How do you deal with the concept of hell?

Good evening everyone. I am always the curious one and I would like to know how you deal with the concept of people unknowingly sending themselves to hell. I was watching a TV show with a particular branch of christians attempting to spread their message in Norway and the host, an atheist, asked them about their beliefs and they stated gladly, but firmly that a select few will be allowed into heaven but only the righteous, all others will be sent to hell, no purgatory.

As an atheist myself and interested in psychology and human behaviour I can understand how a religious belief can sometimes be very comforting, like when a loved one dies it is very nice to think you have not seen the last of this person but you will be reunited in due time. However, and this is addressed to those who believe in eternal hell, I was wondering what you think about the fact that, if your world view is true, billions upon billions of people will end up there, and already be there? People who may have been approached with the teachings of Jesus but decided not to adopt them because it did not seem right to them?

A missionary once talked with me for some time trying to convince me that God existed and did not get anywhere, she also stated that catholics where not christians since they worship the virgin mary and the bible says there should be only one god. I confronted her with the fact that if she was right then heaven would be reasonably roomy and hell would be a crowded place, and I would be sure to end up in it. She simply shrugged.

I am sure you see people you like, people that seem like good and nice people, that do good and live well but are not religious, or do not have your particular branch of religion. Is it not almost impossible to accept that these people will one day wake up in hell and scream in agony for eternity, or do you have another way to think about this?


Just wondering. One christian apologist once said "it would make sense to invent heaven for your own comfort, but why would anybody invent hell?" and it is a good question. I think I can answer it, but it is not the topic of this thread. What are your thoughts on hell being crowded with good but misled people?



Just wondering. One christian apologist once said "it would make sense to invent heaven for your own comfort, but why would anybody invent hell?" and it is a good question.


Simple: Hell is for other people.

Ever notice that the people who strongly believe in hell typically don't think they are the ones going there. "If you don't believe the message I'm preaching...there's consequences buddy!"

Helps balance the scales of cosmic justice and all that.

Prof.

How do you deal with the concept of crime and punishment?




Answer: Laws. Police forces. Judges. You know, that kind of thing...

Prof.

Prof, although that question was posed to the thread host, I can't tell you how thrilled I am that you have finally decided to engage me in open dialogue.

You have no idea how happy I am that you actually answered one of my simple questions:)

Hopefully this isn't a hit-and-run, and you'll continue to dialogue with me.

So here's the next simple question:

if you expect human judges to pass judgment / & penalties for broken laws, is it illogical that God should have a similar approach.

Or does it just make sense when humans conduct themselves in such ways?

You do agree that justice must be served right?

At the end of the day; I assume that you support a legal system that doesn't allow rapist and murderers to go free?!?!

And I'll assume that you aren't going to dodge any of my very simple questions....


Workman, I don't know why your post implies I have ever "dodged" a question from you.

Anyway...

Workman - 

if you expect human judges to pass judgment / & penalties for broken laws, is it illogical that God should have a similar approach.



There are various levels at which that question can be answered.

The most fundamental answer would be "no" it doesn't make sense for an Omniscient, Omnipotent God to ever NEED laws and punishments. So long as that God does not desire his creation to sin/do evil, it would not occur. Even the Christian can conceive of this state of affairs were we exist in love and do not choose evil : it's called "heaven."
(And if the Christian wants to say we will be sinning in heaven, that opens up a whole 'nuther box of worms).

It's just ridiculous for such a God to be in the position of dealing with the kinds of "sinning" and "evil" we see in the world in the first place.

But moving on from that level...

IF we just start with the human condition as it is, and allow that God has to deal with it, and IF His way of dealing with it were to be in the form of penalties for broken laws (which, given God's attributes, I still hold would be somewhat silly), THEN I would say "ok."

But the extremely important point would be: that God's actions would be held to the same standard of morality as our actions. In other words, there isn't a "double-morality," one for God and one for human beings.

Therefore the reasoning is not as simple as "Human beings employ rules and punishment, therefore God can employ rules and punishment."

Because without the important caveat I've brought up, people run with that and imagine it therefore licensees God to come up with whatever rules and punishment He wants, as if there will always be moral equivalence.

But this is not granted by moral reasoning. Just because WE (e.g. certain western societies) may have rules and punishment does not therefore grant moral equivalence to the actions of a Stalin or Pol Pot or Hitler just because they too have come up with rules and ways to enforce those rules.

I feel I have to bring this up because it is very, very common for Christians to make the unwarranted leaps from general concepts - e.g. "As parents we discipline our children, so God can discipline us as his children" - smuggling in all sorts of unjustified steps along the way.


