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.”
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.
- Atheist and Christian argue in a Starbucks. Atheist wins. by John Shore. I can’t recommend this one highly enough (h/t to Race Hochdorf).
- Your idea of love is fucked up.
- Jesus and the fires of hell by Tim Chastain
Posted on March 10, 2014, in Atheism, Christianity, Creationism, Fundamentalism and tagged agnosticism, Atheist Bus Campaign, brimstone, damnation, evangelical, Evangelicalism, Hell, hellfire, John Shore, Satan, Tim Chastain. Bookmark the permalink. 95 Comments.