My Problem with Hell

Dear Paul,

I want you to imagine you’re at the best party of your life. Almost all of your favorite people are there, the music’s great, the atmosphere is electric and the food is mind-blowing. You’re surrounded by close friends and celebrity idols and models all paying attention to you, laughing, making you laugh, hugging you, making you feel warm, loved, accepted and just generally happy. Now imagine that the host of the party says he has a special treat for everyone in attendance and turns to click on the TV. On the big screen you see dozens of little picture-inside-picture frames, each holding a different scene. You walk a bit closer to get a better look at the images and one stands out to you.

You see your daughter in a dark prison cell being bound and strapped to a table.

The scene you are witnessing is gruesome and horrible in every way. Your daughter is being subject to rape, torture, mutilation, humiliation and ridicule simultaneously and without a shred of mercy or dignity. Everyone around you is watching too, laughing, and just continuing to enjoy themselves. Moreover, not only do the images not bother them, it seems to make them happier.

Is it still the best party you’ve ever been to? Do you want to stay there or try to run and help your daughter?

My problem with hell is that it is so frequently described as a place where “those in heaven can look down on all the torments of the damned” as if this was an enjoyable practice. If, by some fluke, I found myself in Christian heaven, capable of seeing others being tortured in hell, I would be going insane trying to get out and help them. I could never enjoy myself knowing that anybody was going through that. Could you?

I’ve sat in a room with some pretty hardened US Marines watching the movie “Hostel” (a movie where kids are kidnapped and tortured by people who pay to do it). It’s a film that falls under the “gore porn” genre where the more disgusting and gory it is, the better. These Marines could hardly sit through the entire movie because of how gross some parts were. I looked away for most of the bad parts and felt disgusted after watching it, as well, even though I knew it was just special effects. The idea that people actually want to sit in the most amazing place ever (i.e. heaven) and watch other people go through wicked and disgusting torments, to me, is the definition of decadence and immorality. If this is what you want, then I don’t see how you can ever claim to have the moral high ground on any issue. No matter how high and mighty you make yourself sound, I will always say, “Yea, but at least I don’t believe in hell.”

Hell is a childish place dreamt up by people who simply do not understand what morality, sympathy, tolerance, love, and ethics are. It is a place invented by those who seek revenge. Any time a person tells you, “that belief of yours is stupid, grow up!” the urge you feel to punch them in the face is the same urge that invented hell. It’s playground vindication. It’s “might makes right” morality (also known as “Divine Command Theory”). And it is utterly immoral and unjust. The existence of hell in Christian theology, for me, completely offsets any good that might come from its teachings. At best, Christianity is morally neutral. At worst, it is an abominable belief system that needs to be eradicated for our own survival as a species. It all depends on whether Christianity needs hell within its doctrines. If not, then what are we being saved from? Do you see the problem yet? Hell is perhaps the most immoral construct ever invented by any religion, yet religions claim a monopoly on moral guidance. How can you teach morality when one of your central teachings is the perfect antithesis of morality? And, why worship the guy who introduced this horrible realm to your belief system in the first place?

It makes my blood boil thinking of how childishly arrogant Jesus had to have been to make such a place central to his religious teachings. I know this is unnecessarily derogatory to Christianity and its central figure, but I find hell an even bigger insult to thinking, moral people everywhere. If you’re offended by my statements, just know that I am more offended by people who believe in, and preach the existence of, hell (especially to impressionable young children). This is the definition of immorality and it needs to be actively resisted by everybody, Christian or otherwise. I hope you’re with me on this much at least. What say you?

Blasphemously,

G

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18 thoughts on “My Problem with Hell

  1. Hi, atheistletters.

    This is very well written. That said, I suspect most thoughtful Christians would share your disgust at the version of Hell that you’ve described. Some Christians are universalists, and some think that unbelievers are simply annihilated after they die. (Personally, I believe that it depends on whether you try to develop your character. In my view, only those who completely abandon the moral life will be condemned, and they will not undergo eternal conscious torment.)

    I’m certainly not accusing you of building a strawman. There are, of course, Christians who believe in the version of Hell that you’ve described, and the version of Hell you’ve described is definitely the historically dominant version. Your presentation of the doctrine of Hell is, to my knowledge, perfectly fair. That said, I hope you recognize that there is also a more liberal tradition in Christianity regarding the nature of Hell which has been present.since nearly the beginning of the Christian religion.