Workman -
You do agree that justice must be served right?

At the end of the day; I assume that you support a legal system that doesn't allow rapist and murderers to go free?!?!



Yes, but you must be aware that there are various justifications for "justice" and "punishment." Yes?

Personally, I'm not compelled by retributive theories of punishment. That approach seems pernicious. I prefer consequences that are based on rehabilitation and on keeping society safe. (Not on simple "eye-for-eye" thinking).

Prof.


prof - 


Just wondering. One christian apologist once said "it would make sense to invent heaven for your own comfort, but why would anybody invent hell?" and it is a good question.


Simple: Hell is for other people.

Ever notice that the people who strongly believe in hell typically don't think they are the ones going there. "If you don't believe the message I'm preaching...there's consequences buddy!"

Helps balance the scales of cosmic justice and all that.

Prof.


Well, yes. The thing is if you were to "invent" heaven then you would have little to lose, but by inventing hell you may make your life more difficult simply because you need to make sure you don't end up there. Anyways:


I feel my question did not quite hit the spot so I try again. Workman brought up the subject of crime and punishment so let me compare law and order with the question. In any legal system you will always have some guilty people walking free and some innocent people being wrongly sentenced to prison or worse.

Of course many innocent people have been executed over the years, and that will continue to happen in any state with corporal punishment. The thought of this happening is horrible to me. I cringe when I think of innocent people being taken out of existence with a poison injection because some people were wrong. Also many who are indeed guilty of for example murder but may have had better reasons, or excuses for it than the court can understand (by for example failing to see the element of self-defense or mental illness) will walk to their deaths in terror and angst. These people don't count in the millions, but if hell is real it will surely be populated by billions.

So many of those will not understand they were wrong until they get there, and then it will be too late, they will be tormented for eternity due to a flaw in their judgement, they thought they would be OK, but ended up in hell with no hope of correcting their mistake once they fully understand it really exists.


The thought of those innocent ones being killed for crimes they did not commit is a very troubling one for me, but that is really a small minority of the population. If I truly believed that only the truly righteous went to heaven and that muslims, hindus, atheists and a majority of christians went to hell then I would not be able to function. I could never live a normal life thinking about all those people suffering forever.

Ridgeback - 
prof - 


Just wondering. One christian apologist once said "it would make sense to invent heaven for your own comfort, but why would anybody invent hell?" and it is a good question.


Simple: Hell is for other people.

Ever notice that the people who strongly believe in hell typically don't think they are the ones going there. "If you don't believe the message I'm preaching...there's consequences buddy!"

Helps balance the scales of cosmic justice and all that.

Prof.

 While this may be true for your pet target the American Christian Fundamentalist, I think you need to read more widely in Christian literature since the bulk of say Orthodox writing is the exact opposite.  


pretty much. i know what prof is referring too, but I have honestly not met many Christians like the one's he describes in most of his posts.

Ridgeback -
While this may be true for your pet target the American Christian Fundamentalist, I think you need to read more widely in Christian literature since the bulk of say Orthodox writing is the exact opposite.


As if it weren't obvious: My response was meant to be flip, not exhaustive. And it was in response to the OP which asked
about a particular view of hell.

Not that the Catholic view is any better. As a Catechism goes: ""To die in mortal sin without repenting and accepting God's merciful love means remaining separated from him for ever by our own free choice. This state of definitive self-exclusion from communion with God and the blessed is called 'hell'"

All this "hell amounts to someone's choice" nonsense is no more justifiable than fundy hell.

You know very well that, one of my standard complains (and a standard complaint from many critical atheists), is the DIVERSITY of Christian viewpoints. That you get one set of answers about the correct interpretation of the bible from one Christian and different one from another. So, clearly, my posting on the HG does not support the idea that I imagine Christianity is only Protestant Fundamentalism.

Further, you know very well that I have interacted with many different versions of Christianity, and do not confine myself only to anonymous Christians on message boards. That includes having considered Catholic "answers" to various philosophical and theological issues. In fact, there is something of a resurgence of Thomistic-Aristotelian apologetics/theology/philosophy and I have recently been interacting with Catholics on these issues. That has included some back and forth between me and a Catholic Philosopher (Edward Feser) who has written books on Thomistic philosophy and has been loudly been proclaiming the philosophical/theological ignorance of "new atheists."
I have found so far his answers no more promising or justified than any other Christian's.

