What is hell? I guess it depends on who you ask. If you go by what is in the bible, and restrict to Matthew and Mark and the beginning of Luke (because that is as far as we have gotten here) it is a place of weeping and gnashing of teeth. There was also some talk about burning. I have heard some people claim that hell is simply separation from God. This sounds much better, and if that is what you believe I suppose that is not so terrible, but it's not what I want to talk about here today. I want to talk about the hell that is taught in the church I grew up in and from what I can tell, the hell that is taught in most churches.
Hell is the place bad people go when they die. There is a lake of fire, you will forever feel the pain of your flesh burning off. Never getting any relief. You get whipped and raped by demons. Any horrible experience you can imagine will happen to you, endlessly. It will never stop and there is nothing you can do. You will never get used to the pain, it will be agony. Forever. There was always a nice mix of the specific and the vague as I have tried to replicate here. A few very specific very horrible sounding things, but also a good dose of "and anything else you can think of".
Children are taught this. I learned it at such a young age that I don't even remember when I first heard about it. Hell was always there. I am an Atheist now, so I currently believe that the reason Hell is taught to keep people in line. You want to leave our religion, guess you will be tortured for eternity. It is very scary, it kept me from leaving for a long time, and I have heard many stories of people who have left their religion and don't believe anymore, but still have a fear of hell because it was drilled into them at such a young age. I find this completely disgusting.
But lets move past that. Just like anyone else, I could be wrong. Hell could be real and Christianity could be correct about it. I would still argue that the whole heaven and hell system is terrible for the simple reason that the world is not black and white. We live in shades of grey. Simply splitting people up into good and bad, people who get eternal bliss or eternal torture, doesn't make sense. Let's think about this with an analogy, suppose that there were only 2 possible prison sentences that we could give out for any possible crime, life in prison or plain freedom. Now think about all of the crimes that we currently have to deal with and the various prison sentences that we currently give out. For each of those, you have to decide if the person gets life in prison or nothing. How do you split it up? Suppose you decide that anyone who gets 20 years or more is in prison for life? Well then what about 15? 18? 19? Somewhere there will be an awkward split where there are 2 similar crimes and one gets life in prison and the other gets nothing. This would be a terrible way to run things and I assume pretty much everyone would agree with this. But if you then up the ante and make it torture for eternity instead of life in prison and eternal bliss instead of simply freedom you have the heaven and hell system. How do people say this is the system of a just God?
Now, let's think about the way Christians say it is determined whether a person goes to heaven or hell. There is exactly one requirement, you have to accept Jesus. Nothing else matters. I remember hearing this as a child and it made sense to me, I suppose everything does when you have heard it for your entire life. But looking back on it, it seems bizarre. A mass murderer who believes in Jesus gets into heaven. A person who never does anything bad to anyone and helps people whenever he can, but doesn't believe in Jesus burns for eternity. How is this justice?
I've had this argument fairly recently with a few people and the answer I got is that we all deserve to go to hell. We are all sinners and deserve damnation, but Jesus takes pity on us and lets us into heaven, all he wants is for us to accept him into our hearts, what a bargain! I'm honestly not really sure how to answer this. I find it profoundly sad, I think people are generally good. Sure some people are murderers, some people do really bad things, and should be punished for it, but generally people are good. It is sad that a belief system that so many people believe tells people that everyone around them, including themselves, are evil people. They are so bad they deserve to be tortured forever. It is a really fucked up mindset to be in. But even given their assumption that people are all evil, why is believing in Jesus the one thing that gets you into heaven? Why is that justice? It does not make sense to me. Also, think about how this sounds to a child. You are telling them "you are bad, you deserve torture forever".