    Regards,
    Occam

  2. Hi again William/Occam,
    I think it was in yesterday’s letter where I said the version of hell I am addressing is the traditional one of fire, burning, and torture. I’m only addressing this version because, as you said, it’s the historically accepted version that is more predominant than the others. I acknowledge that there are differing versions of hell to varying degrees of severity depending on the denomination. I also acknowledge that many modern, moderate Christians today would likely reject this version. Regardless of the version of hell you subscribe to, though, the question remains: is it a central part of Christianity or can/should it be discarded? As a follow-up, if it can be discarded what does that say about the religion? And what does it say about the religion if it can’t be discarded? I think these are important questions, both of which paint Christianity in a bad light. If it can be discarded, then what else can be discarded? If it can’t, are you telling me people won’t accept Jesus without threat of punishment for not doing so? What are its merits if it requires threats?

    Best,
    G

    • If you take a simple view of Hell as a place where God (or His love) is not (William mentioned a couple varying beliefs); then Hell still is a necessary arm of Christian Theology.

      What does it say about Christianity if Hell ‘must’ be a part of a Christian’s understanding?
      I guess I can pick and choose my favorite answer here: “God desires all to be saved.” God wants us all to recognize him as the god he is, because those who have had all of their sin washed away will be able to live forever with him. So my answer will be that God wants people to live with him.

      Will people not ‘accept Jesus’ without the threat of punishment?
      I would guess there are a substantial number of people who ‘accept Jesus’ out of fear of Hell, whatever “Hell” entails. But the promise of life with God (as opposed to without) is a much more enticing proposition than buying eternal fire insurance. It is also a healthier view to be motivated out of a desire for communing with God rather than avoiding pain.

      I don’t think Hell should be taught as a threat God holds over the populace of Earth. It is the consequence (whatever form you believe it to take) of unbelief, but Jesus came to bring salvation, not condemnation, and we should preach the same.

  3. It is most definitely NOT unnecessary and, in fact, needs to be highlighted. I could ALMOST understand if Hell was just for murderers and pedos and rapists, but they say that those who don’t believe go there. If a man fathers several children and leaves the mothers before the kids were born and the kids never see him or talk to him. The mothers never mention him. One of these kids finds the man’s number and calls him every day, leaving messages. Not only does the man not answer, he never checks his messages. Then one day, all the kids are together in one room, and the man comes and brutally tortures all but the one who called him, while the kid watches. This is what God does, and they have the nerve to call him perfect and loving. It’s sick and disgusting.

    • Romans 1:16-25
      16 ¶ For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek.
      17 For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, “The just shall live by faith.”
      18 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness,
      19 ¶ because what may be known of God is manifest in them, for God has shown it to them.
      20 For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse,
      21 because, although they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God, nor were thankful, but became futile in their thoughts, and their foolish hearts were darkened.
      22 Professing to be wise, they became fools,
      23 and changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like corruptible man––and birds and four–footed animals and creeping things.
      24 Therefore God also gave them up to uncleanness, in the lusts of their hearts, to dishonor their bodies among themselves,
      25 who exchanged the truth of God for the lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen.

  4. I agree with William that this is well written, (by the way, who is the “Paul” you are always writing to?) But its only merit is the quality of the writing, and I think perhaps you are trying to persuade yourself you are right by getting yourself emotionally worked up. I believe in the Biblical Hell, The Lake Of Fire, and unapologetically so.

    The problem with the Hell you describe is that you’ve built it upon your chosen presupposition that God is unjust. So the people in your Hell are there unjustly, and the people watching and enjoying themselves at the party are doing that unjustly to, because you set it up in your mind that way.

    What you are imagining is all wrong. Imagine this – a perfect God creates a perfect world, and humanity destroys it with the greatest of possible evils, sin. (You’re problem is that you have made sin ok, on your view sin is just fine and no one should really be punished for it. That is perverted and wishful thinking, and the source of your problems with Hell. You are also trying to justify yourself before God by making yourself out to be basically or entirely innocent). So yes, the greatest of evils, sin.

    These people had the audacity to SIN!! And they did sin. The Bible lists all evils as sin, and then goes on to say in James 2:10, “For whoever shall keep the whole law, and yet stumble in one point, he is guilty of all.”