And this is not to even mention that I have interacted with MANY different versions of Christianity in debate on even the UG forum. Which includes, of course, a lot of extended debate directly with YOUR specific claims, Ridgeback.

Your standard charge that I think of Christianity only in one way, and that I tend to interact simply with easy-target protestant fundamentalism is impossible for you to sustain, honestly. I wish you would rise above this and at least stop implying that falsehood.

Prof.


gord96 - 

pretty much. i know what prof is referring too, but I have honestly not met many Christians like the one's he describes in most of his posts.


First, I was talking of why someone "making up" a religion, e.g. Christianity, would bring in the concept of hell.

Religions, especially ancient religions, are not mere attempts at new agey feel-good ideas. Obviously there was a lot of suffering and injustice and conflict to explain. Religious sought to explain our predicament, as well as offering some consolation in the face of suffering, and offering ways to guide our behavior.

The idea of a God who loves you and offers you an escape from this veil of tears in an afterlife is consoling for many people. But this also had to be squared against the world as we find it. How about the reasons for all ths suffering and injustice? Naturally, people are going to export some version of their own intuitions of justice and morality and impute it to God. So for some, God is going to ensure that Justice Is Done somehow, either now or in an afterlife. And religion is going to provide incentives for what was thought of as "good" behavior. "If you don't behave in a way that God desires, HERE are the consequences..."

Now, surely you would not deny this. To deny this theme running throughout most of Christianity, the Bible and the original church included, would be ludicrous.

As I said: "Hell is for other people." It's a generalization that gets at some truth. What percentage of Christians believe that they personally are going to hell?
How easy would it be to have a "loving relationship" with someone who you THOUGHT was going to torture you forever, or abandon you to some form of eternal torment? No, it's the "saving grace" that a Christian believes he has accepted, that is part of why a Christian is mollified and energized by his relationship with God.

What about a God helping balance the cosmic scales of justice?

You can already see even in this thread a Christian, Workman, developing this theme.

And it's inherent in Ridgeback's commentary as well, in which he keeps asking how a loving, just God would deal with
recalcitrant sinners.

So, if you want to say my comments do not pertain to the Christianity you know, then I'd suggest you must lead a cloistered life and haven't looked at the history of Christianity. You might want to say Christians you met did not present Christianity with the (obviously cheeky) attitude I gave it, but I can't see how you can ignore the accuracy of the theme: That the concept of heaven (or communion with God) and hell provide carrot and stick for behavior, and help address issues of cosmic justice as well.

Prof.






It's fun to pretend! Phone Post


Jeeze, Workman seemed so excited about having an audience with me. What happened? ;-)

Prof.

prof - 
Workman, I don't know why your post implies I have ever "dodged" a question from you.

Anyway...

Workman - 

if you expect human judges to pass judgment / & penalties for broken laws, is it illogical that God should have a similar approach.



There are various levels at which that question can be answered.

The most fundamental answer would be "no" it doesn't make sense for an Omniscient, Omnipotent God to ever NEED laws and punishments. So long as that God does not desire his creation to sin/do evil, it would not occur. Even the Christian can conceive of this state of affairs were we exist in love and do not choose evil : it's called "heaven."
(And if the Christian wants to say we will be sinning in heaven, that opens up a whole 'nuther box of worms).

It's just ridiculous for such a God to be in the position of dealing with the kinds of "sinning" and "evil" we see in the world in the first place.

But moving on from that level...

IF we just start with the human condition as it is, and allow that God has to deal with it, and IF His way of dealing with it were to be in the form of penalties for broken laws (which, given God's attributes, I still hold would be somewhat silly), THEN I would say "ok."

But the extremely important point would be: that God's actions would be held to the same standard of morality as our actions. In other words, there isn't a "double-morality," one for God and one for human beings.

Therefore the reasoning is not as simple as "Human beings employ rules and punishment, therefore God can employ rules and punishment."

Because without the important caveat I've brought up, people run with that and imagine it therefore licensees God to come up with whatever rules and punishment He wants, as if there will always be moral equivalence.

But this is not granted by moral reasoning. Just because WE (e.g. certain western societies) may have rules and punishment does not therefore grant moral equivalence to the actions of a Stalin or Pol Pot or Hitler just because they too have come up with rules and ways to enforce those rules.

I feel I have to bring this up because it is very, very common for Christians to make the unwarranted leaps from general concepts - e.g. "As parents we discipline our children, so God can discipline us as his children" - smuggling in all sorts of unjustified steps along the way.


Workman -
You do agree that justice must be served right?

