Saturday, March 17, 2012


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".


  1. In this humble guys' opinion, an indefinite punishment for a definite crime is not a quality of an benevolent God. Earlier I had mentioned earlier, in Luke, that in the list of the apostles in the gospels were different. One of the ways that someone tried to explain the difference was by pointing to an apocrypha gospel. In one of them (I could find out if you are curious), Jesus tells one of the disciples not to tell anybody but in the end, everyone in hell would be saved. He told him not to tell anyone because then people would not do good things and would just do evil knowing that there were no consequences. This was one of the major reasons that that particular gospel was not admitted into the accepted cannon. So, I don't know if its fair to point to this gospel or not. (I saw it on Banned from the Bible on the history channel).

    As Christopher Hitchens famously said “We are made sick and told to be well.” Why does he create us being worthy of hell and then considered to “save us” if we follow him like you said. That's not benevolence, nor is that a choice. If I hold a gun to your temple and tell you to give me your money or die, that's not a choice. Unless you know karate or something, there really isn't a third choice. And I'd say compared to God, this really isn't that bad. If you give me your money, you are out some money and probably have to call your credit card companies and make a police report. If you get shot, you are just dead. You aren't punished forever like God does. “Accept me or suffer forever.” I like the quote by Thomas Jefferson, “Question with boldness the existence of God; because if there be one, he must approve of the homage of reason, than that of blind folded fear”

    I'm not the first to point this out, but it is a really twisted system. Someone once made a good conclusion from a set of facts which I hadn't connected before. It was on a television show and the caller and the hosts were talking about hell. The conversation went something like this: “Did your God create hell.” “Yes.” “Did your God create the rules of the universe, including the criteria by which souls are judged?” “Yes.” “Does anything happen that does not go according to your God's will?” “No.” “Then your God is responsible for everything that happens including the souls that go to hell.” “That is so messed up” “Yes, it is” ← That pretty much sums it up for me I think. God knows from the moment you are born that you are going to fail his “tests” and burn in hell or pass them and do well. God had to know that Job was a good man yet punished him unmercifully, including killing off his whole family, just to make a point. He should have just let the good Job prosper because he was good. Ironically, that was my confirmation name. I took it because he passed every horrible test God put him through. After I read the bible and started thinking about these kinds of things, I eventually became an atheist. I was recently at a funeral for a friend that I knew for 9 years. I hadn't seen him in probably 10 since then, but wanted to pay my respects. He was always a really good guy, and by the attendance of his funeral 9 hours away from where he was living the past few years, it showed. I had to leave halfway through the service because of something the priest said. He talked about how the “lord works in mysterious ways” and that his death was probably a lesson in humility and forgiveness for his family. This just made me furious. God feels that he has to murder someone in their prime of life because he wants to teach someone a lesson!? Couldn't he just as easily do this without killing anyone? Even something else horrible like someone stealing all of the family's money or something? Hell is not something in my opinion that a just God would create. If someone wants to say that God is not an all benevolent God, then fine. But I don't think the two are compatible.

    Now maybe someone can come along and explain all of this.

  2. I think this is the clip you are talking about

    The funny thing to me is it sounds like the woman on the phone feels like she was tricked, but really the logic is sound. I agree with you, I don't think there is anyway to square a benevolent, all powerful god with the existence of hell.

    Your first paragraph is interesting about the apocrypha gospel. It is definitely a lot more reasonable if it is more about serving time before you get to heaven. It is interesting what it says about Jesus if he thinks that people will not be good if they think they will eventually get into heaven no matter what. Are you a moral person if you will only do a good thing if there are consequences for doing the bad thing? Shouldn't a moral person do good because it is good, and not because he will get punished for doing bad? I know what you are talking about is not from the bible and maybe not legitimate, but from my reading it seems consistent.

    The other thing that makes me laugh, suppose you are simply motivated by consequences. In situation 1 if you are bad you go to hell forever. In situation 2 if you are bad you go to hell for some unspecified amount of time then eventually get into heaven. It's not like the second option is consequence free. I don't see many people saying "I'll only have my face melted off in a lake of fire for a while, I might as well rape and murder all I want"

  3. Lol. I agree. I don't believe in eternal punishment, but I still feel like I should still be nice to people around me. In fact because I believe that this is the only life we have, its even more important to make this life as pleasant as possible for those around us. Generally when you are nice to people, they are nice back.

  4. Here is a thought experiment for you:

    Suppose you could list on a piece of paper all the things you like about life and all the things you dislike.

    Maybe you list surfing, eating pizza, and drinking beer or maybe more profound things like making love or spending time with friends.

    Now suppose you could enjoy those things for a year. Best year of your life. Now a hundred years. Now a thousand. Now a million. Now a million to the power million.

    At what point would you get bored? At what point would you get so bored it was nauseating? At what point would it become torturous?

    So what could satisfy us for eternity? It seems to me only something that was infinitely good, was infinite in power, etc. That is the only thing that could satisfy us for eternity is God.

    So the question on Hell becomes this: do you want God - yes or no?

    God will give you what you want. He leaves it to you decide. If this is the case, that we have free will and we can decide yes or no to God, then if follows logically that hell exists. For any finite reality for an infinite time would be hell.

    Just a thought experiment give you (and me) something to chew on.

  5. *now this assumes that God exists and that humans will exist eternally. But my assumption in your objection to hell is that it is an internally incoherent concept within christianity - in other words given God's commitment to justice it is unjust to consign someone to hell - and I think this reframes the question in terms of human freedom and choice.

  6. *and perhaps true love making is a bad example because that we will do, albeit in a different manner haha, in heaven for sure!

  7. last post I promise haha:

  8. I'm not sure I completely understand your thought experiment. You seem to be saying that if you did any awesome thing forever it would eventually get boring, and if you had infinite time everything would become boring, and at some point torturous. Let's assume this is true for the moment, how do you solve that problem? You said

    "So what could satisfy us for eternity? It seems to me only something that was infinitely good, was infinite in power, etc. That is the only thing that could satisfy us for eternity is God."

    I'm not really sure what you are saying here. How does God being infinitely powerful and stuff solve the problem?

    Is my problem with hell that it is inconsistent with Christianity? I suppose that it is. An all loving God shouldn't want to put anyone in permanent torture. An all powerful God shouldn't allow it.

    It also seems that you have redefined hell a bit, if the difference between heaven and hell is one you have God and the other you don't, that is very different from the lake of fire. Also, in your situation, if I have done everything on my list to boredom and can't think of anything new to do, and I am now bored to torture levels, can I then talk to God and decide to join his group? Or have I sealed my fate by not doing it on earth billions of years ago? Even this seems messed up, I had to make the decision before I had enough information. I am being punished for not believing, for being wrong about God existing when I had no proof of it.


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