Hell Belief

Three problems with it:

  • Hell belief is authoritarian. If it is true that most people go to hell, and it is eternal torture over flames to be there, then the only way to save yourself from such a ridiculous fate is to get with the program pronto and never fall out of line or question too much.
  • Because you may doubt your own salvation, hell belief sets up a viscous psychological cycle that drives one into self-recriminations and self-policing, accompanied by cowed submission before the authoritarian Father.
  • Capture-bonding. Hell belief tends to drive one into an emotional state akin to the experience of Winston Smith in Orwell’s chilling climax to 1984 (“He loved Big Brother”). It is the Stockholm Syndrome translated into religion (the source of love and hostage-taking is coming from the same source).

Hell belief is great for spreading religion, not so great for supporting the mental balance and critical thinking of converts.

But here’s a point in hell belief’s favor (sort of). In the terror of death and the fear of meaningless–the emotional hell that can accompany atheism–the electric fence of religious hell belief is a fair trade for a lot of people. Just stay within the fence and you’re at least given the hope of eternal life in a pleasant and God-ordered place after death.

Wouldn’t it be lovely if it were so?

Well, not exactly. Because heaven is then like living in Nazi Germany in the 1940s. You might think of yourself as okay personally, for you do not defy der Fuhrer, but how can you really be happy and unhaunted knowing that the bodies of others, at that very same moment, are being shoveled into ovens at Auschwitz? Living content under such circumstances is cognitive dissonance, complacency, conformity, and cowardice before a vast injustice.

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About Santi Tafarella

I teach writing and literature at Antelope Valley College in California.
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28 Responses to Hell Belief

  1. Unfortunately, the people who issue the common directive “Go to Hell” are normally woefully unspecific about how to get there. It turns out that Hell, like Carnegie Hall, is accessible to people willing to follow two or more very different sets of directions. Apparently, the easiest way to get there is to lie, cheat, steal, fornicate, blaspheme and then just wait for the inevitable.

  2. MissRed says:

    “In heaven, all the interesting people are missing” (Nietzsche) … fire up, here I go

  3. fermanbits says:

    Reblogged this on General Overview and commented:
    … Or be good, which is easier said than done and does not guarantee your salvation because even you make the smallest mistake, you will go to hell, my friend (wherever that is and only If you are believer).

  4. rwstracy says:

    The Hell being discussed is a straw man. Yes, I know about the Biblical references in support of the place of eternal torment but the belief in that hell is dependent upon the Bible being the literal word of God. The Bible makes no such claim for itself. Much of it is the rantings of fanatical men and it does not pretend to be otherwise.
    If the book is studied for its explicit predictions about what happens if we don’t ‘make the grade’ , the simple answer is – death. The same fate that the most irreligious of us believe in.

  5. What gets me is how so many Christians believe in a Norse myth. There is no mention of Hell in the Bible, any devout Christian should know that.

    • rwstracy says:

      I’m not sure which version of the Bible you’ve been reading Archie, Hell ( by various names ) names is mentioned a number of times. It is the fate one finds there that is in question.

      • Well, rw, there is a mention of a place of punishment, but as far as I’m aware that place is only ever temporary in the Bible – making it purgatory. Hell (or Hel, originally) is a Norse place (also the goddess, ruler of the place) where the dead go forever. The name choice is a bit like deciding to call God ‘Odin’.
        There is no mention of Hell in the Bible.

      • rwstracy says:

        Just saying something isn’t there and providing an irrelevant link proves nothing. I generally abhor quoting the Bible unless relavant but this seems to be such an occasion. Give it a read sometime, you might be surprised what’s in there. This is the King James Version but you’ll find it in others as well.

        Acts 2 verse 27: Because thou wilt not leave my soul in hell, neither wilt thou suffer thine Holy One to see corruption.

      • Right… because the Bible was originally written in King James era English?
        Or has someone translated the Bible, putting a pagan concept in place of the original Christian one?
        And the link isn’t irrelevant, it shows quite clearly that Hel is a Norse concept, which is my point.
        The main idea is that Hell is forever, purgatory is not.

      • rwstracy says:

        No, it was originally written in Greek and before that, Hebrew. Both of which pre-date your Old Norse myth by many centuries. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Old_Norse
        And yes, the death associated with hell in the Bible is forever, if you believe what it says.

      • When the myth was created IS irrelevant. When it was inserted into Christianity is much more to the point.

        The afterlife associated with Hell in the Bible is forever, if you read the versions that have re-translated purgatory into Hell.

        Simple as that.

      • rwstracy says:

        You keep changing the subject here. The subject was the concept of hell as a place of punishment. This existed LONG before Christianity and was spoken of in numerous places in the Old and New testaments. If you are quibbling about the spelling of the word hell, that’s just not interesting enough for me to discuss.
        The ‘afterlife’ associated with hell is a misnomer unless you think of death as a kind of afterlife.
        If you want to simplify it in Biblical terms, it doesn’t get any simpler than Romans 6:23 – The wages of sin is death….

