Hell used to be a central part of Christianity, playing as big a role as Heaven. Yet growing up as a practicing Catholic and even as an altar boy, I don’t remember ever hearing anything about Hell. It is as though priests are embarrassed to mention it and would rather forget all about it. In some places Hell as been down played to the point of merely being the absence of Heaven. Yet the thing about religion is that you can’t throw any of it away and the threat of Hell still simmers on. It still exercises a grip of fear over many believers and revulsion among non-believers.
It isn’t hard to see why many people would want to forget about Hell. It is without a doubt the most horrific concept ever developed by the human mind. A place of eternal agony and torture where people are burned in excruciating pain. It a repulsive and disgusting thought. It has done nothing but terrify people for centuries. Generations of children and adults have been scarred by nightmares of the punishment that is supposedly awaiting them. Who deserves that kind of punishment? Most people are a mixture of good and bad, with even the worst people having some redeeming features. Pure evil exists only on TV. If Hell was real, in all probability, some of your friends and family would go there. That’s something must priests would like to ignore. We have all at some point in lives stolen, lied, cheated, fought and been cruel. Some people more than others, but all of us have shown love, friendship, compassion, kindness, friendliness and charity towards others. Can we be comfortable knowing these people will burn for eternity?
But what sort of God would create Hell? Why would a supposedly all-loving, all-forgiving being create a place of pain and suffering? What possible benefit could come from it? If God created us all, couldn’t he have created us without capability for sin and evil? Why not correct people when they have broken the rules? Some might say the Church does this, but if there is an all-powerful being who cares about our actions, it would have chosen a better medium than the discredited Church. What if God appeared to sinners and told them to repent, instead of leaving them to go wrong and torture them for eternity. What about forgiveness? Isn’t God supposed to be full of mercy? Wouldn’t he just forgive everyone instead of sending them to Hell? Doesn’t limitless forgiveness contradict eternal damnation? Didn’t Jesus die for our sins? Doesn’t that mean our sins are forgiven, so no one is going to Hell?
The simple fact is that religion has so many petty rules that it is impossible not break them. We have all worked on the Sabbath, taken the Lords name in vain, disrespected our parents, had sex outside of marriage and masturbated. What about homosexuals? Is it right that they should suffer for being who they are? What about people who commit adultery or get a divorce (according to the Bible, the two are the same)? Or people who eat shellfish? Keep in mind that the rule book that decides who goes to Hell justifies genocide, homophobia, sexism, racism, slavery and anti-Semitism.
The greatest injustice of Hell is that all non-believers will automatically go there no matter how they live their live. If you are a Catholic and believe only Catholics go to Heaven, then you automatically condemn 85% of the world’s population to eternal suffering just because they were not born into a Catholic family (After all, almost no one changes their religion so it is in effect merely a question of which family you were born into). However, a Catholic must believe this, as if non-Catholics could go to Heaven, there would be no point in being a Catholic and following the Church’s teachings. If you are Protestant the situation is even worse as you must believe that about 95% of the world’s population is going to Hell. Even people like Gandhi who did great things in their life, but belonged to the wrong religion are going to Hell.
I’m sure most moderate religious people would object at this point, but the Bible is clear. There are numerous quotes which clearly state that you must believe in Jesus to go to Heaven (though there are various contradictory passages stating what else you need. For example some parts say you must be born again, others faith alone and still others faith and good works. You’d think the Bible would be clear on a matter as important as this.) Only believers in the “true” church (read whichever one the believer was born into) can go to Heaven. No matter how good a life you lead, if you are the wrong religion, then you are going to Hell. Likewise no matter how big a jerk you were during your life, so long as you were born into the right religion you are saved. And some call this system just. Some would still object saying that God will reward you if you live a good life regardless of what religion you are. But this cannot be true. If it was then Atheists could go to Heaven. If this was true then organised religion would be completely pointless and meaningless and following its rules would officially be a waste of time. This is the bind I discussed in a post last week, either religion is cruel and condemns billions to eternal torture in Hell or it admits itself to be irrelevant and rules not worth following.
How could anyone sit comfortably (even in Heaven) knowing others are suffering unimaginable pain? How can anyone call the creator of such a place a loving, merciful God? Considering this it is easy to see why even religious people are reluctant to speak about Hell. It has become an embarrassment like a racist uncle. Yet try as they might to ignore it, it is still there lurking at the back of people’s minds. Many people have squashed doubts about their religion, just in case Hell is real. The risk of torture is such a terrible thought, that few are willing to risk it. It is this suppression of free thought, this narrowing of the mind and restraint of ideas that is the true damage of the myth of Hell. We need the thought of Hell to disappear for good so that we can think freely without fear of punishment. We need to throw off the shackles of the mind and embrace freedom of conscience.