forces their head onto the stove. The child screams in agony but the mother does not loosen her grip.

What do you think of this mother’s actions?

If you’re human, this is unimaginable and abhorrent. And you can change this scenario in various ways. You might object that the child can’t be morally responsible for their actions at five years old. Fine. Make the child older. Make them 15 – hell, make ’em 21. Make the child more evil. Past a certain point of evil from the child, we could certainly feel sorry for the mother, and possibly understand a bit why she did it; a judge would probably be quite lenient. But you would never feel this was the right thing to do.

I don’t believe any Christian fundamentalist could defend the actions of a parent who subjected their child to torture for just five minutes, regardless of how evil the child was. Somehow, though, they expect us to respect the will of God when he does this to humans for all eternity.

Herein is the problem with fundamental Christianity: It teaches us that it’s possible for someone who is entirely loving to subject someone to torture, and it’s possible to deserve that torture.

Furthermore, if you believe that torture is coming inevitably to anyone who rejects Jesus, it justifies the most extreme actions. It certainly explains the brainwashing attempts of fundamentalist schools. If you’re saving your kids from hell, anything you do has to be for the greater good.

It also explains the savagery of fundamentalist child spanking. If it’s possible for souls to deserve eternal torture, it’s entirely plausible that a child might deserve a beating. And if this beating helps save them from the torture, well, it’d be wrong not to hit them. Of course, if this is true, the best thing you could do would be to kill your children the moment they accept Jesus as saviour. I mean, you’d go to hell, obviously, but your children would be guaranteed salvation. It would be a morally heroic act.

Hell also justifies treating unbelievers badly. Now, at this point all Christian fundamentalists are going to flatly deny my argument. They will say God commands them to love everyone. True, but we’ve already seen that love can involve beating children and sending people to eternal torture. If God can send these people to hell, they obviously can’t be all that valuable.

At this point, I can hear the howls of complaint from fundamentalists. Every soul is precious to God! they shout. He is willing that none should perish! Brilliant. Well, if God is willing that none should perish, why doesn’t he just, y’know… save everyone?

I was raised with two defences for this. The first was that God can’t save everyone, as much as he would like to, because of some cosmic law that God can’t break. To which I say: who wrote the law? If the answer is God, he wrote an immoral law. If the answer is not God, then a) God is not omnipotent, and b) you’ve just said that something can exist without God making it, which I’m pretty sure is something creationists deny.

The second defence is that God just loves us so much that he would never violate our free will, because that would be wrong. If we choose to go to hell, he will respect that choice.

First of all, no one chooses to go to hell. Fundamentalists say I am choosing to go to hell; I reject this. I don’t know that there is any such place as hell. Christians can tell me about it all they want, but as there is no shred of evidence, I have no reason to think it exists (Actually, I’m arguing that hell is logically impossible, but for the sake of this paragraph, let’s assume that it could exist). If I knew I was going to hell, I wouldn’t choose to go there.

But OK, let’s assume there is a hell and I am choosing to go there. Let’s go back to imagining a parent. Imagine you have a child, and this child really wants to set herself on fire. You have taken her for counselling, but there’s no talking her out of it. It’s what she wants, and stopping her would be a violation of her will. Would you let her do it?

Of course you wouldn’t, and you’d be appalled at any parent who gave a different answer. How come you are more moral than God, allegedly the most loving parent of all?

Fundamentalists will also be hopping with rage at my suggestion that the doctrine of hell makes some people better than others. No! We’re all equally deserving of hell! they are shouting. Oh goodie. So not only am I a wretch who deserves to roast in my own juices, but you are too. That hasn’t made my situation any better, but at least it means your self-esteem is crippled (just in time to be rescued by God).

Really, though, the fundamentalists must believe they are better than me. According to their theology, the blood of Jesus washes away all sin, so that it is as though they never sinned at all. So while technically, yes, we all deserve hell, in reality, they are clean as a whistle and I am still rolling in filth. I deserve anything bad that happens to me. This explains why conservative missionary efforts are mostly about evangelism. If I accept Jesus, he will miraculously make my life better. Until then, I deserve nothing.

Of course, there are lots of fundamentalist missionaries who do great work for non-Christians besides telling them about Jesus. They bring food and help to build houses. I just wish they could see that they are treating sinners better than their theology says God will treat them. I’m sure fundamentalists will read this and be appalled. They will say that they see every soul as precious, that we are all equal under God, who loves us all. What I am arguing for, they will say, is a perversion of fundamentalism, not what it actually teaches. I hope you can see, though, how the beliefs that I am describing logically follow from a belief in the existence of hell. If fundamentalists show a better morality than this in their daily lives, it’s despite the theology, not because of it. It’s because we don’t get our morals from scripture; we impose our own morality on what we read.

There is a solution.

And, brilliantly, that solution is already with us: Stop believing in hell.

Because it doesn’t exist.

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About jonnyscaramanga

I grew up as a Christian fundamentalist in the UK. Now I am writing a book and blog about what that's like, and what fundamentalists believe.

Posted on March 10, 2014, in Atheism, Christianity, Creationism, Fundamentalism and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 95 Comments.

  1. Good morning, Jonny!

    That is an amazing and awesome post.

    “For a Christian’s explanation, see Tim Chastain’s blog (short version: it’s not Biblical) or a recent post by Lotharlorraine.]”

    I think that very few things are “Biblical” because the Bible contradicts itself on many issues. Fundies pick and choose which verses to interpret litealy and which to DISTORT while entertaining the delusion they are fully consistent and right.

    So the project of developing a “Biblical” theology is doomed from the very beginning.

    I and most progressive Christians don’t base our theology on a Bible which fails to speak with one voice, but on the idea that God has to be perfect in order for Him to be God.

    However, I found it interesting to interview a conservative Christian who showed that there is little of no support in the Bible for the doctrine of conscious eternal torment, in the post you link.

    In another post, I argued that no Conservative Evangelical can live consistently if she believes in eternal torment.
    This turns reality into the hopeless farce of a cruel Tyrant.

    I think that many people dying as non-Christians will inherit eternal life even if they rejected fundamentalist Christianity.
    If God is perfect love, and fundamentalists describe Him as a heinous monster, rejecting Christianity altogether makes one much closer to Him.

    It is worth noting that when Jesus mentioned hellfire, he only did it towards religious bigots and those not helping the poor because by neglecting and despising they were neglecting and despising Him.

    I do not believe that hellfire in the New Testament means eternal torment but the cessation of existence as Chris Date made it clear in the text you linked above.

    Besides that, I should also mention that the apostle Paul might very well have been an universalist believing in universal reconciliation, as theologian Thomas Talbott argued.

    Thank you again for this admirable post and your willingness to include progressive Christians in your battle against fundamentalism.

    Lovely greetings from the sunny Lancashire.

  2. “It teaches us that it’s possible for someone who is entirely loving to subject someone to torture, and it’s possible to deserve that torture.”

    Which was, I believe, part of the justification used by the Spanish Inquisition. It’s a dangerous road once you start walking down it, and I’d argue that some branches of fundamentalist evangelical Christianity are well along that path (eg. http://www.lgbtqnation.com/2014/03/the-pr-campaign-to-whitewash-the-rights-anti-gay-uganda-history/)

  3. Their belief in hell may explain why young earth creationist fundamentalists lie so blatantly about science and about those who challenge their pseudo-science and science denial.

  4. The absence of hell does mess with “faith.” The concept of assured cosmic justice is both incredibly alluring, and painfully simple to understand… which is precisely why its so easily sold to the gullible. Remove it and we’re all back to eastern notions of Karma and reincarnation as the only leveling justice out there. Yahwehism can’t tolerate that.

    • “gullible”?

      What makes you think they’re “gullible”? Do we have evidence that these people are more gullible in general than others?

      Or is it an assumption on the basis that they believe something specific that we don’t?

      • I wish you’d make explicit the point you’re driving at when you leave these kinds of comments, David. I know you have one, because we’ve had many conversations, but to someone who doesn’t know you a comment like this can look a bit like trolling in defence of the believers.