        I really hate sounding like I’m preaching…..

      • rwstracy says:

        After disecting your posts carefully it occured to me that you are trying to make a distinction between Hell and Purgatory which is an interesting but different discussion. So, what is Purgatory in your belief system? My first wife was Catholic and described it as a kind of temporary version of hell that one could be prayed out of if the prayers were good enough.

      • Well, I myself am not Christian, and my own belief system – more coincidentally than actively – resembles taoism if anything.
        But, you know, I grew up in a nominally christian society, I read things and discuss texts such as the Bible with people, and my understanding of Purgatory is a place where you go to be punished for a time, depending on your sins. I don’t think it’s all chopping people up and lashings and pain, but a sad, dark place out of the sight of a miffed God. That’s the overall impression I have got from exposure to the idea of purgatory.
        Hell, on the other hand is eternal. It’s all fire and the Devil sitting on a throne ordering demon’s to disembowel you. I don’t think that’s what the Bible is trying to say, and I believe the translation and ideas that have followed from paganism to be a misnomer.

      • rwstracy says:

        Your impression of purgatory is close to my own. Interestingly, purgatory ( the word or concept) is not in the Bible which tends toward the black or white; very few half measures there. And that seems appropriate to me. If you take the idea of God seriously, there are only two logical responses: Seek him or Kill him. What does not make sense is killing other people for their response ( or lack of response) to God. I’m thinking of the killing of the British soldier and Jihad in general here. But I digress….

  6. I find this interesting. I’m working on a theory of mind that differs from all that seem to have come before (I can’t find any historical reference to such) which shows that we can only think in terms of what we know. In this light, hell would be created for those who disobey the rules built for goodness and good life. That is to say that it is a necessary reciprical of deaming what it means to be good. When you say that to get benefit Y you need to live a life X. If you don’t live a life X what happens? Quite simply (in the mind of humans) you are punished.

    I mean to say that in the mind of early humans, it was not possible to have heaven without a hell. If good people are rewarded, then it follows that bad people are rewarded in like kind. All such thinking is fabricated, not because it is without evidence, but the fact of the notion is evidence that it is fabricated. It fits with exactly how our brains work to believe in hell if you believe in heaven… and vise versa.

    • rwstracy says:

      Do you and the rest of mankind not think death is punishment enough? Why is our guilt such that we require an eternity of torture for such trifling errors?

      • I don’t think that way, but religions do

      • Anonymous says:

        My point was that many religions and religious people DO think eternal punishment is appropriate, which is absurd. A reasoned reading of the Bible does not support that interpretation. It says that death is what awaits those who “go to hell”.

      • Dante’s Inferno… I think that is where they get the picture of hell from but even that comes from the scriptures… he just embellished it a bit

      • rwstracy says:

        You’re probably right, but I still wonder why more people don’t check the original document instead of collecting vague ideas from books they probably haven’t read. Or better yet, ask the guy who (according to popular belief) wants to send us there.

      • That’s the funny part, believers know less about their books than non-believers. For many non-believers, reading the book was how we got this way.

        Encourage people to read their holy books!

  7. adasmuse says:

    ” but how can you really be happy and unhaunted knowing that the bodies of others, at that very same moment, are being shoveled into ovens at Auschwitz? Living content under such circumstances is cognitive dissonance, complacency, conformity, and cowardice before a vast injustice.”
    Technically it can’t be said to be a vast injustice since these people have had the same freedom to tune into the ‘program’, as you’ve aptly put it, and thus avoid going to hell. Also the conditions that send you to he’ll aren’t as black and white as they might seem because the nature of the judge who sends people to heaven or hell is questionable and vague – to what extent is he merciful (taking intentions into consideration) and to what extent is he just (bound by doctrines to have to pass judgements while downplaying the role of intentions that drive sinful acts even though they could be seen as morally acceptable)?

    • Santi Tafarella says:

      There’s an element of family dynamics at play here psychologically. As a member of God’s human family, you’re expected to guess what the Father wants. It’s not his responsibility to spell it out for you. And you might get whacked if you can’t discern it. A lot of families work in this manner. Little direct talk. A lot of vague “rules.” A good deal of guessing about what mommy and daddy are really thinking. A lot you learn not to talk about. If you’re part of the family, you navigate this space as a good boy or girl and it shows you that you belong when you don’t question it.

      • rwstracy says:

        Like the question of Hell, the question of what the Father wants of us is often assumed to be vague and unfathomable. Such is not the case whether we are talking about what is in the Bible or in the wider field of philosophy. If read with the intention of figuring out what “He” expects, the book boils down to the same thing as all the philosophers worth their salt say – “Love one another”. Is that so hard to understand?

      • Gerald says:

        The love stuff isn’t as nearly as big a message as “DON’T FUCK WITH GOD.” Over and over, from Genesis to Revelation, including quite a lot of Jesus (shaking the dust off feet, etc)

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