Most of us are familiar with Hell. It is a part of our pervasive Judeo-Christian heritage, and has become such an accepted part of our understanding of God and justice, that few stop to examine what a horrifying idea it really is. Like growing up next to a slaughterhouse, the smells and sights and sounds that revolt others are hardly noticed by we who have lived there all our lives. Instead we look in disgust at the practices of primitive pagan cultures, Satan worshippers and communists, while ignoring the far greater moral outrage of our own religion's Hell. Even the most bloodthirsty and ruthless among us could not aspire to that which the Christian God has in store for his children.
For those unfamiliar with the evangelical Christian understanding of hell, take a look at this Southern Baptist description of it. Even to those of us for whom Hell is the norm, this stark narrative with its simplistic morality grinds at our sensibilities. Or it should. But for millions of Christians, this is okay. They praise God the Father every Sunday morning for his love and mercy, all the while convinced that punishing unbelievers in Hell is completely ethical and morally sound. For them there is no human holocaust, nothing unfair about it. It is a deserved consequence meted out by a good and just God.
A just God, they say, must punish those who sin. Because we sin, we deserve to be punished, and punished, evidently, in any horrible way God sees fit. Just as parents must punish their disobedient children, so should God punish us. So let's take their analogy and examine it further.
Punishment can be broken down into two types: active and passive. Active punishment is a punishment inflicted by the parent, such as a spanking. Passive punishment, on the other hand, has more to do with consequence, such as getting your hand burned by a hot stove after you've been told not to touch it. Here, punishment occurs, but the parent does not actively cause it. We'll look at active punishment first.
If a child disobeys a parent, it is usually proper for the parent to discipline the child. More severe transgressions may require more severe punishments. However, there is a limit a child deserving of punishment does not therefore deserve any sort of violence that can be done to it. Setting your child on fire, for example, is an unacceptable punishment. Why? Because it is inhumane to do this. It is no longer a matter of punishment, but ethical treatment of another human being. Not only should the punishment fit the crime, there are punishments that do not fit any crime.
That burning someone to death is inhumane, is obvious. What apparently isn't, however, is that unethical behavior does not become less so, just because a Supreme Being does it. If anything, it becomes more unethical, for the more intelligent and wise a being is, the more apparent this should be to it. Abuse is not okay, even if God does it. For an infinitely wise and just being, unethical behavior is infinitely worse. Actively punishing people in the fires of hell is abuse of the highest order. The Devil himself could do no worse.
But what if hell is the natural consequence of sin, sort of like getting burned is the result of putting your hand in a fire? And what if God does not send us there, rather He warns us against it? Does Hell become more just in this case? Some Christians think so. Using a passive punishment argument, they claim that God is like a parent who tells his child not to touch a hot stove, because he will get burned. And if the child touches it anyway, the result is the child's fault, not the parent's. Or is it? Those of you with small children, leave the stove on for a day, and see how responsible you feel when one of your kids gets burned.
The crux of the passive punishment idea is that hell is a natural consequence of sin, and not a punishment inflicted on us by God. That supposedly removes any moral responsibility on God's part for the suffering we endure. After all, He warned us about it, didn't He? Such an argument might work, except for one thing: God created everything, including Hell, and the scenario under which most of humanity must go there. What Christians leave out of the hot stove analogy is, who turned on the stove in the first place. So a more accurate analogy goes like this:
I am the owner of a daycare, full of preschoolers. In the playroom, I put many toys in the center, and surround them with hot stoves. With strict instructions not to touch the stoves, I let the kids loose in the playroom. You can guess what happens next. So who's fault is it that many of the kids suffer burns? Using the Christian argument for Hell, the fault would lie with the children, because they were told of the consequences of touching the stoves, yet did so anyway. You think the police would buy that argument? Of course not. Not only would my daycare be immediately shut down, I would be arrested. Why? Because I created the dangerous condition in the daycare, and as a result, put the kids in harm's way. Even though I may have warned them, children are not capable of avoiding such dangers, and the responsibility for their injury is still mine. And putting hot stoves in a room full of little kids is in itself insane, regardless of the consequences.
Similarly, if God created everything, then He also created Hell. He is solely responsible for its attributes, and what it does to people. He also created a system of salvation from Hell that is unattainable by most. Like the children in the daycare, we are not responsible for this horrible object that was placed so close to us. Nor are we equipped to avoid its danger. The Christian argument that Hell is a natural consequence of disobedience forgets the fact that God is the one who created this consequence and put it there, and this by itself is already an immoral act. Those who create torture chambers have already committed an ethical violation, regardless of what rules they later implement to determine who goes there.
Hell and its finality eliminate any notion of divine mercy that God might possess. The fact that Hell awaits you as soon as you die, limits God's mercy to the mere span of a human's life, even if that life is cut short for some reason. That means an eternal God can only extend mercy to his creatures for a few short years at worst, and a few decades at best. Even a human can be merciful for this much time, many a human parent has done so for an incorrigible child. And were they to live on, a parent may extend mercy to a child indefinitely. Hell, however, eliminates that possibility for a supposedly omnipotent God.