      • Go question. I say gullible because that is actually the definition of “faith:” believe without evidence. If I told you a dragon lived in my closet, but you could not see it, hear it, smell it, or sense it with any instrumentation then for you to believe me would be, in all honesty, the definition of gullibility. Being gullible, though, isn’t, i’d say, what inspires most believers. They have a strong emotional need which is met by “believing.” This, in effect, means they are purposefully being gullible, not simply because of ignorance.

      • Gullible =/= faith

        Gullible means accepting something because you’re told, with little or no evidence of any type to support it.

        Faith is a form of knowledge in which the evidence required is non-empirical.

        Bear in mind, the philosophical definition of knowledge is something that someone believes to be true, and has good reason to believe is true. You’ll note this encompasses knowledge about the physical world, and knowledge about the metaphysical. It also includes knowledge established first hand in formal experimental situations, knowledge established second, third or more’th hands (eg. in periodicals and publications), “folk” knowledge and information passed down frome established authorities (eg. teachers and rhetoricians).

        Now, we can debate until the cows come home whether or not people really believe X to be true but until we can read their minds we have to take it at face value. We can also debate what “good reason” consists of: essentially that’s a value discussion about the nature and quality of evidence required to believe something, and would range from solid empirical evidence, to different forms of reasoning, to authoritarian knowledge systems. It also includes things which we believe are true until we have good reason to think they are not true (eg. Newtonian vs relativistic physics).

        In a a society in which we all specialise, it’s unrealistic for one person know everything about everything, so we do have to depend on what others say. We consider different people to be expert at different levels; indeed, there’s a major research project in one of the Welsg university in to what “expert” means (when is an expert not an expert? Was Andrew Wakefield ever an “expert”? How do we decide who is an expert? How does expertise get invalidated?)

        To an extent, I am trolling in defence of believers, because many of the commenters here (and in other places) paint all believers with a single brush. There’s a tendency to discard theology or personal faith out of hand because it doesn’t accord with the values of some scientistic rationalists. I’m saying that’s not a good enough reason to simply dismiss beliefs.

        I don’t thinks it’s fair, and I don’t think it’s intellectually robust. Unless we are assuming some kind of mantle which entitles us to decide the parameters for standards for knowledge which people may believe, and then enforce that (good luck in differentiating between what people say they believe and what people “actually” believe, and resolving the cognitive dissonances that will invariably highlight in everyone), simply being dismissing knowledge beliefs is rude and doesn’t advance the conversation.

        I have been through ACE and the fundamentalist evangelical christian (FEC) system, so I am absolutely not defending them or their doctrines. I’m not suggesting their beliefs are necessarily rational (and no person on this planet holds 100% rational, fully empirical beliefs), but I’m also saying that believers are people. Their experiences, prior knowledge and understanding lead them to places where different experts tell them different things. Some things they accept, other things they reject, all of which is determined by prior knowledge and experience.

        The FEC environment is characterised by acceptance of conspiracy as normal (Satan’s plan to deceive the world!), fear of outsiders, a certainty about the pending end of time and tribulations, and a certainty about the universe which (whilst I would criticise it objectively) gives many believers a sense of peace and satisfaction that might otherwise escape them. Yes, this gives the leaders a great deal of power, and frequently that power is misused, both in terms of what the leaders tell their followers to be true, and in the way the leaders behave.

        However, I personally refuse to label the followers as “gullible” simply because I can’t empathise with their understanding or view of the world. The level of empiricism and rationality to which some of us have access is a privilege, and criticising others for not having it is no better than criticising women for not having as many management roles as men, or for black people for being disproportionately represented in the criminal justice system.

        If we want to change the system, and ensure that these people who are (if I may characterise it so) intellectually abused are given access to the ways in which you and I explain the universe, society and metaphysics, we need to respect the individuals who hold those beliefs, even whilst disagreeing with them and justifying our positions. We need to consider where those people come from, what limitations they have (learning disabilities? mental health problems?) and respond empathetically and caringly.

        Change doesn’t come out of labelling people “gullible”, “stupid”, “naive” or “ignorant”, it comes out of dialogue.

        And that’s why I’ll happily troll anyone dismisses vulnerable people as the undeserving intellectually poor.

  5. This is an interesting topic, a scary one at that- because this is one controversy that we will all verify , as individuals , when we pass away to eternity.

    I think it is too dangerous to leave this verification to chance and death, because if it turns out to be true, the price to be paid will be very high. On the other hand , if it turns to be false , well, you could heave a sigh of relief (that is, if there is any air on the other side-lol!).

    It would be nice to imagine there was no hell.
    But think about this.
    Imagine, if there was no legal system, or no prisons, given the current depraved state of society,
    Society would breed many murderers, robbers, rapists and every form of felony.
    We are all aware that our legal systems are not perfect and are not able to obtain enough evidence for arresting the culprits for every single crime committed.
    I want to believe that there are many rape cases for which the legal system has not been able to apprehend the perpetrators of the crime.
    There are many people who have been murdered innocently and who have left shattered children behind.
    Imagine there was no divine punishment for all the cases that human legal systems are not able to deal with, wouldn’t that make the earth a very scary place to live?

    Another thing we need to consider is that, does God execute divine judgment on criminals who are still alive?

    Note that, I have not really addressed the question of an eternal burning hell.
    I did this on purpose because it is easy to mix up the three issues at stake:
    -whether there is divine judgement
    -what the nature of divine judgment is
    -whether divine judgement occurs on earth
    -whether divine judgment extends to the afterlife, and if does
    -how long it lasts for departed souls that face it

    I believe that we must answer these 5 questions separately. For instance, if someone does not believe that there is an eternal , burning hell, but believes that God executes divine justice in the afterlife- in what forms does God execute this justice?

    I think that it would be extreme to assume that God does not execute divine justice at all, because that will amount to allowing the wicked people in society to hurt the innocent without any retribution- and that goes against God’s expression of love.
    No father will quietly look on and allow criminals to go free when his children have been shot to death for no reason at all.
    How much more , the heavenly father who loves us more than any of us could love our own selves.

    Interesting topic.

    • “I think it is too dangerous to leave this verification to chance and death, because if it turns out to be true, the price to be paid will be very high.”

      This is basically Pascal’s wager. The problem with Pascal’s wager is that, assuming you find it at all persuasive, it merely says you should believe, not WHAT you should believe.

      “I think that it would be extreme to assume that God does not execute divine justice at all, because that will amount to allowing the wicked people in society to hurt the innocent without any retribution- and that goes against God’s expression of love.”

      OK, first, this assumes that the god about whom you are speaking is omnibenificent, omnipotent and omniscient. That’s a problematic enough list that it’s difficult to reconcile in and of itself, but when you factor in the theodicy problem it’s almost (at least from my perspective) insurmountable. After all, if the god is omnibenificent and omnipotent and omniscient, they’d be intervening to prevent bad things happening at all, not looking to punish people afterwards.

      Second, this is predicated on the assumption that without law, society would be chaotic, and filled with murder, rape and theft. I don’t subscribe to that view because I don’t believe that people are naturally murderous, rapey or theives, and that that would stop but for the existence of law. And what would such a god do for the people punished for a crime of which they were innocent? Would they get an extra large mansion in heaven?

      • Hi David

        I wanted to say I posted a response to you (and David W) on Godless in Dixie and it seems Godless in Dixie is not publishing my comments. I am not sure why since there was, of course, no foul language and he has approved other posts since my responses.

        They are pretty long responses so maybe he hasn’t had the time to read them. Who knows? That’s the problem with blogs that moderate every comment. You never know who they are censoring.

        On Pascal’s wager i agree he does not go the next step and answer what we should believe but I am not sure that is a problem with his basic approach. We just have more thinking to do.

        You seem to suggest that the attributes of God are somehow inconsistent with evil existing in the world. I am not so sure that is the case.

        Here is good blog that tries to spell out the problem of evil:

        http://measureoffaith.wordpress.com/2014/01/15/pick-your-poison-either-god-is-imperfect-or-true-morality-is-uncomfortably-immoral/

    • Kwasi, you ask:

      If someone does not believe that there is an eternal, burning hell, but believes that God executes divine justice in the afterlife- in what forms does God execute this justice?

