Believe I’m going to hell? You’re either insincere or don’t care. Pick one.

Fundamentalists: you have not been trying very hard to save me. Either you do not really believe I am going to hell, or you do not care. Which is it?

I wasn’t going to post this until next week, but I needed to get it online while the relevant Big Questions episode is still on BBC iPlayer so you can see what I’m talking about.

Liz Weston is a member of Christ Church Southampton. She was on The Big Questions this week to defend fundamental Christianity against the charge that it is harmful to children.

Let me say this first: I like her. She got a lot of bile from Twitter atheists when the episode aired, but I chatted to her after the show and she was genuinely nice. I got the feeling that we could have spoken for a long time and found many areas of common ground. Liz was shocked by my experiences of fundamentalism and expressed genuine regret. She was also far more tolerant than I was in my fundamentalist days. I got the feeling that where we disagreed, we could have done so without it being a source of animosity.

So yes, I think Liz Weston is a good person, and that’s important to remember in light of what I’m about to say.

The crucial exchange came about 44 minutes into the programme.

Liz Weston hell


Imgur link (for sharing on Tumblr, etc.)

Nicky Campbell: So who’s going there [hell]?

Liz Weston: Anybody who hasn’t put their faith in Jesus and trusted in Him as their saviour, his death on the cross to pay for their sins… But you can go to heaven, and it’s your choice if you decide to reject Jesus.

Amanda Robinson: But I have, so I’m going to hell.

Liz: That’s fine! You’ve chosen to reject Jesus. That unfortunately is your choice and I’d love to convince you otherwise but, yeah…

Then she shrugged, and laughed.

She looked a person full in the face, told her she was going to hell…

And she laughed.

Let’s imagine an alternative scenario: instead of Liz Weston, God-botherer, and Amanda Robinson, criminologist, this was a confrontation between a qualified therapist and a person with a life-threatening addiction.

Let’s say Liz is the therapist, and Amanda Robinson is a drug addict, or an alcoholic, or has a chronic eating disorder. Liz has the only solution, and it will definitely solve Amanda’s problem. Without it, Amanda is inevitably going to destroy herself in the slowest, most agonising way. How would we expect Liz to act?

Liz would be distraught. She would implore Amanda, through tears and agonising pain, to accept her help before it’s too late. She would be doing everything in her power to get through to her. Nothing else would matter. Every other point of discussion would be put on hold. Amanda cannot see her own need for help, but Liz can save her. The frustration of the situation would put Liz on bended knee, begging Amanda to let her in. If this failed, Liz would be broken, defeated, shattered by her own impotence and inability to help.

She probably wouldn’t laugh.

The situation Liz claims to believe is much worse. In our hypothetical scenario, there would at least be an end to it: Amanda would eventually die, and the suffering would end. In the case of hell, Liz believes the suffering is eternal, without a moment’s respite. Yet Liz was able to look at Amanda and laugh when she told her about it.

Either Liz does not really believe this, or she does not care.

This is repugnant. It shows how the fundamentalist doctrine of hell can corrupt the moral compass of an otherwise good person.

If Liz does not care, then the Christian claim to moral superiority is in tatters. The claim that only Christians are capable of expressing true love, because of the Spirit of God within them becomes absurd. Her religion is evil, and her claim to morality is bankrupt.

If Liz does not really believe it, she shouldn’t say it.

So which is it?

Related posts:

Afterword: For the record, I believe that the most charitable interpretation of these events is also the correct one. I think Liz laughed because she was embarrassed. She knew how awful it was to tell Amanda she was going to hell. Now I’m sure this is the source of considerable cognitive dissonance for Liz. I am not saying she is lying when she says she believes in hell, but I think this demonstrates she doesn’t actually believe it as wholeheartedly as she says.

Also, I don’t mean this to be a witch-hunt against Liz Weston specifically. As I said, I liked her. This is a specific example of a wider phenomenon I’ve observed – evangelical Christians acting like they don’t care (much) as they tell someone they are bound for hell. It’s just that this one, usefully, happened to be televised.

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 12, 2014, in Atheism, Christianity, Faith Schools, Fundamentalism and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 39 Comments.