At the end of the day; I assume that you support a legal system that doesn't allow rapist and murderers to go free?!?!



Yes, but you must be aware that there are various justifications for "justice" and "punishment." Yes?

Personally, I'm not compelled by retributive theories of punishment. That approach seems pernicious. I prefer consequences that are based on rehabilitation and on keeping society safe. (Not on simple "eye-for-eye" thinking).

Prof.




Hey Prof, so the short answer is that you reject that the God of the bible has laws, that if broken will result in consequences?

And you believe that God is omniscient, but you don't have the confidence that He knows what punishment(s) is best.

Do you believe that God is Just? And before you answer that last question, please notice that I specifically said "Just", and not "Love".

Welcome back Workman.

I think maybe my answer did not fall into the convenient route you hoped to take in your argument. ;-)

Workman - 

Hey Prof, so the short answer is that you reject that the God of the bible has laws, that if broken will result in consequences?


That is rather flip of you.

I don't simply "reject" the idea of God's laws being automatically moral and just. Not as if it's just some emotional reaction. I have good reasons for rejecting that proposition.

It's like if a Young Earth Creationist says "Well, you reject the idea that the earth is 6,000 years old."

Well, yeah, but it's due to the very good reasons for rejecting that idea, and for the fact there are no good reasons to believe it.

Same with the case of God and morality, particularly the Biblical God.


Workman -
And you believe that God is omniscient, but you don't have the confidence that He knows what punishment(s) is best.


First, Omniscience does not automatically entail Goodness. After all, knowing it is "good to do X" does not automatically entail doing X. As all of us "sinners" know.
In order to say someone will not always just "know" that doing X is good but will always DO X, will have to appeal to some moral description of their character, and one can't beg the question by first assuming a Being is moral.

Secondly, I'm not sure that "Omniscience" is ultimately a coherent concept.

Finally, if we are talking about the Biblical God, that character seems ANYTHING but omniscient to me. I mean, sure there may be the claim somewhere in the Bible that Yahweh is omniscient. But so what? I could claim I'm omniscient too. But you wouldn't judge that claim based merely on the fact it was claimed about me: you'd look for evidence it was true, from what I say and do. If I'm not acting omnisciently, that is as if I truly knew what I was doing and knew the future etc, then it doesn't matter how many times I claim "I'm omniscient." My behavior offers no good reason to think my claim is true.

Similarly, even as a fictional character claimed to be omniscient, the bible is if anything a litany of Yahweh's plans screwing up, time after time.

So, no I don't think the Biblical God appears omniscient, and no I don't think He knows best.


Workman -
Do you believe that God is Just? And before you answer that last question, please notice that I specifically said "Just", and not "Love".


No. Nothing in the bible paints that character as "Just" - in fact the opposite with all his spiteful smiting and punishing, not to mention hell! - and neither does anything in real life. The real world does not evince one iota of a Magical Wise and Just Being behind reality. Just open the newspaper.

Prof.

Prof, forgive me. Though we've dialogued before, it has been a while.

The point being that I had forgotten that you are an atheist, and therefore, it is utterly pointless to discuss theology with persons who don't even believe in God.

No offence, you are allowed to believe, or in this case, not believe what ever you like, but it just means that the dialogue between you (unbeliever) versus me (believer) will prove to be quite irrational at best.


That's fine Workman if you don't want to continue. No problem.

One thing though: The hallmark of reason is consistency, so if a dialog between us would "prove irrational" that's only because one of us (or both) would be arguing irrationally. I'm pretty confident I can stay rational :-)

Prof.

An evil concept invented by ignorant, barbaric and manipulative men to frighten gullible people into obeying them. Phone Post

Ridgeback -
samcarr6 -  An evil concept invented by ignorant, barbaric and manipulative men to frighten gullible people into obeying them. Phone Post

By all appearances Jesus is the "inventor" of the concept of Gehenna.  

Exactly, there is no real mention of eternal punishment in the OT so Jews didn't believe in it. Phone Post

I think it is a bit over simplifying things to say Jesus invented Gehenna, Gehenna was a very real place outside the city gates. And Hades, to which Jesus also speaks is at least to the Greek mind the place of death (but I think not really punishment, is that correct?) So Jesus invented the application of Gehenna towards humans. However even this is simplistic, as Jesus applied this concept towards the Rich and Powerful exclusively. And contextually, it does not prop up an idea of Dante's hell, but rather a metaphorical understanding of how the afterlife turns things upside down.

rev

Are you talking to me?

rev