      I am not big on ‘divine justice’, but your question does address whether there are alternatives to eternal ‘heaven’ and ‘eternal hell’. I believe there is.

      I cannot say with certainty, but I suspect that God will give everyone an opportunity to accept his offer to live eternally in his community of perfect peace once we are free of our physical and psychological brokenness; this is the essence of eternal life.

      If there are those who choose to reject this offer, perhaps because they aren’t interested in life without the option to dominate others, then they reject the offer of eternal life and cease to exist. This is called ‘conditional immortality’.

      If you wish, you can see more at http://jesuswithoutbaggage.wordpress.com/2013/03/27/conditional-immortality-and-natural-death/.

    • As it happens, I don’t believe there is any divine or eternal justice. I think that if justice is what we want, it is up to us as humans to create it on Earth. I don’t believe children who are born into poverty and disease and die before they reach adolescence will be compensated on the other side. I think it is imperative that we look for ways to create justice in this life.

      In any case, you have painted a false dichotomy. You seem to imply that there must be a hell in order for divine justice to exist. I deny this. I deny that eternal damnation could ever be justified. If there is a divine being, and if there is life after death, there could be punishment in an afterlife, but it would not resemble the idea of hell that I criticise here.

  6. This is a great post Jonny–one after my own heart! You certainly have an excellent grasp of the issues.

    I agree that belief in hell is the most terrible aspect of fundamentalism. Perhaps an even more significant issue, however, is inerrancy, which is the mother of most distorted beliefs among some Christians–angry, violent, vindictive god; hell; legalism; homophobia; creationism, and prophetic end-time speculation.

    You say:

    I admit that I do not know whether any gods exist, but I am certain there is no hell.

    Does this indicate a tilt toward agnosticism instead of atheism?

    Thanks for the mentions!

    • Thanks Tim — and no problem on the mentions (thanks for the good posts to link to!).

      I wouldn’t say it’s a tilt towards agnosticism. I’ve always said I don’t know that God doesn’t exist, I just don’t believe he does (hence a-theism; without theism). That said, knowing you and various other progressive Christians has made me feel more positive about certain types of Christianity.

  7. I think your analogy is somewhat misplaced because it is referring to children. We are not children.

    But hell is an absence of God. It is like fire and tormenting. But some people will indeed choose it. They want to avoid God. They do not want to act the way saints in heaven act. They are not interested in that at all. They think sinning is much more fun. Do you think no such person exists?

    • I did anticipate your objection somewhat by suggesting in the first case that you could make the child older — even 21. I think it still holds however old the child is. If you knew of a parent with a 30 year-old child intent on destroying herself, wouldn’t you expect the parent to take any measure to stop that happening? That’s what happens in practice in our society, even going so far as to put the most at-risk individuals in high-security psychiatric wards.

      I find your notion of sin pretty unhelpful. But no, I don’t believe any person exists who would choose hell over heaven. Even if they did, though, I think the loving thing would be to save them from themselves and stop them from going to hell.

      • We put people in psychiatric wards if they have psychiatric problems. Not if they simply choose to live wrong/destructively.

        There are times when I at least entertained the idea that I wanted nothing to do with God. I don’t feel that way now, but I am not so sure some people would not choose to be separated from God.

        You think it is better if we force that person into heaven against their will.

        I am not sure I really gave my notion of sin. So I am not sure how its unhelpful. Maybe because I did not explain it? And so it’s vague.

        BTW: Yes I am not going to argue that I can make much sense of hell as eternal torture. I give on that. But I wonder if there might not be something different than annihilation proposed by the conditionalists and different than some sort of forever torture. Just a sort of ongoing life without God that would be *like* torture to those who know better in heaven, but is nevertheless something people can choose.

      • Oh and it seems the whoever put up the sign on the bus might be the type of people who want nothing to do with God. They imply God just prevents enjoyment and causes worry.

        If they really think that, we are left to wonder if they would choose worry over enjoyment.

      • T&R, even though I think conditional immortality is more likely, your suggestion is not unreasonable. Many believe Plato’s concept of immortality, it’s just that I am not convinced of it.

        What do you speculate would cause someone to not want to live with God, once they discovered he does, in fact, exist and is not the terrible being they envisioned?

        And if they reject God’s offer to live in peace and harmony, what might existence among such folk be like?

      • JWB

        Those are good questions.

        “What do you speculate would cause someone to not want to live with God, once they discovered he does, in fact, exist and is not the terrible being they envisioned?”

        Not to be too dramatic but we might look at Satan and why he rejected God. Some persons can’t stand the idea that someone else is in charge. So pride might be one reason people don’t want to be with God.

        And really they may love the worldly sins. Sins are, after all, tempting otherwise it wouldn’t be hard to be Christian.

        “And if they reject God’s offer to live in peace and harmony, what might existence among such folk be like?”

        Another good question. I think it would not be what I am after. I think that directs us to the idea that God’s judgment might really just be a matter of recognizing the truth about who we are. Our every thought will be revealed to everyone else. So the judgments about who should be in heaven or hell should not be big shockers. Its not like it will be some bizarre jury verdict. People will see why they are judged the way they are and they will know it’s just. Our lives here (where God remains hidden) might reveal who we really are.

        I think most people I know belong in heaven. But there are some who I have to wonder how it can really be “heaven” if they are there. (that is short of a really big change) Sometimes I wonder if it can really be heaven if I am there. As a Catholic I have hope in purgatory.

        But if the first face I see after i die is Hitler’s, or a few others I won’t mention, then I will suspect I am in trouble.

      • And how could it be heaven if someone you love is in hell? Or in fact, how can it be heaven if anyone is suffering?

      • Anna

        I think we gain an understanding about people that we don’t have now. We live with allot of uncertainties about people and ourselves now. In heaven that will likely not be the case. I am not saying we will not love others but we will better understand where they belong. I don’t imagine Gods judgement as some big emotional event as it is just sort of a realization. Sure people will be upset but not at God for his judgment. Everyone will know its just.

        Let me ask you this. Do you think any people do horrible acts and pass away before they are held accountable? Could God possibly be just if he just lets them get away with it and puts them in heaven? Is some suffering in order if we are to have justice?

        Now whether *eternal* suffering is called for that is another question. And I have to agree with the original poster that is indeed hard to understand. But something like purgatory seems almost mandatory if heaven is to be heaven and God is to be just.

      • Thank you for your reply and for allowing me to share my perspective with you.
        On to your questions/comments:

        You say: “I don’t imagine Gods judgement as some big emotional event as it is just sort of a realization. Sure people will be upset but not at God for his judgment.”

        But the Bible says there will be no more crying and no more tears, and yet you’re saying ‘Sure people will be upset”. ‘Upset’ isn’t heaven neither is it eternal bliss.

        You say: “Do you think any people do horrible acts and pass away before they are held accountable?”

        I think everyone does horrible acts that they never ‘pay’ for directly, albeit some less serious than others. Fortunately, I believe in a form of karma, which means every action, good and bad, has consequences so there is a natural balancing of things. Although I am not claiming that is ‘justice’ its just natural consequences ie if you’re mean to everybody, you end up friendless and alone. Nothing mystical about it.

        But if I believed in God? I find the concept of a ‘Perfectly Just’ Judge of Heaven God to be completely incompatible with the ‘Loving and Forgiving’ God. The two cannot exist in one universe, like an immovable object and an irresistible force.

        I also question your view that Justice = Suffering. Surely a better justice would be the person learning their mistake and putting it right? Like the program I saw recently of ‘Lifers’ in a prison training assistance dogs for disabled people. By punishing people, you simply compound the suffering experienced in the world. I rob you, you suffer, so you punish me and I suffer… and so it goes on. My view of life is that we should do all that we can to reduce the total suffering in the world, not increase it.

        You say: ‘Now whether *eternal* suffering is called for that is another question.’

        I’m glad you’re questioning the idea of eternal hell as compatible with a loving, just God. I don’t happen to believe in God, but if you must have one, at least have one that encourages you in compassion rather than judgmentalism.