  1. A reason why I became a Universalist was the realisation that an eternal Hell meant that God was worse than Satan. Satan made people suffer in this LIfe, but God kept the fires cooking on the other side, if the Fundies were right. Yeah. That doesn’t really work in any rational sense. But where did the eternal torment doctrine come from? It certainly was accepted and believed for so very long.

  2. There is no such thing as hell because people who enjoy anybody’s suffering get desensitized to any pain even their own; ergo when and if they land in hell…………they will not suffer, not truly………….they will probably enjoy it.

    Hell is other people’s idea of heaven. ………….. A la Matrix…… we experience what we want to believe.

  3. I saw this episode and was frustrated that you were brought in so near to the end just as the discussion was getting going. I was also shocked that a woman who claimed that hell is real and eternal could seem to almost shrug it off. Maybe it was just being on TV made her nervous and giggly (I imagine I would be a nervous wreck!) but as you said if she really believed what she says she should have been horrified at the idea of a fellow human going through an eternity of torment. This isn’t unusual though is it, that’s the thing. I have discussions with theist friends and family and many of them behave in almost exactly the same way (without the nerves of course) telling me what they see as the facts of my damnation then moving on to something else without missing a beat or seeming to be overly concerned (over the 2 minute mark) about my impending doom.

  4. It always troubles me when I hear people point to Jesus as a teacher of good morals, cherry picking scripture to do so. I expect that from believers of all stripes, but it especially irks me when I hear unbelievers do the same, as if the loving dogma ascribed to him in the Bible outweighs the hateful dogma. There are flaws in the character of Jesus as depicted in scripture, and as pointed out by Bertrand Russell in his famous tract, Why I Am Not A Christian. The biggest flaw is his willingness to torture people in hell.

    “Then you come to moral questions. There is one very serious defect to my mind in Christ’s moral character, and that is that He believed in hell. I do not myself feel that any person who is really profoundly humane can believe in everlasting punishment. Christ certainly as depicted in the Gospels did believe in everlasting punishment, and one does find repeatedly a vindictive fury against those people who would not listen to His preaching — an attitude which is not uncommon with preachers, but which does somewhat detract from superlative excellence.”

    • Robin Chakrabarti

      Dear Perry,

      I don’t know where you read this, but where in the Bible do you get the idea that Jesus taught “hateful dogma”? And what leads you to think that Jesus would “torture people in hell”?
      If you take the trouble to read the New Testament it is quite clear that Christ came to save sinners not to condemn them.
      Christ is the “Good shepherd” who will guard his flock (us humans) from the wolves (evil) and will go out to search for the sheep that is lost.( Any of us who goes astray).

      Contrary to the impression you have unfortunately been given, Christ does not want any of us to go to Hell, because he loves us. Some of us may go there (God forbid), if we decide by OUR OWN FREE WILL to reject Christs’ message of salvation.
      So we will only go to Hell if WE CHOOSE to.

      Salvation is not some impossibility like God requiring us to be completely perfect. By nature we cannot be perfect because we are human, but the Bible is telling us the “Good News” that actually we don’t have to suffer for our imperfections because Jesus has paid the price of our redemption ALREADY by shedding His blood and dying on the cross and after three days rising from the dead.
      If this was a lie then the Romans or the Jews could have easily pointed out his body in the correct tomb. On several occassions groups of the apostles saw Jesus after the resurrection including “doubting Thomas” who needed to poke his fingers into Christs’ wounds before he was convinced that it wasn’t a trick..Also the apostles would never have believed a lie if it involved themselves later being put to death.

      You also mention Christ showed ” repeatedly a vindictive fury against those people who would not listen to His preaching”.
      I cannot find that anywhere in biblical accounts except when Jesus drove the money changers etc out of the temple.The people Jesus continually had disagreements with were the Pharisees who were the religious fanatics of the time. He was very forgiving and kind to the so called ‘sinners’, the tax collectors( hated because the taxes all went to the Romans), the publicans and the prostitutes.
      ” Anyway what have the Romans done for us? Apart from the aqueduct……?”

      Sorry. That last quote wasn’t from the New Testament. It was from “The Life of Brian ” movie. Best wishes, and God bless you.