    And all have sinned. All are guilty of all. And these wicked, guilty sinners are the ones going to Hell. Unless they accept the sacrificial death of Jesus Christ on their behalf.

    But reading your story it is clear that you’ve trivialized your sin and the sin of the world. You have made everyone in Hell innocent in your own imagination. If you chose to see things the way God sees them, you would not have any problem with Hell.

    • One of the fundamental flaws in this insanity is that not everyone knows about Jesus. If even one person goes to your Hell because of this, then your God is evil. Plain and simple.

      • Although, pre-Christian Jews are also counted righteous by their faith. So there is, on some level, a degree of epistemological freedom. Those pre-Christian Jews did not know about Jesus, yet did believe that despite their sin Yahweh their God would honor their faith and provide a means of redemption.

      • You can post all you want. You’ll never look at your side objectively, you’re too busy explaining your goofy rules that have nothing to do with right and wrong and living in the real world. Good luck with that.

  5. One of the main problems with many religions is that people are condemned for their understanding of the world. You don’t have to believe in any deity to genuinely be sorry for the bad things you have done. Saying that if someone doesn’t believe that Jesus is God then they deserve eternal torture is insanity. I couldn’t believe in Jesus being God in the same way that I can’t just start believing in any number of made up characters. It’s a major contradiction to say that God is all loving and perfect, BUT he punishes people for the fact that they don’t believe a work of fiction. It defies all logic and is a slap in the face of reasonable and intellectual thought.

    • There is a difference between saying that Jesus is the only way to heaven and saying that you have to know Jesus is the only way to heaven.

      The closest the Bible ever gets to “requiring” a particular knowledge is by referring to the “Name” of Jesus. Obviously this is not the 5 English Letters J-E-S-U-S, but “name” refers to the power and authority. In this case it is most directly the power and authority over death.

      Do you believe that God alone has the power over death and that without him you will not live eternally? Then, whether you recognize Jesus as the Messiah or (particularly if the Christian church has presented a warped perspective of Jesus) still believe God will provide some measure of substitutionary atonement for your wrongdoings (see the pre-Christian Jews), then you are golden!

      • You’re talking semantics. The point is you have to buy into a bunch of fiction. In the real world, we all have one life, and we live together so we should act accordingly. There’s no reason for anyone to waste their life with this nonsense. To claim God loves his children but damns many of them to Hell. What parent do you know that would willingly allow their child to be tortured? None. That isn’t love. To claim God is mysterious and we can’t understand his divine wisdom and then say we know what he wants from us, sometimes in the same breath. This type of thinking is laughable at best, and leads to horrible violence at its worst.

      • Yet if someone declared themself an enemy of God, then it would at least be a rational conclusion for God to deny that person community with him. Some would even describe Hell as a place where God’s love hurts people ‘because’ they still willingly reject him.

        And my point was not merely semantics. If someone invites you on a road-trip to St. Louis, you don’t have to know the roads you take to get there (that is the driver’s responsibility), but those roads still get you to your destination. Similarly, you don’t have to “know” Jesus is the way to heaven, even if he is the way taken.

        You don’t have to believe that every word of the Bible is True and Historical to be saved. While some Christians might claim that, the Bible (what a Christian would believe is God’s word) never does. If you think Noah’s ark is a fiction… well, that is not requisite for salvation.

        God desires a broken heart and a contrite spirit. Our pride is our downfall. And if we ever recognize this as true, we should ask him for help because he alone can restore us.

  6. Pingback: “Average Atheist” Trivializes Sin and Hell | Philosophical11

  7. Thank you for this well written post. It appears that ideas concerning Hell originate from Jesus and the New Testament; the Old Testament does not refer to the idea of Hell as place of eternal torment, it is a Christian invention. It appears that some Christian Churches are trying to wriggle their way out of their monstrous doctrine of Hell by replacing it with Annihilationist ideas instead. If anybody is interested I have written a similar post on my blog concerning this atrocious doctrine.

    http://dyingatheist18.wordpress.com/2012/09/15/is-there-an-afterlife-the-history-of-hell/

    Thanks.

    • The idea of a place of eternal torment was present in inter-testamental literature. There it was reserved for the devil and his demons.

      The inclusion of people in a place of torment may be a case of hyperbolic language. Jesus also calls people “sons of the Devil.” Ontologically the devil did not father them, but Jesus is using hyperbole to point out that these people are going against God.

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