        Reply Comments

      • “I think we gain an understanding about people that we don’t have now. We live with allot of uncertainties about people and ourselves now. In heaven that will likely not be the case. I am not saying we will not love others but we will better understand where they belong. I don’t imagine Gods judgement as some big emotional event as it is just sort of a realization. Sure people will be upset but not at God for his judgment. Everyone will know its just.”

        First, this is predicated on the existence of God, that he is omni-omni, that there will be a judgement day, and that “just” has some non-abstract meaning.

        “Let me ask you this. Do you think any people do horrible acts and pass away before they are held accountable?”

        Yes.

        “Could God possibly be just if he just lets them get away with it and puts them in heaven?”

        Yes. You’re assuming that atonement hasn’t happened, and that this particular God believes in vengeance. (Note: vengeance and justice are different things.)

        “Is some suffering in order if we are to have justice?”

        No.

        “Now whether *eternal* suffering is called for that is another question. And I have to agree with the original poster that is indeed hard to understand. But something like purgatory seems almost mandatory if heaven is to be heaven and God is to be just.”

        But all of this argument is predicated on the existence of a God who is just. To me, this means a God who is aware of an offence, able to do something about the offence and willing to do something about it. Unfortunately, there are no observable gods of this nature which exist in this universe.

        A God who lets LGBT suffer in the way they are at the moment is not just.

        A God who allows people to be raped and then punished for being raped is not just.

        A God who allows anyone to die of diseases is not just.

        A God who allows child abuse is not just.

        A God who allows televangelists to get away with swindling people out of their money is not just.

        A God who allows famines and floods and droughts is not just.

        A God who allows politicians to lie to electorates is not just.

        **Even if** such a god punishes people post mortem, it doesn’t do justice to the people who suffered. It doesn’t restore them. It’s unjust.

        And thus, the entire argument fails because the predicate is simply built on sand.

      • Great discussion Anna and David. David do you comment on the Godless in Dixie Blog? If so I am glad to run into you again, I always enjoy reading your comments.

        Let me give my thoughts on Annas comments here and I will address Davids in a different comment.

        As far as people being upset I mainly meant those going to Hell not those in heaven. The bible does talk of wailing and teeth gnashing. But I am not sure heaven is really like we imagine perfect bliss either. I think in life we have seen things that can not be erased and so I don’t think all pain can just magically go away. But I think heaven must be tied with some sort of gain in wisdom that allows us to be at peace with what we know. I don’t think we can know what it is like now any more than a monkey can know what its like to do Analytic Geometry. Maybe referring to it as perfect bliss is the closest we can come but I doubt its what we think it is. Lots of speculation, but still I wonder what it could be.

        “I think everyone does horrible acts that they never ‘pay’ for directly, albeit some less serious than others. Fortunately, I believe in a form of karma, which means every action, good and bad, has consequences so there is a natural balancing of things. Although I am not claiming that is ‘justice’ its just natural consequences ie if you’re mean to everybody, you end up friendless and alone. Nothing mystical about it.”

        My wife tends to think this way as well. But I really don’t. I know many people in life who have really gotten a bad deal. They were wonderful people but have had horrible things happen to them. I honestly have no idea what they could get from Karma in this life that could make up for the suffering they endured.

        Sadly I also know people who unless they truly change, in a way I really can’t imagine ever happening, I can’t imagine being in heaven with them. It would be revolting. I suppose I would “forgive the trespasses” if that was on the table, but they are not sorry for what they have done and I doubt they ever will be. They have hearts hardened to Christs message of love and they may even despise it. I’m sure there are plenty of people who have suffered from sociopaths in one way or another who can understand my view, that it can’t be heaven if some people are there. I am willing to keep an open mind and I am of course willing to leave it to God’s infinite wisdom. But in the meantime I just don’t see how it could work.

        I’m no Mother Theresa either though. I’m sort of banking on purgatory for me and several people I knew and loved. No one I personally knew died ready to be plopped directly into heaven, except my niece who was too young to sin.

        You say loving is a matter of learning. But I am not so sure. I can’t say what this life is all about. Why not have God make us and just immediately be in heaven right? I don’t have that answer, but it may be a way to reveal things about ourselves that would be somehow less clear if we didn’t do this. It seems to me our actions here must be important in that regard. God isn’t judgmental but he does judge. I think this life helps us understand he judges us fairly.

      • David thank you for your comments.

        “First, this is predicated on the existence of God, that he is omni-omni, that there will be a judgement day, and that “just” has some non-abstract meaning.”

        Yes I suppose I am assuming a just God and not one who will blunder in his decisions. I am not sure justice has to be non-abstract to be true justice.

        I said:

        “Could God possibly be just if he just lets them get away with it and puts them in heaven?”

        Then David replied with this:
        “Yes. You’re assuming that atonement hasn’t happened, and that this particular God believes in vengeance. (Note: vengeance and justice are different things.)”

        I think you are thinking that all retributive justice is vengeance.

        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Retributive_justice

        I am not saying retributive justice is the begin all and end all. I think deterrence and rehabilitation also have a place. But I am also not so sure I want to entirely give up on the idea of retributive justice.

        I asked:
        “Is some suffering in order if we are to have justice?”
        David answered:
        “No.”

        You might be right. I am just saying I am not so sure. There is a part of me that would think it would be unfair if some people go through lots of suffering at the hands of others and both end up getting uninterrupted eternal bliss.

        David says:
        “But all of this argument is predicated on the existence of a God who is just. To me, this means a God who is aware of an offence, able to do something about the offence and willing to do something about it. Unfortunately, there are no observable gods of this nature which exist in this universe.”

        I think that is a non-sequitur. But it depends what you mean. A person can be just even if they can’t do something about an offence. Was Gandhi unjust because he could not stop all the offenses that took place in India? A person can be just even if they allow an offense to occur. Am I unjust because I allow my daughter the freedom to do wrong?

        All the wrongs you mention would be an injustice if this life were the end. But its not.

        You say:
        “A God who allows televangelists to get away with swindling people out of their money is not just.”

        Are you sure no suffering is in order?

        you say:

        “**Even if** such a god punishes people post mortem, it doesn’t do justice to the people who suffered. It doesn’t restore them. It’s unjust.”

        I am not so sure. I am willing to wait and see. If what the bible says is true, this God could have simply wiped us out and started a new world. But instead he became a man like us and suffered and died for us. I am willing to give him the benefit of the the doubt, that he will be fair with us.

    • I have NEVER believed in any god, I remember being in primary school at age 5 or 6 and thinking that singing hymns was ok, because singing is fun. But not really understanding why people bothered singing or praying to God because he was clearly made up.

      I always thought the film Dogma had a good explanation of faith:

      “faith is like a glass of water. When you’re young, the glass is small, and it’s easy to fill up. But the older you get, the bigger the glass gets, and the same amount of liquid doesn’t fill it anymore.”

      Well I never even had enough to fill up a child sized glass of faith, its not like I believed God existed and chose to ignore him.

      If there really was a God why wouldn’t he have given me a small child the ability to believe in him? Why would he condem a child to hell by not giving her a chance to recognise him?

      I’ve done ok without religion, I think I am a pretty moral person, I live an let live and try not to harm anyone. I can honestly say that I never chose the absense of God, I don’t feel the need to avoid God, because I don’t believe he exists.

      If I honestly believed that there was a god and an afterlife I might very well try to follow the stupid messed up rules the religious leaders impose on their folowers, because it wouldn’t be worth the risk not to. But I don’t believe in your God or any other so I will continue to live my life in the best way I can, following my own moral compass.

      If you are right and there is a God and he would condem me to hell for “sinning” (I enjoy safe, responsible and occasionally kinky sex with willing partners, sometimes swear a little too much and occasionally drink more than is good for me) then screw him because he clearly fucked up when he made me and didn’t give me the ability to believe. If that is the case then God is playing with a stacked deck and I want no part of it.

      • My post was directed at trueandreasonable, sorry if I didn’t make it clear.

      • Interesting comments.

        Just a few points:

        I am not sure why God would condemn Children to hell. I don’t know why you suggest that.

        I don’t think God will pop in and out of existence depending on whether we believe in him. Therefore the risk is no greater or less based on your beliefs.