      • Robin, I’m not going to defend Perry’s view of Jesus. I think the Gospels say Jesus did some stuff that was problematic, and not consistent with the idea that he was God made human, but I don’t think he was repeatedly vindictive.

        I do take issue with your idea of hell. My full thoughts are here, but I doubt you’ll read that. So in short: You say that some people (“god forbid”) might choose to go to hell. You pretty much have to say that, because there is no way a loving God would send people to hell. Since you believe God is loving, and you believe in hell, you have to find a way to make it not God’s fault that people go there.

        But the fact is that if God is all-powerful, he could stop people from going to hell, and according to your theology, he doesn’t. Also, who chooses hell? I don’t think anyone would. To choose something, you must know what the options are, and no one knows that. Not even you—you just take it on faith that there is a heaven and a hell. That’s not enough information to say that you could “choose” to go to hell.

      • “…. Christ showed ” repeatedly a vindictive fury against those people who would not listen to His preaching”.

        That phrasing I used is from Bertrand Russell’s “Why I am not a Christian”, in the section The Moral Problem

        To make it really simple: Jesus said that he was the only way to God (John 14:6)
        If you don’t accept that you are considered an unbeliever and destined for hell.

        But even worse, Jesus condemns people to everlasting fire for the pettiest of reasons.

        Matthew 25: 41 – 43 “Then shall he say also unto them on the left hand, Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels: For I was an hungered, and ye gave me no meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me no drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me not in: naked, and ye clothed me not: sick, and in prison, and ye visited me not.”

        I would say those are quite minor reasons to condemn someone to everlasting torture in hell. There’s more, but I’ve made my point. Jesus is an immoral character.

    • Many of these comments are troubling, because they place themselves in the position of God, saying such things as “Jesus’ character is flawed because…” means that you, tiny human on in a vast universe, have the absolute standard as to what a “perfect” character is. “I think” does not create truth. The reason we have all of these disagreements in the first place is because we have relativized the Bible and decided to make our own meaning out of it, and that we can be certain there is no such thing as hell simply because it’s unreasonable to us. Look around creating and you will find so many things that just to make “sense” to us. But it’s not up to us. What if I decide that it’s unreasonable that gravity pulls us down and it should pull us up instead? If I jump off a cliff with my own belief that it is not “right” that God chose gravity to pull down instead of up, I will still die. Jesus is “inhumane” because he believes in hell??? I would say the exact opposite- he KNOWS there is such thing as hell, and he set out to warn the world about it, and offer a solution. Never committing a single crime, he was tortured beyond what any one of us could imagine, BECAUSE of us, and for us. But ONLY those of us who believe that he is the only way to pay for our sinful nature. Hell is only granting those who desire to be apart from Jesus their own wish. Apart from God to set us free from sin, those in hell will wallow in their self-centeredness. What is better….standing in awe at the Grand Canyon and losing all of your self-centeredness, or sitting in a room by yourself for a year, just thinking about yourself. Just a microscopic analogy of the difference between heaven and hell. And Jesus is the absolute opposite of anything inhumane, he is the most perfect picture of love that we will ever see.

      Yes, there should be pleading with an unbeliever to get them to see that they are headed in the wrong direction. But we don’t have the final say. It is equally ludacris to say that I have the power to save someone from hell. All of my best pleading and arguments may never convince somebody, because the God of this world (Satan) has blinded the eyes of unbelievers (2 Corinthians 4:4), and God alone has the power to show himself to them (John 6:44).

      –Coming from a former Atheist who has seen the glorious absolute truth of the Bible and the AMAZING GRACE of God. Therefore I plead with you to actually read the Bible and examine your own logic. There MUST be an absolute truth, and just because we don’t agree with it does not cause it to go away.

      • Proverbs 26:4-5

        4 Answer not a fool according to his folly, lest thou also be like unto him.

        5 Answer a fool according to his folly, lest he be wise in his own conceit.

        Hmmm, I think verse 4 is my best option here.

  5. Dear Jonny, I first wanted to sleep very soon, but your post was so brilliant that I decided to write a response/rejoinder.

    You are warmly welcome to participate in the discussion there (though you won’t obviously agree with everything I have written).

    So I truly hope we will keep having nice interactions in the future and I entirely support your combat against intolerance and bigotry.

