Tuesday, January 22, 2013

A Few Thoughts On Hell

Whether theists like it or not, invoking the fear of going to hell is one of religion's greatest selling points. How convenient it is for a Christian or Muslim to be able to tell the skeptic that they are doomed to eternal punishment if they continue doubting. Atheists employ no such fearful tactics. As much as I disagree with theists, as much as our agendas oppose one another from opposite sides of a culture war, I would never wish hell on them, and I would never think they are deserving of hell. The theist who may not wish I go to hell, but who believes that I am deserving of it from my atheism, I have serious quarrels with.

When I think of my intellectual heroes who were non believers and who are now dead, just the idea that they are being tortured in hell now, and will continue to be forever, is sickening. I could never voluntarily love a god who would do such a thing. And the idea that we are commanded to love god or else face dire consequences is also sickening, and very totalitarian. Love must come natural, it cannot be ordered. It's like ordering someone to love blueberry pie. You either love it, or you don't. If you try to force yourself to love it, you will only be lying to yourself. In the case of god, if he exists, he apparently knows who really loves him and who doesn't. He knows who is faking it out of fear or out of self interest. What kind of perfect and holy loving god would think kindly to someone groveling on their knees clamoring, solely out of cowardice?

This points to the self-evident absurdity of religions like Christianity and Islam. God wants us trembling before him, as his slaves, in recognition of his supremacy and perfection, as if god somehow needs to hear he's perfect to boost his confidence. This narcissism and jealously bothers me quite a lot. It is hard for me to rationalize how a holy perfect being with no earthly desires is absolutely furious at the idea that we might ignore him and live as we please. He apparently created us so we could have the pleasure of worshiping him. He is also so loving that he endowed us with the free will to choose to not worship him, and he set it up so that if we did not make that choice, or if we worshiped incorrect attributes of him, he graciously created a place of eternal torture called hell. He sends all those who do not worship him properly (according to the ways he described when he revealed himself many centuries ago to illiterate desert dwellers) to hell and insists that it is their choice since they chose not to worship him properly.

This is more or less an uncaricaturized portrayal of the beliefs that billions of theists have. While some theists express reservations about the unnecessary cruelty of god's chosen way to handle his creation, others are perfectly fine with it and even emphatic about it. I've always thought the idea of eternal torment could only be born out of cruelty and a lack of compassion. To eternally punish those who exercised their logic, reason and  doubt, or who were unlucky enough to have been indoctrinated into the wrong faith as children, when given amount of evidence one had to go on is weak and vague at best, must be the product of deliberate sadism. This idea that god sends us to hell with the attitude that "it's going to hurt me more than it hurts you" I'm not buying.

Just think about how the example below emphasizes the absurdity of the system I'm asked to believe is the work of a perfect being:

Suppose Christianity is true. And now imagine a simple minded fool who out of sheer luck, happens to have been born into the faith. He never thinks deeply about Christianity's precepts or the deeper questions surrounding the story, he just accepts it and believes. He eventually dies and goes to heaven. Imagine someone else born with an unquenchable thirst for knowledge. His highly inquisitive mind is always searching for answers and the evidence to back them up. Through his quest for truth, he decides that Christianity's claims cannot be scientifically and rationally justified given the available evidence and so he concludes it isn't true. He dies and goes to hell. 

Assuming that both men are morally equal in their lives, imagine the god who rewards the simple minded fool for his credulity and cultural luck, while the deep thinking intellectual is doomed forever. It's almost as if god is saying, "Don't use the critical thinking abilities I gave you, be credulous and accept." What kind of mind could this be, who would create such a system whereby winning the cultural lottery at birth, and blindly following what is told is worthy of reward or being shown mercy? The thinking theist might say that god takes into account everyone's individual situation, but most often he or she goes by the traditional rules that say there are no exceptions for anyone who doesn't worship the right way. They also tend to believe that we all deserve hell for not being perfect, but seem to be unaware that we were created imperfect to begin with.

I can almost understand a theist accepting this as true but wishing it were different, but I cannot understand the theist who wishes this were true or who believes this is the way it should be. That to me is as absurd as the proposition itself.

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