What It Takes to Believe in Hell

A very ignorant person. There's no other way to describe this...

There are several conceptions among Christians about the belief in hell, all of them but one involve punishment, and even the annihilationist view doesn’t rule it out, since we’re not told the manner in which the unsaved are annihilated.

I amazes me how hard it is to make Christians see the truth of this horrible belief, since it should be obvious. The belief in hell developed during the Hellenistic intertestamental period. There was the idea of a fiery judgment (1 En. 10:13; 48:8–10; 100:7–9; 2 Bar. 85:13), in a fiery lake or abyss (1 En. 18:9–16; 90:24–27; 103:7–8; 2 En. 40:12; 2 Bar. 59:5–12; 1QH 3). Just take a look at I Enoch 48:8-9: “For in the day of their anxiety and trouble their souls shall not be saved; and they shall be in subjection to those whom I have chosen. I will cast them like hay into the fire, and like lead into the water. Thus shall they burn in the presence of the righteous, and sink in the presence of the holy; nor shall a tenth part of them be found.”

Are the writings from that period inspired? Doesn’t it make better sense to see that these ideas were adopted in the New Testament just like ideas about witch hunts were adopted then discarded in early modern Europe? We are children of our times. During those times people believed in hell. And this is what we find in the New Testament.

The truth is that most traditionalists don’t actually take what the New Testament says literally in our modern era, but creationist Henry M. Morris and Martin E. Clark do. They wrote, “So far as we can tell from Scripture, the present hell, Hades, is somewhere in the heart of earth itself….The Biblical descriptions are quite matter-of-fact. The writers certainly themselves believed hell to be real and geographically ‘beneath’ the earth’s surface.” [The Bible Has the Answer: Revised and Expanded (El Cajon: Creation Life Publishers, 1987), p. 312].

But theists today reject such a notion since the rise of modern geology, which shows otherwise. In fact theists have continually reinterpreted what the Bible says about such topics as hell, women, slavery, inquisitions, and witch hunts in the light of more and more knowledge. In today's world there are many liberal Christians who claim no one will end up in hell at all!

The belief in hell requires the assumption of retributive punishment, in that people should get what they deserve. But such a notion is being rejected by ethicists in today’s world. Basically the only people who still accept such a notion are those who still believe in hell. Psychologists have repeatedly shown how people are not evil so much as they may be sick. We may have a Freudian death wish, is all. Our environment and our genetic makeup dictate who we are and what we do to an overwhelming degree. And the more that a person knows about these influences the more of a love/pity he has for these sick people. Sociologists have shown that what we believe is based on when and where we are born, too. Geneticists are showing that whether we are prone to act out homosexual desires, and addictions like alcoholism, is in our genes. There can be no wrathful God, period, and therefore there can be no punishment in hell, however conceived.

This is especially true since we do not know that we are rejecting God by our choices. No one would consciously disobey God if he knew that hell awaits him when he dies…no one, unless he couldn't avoid it. The oft quoted phrase that “ignorance of the law is no excuse” implies that we can know what that law is, but the evidence of billions upon billions of non-Christians down through the centuries conclusively shows otherwise. Where is the evidence for such a claim?

John McTaggart has argued convincingly against the traditional view of hell. Since there is no empirical evidence for it, the only way we would know it exists is if God reveals this to us. However, the concept of hell is just too vile and repulsive for us to believe, so this calls into question anything of importance that such a God might reveal to us. Since a God who would consign people to hell cannot be trusted, we would have no good reason to trust that he is telling us the truth about anything important. So on the one hand there is no reason or evidence to believe in hell, and on the other hand there would be no reason to trust what God would say if he revealed it to us. [John McTaggart, Some Dogmas of Religion (London, 1906), section 177].

Christians will also claim that the unsaved will rather be in hell than in heaven too. But this is another ludicrous claim. If hell is painful then who in her right mind would enjoy being there? If however, hell is where we prefer to be then how is that to be considered punishment? Besides, once we arrive in hell we would immediately believe the gospel and feel anguish that we didn’t accept it. So in hell everyone will be believers. At that point the residents of hell should be great candidates for heaven and desire nothing else. In fact, because of the logic of this many theologians have argued for a second chance for these believers, the belief in purgatory being just one example. And if believers retort that heaven will be more painful for the unsaved than hell, then how does that make any sense? Even believers themselves argue there will be gradations to their reward in heaven, with some in the “nosebleed” section, just as there will be gradations of punishment in hell for the unsaved (Dante's Universe as one example). But why? Either Jesus washed away all of your sins or he didn’t? If he did, then why are there different rewards? Any lack of obedience from a believer on earth is a sin (sins of "ommission" or "missing the mark"), and yet all sins supposedly have been washed away…all of them. But if those sins are not forgiven and believers are correct about what we'll find in the afterlife, then just as there will be unsaved people in hell who prefer to be there, then there will be some believers in heaven who may not enjoy it there and prefer hell, or at least have periods where they would like to be there. Why not?

Beyond these things the belief that God was so vainglorious that even though life was perfect for him without any want whatsoever, he decided to create this world anyway, knowing in advance that by doing so he would have to punish billions (“the many”) in hell in order to gain a few believers by his side, which he never needed or couldn’t have even wanted in the first place!

The belief is hell is morally repugnant, superstitious, indefensible, barbaric, and contrary to democratic free thinking people since it demands people are punished for what they believe or don't believe. People who defend it are ignorant of a whole host of things, from understanding intertestamental literature, to science, geology, the history of Biblical interpretation, to sociology, psychology, and ethical understandings about punishment.

So what does it take to believe in hell? A very ignorant person. There's no other way to describe it. None.