    Good night and sweet dreams 🙂

  6. As you well know, I have some pretty conservative commentators there. My goal is to promote a respectful dialog between people from various backgrounds.

  7. I’ve encountered this a lot in otherwise well meaning people. They will abandon their friends and family in order to save their own backsides, and somehow manage to be happy on the other side. Christianity seems inherently selfish in this regard. Though I suspect believers are unable to comprehend this honestly.

  8. Here is part of the comment I made on lotharson’s blog were I found this at first.

    Lotharson I think properly pointed out the story of the Sheep and the Goats. And emphasized that our actions are clearly according to that scripture relevant to our salvation.

    As a Catholic I read this dialogue and think of the tremendous disconnect that the “faith alone” doctrine has caused. (now when its properly understood it may not be a problem but it seems it is misunderstood in droves)

    Here is another important passage:

    ““The servant who knows the master’s will and does not get ready or does not do what the master wants will be beaten with many blows. 48But the one who does not know and does things deserving punishment will be beaten with few blows. From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.” Luke 12 47:48

    This shows that God will indeed not expect as much from people who are ignorant as those who should know better.

    You ask the right question. What does it mean to reject God? What does it mean to believe in Jesus?

    Believe he exists? Do we just need to believe he died on a cross and rose? Ok even the demons believe this. Do we even need to know his message of love? (Demons will know he preached that as well.) Do we need to embrace his message of love? Only when we start to do that do we separate ourselves from the demons.

    You can see plenty of bible passages that talk about our actions in this life being important.

    Before Christianity was “Christianity” it was called “the way.” Now when I ask those who deconverted how they are going to live their life they act as if that question is irrelevant. They understood being Christian as believing in the literal interpretation of obscure bible passages and certain scientific views. They did not even understand being Christian as a way to live your life. Of course, beliefs are important in Christianity. But people need to understand who Jesus was before they can accept him. They need to understand what he wants us to do and be willing to do their best to do it. You do not need to believe Noah literally marched every animal 2 by 2 on an ark.

    • YES. Thank you!

      I actually went too far the other way and became works-focused out of an intense crippling fear of Hell. See, my parents showed me through their actions that ANY mistake or shortcoming on my part was unacceptable. Combine that with an upbringing that managed to combine conservative Catholicism with Protestant fundamentalism, and you’ve got a recipe for Hell on earth.

      The following are things I did that kept me up at night, so sure that I would go to hell for doing them:

      – Failed to say the rosary for even one day.

      – Never made a novena (when you pray the entire rosary, beginning to end, NINE TIMES in a row)

      – Did the usual bit of pubescent self-discovery (this was actually doubly hurtful for me because the male sex drive was emphasized, but none of the adults I knew ever acted like women could or should want sex or experience sexual attraction. Ergo, I wasn’t just “evil,” I was defective too, for having a sex drive while female.)

      – Thought a bad word (I didn’t even say swears aloud at that point–just thought them! And felt guilty for it!)

      – Used euphemisms for bad words like “darn,” “heck,” “screw,” “freaking,” etc. (I actually got in trouble over “crap”–I’d never heard it used as an expletive, so I thought it was just another harmless way to say “stuff.” This state of ignorance continued until Mom served food I’d never had before, and I asked, “So what’s this crap?”)

      – Had feelings of complete emptiness and hopelessness, sometimes during Mass. (Turns out that clinical depression makes chronic anxiety WORSE.)

      • The L

        I am glad you could relate at some level.

        I had to chuckle at some of your comments. I grew up old school south side Chicago Catholic so cussing drinking etc was not such a big deal. We mainly went to church on Easter and Christmas. But my parents did teach Christianity through their actions, so I count my self very lucky.

        I could say any sort of four letter word and it would not be an issue. It took me a long time to clean up my language and I am (at age 42) still somewhat guarded when I speak so that an occasional “____ sucker” doesn’t slip out in the wrong company. But for some reason the word “crap” threw my mom into a rage. I never understood it.

  9. I really should resist the urge to come see what you’re up to because you suck me in every time. I may or may not believe in hell but the more relevant belief here is the belief that I have no power to change your heart on this matter. I can’t coerce you to change your mind about Jesus and I do care about you. I could believe that you are destined for eternal torment and we could still hang out and have good time for a few reasons. What you do with Jesus is up to you, not me. What Jesus does with you is up to Him, not me.

