This letter is addressed to Christians who believe in a literal hell: a place of torment where non-believers will be tortured for eternity.
Before I begin: I was a Christian for 24 years, and I never once thought of these things. Now as an atheist I realize just how hurtful and scary this idea is, and I want to share my perspective so you understand what you’re actually conveying to those around you. Also, this is what your beliefs actually mean when you think them through…
When you tell me that I’m going to hell, this is what I hear:
1. You honestly believe that I will be thrown into a burning pit, where the flesh will melt from my bones and be regrown over and over again so I can be tortured mercilessly for eternity. This immense pain will never end- I cannot die, I will continue to suffer for eternity while you enjoy paradise in heaven. I cannot repent after the torture begins, God will not forgive me and give me mercy even after a hundred years of having my flesh burned from my body.
2. You believe that this horrific, eternal punishment is justified for mortal crimes I have supposedly committed- crimes that include unbelief in a supernatural deity that defies science, feeling jealous when my friend gets a new pair of shoes, telling a white lie to make someone feel better, etc. These “crimes” are worthy of burning forever. If you don’t believe this punishment is completely justified, then you are saying that your God is unjust.
3. You bow before this God in prayer and in worship, thanking him for his justice, calling him good- all while firmly believing that this God intends to torture me if I don’t believe in him.
Can you see how this makes you look to non-believers? You are willingly serving a deity that would be so unimaginably cruel to us. This makes you seem cold-hearted, immoral, and even a bit maniacal for condoning such a grossly unjust punishment.
Some of you will say what I used to say years ago: “God doesn’t send you to hell, you send yourself to hell by not believing in him! God doesn’t WANT you to go there!” Here is why that argument doesn’t work:
A. I cannot choose to go to a place pf punishment that I do not believe in. Are you choosing to go to the Muslim hell because you don’t believe in Allah? Of course not- that’s silly. It’s no different for someone who does not believe in your religion’s hell. Not choosing one option doesn’t mean I automatically choose another one- and to say so is unfair and unjust and strips me of my free will. Your god would be making this choice FOR me- I am NOT choosing hell by not believing in him. I choose the third and most logical option: When we die that’s it, we are dead- our bodies go back into the earth. Thus we need to make the most of the life that we have while we have it. It’s beautiful, actually.
B. Even if I did choose hell, it’s not much of a choice: either bow to him or burn. That’s no different than putting a gun to my head and saying “You have a choice! Give me your money or die!” It’s technically a choice- but a grossly unfair one, one that spits in the face of my free will that god supposedly gives me.
C. God made the system and he made the rules, so he is 100% responsible for any and all suffering that results from the punishments he gives out. He created hell, regardless of who it was intended for. Since he knew everything, he knew that humans would end up there, and still made hell just as horrific. He purposefully made rules that were impossible to follow.
D. Just a thought- but hell is a pretty sick place. You’d have to be a pretty sick person to torture ANYONE like that- even the devil. What being deserves to be tormented in such a way, even a rebellious angel that has hurt people? Why not just execute them and make them not exist anymore- why keep them alive to torture them over and over again? That is something that a psychopath or someone on a revenge vendetta- not a loving God who is incapable of wrong- would do.
Another thought: Even if God created us, that doesn’t mean that he has the right to mistreat us or torture us for eternity. Most people would agree that burning your child when they disobey is wrong- just because you gave your child life doesn’t mean you get to hurt them or take their life away from them. But this is somehow ok when god does it.
I never thought about these things when I was a believer. I couldn’t- because a kind, moral person cannot reconcile the idea of hell when you really start to think about it seriously. I know that most Christians are not psychopaths, nor are they crazy. But can you see how insane and maniacal the belief of hell makes you look, and how hurtful it is to us?
You are WILLINGLY serving a deity that you believe will melt the flesh from my bones for not believing in him.
Just think about that for a moment.
It reminds me of people who served Hitler even when he threw their family and friends into concentration camps: either they served him out of fear, they agreed with his awful methods, or they were too blind to see how awful Hitler really was.
Which are you?