        You seem happy living your life according to your own moral compass. I am not sure he would “condemn” you for your sins as much as grant your wish. It sounds like you want no part of God so heaven is not for you. It’s really not something to get upset about.

      • I said ‘as a secular Buddhist’ I don’t believe in the supernatural. There are other types of Buddhists no doubt, but the ‘secular’ in ‘secular Buddhist’ mean a Buddhist who doesn’t believe in the supernatural, particularly God or hell ie a non-religious Buddhist. Generally, religious Buddhists have been responsible for a lot less killing and maiming than other religionists, but that might be because we represent perhaps 6% of the world’s religions. We’re also a pretty diverse group, from distinctly non-religious humanists to feudal nutters. I merely mentioned my beliefs to explain my POV.

        So you aren’t letting me ‘get away’ with anything, you are making assumptions and misreading my post.

      • My whole point is that I never got to even make the choice, I never rejected God, because I never ever believed he existed.

        I cannot make the choice to change this as I am as incapable of believeing in any god as I am believing in Harry Potter.

        If people who reject God go to hell, which is what most Christians believe, and I reject the idea that God is real; then my going to hell for refusing to believe is the same as sending a blind person to hell for refusing to see.

        You say you don’t know why God would condem children to hell, as a child I couldn’t understand belief in God and so never believed in him. So from a very young age I’ve had no chance of getting into heaven. If hell is seperation from God then apparently I have been there my whole life, why would God let that happen to a child?

    • Good answers T&R!

      I think that if there is an eternal place for people who do not wish to join the peaceful community of God, then I certainly don’t want to be in that place. It will be more stressful and violent than life on earth ever was.

      • Do you honestly believe that people who have faith in God and want to go to heaven to be with him are less violent than those who don’t?

      • Claire, I suspect that when we are resurrected we will be free of our psychological twistedness so that we see ourselves and our choices clearly. I think we will be able to work together harmoniously as we sometimes do on earth in the best of situations–and even better.

        If there are those who still wish to dominate others, I don’t think God’s community would be attractive to them.

      • Hi Tim

        I really don’t understand your reply, your first post appeared to be saying that peaceful people would want to go to heaven and people who don’t are violent.

        From which I inferred that as the people who want to go to heaven are mostly those who believe in one of the three Abrahamic faiths, you must believe that on the whole these are peaceful people. If the place where people who don’t want to go to heaven is hell and hell is a stressful and violent place, then you must be saying that people who don’t want to be with God are violent and cause stress. The people who don’t want to be with god are likely to be atheists or those who don’t follow an Abrahamic faith.

        To me it sounded as if you were saying that people who have faith in God and want to go to heaven to be with him are less violent than those who don’t.

        Your response was to talk about working together vs. dominance and I can’t see how this fits in with your original post or my question.

        I am an atheist and thus believe in no gods at all, however if I was proven wrong I would change this belief. However, as I find the idea of the god of the bible utterly abhorrent, I would still refuse to worship him and would certainly not want to join a “community” that included him and his rabbis, priests and imams. So I guess I will have to deal with the stress and violence then

      • Also it really wouldn’t be heaven if there was no one who wanted to dominate me every now and then 😉

      • Claire, your inference is reasonable but doesn’t reflect my understanding. I don’t think that only those who subscribe to Abrahamic faiths during their lifetime will go to ‘heaven’. Instead, I think that after our death we will have a clear perspective of reality free of our misconceptions and misunderstandings about how things are.

        At that time, I believe everyone will have the opportunity to accept eternal live, whether they have been Christians or not. I believe the eternal community of God will include people from all previous persuasions including atheists. Those who, in this state of clarity, still prefer violence and domination will not be interested in the prospect of a free, peaceful, reconciled community.

        You said: “I am an atheist and thus believe in no gods at all, however if I was proven wrong I would change this belief.” This is precisely what I think will happen to many people.

        I agree with you that those of the Abrahamic faiths, and hoping for heaven, can be as violent as anyone. However, if they continue a preference for conflict and violence they will not ultimately choose God’s community.

      • I don’t believe anyone wants to live with evil and violence, but then I believe that people fundamentally want the same things: we all want to feel happy, secure and loved. So if that’s the criteria, your heaven will be rather full.

      • YES! Claire, I hope it includes everyone who ever lived!

  8. Jonny, thank you for a great post. As a recovering fundamentalist, these types of posts are like breathing the freshest air on earth! I first learned about “hell being imaginary” from Robb Bell’s “Love Wins”. It was the first book I ever read that dealt with the subject of hell and explained why this doctrine makes no sense. It was my first step moving outside the “fundy bubble”.

    Thank you for sharing the other blog links as well. It is always nice to know other Christians, especially progressives, agree a “loving God” would not torture people for an eternity. Jonny, your description of the mother with the “evil” five year old was exactly on target and a great way to express the problem of this doctrine. Anyone that would think that a child deserved that kind of suffering, or that a mother had the right to abuse her child like that… makes me ill. It is beyond my scope of understanding.

    Thank you for all you do to put a much needed magnifying glass on fundamentalism and ACE in particular. Keep up the good work!

  9. OK Jonny, I accept your argument for denying the existence of hell based on your well reasoned observations:-

    >>”The first was that God can’t save everyone, as much as he would like to, because of some cosmic law that God can’t break. To

    which I say: who wrote the law? If the answer is God, he wrote an immoral law. If the answer is not God, then a) God is not omnipotent, and b) you’ve just said that something can exist without God making it, which I’m pretty sure is something creationists deny.

    The second defence is that God just loves us so much that he would never violate our free will, because that would be wrong. If we choose to go to hell, he will respect that choice.”<<

    I would like to extend your reasoning to question whether ANY omnipotent being/god could even exist.

    If we take your argument that 'God' wrote the laws and that 'God' made everything, then if this 'God' loves his creation so much then why has he created such an awfully flawed planet on which to put us? I already sense people mouthing the words – "To test us"! Why should he/she/it want to do that – are we all taking part in some massive game and we're all starting off at level 1? I suppose hell would have to be -1.

    This omnipotent being either refuses or is incapable of controlling disasters such as earthquakes, tsunamis and tornadoes. Then there are all the horrid diseases 'God' created. Does the idea of "free will" explain away these shortcomings? I think not. The faithful often explain the lucky [chance] rescue of a single individual from a collapsed building, for example, (in which hundreds of believers died) as a "miracle". That’s the last thing it is.

    When "God" acts in such a dispassionate way it's a strong argument for either no "creator god" or one not worthy of worship.

    Surely a better explanation, if you insist on being a believer, is that HELL DOES EXIST ….. your 'God' has, in fact, created 'hell on earth'. A completely indiscriminate one at that!

    You could believe in a loving, guilt-free, religion that worships Tree Sprites. (It's my favourite … but other religions are available!) It's the Tree Sprites making the trees wave their branches that causes the wind to blow. In a pre-scientific world this could seem a reasonable postulation. It's no more ridiculous than a prehistoric 'God' that creates a very imperfect world, over which he/she/it has no control or wishes to have no control, and then tries to compensate by also creating a perfect "heaven" and an obnoxious "hell".

    David Waldock said – "Change doesn't come out of labelling people “gullible”, “stupid”, “naive” or “ignorant”, it comes out of dialogue."

    Perhaps believers in all faiths, not just tree-hugging ones, should be classified as being "deluded" rather than "gullible".

    As an Atheist I will ignore any long winded arguments from Christian apologists … just because I can! And for the simple reason that I don't want to embark on non-conclusive philosophical faith-based discussions.

    • Well, I don’t believe in God, but I don’t bother arguing against God’s existence on this site because I don’t think that belief is in itself harmful. Unlike you I do think some arguments in favour of the existence of a divine being are worthy of consideration, even though I don’t find them persuasive. I’d be cautious of saying in advance I’d ignore any long-winded argument. Of course we don’t want to waste time hashing over arguments we’ve heard 100 times before, but I try to avoid the dangerous level of certainty that characterised my fundamentalist days.

