When I die I will go to Hell.
And I am a nice guy too. I don’t litter, I pay my taxes, I call my mother at least once a week. Not to mention the fact that I actively avoid being bad. You think it’s easy to not kill my neighbor’s very talkative bird? None of that matters though. I was born a condemned man. According to most Christian traditions, the moment that my heart stops beating on this earth will be the exact same moment that my soul will enter into unimaginable torment, pain and anguish.
Not just for a year either. Not for ten years. Not even for a thousand years or a million years. I will be in Hell for eternity. No escape. No relief. Forever.
Think about that for a second. Eternity full of pain for millions and millions of people. The majority of the world, in fact. What an awful thought. It’s hard to imagine that anyone could send even their worst enemies to such a place. Let alone a God that deeply loves every soul that he sends there.
So why does such a place exist? Clearly, it is a place of punishment, but how exactly does it serve that purpose? According to the philosopher David Mills, there are three possible reasons for punishment in general, these are:
1. As a deterrent. “If you don’t stop talking in class you will go to detention.”
2. As redemption or reform. “You will sit in detention and think about what you’ve done. Maybe next time you won’t do it again.”
3. As separation. “You are not allowed to go to the party with the others because of your bad action.”
And please, I hope that you will correct me if I am missing something here.
Does Hell exist as a deterrence?
No. At least not a very good one anyway. You have to believe in something to be scared of it. And it is precisely those who don’t believe who seem to be the ones destined for such torment. I’ll tell you though, back when I was a believer I was absolutely terrified of Hell. I’d go to bed every night racking my brain in search of any sins I may have committed and needed to repent for just in case I died in my sleep. So though it doesn’t do much to scare the unbelievers, it is certainly a powerful way to control the faithful.
And, this may be a bit of a tangent here, but who gives this kind of ultimatum to someone they love? If I told my girlfriend, “If you love me, you will do as I say (John 14:17),” I’d be considered a misogynist. If I then told her that she has the choice to love me, but if she doesn’t I will kill her, and I would be labeled as manipulative, abusive and possibly even as a sociopath. But yet, when God tells us such things we call him loving. Sometimes, God seems less like a loving father and more like the Godfather. Are such tactics really necessary for us to love him?
Was Hell created for rehabilitation?
No. There can be no redemptive purpose for Hell because there is no way out. Ever. It does not matter if the inhabitants suffer remorse. It does not matter if they call out to God for mercy. There is no parole. There is no end. They will burn in Hell forever. Hell has no redemptive benefit, socially or spiritually, to anyone at all.
The punishment does not fit the crime either. According to fundamentalist Christian theology, Ghandi is in the same eternal torment as Hitler. Even if you never do anything wrong outside of not accepting Jesus as your savior, you will be condemned to the same fate as the person who murders her own children. How is that justice?
Was Hell created as a separation?
Of these three reasons, this is the one that I have heard (and said) the most. God is holy. He simply cannot allow sin into his presence. Anyone who has not been “washed in the blood” must be “cast out” of His presence. You can’t get into the party with a dirty tux. I get that. Another way Christians often look at this is that all of our earthly lives, people like me keep rejecting God’s advances. “Just leave me alone!” We melodramatically scream like petulant teenage girls. “I can live my life just fine on my own!” So, sadly, God finally gives in and gives us what we want: an eternity apart from Him and his grace and love. And I suppose that’s fine (not that any of us are actually wishing that God would just leave us alone already). But why not just separation? Why the added element of fire and brimstone? Was there no other place that God could imagine to serve as a place of separation? Could we not go into a place of non-existence? Couldn’t we just stand outside the gates of Heaven, looking in through the window at all the fun the believers are having? Wouldn’t that be torment enough? Apparently not. Not only are we cast out from the presence of God, we must burn as well.
A lot of Christians are keen to point out that Hell was not originally intended for any of us, but was “prepared for the devil and his angels” (Matt. 25:41). But does it really make a difference what something was originally intended for? If Auschwitz was intended to be a day-care, it still wouldn’t change the fact of it actually was. Likewise, Hell is for humans, regardless of how it was prepared to be.
And the real kicker here is this: God knew. God knew before the foundations of the Earth what Hell would be and who would go there. And even if it is true that God simply cannot allow sin into his presence and Hell is what we all deserve for breaking the rules, we must remember who it was that came up with those rules in the first place. He knew what would happen, but He made us all the same.
And this is something that I just can’t get past. The reason above all reasons why I cannot believe that any of this is true.