Tag Archives: hell

Can a religion which preaches hell be reasonable?

I was in a discussion with some Christians recently who assured me that their beliefs were based on reason.  A few centuries ago, such an admission would have likely earned you 10 lashes or worse by the disciples of some of Christianity’s preeminent theologians, but that was before the Enlightenment and all the goodies it produced.  Today, reason is seen a Good Thing™, and many religious strive to show how it’s in fact on their side.

I’ve previously argued in Reasonable or foolishness?, when it comes to Christianity at least, the theology denigrates reason (e.g., “man’s wisdom”), extolling faith instead, which proved itself extremely useful for defending any belief, no matter how crazy or unsubstantiated.  Here I want to broaden my argument to explain why religions that preach retribution for non-belief cannot in fact lay claim to being reasonable.

To see why, consider the following thought experiment.  Suppose I come up to you and claimed evolution is true.  Perhaps you believe me right away, or perhaps you want to make up your own mind; after all, lots of people tell you things that don’t turn out to be true.  Go ahead and do that, I tell you, but if you arrive at any other conclusion besides mine, I’m going to throw you in jail, where you’ll rot for the rest of your life.

Most people would immediately see the problem here.  Have I in fact allowed you the luxury of reason to investigate and believe my claim?  No, I haven’t, because I’ve really only one given you one choice, and that’s to simply accept the claim that evolution is true.  Even providing you with what I consider rock-solid proof of evolution doesn’t alter the calculus in any way.  When I threaten you, I automatically remove reason as an allowable means to accepting my claim.  I’ve in effect determined your choice.  If you were truly free to exercise reason, I would have to accept its outcome no matter what, even if I considered you gravely mistaken.  Punishment for arriving at a wrong conclusion turns reason into a thought-crime.

So when believers like Christians or Muslims contend their faiths are based on reason, one may simply object that this can’t be so because their god in fact doesn’t allow it.  Using reason to arrive at any other belief than the correct one will earn you an eternity in hell.  Thus, reason is in reality an evil to be avoided, as Martin Luther concluded a long time ago.  Blind, unquestioning, and unexamined belief is what the theist’s retributive god truly desires, not a belief grounded in reason.  Some theologians have essentially acknowledged this, asserting that certain theological beliefs must simply be taken for granted, or presupposed.

In my next post, I’ll show why reason is explicitly excluded in religions like Christianity.

Phrases to avoid if you’re trying to scare me into your religion

“The wrath of the lamb”

Somehow, that just doesn’t do it for me.  When I think of lambs, I think of white, puffy creatures who’re afraid of their own shadows and who star in kiddie shows.  “Wrath” and “lamb” seem about as related as “vengeance” and “Teletubby”.  The phrase pretty much obliterates the entire point you’re trying to make because I’m too busy laughing to hear it!

By now, you’re probably wondering, where the hell I got this from.  It was taken from the following video, about 1:05 in.  Admittedly, the preacher mostly says “the wrath of God.”  At least, heavy editing makes it appear that’s what he mostly says.  And if the editing wasn’t enough, a dark, foreboding track – Lord Sauron’s theme from The Lord of the Rings perhaps? – further emphasizes the punishment to come.  Really, you can’t make this stuff up (not even you, Dave Barry!).

Anyway, it’s good to see the old-fashioned, fire-and-brimstone sermon hasn’t gone completely out of style, if only to punctuate how bizarre and, well, medieval, is this aspect of religion.  But it got me thinking to what extent beliefs in some terrifying, eternal suffering in the afterlife have played in a religion’s relative success. After all, two of the world’s largest religions – Christianity and Islam – both share among the most merciless and boundless conceptions of divine punishment.  With those two religions, as the rewards in heaven for belief are supremely enticing (mansions, in the case of Christianity; female virgins, in the case of Islam), are the tortures in hell for disbelief stupefyingly horrific.  While some form of reward and punishment in the afterlife didn’t originate with Christianity and Islam, they are pretty unique in positing such an extreme variance in the two possible spiritual existences.  Yes, I realize that – at least for Christianity – most teaching on the subject of hell has moderated somewhat, the video above notwithstanding, it’s also true that this is a historically recent development.

It may be a mistake to assume that religious threats constitute a way to reel in new members.  From an outsider’s perspective, I’m possibly going to offend someone’s god regardless of which religion I choose. It’s like a game of roulette, except the wheel contains not 38 slots (or “pockets”) but thousands.  Good luck with that bet!  More likely, as is the case with apologetics, the aim is to keep the sheep from leaving the fold.  Our good preacher suggests just as much when he warns that even some members of his audience will not be immune from the main mutton’s mania.  As for myself, I’m going to try to get ahead of the game by pouring out my wrath on a plate of lamb kabob.

Does God like to punish?

Anyone who’s read the Bible knows that punishing people took up a goodly portion of God’s time.  And it didn’t much matter if you actually did anything wrong or not, or if you were under a certain age.  Guilt by association was just as much a crime as the “crime” itself–just ask the Canaanites or the pre-Flood inhabitants.

And if you think the punishments have stopped because we live in some period of grace, think again.  With every calamity–natural or not–some “man of God” dutifully proclaims it divine retribution for one human “sin” or another–gay pride parades, gambling, abortion, dancing–you name it.  Some even believe calamities are a herald of the imminent end times–the fact that the same things have been occurring for millions of years doesn’t seem to phase these people, however.

The funny thing about these prognosticators of doom is that they also believe in a god who sends the unrepentant (read: those who don’t belong to their particular sect, in their particular religion) to eternal suffering in the fiery pits of hell.  Their god, apparently not simply content with punishing us forever and ever after death, also feels it necessary to mete out punishment during our lifetimes.  And if we poor SOBs should die as a result, then tough shit.  Out of the fire, and into the frying pan!

So, you can see, God really likes to punish. And, I gotta hand it to him, in a number of really inventive ways.  A virus which progressively destroys your immune system, leaving you to die a slow and miserable death?  Who da thunk it?!

But what about the the innocent casualties?  You know, those who’re did everything right, muttered the correct magical words, dutifully contributed to the collection plate every Sunday in the red brick church.  Is God punishing them too when they get run over by a hurricane or tidal wave?

Oh, no!  They are merely being “called home.”  At the worst, they should recall that this is a fallen world, righteously susceptible to God’s carpet-bomb justice.  ‘Cause, you know, sparing the good and innocent is too much to ask of the Omnipotent Creator of the Known Universe.  If I was one of those Rapturians–people who believe they’ll be magically beamed into the sky before the real shit hits the fan–I would feel a little worried about this divine tendency to simply blow everyone away.

The really curious thing is the response of these men of God and their fellow believers.  They sometimes actually help the victims. WTF? I can think of no more sinful act than working against God’s justice.  They may think that poor, hungry child in Somalia deserves food, but they should remember, that kid has got sin-tainted blood and is almost certainly headed for hell.  Best to send ’em a Bible instead (only the KJV1611 version will do).

You can’t help but get the impression God is chomping at the bit to annihilate His creation as soon as possible, and is blowing off a little steam in the meantime.  With divine love like this…