    • ‘Perhaps believers in all faiths, not just tree-hugging ones, should be classified as being “deluded” rather than “gullible”.’

      Because that solves the problem of you assuming your perspective is in some way better and more moral than theirs.

      • Yes DW, it’s a matter of rationality. in my opinion better, you beg to differ … that’s your prerogative. I don’t think morality comes in to it

  10. I think this is rather overblown treatment for what should be a relatively simple issue. Of course the notion of the Old Testament hell (Christian, Jewish or Moslem) is vile, sadistic, patently unjust, philosophically and morally bankrupt and (perhaps most significantly) risible – so why don’t we treat is as such and stop wasting time with long and convoluted debates and arguments? Perhaps someone might offer the answer “because some people genuinely believe in it so it is necessary to take their beliefs seriously.”

    Well I would question whether we are obliged to take ridiculous and utterly unreasonable beliefs seriously just because some people are misguided (or in this case warped) enough to hold them sincerely. People believe in all sorts of things which are idiotic and nonsensical and for which there is not a shred of evidence, so perhaps the question is not whether this discussion is worth having but whether those who cleave to this kind of belief are willing to apply logic, reason, or even widely accepted principles of common humanity (I won’t use the word ‘morality’ again as this is a loaded and largely meaningless term) to such beliefs. From the examples cited in the comments so far (and from my own experience) it seems that the answer to this question is often ‘NO’. People who have fixed beliefs which they hold as a matter of faith are not usually swayed by logical or reasoned argument, and this alone is a reason why such people have less right to have their views taken seriously in public life. I do not advocate that they should have less right to voice their opinion but I do say that views which are based on the concept of fundamental beliefs (and “divine revelation”) without any empirical evidence or rational basis to support them are less deserving of a sympathetic ear. People deserve a basic level of respect by right of their humanity (call this a ‘Human Right’ if you like, although this term has also been so misused as to become largely meaningless) but their beliefs do not.

    So the question of whether or not it is worth devising intelligent and logically compelling arguments over the existence of hell may depend on whether you think the people who hold this belief are likely to be swayed by such arguments. Given that religion generally (and fundamentalist religion in particular) teaches people to reject reason and logic (and evidence) as the basis for decision making then perhaps there might be better things to do with your time. There may well be some people who are not so steeped in the mind numbing mantras of their religions that they have closed their minds to all reasoned debate and argument, or people who are merely ignorant (not the same as being stupid) and who can be helped to learn and think independently for themselves, but in the UK these are probably a minority of sincere fundamentalists (among Christians anyway). Those who really do believe that consigning people, even children, to an eternity of torture for no crime at all is reasonable, just and the action of a loving and benevolent deity are probably beyond reasoning with. They are entitled to their vile beliefs but our task is to try and ensure that they are denied the right to impose their obnoxious creed and obscurantism on anyone else, or on society as a whole (which is often exactly what they do want to do).

    • Hi Steve,

      I think you are right that one is unlikely to persuade people to change their minds on such things with reasoned arguments. Nevertheless, my entire blog is directed toward two themes: 1) Jesus and 2) Fundamentalist baggage such as hell, creation, biblical inerrancy, homophobia, and such issues.

      However, my intent is not to change people’s mind on the issues; my objective is to help those who are already working through them on their own and need confirmation and support. So I believe the effort is worthwhile.

    • That was a fearsomely lengthy reply for a treatment you thought was overblown.

      Still, there was a point when I was leaving fundamentalism when I realised, “God made me with a brain, so he must have intended me to use it.” It was during that time when I appreciated writing like this. I write for people in that boat. This post and the last one have had very strong reactions too, so someone appreciates it.

    • Hell isn’t mentioned in the Old Testament. The Jews didn’t believe in hell only ‘Shaol’, the place of the dead. Most of the hell myth came from Egyptian, Babylonian and Greek myth, with a bit of European paganism thrown in. Most of the New Testament writers, being familiar with Greek thinking, incorporated that into Jewish thinking to create our modern concept of hell.

      However, 16th century Italian *fiction* writer Dante probably has more to say about our modern ‘Christian’ concept of hell.

    • FYI Hell was never really mentioned in the OT. It was in the NT that Jesus brings it up with a vengeance, mentioning it more than anyone else in the Bible.

  11. I can’t even tell you how much I love this post. Thanks so much for writing & sharing it.

  12. As a secular Buddhist (ie not believing in the supernatural) my POV is that ‘hell’ does exist, but it is all around us: in Syria, in the Supermax prisons, in the mind of a mentally ill person, on the cancer ward and at the funeral of a child. Too many people live in their own personal hell and it is our duty, as humanitarians, to try to relieve as much of that hell-experience as possible.

    We don’t need to make up a fictional ‘hell’ realm. Nor to we need a mystical super being to send people to hell.

  13. Reblogged this on temporary and commented:
    This is some of the best reasoning I’ve seen on the subject of hell. I know that I’d never do anything to cause harm to my children, no matter how they ever treated me, or even if they rejected me and hated me forever.

  14. This is so good that I reblogged it. I hope you don’t mind. This is my exact reasoning. I have two children, and I would NEVER hurt them, no matter how they treat me. One thing you left out in your post–not only to fundamentalists propose that God will send people to hell, they also believe God created those people. So, God creates people who will live an infinitesimal time compared to eternity, then send them to an eternal hell. After allowing them to live in a world of temptations to sin, I might add. Ridiculous concept of God.

  15. My Born-again Dad used to tell me I was going to Hell and he wanted to save me from my evil sinful life when he first fell into the clutches of fundamentalism. Now he rarely says anything so horrible and admits that I am not a bad person overall even if I ‘do have some sinful ways’. I assume these sinful ways include enjoying a nice glass of red with my dinner, not hating gay people and of course not believing in a deity of any sort. I used to ask him why he thought I deserved such torment for simply being me and living in a way where I try to make sure I do not knowingly hurt anyone else and he said my actions ‘hurt God’. When I asked him why God cares about being worshipped so much and that he sounded like a needy child he used to get very angry and go on about blasphemy, I did explain my idea of blasphemy as non-existent for those of us with no theistic belief and he just got confused at that point. My Dad is not a bad guy really, just a bit dim when it comes to being led into obsessive interest groups (before religion it was music, cars and fishing to name a few all of which as funny as it sounds completely took over his life for a time). I wonder if he is ‘going off the boil’ (no pun intended!) with the whole Hell thing now since he does not seem so eager to rescue me from my perceived sinful life any more. He still seems to have the same frightening beliefs but seems far less likely to go off the handle at every perceived sin and certainly does not mention Hell very often.

    I wonder does anyone know of this being something that happens commonly? Do born against lose that initial fire and calm down over time? Or is this quite unusual?

    • Patricia – I think it’s very dependent on the individual and the particular church group they’re in. My companion of nine years, a widowed lady, was sucked into a fundie church group by her teenage son.

      Our 9 year relationship was devastated by several ‘elders’ laying on hands and forcing my ‘ex’ to pray for forgiveness because she was “committing adultery” . Eternal hell was, of course, the threat to our relationship as I was then an Agnostic and “did not worship the Lord”.

      My friend, given the choice between either “Loving Jesus” or “Loving me and going to hell”, had the first of several nervous breakdowns. She lost her mind, her job and her house. I was the only one to visit her during years in mental hospitals and nursing homes. The ‘church’ AND her son abandoned her for many years.

      Recently her son stated that he has “moved on” and does not now agree with the teachings of that particular church group. He’s still a fundie and doesn’t accept complicity – using his age, at the time, as an excuse. I’m not allowed to visit my friend in her present nursing home.

      Her son has not lost his “fire” – he’s just burning a slightly different ‘fuel’.

  16. Awesome post! Hell was the biggest fear I had as a kid. It caused me great anxiety. Now that I don’t believe in all that, I feel happier and life is more fulfilling.

  17. David that is awful. It is so sad when theism leads people to hurt others whether directly or indirectly or simply through misguided attempts to ‘help’. I cannot even begin to imagine what this have been like for you and everyone involved, my own example cannot compare and I realise how fortunate I am that nothing so terrible has happened with my own family and loved ones. I do try to empathise with theists when they behave in certain ways, trying to understand their reasons, motivations and feelings but sometimes I really just cannot manage it without anger. I wonder as well if sometimes their own empathy is somehow ‘switched off’ or otherwise damaged by their strong beliefs.