    Christians don’t save people. God saves people. The last chapter on your life has not been written. I don’t feel compelled to plead with you to reconsider your decision to reject Christ because it would do no good. There may come a time in your life when your heart changes on this issue but it probably isn’t going to happen because someone was crying at your feet over the fate of your eternal soul. That isn’t how it works.

    I can’t watch the footage so perhaps if I had seen it, I would feel differently, but it seems to me that this woman respects the fact that everyone is free to choose for themselves what they believe. She believes rejecting Jesus qualifies one for hell. She is simply sewing the seeds of what she believes is truth. It is up to the Holy Spirit to work in an individual and absent that, a heart will not change. “Some plant, some water, but God gives the increase.”

    She probably believes you are going to hell if you don’t repent but just because you don’t repent today doesn’t mean you are going to hell. She trusts God that He will work in your heart in His time. Because of that, she can have a good time with you without being a heartless bitch who is either insincere or doesn’t care.

    I think you know this so I don’t think you were being intellectually honest here. I thought it was kind of a cheap shot. Even with the disclaimer that she was an nice person, it was still a cheap shot. You tried to embarrass her. You capitalized on an awkward situation and tried to spin it to make a case that every Christian who believes in hell is either insincere or they don’t care and neither of those things are true.

    • Can you read minds? Do you think Jonny Can? You assume he is lying because he does not agree with your hippy dippy version of this doctrine and fail to remember that many people claim to believe that everything in the bible is literally true and that ANYONE who does not believe it will go to hell. There is no time limit given and no special small print for those who do so later in life. People who believe this tend not to think in the way you believe they do, trust me, I have been told myself many times that I am ‘unredeemable’ and I did see the woman on the show and as Jonny said, she seemed like a nice enough lady but had that smugly self assured, condescending look of pity on her face that so many Fundies wear. She KNEW she was right and Jonny was wrong and was arrogant in the faith enough to feel she was the one to ‘educate’ him. Faith makes monsters of the nicest people. It has evolved over time to strip away natural empathy and humanity and in this particular doctrine it does this efficiently and nearly completely.

      • First of all, I never accused Jonny of lying. Being ‘intellectually dishonest’ is something that happens often in debate as we make our case for one side or another. Not all points can be home runs and I think this one fell short. I’m not a fundy but I am a Christian and I consider Jonny a friend. According to this post, Jonny doesn’t consider me much of a friend if I believe in hell and I don’t plead with him to repent. I felt that in light of that, I needed to come to my own defense on this. But I don’t really think Jonny has ever thought less of our friendship (which only exists on the www and not in ‘real life’) because I don’t nag him about his eternal destiny. In that respect, I found this intellectually dishonest.

        I’ve been around fundies for 40 years and I’ve never met one that believes rejecting Christ once will get you damned. They may exist but I’ve never met one. All that I’ve known believe you have to die in an unrepentant condition and that gives most people some time to come around. Most fundies realize they cannot save people by their own efforts. It takes the work of the Holy Spirit and that is outside of their control. This is Christianity 101 and I’m sorry it seems ‘hippy dippy’ to you but I think it is pretty main stream among protestants in general and fundies in particular. On the Baptist side of fundamentalism, Jonny would actually be in a backslidden but still still heaven-bound state if he had made a decision for Christ in his youth. Jonny’s background is obviously on the pentacostal side of fundamentalism and that group traditionally believes that Jonny has freely forfeited his ‘Heaven card’ at this point but most would not consider it too late for him to turn around.

        I readily admit I’m at a disadvantage since I can’t see the footage. Even if she is a ‘heartless bitch’ (my words, not Johnny’s) I don’t think everyone who believes in hell is necessarily that way and this post made no allowance for the rest. I’m not trying to be mean. I think Jonny welcomes dissenting opinions because they make things a little more interesting. If you all just want to hang out here patting each other on the back, Jonny only needs to say so and I’ll leave you to it. It’s his blog and I’ll be glad to play by his rules.

      • You are right that Jonny seems to want to hear the other side of any argument (how would be learn otherwise?) but your self pitying tone is a little disappointing.

