One reason I do not believe in hell is, were it to exist, it would make heaven impossible. In other words, the very pleasures of heaven would be rendered ridiculous by the concurrent knowledge that the torturing of vast multitudes was occurring at the very selfsame instant. To accept one’s place in heaven under such terms would be akin to being a 1930s Bolshevik official in Moscow consenting to share a meal with Joseph Stalin even as you know, in conscience-gnawing detail, what it is, exactly, that is being done to your fellow Soviet citizens in distant Siberian gulags. It would be a mark of your own moral concern and basic humanity not to accept an invitation to such a “heavenly” supper table. Likewise, to be the winner of the divine “grace lottery”, and be offered a ticket to the heavenly supper table even as you know that others, no more or less sinful than you, have been given a very different “ticket”, would make heaven completely intolerable (at least for me).
In short, if one were to accept the existence of hell, it would render the ticket to hell and the ticket to heaven ultimately indistinguishable. In heaven, at the bottom of every heart, and at the back of every mind, would be a lake of fire choking love. Of all the human emotions, love would be the most endangered in such a heaven. And the heavenly inhabitants’s knowledge of that lake of fire would relentlessly breed in them an undercurrent of cynicism, nihilism, and demonization. Every pleasure in heaven would conceal this pain, and the price of such a heavenly ticket would be hell indeed. Without infinite supplies of cognitive dissonance, it’s a ticket that one would, eventually, have to simply hand back to the distributor of such heavenly “favors”.
An excellent point, and with great examples.
This is also a point I make in my book–“Hell? No! Why You Can Be Certain There’s No Such Place As Hell,” (if you’re interested, you can get a free ecopy of it at my website: http://www.thereisnohell.com), but if I may, I’d like to add another example from the chapter in my book Why There Can Be No Heaven If There’s a Hell.
Let’s say you end up in Heaven trying to sing endless praises to a God who is, simultaneously, torturing billions of others. Unless you are given a de facto lobotomy (in which case, YOU would no longer be YOU, so you might as well have not had a soul to begin with), you would have to begin wondering, “When am I next?” and the joy of Heaven would be lost, replaced by gloom and foreboding! Why? Because you could never rely on a God who is so mean to be honest about making any exceptions.
After all, which is more difficult? For God to actively cause so much immense pain, for so many, for so long, or to go back on whatever promises he made to a few others that he would not put them in Hell too at some point?
It would be like accepting an invitation to live as a guest with one of these maniacal men we’ve been hearing about lately who kidnap, imprison, rape and torture young girls in secret basements. Can you imagine such a guy, simultaneously, having some other young lady as his dinner date, and treating her with respect and care? And even if he did for a while, wouldn’t his true nature unleash itself upon her at some point in time, as it has on so many others? Of course!
I don’t necessarily disagree with anything that has been said. But I do think that it is unfair to use the term “hell” unqualifiedly, assuming that it means “torture chamber,” as if that is THE clear Chrisitan doctrine of hell. I think that perhaps critiques like these should define which conception of hell is being critiqued before moving forward.
I personally do not find many people who believe in a medieval or even fundamentalist conception of hell like this–even among conservatives and fundamentalists! And I think there are good historical examples, going all the way back, of theologians wrestling with the idea, and arriving at notions of hell that are unlike the torture chamber conception, however diverse theSE different notions are.
I find that among even the most staunchly conservative theologians (say, Norman Geisler for example), you do not find a torture view of hell today. I also find that New Testament scholars (for example, non-Christian or non-conservative scholars) do not find a straightforward conception of a hell in scripture or on Jesus’ lips. It seems that most of what we think about hell is derived from Saturday morning cartoons from a generation ago, which in turn was derived from medieval notions evolving all the way through to the early 20th century fundamentalist theological systems.
That said, this attack on that particular view of hell is probably a good one. I just don’t think it even sticks out as being the most obvious intuitive reading of what hell is.
it was after i accepted the bibles’ and christianity’s true message that all humanity will finally be saved an angel visit vindicated me