    • Patricia I find your your proposal of there being a state of “switched off empathy” interesting. I hope you don’t mind, I’ve sent a message with several attachments to your Facebook page.

  18. Hey Jonny, totally off topic but why Nebraska??

    Interesting points of view expressed here, lots of food for thought as usual. I’m afraid I don’t know anything about hell so I couldn’t comment directly. I do think that trying to scare people into faith by playing on fear is really horrid.

  19. Sorry Jonny,

    Yes – my comment was a bit lengthy for a subject which you are spending too much time on. I started a short comment but I was also writing an article for another publication with some overlap and I ended up writing copy which could have gone in either piece. Apologies.

    I agree that some of the comments are quite tragic and the fear that this ludicrous concept obviously invokes in some people – especially those beaten over the head with it as impressionable children – is heart-breaking. For someone like me who has never really come across the idea of hell except as a jokey caricature (I like Andy Hamilton’s radio shows) it is hard to conceive of people in the modern world taking this seriously, but some obviously do. I also agree wholeheartedly with the comment that the real life ‘hell’ which so many people suffer every day – starvation, persecution, war, oppression, exploitation and gross injustice – is the real issue that should concern us all.

    Finally, I cannot really let Ms Hayward get away with the erroneous assertion that Buddhists do not believe in the supernatural. She herself may not, but that is not my understanding of the main schools of Buddhism. Buddhists may not believe in a Supreme Creator but unless I have been grossly misinformed they do believe in a spiritual dimension to existence which goes far beyond the natural sciences (ie. a supernatural dimension). In addition, old Tibet was not a secular state before it was reincorporated into China but a rather unpleasant Buddhist theocracy. Secularism does not mean the absence of belief in a creator god. Some religionists are secularists and some Buddhists are most definitely not (eg. you can probably find footage of Buddhist monks leading sectarian mobs in the brutal ethno-religious cleansing of Moslem villages in Burma on-line).

  20. Dear trueandreasonable,
    you say “You seem happy living your life according to your own moral compass. I am not sure he would “condemn” you for your sins as much as grant your wish. It sounds like you want no part of God so heaven is not for you. It’s really not something to get upset about.”

    Sorry, but are you being deliberately disingenuous? I am an ex-fundamentalist. 19 years I was in a fundamentalist church, even studied fundamentalist theology. What you are actually meaning in your statement above is

    “If you reject God, he will reject you”. And by ‘reject’ you mean hell (in whatever form your theology paints it).

    If you truly believe that then what you have said above is utterly appalling. Because you do believe it is something to get upset about – you believe it is eternal separation from God. As my church taught, eternal separation from God meant separation from all that God brings: love, happiness, security, warmth, light…

    So you really think it is OK for something to ‘make the choice’? (even though “…faith is a gift from God that no man should boast” Eph 2:8, and therefore clearly a gift that god has denied them). They make that ‘choice’, without any understanding of the consequences and you say “its nothing to get upset about”.

    Unless… you’re being sarcastic? Why would someone who believes in eternal separation from God be sarcastic about a thing like that?

    See, this is why I have a problem with Christians who claim to believe in all this stuff. If you *really* believed it, would you post smug little statements like that? Wouldn’t you be saying “Please, you have to listen to me! Your eternal life depends on it!”

    Instead, I get the impression that either you just don’t care, or you really don’t believe it.

    Or you’re trolling and you’re actually in agreement with me, in which case, kudos, you got me.

  21. Just to set the record straight, the concept of eternal BBQ is not found in the Bible. It was introduced to the church by Plato and the church has, for the most part, swallowed that line of unreasonable thinking for centuries. What the Bible does have to say, though, may not be that palatable for many who are against any form of punishment. Basically, it states that if one is a follower of Jesus, he gets to live on a new earth and a new heaven – and that forever. Otherwise, people will face a second death – also known as the lake of fire. There is nowhere to be found in the Bible, any evidence that this is ongoing and will never stop. The second death basically involves the destruction of the body and the soul (or the you that you are). In other words, you cease to have existence. Don’t get angry with me for saying this. It is in the Bible which is the best selling book ever. Many people have tried to rid the world of it, but it is not going away. It contains irrefutable historical fact.

  22. If you want to know more about conditional immortality visit rethinkinghell.com

  23. In addition to their modus operandi of indoctrination, there are two doctrines in particular that are popular among fundamentalists that I find especially problematic:

    1) Biblical Inerrancy (and the related “young earth creationism” — YEC for short).

    2) The Eternal Torment of non-Christians in Hell (even those who have lived and died without ever hearing the gospel).

    In my opinion, it is primarily these two doctrines that force those Christians who hold them into defending untenable positions and, after painting themselves into various practical and theoretical corners by reason of these beliefs, prevent them from effectively communicating with people outside (or on the margins) of their communities. Not only does this tend to isolate them and keep them tied to a very narrow view of both the grace of God and their own creative potential, under God, it also makes them fair game for demagogues of various kinds.

    http://jwayneferguson.wordpress.com/christian-visions/a-sympathetic-critique-of-fundamentalism/

  24. “Hell is a state of mind – ye never said a truer word. And every state of mind, left to itself, every shutting up of the creature within the dungeon of its own mind – is, in the end, Hell. But Heaven is not a state of mind. Heaven is reality itself. All that is fully real is Heavenly. For all that can be shaken will be shaken and only the unshakeable remains.” ~ C.S. Lewis, The Great Divorce

    • “Heaven is reality itself. All that is fully real is Heavenly.”

      What utter drivel! For a supposedly intelligent and educated man C.S.Lewis spouted a great deal of crap. I loved the Narnia stories as a child and I’m glad that nobody pointed out to me at the time that they actually had a quite unpleasant religious subtext which I was totally oblivious to (eg. all that sheep and goats stuff in ‘The Last Battle’ etc.). I always thought the Lion was the silliest and weakest character in the stories and they would have been much better if he ha left Aslan out, but it never occurred to me to see anything sinister in this. Sadly, I am older a wiser now, but I still encourage my granddaughter to read the books as I expect that she, like me, will miss the religious messages entirely.

      However, my question to Mr Yeshua is: what on earth does this idiotic and patently absurd statement mean and why is it relevant to any intelligent debate here?

      • “In humility is the greatest freedom.
        As long as you have to defend the imaginary self
        that you think is important, you lose your peace of heart.
        As soon as you compare that shadow
        with the shadows of other people, you lose all joy,
        because you have begun to trade in unrealities
        and there is no joy in things that do not exist.”

        ~ Thomas Merton

        http://jeshua21.wordpress.com/interfaith-accents/arriving-here-now/

      • Comment removed by moderator (jonnyscaramanga) because it was rude.

      • I knew that the Narnia stories were religious before I read them, when I was a kid our next door neighbours were quite religious and didn’t let their kids watch a lot of TV etc.. I was six when the BBC adaptation was shown on TV and I remember vividly one of the girls told me that they were allowed to watch it, even though there was a witch and magic, because it was a religious story and the lion was Christ and the witch Satan. I read the books a few years later and the religious thing was in the back of my mind, but I didn’t pay it much attention because they were good stories, I only really noticed it in The Horse and his Boy and The Last Battle.

        I’m going to leave The Horse and his Boy because to discuss the racism and anti-Islamic bigotry would take ages and it’s not relevant to this discussion on hell. The last battle on the other hand deals directly with heaven and hell.

        I have always hated the last battle, I thought it was nasty and spiteful when I was 10 or 11 and I re-read it last year and hated it even more. The whole last days allegory made me feel sick when I was a kid, I couldn’t understand why religious people would see this as a positive thing ever, also it was a pretty dull story. However, the thing that always stuck in my mind was poor Susan, Lewis shows her and women in general nothing but contempt. Susan grew up and became a teenager, she became interested in the things that teenage girls like:

        “Oh, Susan! She’s interested in nothing nowadays except nylons and lipstick and invitations. She always was a jolly sight too keen on being grown-up.”