        I do not claim to be an expert on Christianity or belief but I do know what I see and hear and Jonny seems to be correct on this one. It is hypocritical to claim you care and really sincerely believe about someone’s afterlife and their destiny in Hell but then to shrug it off as if it does not matter. That is his main point. I actually think that most of these people are not able to understand how serious an idea hell actually is (don’t blame them either, it is horrific) and any decent person would hate to see someone go there. They really so not seem to be sincere in their most deeply held convictions when it comes to this particular doctrine. The cognitive dissonance it provokes must be very hard to deal with.

        I am not here to ‘pat any one on the back’ or agree with everything Jonny says. I read his point of view, sometimes I agree and sometimes I feel differently. Your slightly whiney comment at the end of your last reply is beneath an adult who wants to converse and share ideas, opinions and indeed to argue coherently. Sorry if this sounds like a personal attack, it is not meant to be one, I just find it frustrating when people do this and wanted to point it out.

        I do not epect everyone to agree (dull) but I do expect them to try and understand a point when it is made. I do not think you did this, this time.

  10. I’ll try to keep this one shorter so as not to engage in whiney comments beneath my station. (Ooops, was that another whiney comment? Perhaps I just help myself.)

    There is no cognitive dissonance required when you trust God. I can trust that His love for the various people in my life runs even deeper than mine. To say that I should plead with those who have thus far rejected Him is to say that I shouldn’t trust Him. I’ll concede that I see how it could be difficult for you to understand. God is love and God is just and God is right. Since I believe all of those things, I rest in His ability to know and to do what is best. If He has established a place of torment for those who reject Him, who I am to say He’s lost it and I know better? God is God and I am not.

    One of the abuses of fundamentalism is that in their attempt to keep people on the straight and narrow, they paint this picture of God as someone with a giant club just waiting for you to screw up so he can beat you with it. It is manipulative at best but it isn’t consistent with the character of Jesus demonstrated throughout the New Testament. Because I operate from a very different perspective, I can trust God no matter what. I don’t have to take matters into my own hands and beg and nag in an attempt to keep you out of hell. We all know it wouldn’t work if I tried. I’m not sure how we can beat someone up for not trying something that would be a waste of everyone’s time. If she had further attempted to convert the people she was addressing, we’d have probably been laughing at her for being stupid enough to think she had the power to change the minds of people who I suspect were all pretty firm in their opinions on this matter. It seems like she was in a no-win situation but since I can’t see it, I’m just guessing.

    Christians are commanded to share the Gospel but we aren’t responsible for what you do with that information. That is between you and God. I’m not sure I succeeded at keeping it shorter but hopefully it was less whiney.

    • Tiffany, I agree with you. It is God who judges, it is the Holy Spirit that convicts and converts. The implication of this blog’s title is that if we really cared we would – well, what? Beg, plead, constantly badger someone? If we were to do this (as you Tiffany have already indicated) we would be sharply criticized, and if we don’t do that? – well, we’re criticized as well for being uncaring. What may be on my part perhaps awkwardness, or self consciousness of how to phrase something, might be interpreted by others in the worst possible way (as uncaring or arrogance, or similar). It is all too human to assign the worst motive to someone else when they do something you don’t like. (I’m as guilty of this as anyone else.)

  11. “It is manipulative at best but it isn’t consistent with the character of Jesus demonstrated throughout the New Testament.”

    Please see my comment above about the character of Jesus. According to the NT, the only way to get to god is through Jesus, a teaching attributed to Jesus himself, and Jesus referred to hell, and spoke of coming not to bring peace but a sword, and of dividing the ‘sheep’ from the ‘goats’, “so there was a division among the people because of him”. So you appear to be cherry picking the NT like many fundamentalists do, by ignoring the moral failure in the character of Jesus. It seems to me true love unites people, not divides them.

    This god character must be working by some definition of love known only to him/her/it, because his/her/its actions contradict pretty much everything humans ascribe to the notion of love.

    • “True love unites people, not divides them.” Not always so. I can think of any number of genocides in the 20th century. Any number of gruesome and savage accounts of butchery could be cited, but there is no need to go into details. here. True love will also bring truth. If (as a mental exercise) God exists and shines his truth (and love) into these people’s lives, what would happen? In life on this earth I think we know that many of these perpetrators would defend themselves, deny that they did anything wrong (it’s all lies!), or else affirm it was necessary for a greater good, or else that the people they slaughtered were filthy rats, etc.

      But love would also insist that the truth should out. In the light of truth these actions and these people would have to be exposed for what they truly were. There cannot be unity with those who insist black is white, war is peace, hate is love, etc. At some point (to borrow C.S. Lewis’ novel title) there will come a Great Divorce.

    • I am just curious if you have read what distinguishes the sheep from the goats. I don’t think it “contradict[s] pretty much everything humans ascribe to the notion of love.”

  12. Either Liz does not really believe this, or she does not care.

    I wouldn’t describe my parents as fundamentalist (although I’d certainly describe my sister that way) but they all certainly believe that there’s a hell and that as an atheist I’ll go there.

    My parents gave me some grief about this when I was younger, trying to emotionally blackmail me into believing in something I couldn’t. As soon as I was old enough to out-argue them, they stopped.

    Our relationship is….. frosty…. but we are hardly estranged and they still appear to care about me… But they either don’t believe quite so fervently in hell as they’d have everyone believe or they don’t care that they think I’ll be going there. I’m with Jonny: If I believed they were going to be tormented for all eternity and I could save them, I’d be desperate to do so. I’d be desperate to save everyone I could from that fate. I wouldn’t be able to rest.

    There’s an alternative option, which I think is really a variation on not believing as much as they say they do. This was revealed by the one comment my dad made after my parents had stopped trying to force me to believe. It was a standard no-atheists-in-foxholes gambit: “you’ll feel differently when you’re older.”

    Perhaps this is their way of convincing themselves that they both totally believe and totally care. But this does not seem very convincing to me. They know that plenty of people die atheist (after all, they don’t think hell is empty) so you’d think they’d be wary of leaving it to chance.

    As for my sister, I think she takes some genuine savage glee in her conviction that non-believers are going to suffer eternal torment. Presumably this includes me.

  13. She’s right, Jesus IS love, so turn to Him for salvation.

    • Really? Jesus is LOVE? In that case, I take it all back. What must I do to be saved?

      • It’s funny how they assume we’ve never heard that before.

      • Let me see if I understand this. If TJP doesn’t implore you to be saved, they are ‘repugnant’ with a ‘corrupt moral compass.’ If they do, you’ll just mock them and treat them like a fool? That seems a little abusive. I believe Jonny’s heart is to support those abused by Fundamentalism and to prevent more victims. That is a noble goal and it is something that I’m also passionate about. Since we have this common ground, there is room for cooperation to advance the goal. However, I think the hostility toward those who express mainstream religious beliefs does just the opposite. A large segment of those victimized by Fundamentalism will still maintain their faith in some form. You seem willing to mock and ridicule those victims. Am I missing something?

        Christianity is a pretty mainstream belief system. I think it would be hard to deny that Jesus Christ has impacted the past 2000 years of human history more than any other person who has ever lived. Even if he was nothing but a really dynamic cult leader, I don’t think we can appropriately regard the millions who have adhered to his teachings as counter-culture freaks yet that is the tone of some of these remarks.

        Perhaps your issue really isn’t so much with the abuses of Fundamentalism but more with Christianity as a whole?

        I think there is plenty of room to disagree without being so intolerant and hostile. If you want to impact Fundamentalism, you’ve got to appeal to a broader segment than just atheists. Atheists don’t typically patronize ACE schools so preaching to the choir isn’t going to advance the goal. Just my opinion.

      • “… it would be hard to deny that Jesus Christ has impacted the past 2000 years of human history more than any other person who has ever lived.”

        I can deny that quite easily. It is only the idea of ‘Jesus Christ’ that has had an impact, not an actual person. But even if Jesus was a real person, he is long dead, and only the ideologies and dogmas ascribed to him had subsequent impact. Furthermore, that impact has been mostly negative, resulting in great human suffering caused by a mere idea.