        Susan wants to look pretty and go to parties, hardly a heinous crime, and for this she is punished.

        Her entire family are killed, she is left all alone in the world and denied entrance to heaven, access to her family and Aslan because she grew up. What kind of person fetishises childhood and despises women so much that he would condemn a girl to hell (separation from God and her loved ones) because she grew up?

      • Yeshua do you have no thoughts of your own?

        Quotes with no explanations don’t exactly add much to the discussion.

      • As C S Lewis had clinical depression, I think he well understood that ‘Hell is a state of mind’. As can anyone who has suffered depression.

  25. Anna, I second that most emphatically.

  26. The pastor of my former church would not only warn us of a literal eternal hell (that awaited anyone, Christian or not, who disagreed with his personal beliefs) in every single sermon he preached, but he would also regularly state that we would stand before God with the blood of all those to whom we had not witnessed on our hands. He said God would blame us for others going to hell. It would be our fault, of course, because we didn’t preach to them about Jesus vigourously enough and ‘save’ them.

  27. Reblogged this on This is Important and commented:
    “I don’t believe any Christian fundamentalist could defend the actions of a parent who subjected their child to torture for just five minutes, regardless of how evil the child was. Somehow, though, they expect us to respect the will of God when he does this to humans for all eternity.”

  28. Choosing hell was the number one reason I gave up believing in hell. How can you make a choice without seeing it? I’ve changed my mind that it’s possible to make a decision completely objectively, but the basic premise still stands. We can’t see hell, so we can’t choose it.

  29. Hello. Firstly, thank you for your blog. Secondly, excuse me if some of my points turn out offensive, I don’t intend to troll, just voicing my opinion. My thoughts may very well be naive or primitive, I’m not that educated in Philosophy as far as I can assess. Frankly, I had a hard time deciding wether I should write or not on such a personal subject. I’m interested in the subject of fundamentalism as it persists thoughout the history of mankind. And I’m interested in the subject of religion and it’s influence and role in the history of the mankind and an individual.
    Frist off, I have to point out that I’m far from treating Church, Religion and Faith as one. While I aknowledge the importance of Church and Religion as social institutes, I neither belive in nor accept their “monopoly on God” and right to force dogma upon me or interfere with my Faith. In fact, Church is as very akin to State both in positive and negative aspects.
    I consider myself a Christian, in a non-standard way though. Technically I’ve been bapthised as an Orthodox Christian but I’m not a religious person, neither is my family. I don’t go to church or carry out any formal practices. I consider myself a Christian because I embrace Christian values. In fact, I believe that progressive Christianity is a good choice for continuing peaceful co-existance of humans. But that’s the social aspect. As for my own beliefs, they have little to do with Abrahamic religions. I don’t belive in their mythology and dogma. I don’t believe in hell or heaven. But I believe in God. He does not directly regulate the universe in any of it’s physical aspects but he helps (not makes!) all the living beings to evolve. Not physically, but in a spiritual, creative and moral way. He impersonates Hope, Kindness, Love, Conscience, Intelligence, Progress and Creation. The qualities that help intelligent beings survive and progress. The important thing that he does not make one do something, does not punish but rather helps and encourages. Free will is the greatest gift from God. You could consider Intelligence to be the second one as it enables people to break away from animal existence and build a better future for themselves.
    However, free will comes with great responsibility. No one is perfect and some are far from perfect. I believe that if a person is not mentally ill, every evil thing they have deliberately done eventually comes to visit them through their conscience sooner or later, no matter how ruthless they used to be, no matter how they make it seem they don’t care. Some may think it’s unjust and not harsh enaugh. But God is not a human being. He is not a judge or a ceasar, he doesn’t want revenge or vengeance. He doesn’t care about public opinion. It’s not a punishment but rather a lesson. The outcomes of this lesson may never come public, as one’s connection with God is always a personal thing. It may be a very tough lesson though. It may even very well catch up with them after death. It’s a lesson for their soul that will stay with them in all their future physical lives. But then again, God doesn’t make one to learn his lessons. But if one doesn’t, that’s not God that is going to punish them, they are going to punish themselves sooner or later.
    Sorry for my English, it’s not my native language.

    • Hello Anonymous!

      You said, “Excuse me if some of my points turn out offensive, I don’t intend to troll, just voicing my opinion.”

      I don’t think your points are offensive at all. And I think the opinion you voiced is healthy and mature; I agree with much that you said.. I am glad you decided to comment instead of not. You have made a helpful contribution. Thanks!

      By the way, I didn’t know English was a second language until you said so. Your English is very good.

  30. I’m not a big believer on supernatural things of an eternal god, an eternal evil like the devil. But just for the sake of opinion since I find this post interesting. “This is madness. Even the most determined and efficient psychopath could not get through enough evil in one lifetime to deserve eternal damnation. This is the central problem with the doctrine of hell, and though there are many attempts to refute it (I expect some will show up in the comments of this very post, given enough time).”

    If there was a hell, maybe it isn’t eternal torture. Maybe hell could be a state of kharma in the supernatural sense. And the same concept for Happiness, for the person you loved and the feeling you gave that person you will experience that feeling in equal amount. Maybe there is no actual hell, but possible there could be a balance after death. For each that you have given you will receive in return?

    Put this into concept someone that kills a single person. They gave physical pain to the person they killed, and emotional pain to loved ones of that person. Their hell could be to experience the same pain they put the person through along with those close to him that were effected.So if this would occur 1 person and lets just say 10 loved ones were effected. And put this in terms of pain lets use math as an example by years for each one since emotional damage is longer than that single moment of death. This 1 time of pain he did to 1 person, so for that one person it turns into 11 years.

    Now put into perspective a serial killer/bomber etc. Not only do they experience the pain of the amount of people they killed, but all the families that were affected as well. I can see this being considered a term of eternal. Lets think of a terrorist that has killed 1000 people in a bombing. This easily turns into 11,000 years. This may not be actual eternal, but thats a long time of torture for sure. Each being a different time of pain, obviously the same physical, but all the different types of emotional pain they would have to experience for 11,000 years.

    Obviously this isn’t an actual perspective just a simple explanation for some point of views in a possible logical way of thinking. It is very possible with this concept that person can cause a lot in a single lifetime, even though not eternal, the time could become very extremely lengthy for some people in a lifetime.

    Hell could be considered someone’s own life doings being done onto them if I were to be a religious thinker.

  31. Late to the party.
    I think you have ALL missed the point and are using the topic to justify your particular level of Atheism. As a Christian believer I have to turn to the word of God for my answers.
    First there are the Lucifer stories with his banishment from Heaven, this separation from God is considered a form of hell (hell being away from Gods presence) though not a geographical
    place.
    Then there is the “Rich man and Lazarus story in Luke 16:19 where he is in that place of torment and wishes for a drop of water on his tongue and to be able to send warning back to his relatives so they won’t make the mistake he did.
    This is probably the most significant source of a physical hell as afterlife punishment and the reason one would end up there. The entire chapter 16 is however more about the love of money rather than love of God and the reward therein. Kinda looks like a physical, geographical place to me. (there is so much here in these scriptures I could go on for weeks)
    Love of money.
    A forceful Gospel pushed by forceful men.
    Gods laws of life in His creation.
    Separation from God and the barriers that are evident when we leave this earth.
    Hell or Hades

    I’m not even 1/2 way yet and have to go, possibly more later.

    • Of course, since many of us think the Bible isn’t the word of god so much as an interesting collection of writing which have been collected over the years, going back to it as about as useful as a contribution as me quoting DI Quill’s experiences of hell as described in the Shadow London series of books.

      And I’m fascinated by the ideas of levels of atheism. Is that like in SHIELD where agents have different levels? How soon before I reach level 69?

      • Ooo I really enjoyed London Falling! If you are looking for something good in the same genre I would suggest the Rivers of London series by Ben Aaronovitch.

        Reaching level 69 will take some serious work, skill and dedication, but it’s really worth the effort (or so I’ve heard…)

  1. Pingback: Jonny Scaramanga Confronts Hell | Jesus Without Baggage

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