  14. I think you might be being a little bit unfair here. Consider a similar conversation between – say – a sceptic and a firm believer in alternative medicine. The sceptic believes very strongly that the alternative medicine believer is engaging in a practice which is actively harmful to them, which might in extreme cases actually be life-threatening (because people who believe in alternative medicines often take them in place of actual effective treatments, even for life-threatening conditions). But the sceptic also knows that trying to talk the believer out of their beliefs is an *absolute* waste of time, will benefit nobody, and arguably goes against the core principles of a democratic, pluralist society.

    As a concrete example, consider Tim Minchin’s /Storm/:

    Ignoring the possibility that it’s a wholly fictitious story (which it might be), Tim more or less reacts exactly the way Liz Weston acts above. If he really believed what he says – you might argue – he should react like your therapist above:

    Tim should be distraught. She should implore Storm, through tears and agonising pain, to accept his help before it’s too late. He should be doing everything in his power to get through to her. Nothing else should matter. Every other point of discussion would be put on hold. Storm cannot see her own need for help, but Tim can save her. The frustration of the situation would put Tim on bended knee, begging Storm to let him in. If this failed, Tim would be broken, defeated, shattered by his own impotence and inability to help.

    And he certainly shouldn’t turn to the whole anecdote into a comedy song/poem and work it into his act.

    You’re left with one of two possibilities. Either Tim Minchin doesn’t actually believe that homeopathic remedies don’t work and is just being insincere, or he doesn’t really care if Storm dies as a result of her refusal to interact with modern medicine.

    • Thanks Dan, this is an interesting and original argument. I still think the two situations are different, however.

      In “Storm”, all the available evidence is that Storm is perfectly healthy. Her penchant for pseudoscience hasn’t (so far) damaged anything other than her wallet. Tim’s response to her situation seems proportionate. He does warn her of the dangers.

      If Storm had cancer, and if she were using homeopathy to treat it, then something like the desperation and begging you (and I) have described would be appropriate.

      And actually, even if Storm did have cancer, then that would still not be quite as serious as the situation Liz purported to believe, because cancer at least has an end to its suffering, whereas hell is eternal (and, according to LIz’s theology, most people present in that studio were going there).

  15. I’m not particularly taken with this thread because the whole thing is posited on a flawed premise: the choice of horrible hell (where hell means eternal conscious torment) is met with laughing indifference and this leads to a funny but essentially false either / or. (“You’re either insincere or don’t care. Pick one.” Ohh let’s see then. Right, I’ve got it: I’m insincere. But that means I don’t really believe in hell. No, wait, that’s not good. Umm. OK, I’m don’t care. But that means I’m indifferent to your suffering! Oh no you got me good this time Jonny. I give in. There is no God.)

    Two points if I may.

    1. Hell might not be what our token idiot Christian on the talkshow believes / thinks / says it is (presumably being burned in a fire for ever)

    2. She is a token idiot Christian on a daytime tv talkshow. No fair! Ffs Jonny, pick a fight with someone your own size, not some kid whose mum and dad are probably brother and sister. I can run rings around stupid atheists (also stupid socialists, stupid right-wingers, stupid evangelicals — in fact ipso facto any stupid person) — it doesn’t give me any pleasure (OK, that’s not true, sometimes it gives me some). This thread proves nothing except that our subject is a fool — out of her depth and now being mocked mercilessly by people who should know better.

    • The purpose of this argument isn’t to prove that there’s no God. As you say, it’s completely possible to be a Christian without believing in hell at all (and certainly not the fire and brimstone hell). This post (and others I’ve written like it) are not attacks on Christianity as a whole, only on the fundamentalist version of hell.

      I think, Oliver, we’re actually in agreement on this, then. That idea of hell is nonsense. Now, you say I should pick on someone my own size, but this is someone my own size. This is the hell I grew up believing in. This is the Christianity I encountered in every evangelical church I ever visited, at every megachurch convention I attended, at my school, and in the Christian rock bands I listened to.

      I’m not claiming it represents all Christianity, but it does exist, and it isn’t totally marginal. And we have to get past it before we can have a sensible discussion about God. Once we stop fearing eternal torture, then we can think sensibly about what’s true without being in a blind panic about risking damnation.

  1. Pingback: Hell-bound and callous indifference | lotharlorraine

  2. Pingback: Essays on Atheism and Intellect, plus Religion Commentaries | Evangelically Atheist

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