And since there is no remedial value to hell, no learning your lesson and being let out, it serves no purpose other than to inflict suffering. No responsible parent would do that to a child. With no remedial purpose, the punishment of Hell is merely sadistic.
Burning criminals to death is a cruel and unethical punishment, even if done by the most despotic dictator. Christians know this too, that's why it's puzzling that they would find the prospect of burning people alive forever, to be a fair and acceptable punishment when it's done by a supposedly kind and loving God. It's ironic that those who listen with horror at accounts of Hitler's holocaust, can sit quite undisturbed at descriptions of their own God's holocaust in hell. Maybe it's because we have no pictures of Hell.
When we look at holocaust pictures, we are outraged. We are outraged at the crematoriums, the gas chambers, the emaciated bodies, and the horrible devices to inflict suffering. And at the same time, we are outraged at anyone who would create such a place, and commit such acts against people. No amount of hatred for another human could justify what was done there. Yet Christians would have us believe that Hell is a place infinitely worse than a Nazi death camp. In fact, they have to believe that all the Jews who did not become Christians before they died, and are now burning in hell, must long to return to these camps, if only to escape for one minute, the suffering of Hell. Can this really be? Then why is it that the Nazis are condemned, while the Christian God is praised, when he treats people infinitely worse?
Christians would do well to remember this, next time they visit a holocaust memorial. They should keep in mind that their religion says it's okay for people to be treated this way, and even worse, so long as God does it. But even if there were pictures of it, I am afraid many Christians would still find Hell acceptable. Probably for the same reason so many Germans could justify their actions they're only Jews, after all. Only by marginalizing people, and not really regarding them as human, can we accept that such things occur. Perhaps the greatest injustice of Christian Hell is that it requires us to regard others in this way.
It is a sad day when we condone the abuse of one human being by another. It is also a sad day when we condone such abuse by our god.
Sammy, You have thought about hell very deeply and have some very good points. I can't argue against them but would like to offer an alternative which traditionalist will think is hell-arious.
As the ego matures with discipline and understanding, the desire for God increases, and our efforts are guided by Christ. Just as baby Jesus grows into an adult, our minds awaken to the spiritual side of Christianity . The resurrection of the mind follows the crucifixion of the ego, just as the body of Jesus ascended into heaven so also our ego ascends to a point of view where everything is in harmony or our mind starts to see heaven.
This hidden garden of ecstasy or heaven is not in any particular country or in some private area away from civilization. It lies within each one of us so we just have to find the keys to open the gates. The keys are hidden in the layers of the mind in our experiences,agonies and ecstasies.
At first we are ignorant of the ever-present heaven and misuse our power, consequently binging on ourselves misfortune and negation. Liberation and repression, sickness and health, poverty and wealth, heaven and hell, good and bad, happiness and misery, peace and panic appear to be opposites, but they are only the result of opposing forces, the forces that lead us to the one power or God. These forces teach us how to live and how to think so we can be happy in heaven . Man already has this ability to be at peace, but first he must realize his relation to the Whole, a relationship with God in complete unity. To not be in this awareness is hell, if heaven is that joyous.
My guess is that this is reflective of other posts recently. If the user does not choose to register then they are probably just trolling.
Especially with the anti-Christian overtones.
Sammy T, Why don't you register and then we can openly debate this. If not why don't you take your anti-Christian message back to atheism.about.com and then come back with something a little better.
Yes, it has that look about it, Eric.
I tend to agree with you, in part. Hell is not so much for people who touch a hot stove as it is for
those who burn others, physically and metaphorically, those who make decisions to burn others with phosphorous and flamethrowers for the purpose of stealing their land, their freedom ,or their natural resources, people who use positions of power and influence to raid over half of the public treasury, and the treasure of future generations to serve their ends.
Without hell, there is no justice, and without free will, there is no deliberate choice to be there.
caritas, and peace, mm <*))))><
Hell is the total absence of Christ's Living Waters. It is an ever longing desire, burning, and constant thirst that nothing in hell quenches. It is a total separation from the Light and Love of God and His pure flowing River of Life.
Hell is certainly one of the most difficult parts of the Christian message to accept, whether you consider yourself a Christian or not.
To me though, I do agree with Christian teachings that there is a realm of punishment which is called 'hell.' What I don't accept is that those in hell will be trapped there for eternity with no hope of redemption.
I believe that human sin and evil are real and that for justice to be done fairly, some kind of atonment for sins done in this life must be made by the sinner who has not accepted God's love and mercy or who has not followed another religious path (i.e. Islam or Buddhism) which brings salvation. It is grotesque to me that a murderer or a rapist should get into heaven as easily as a Saint who has suffered much in this life at the hands of others. While I believe God's love and mercy are infinite, I also believe God has to punish sin and he will do so by sending some to hell, however I believe firmly hell is not eternal, and I also believe those who follow other religions and have lived a good and holy life will also get to heaven.
If we understand heaven, heaven usually means to become either one with God or to live in his close prescence. To be in hell then, heaven's opposite, is to live apart from God or apart from God's close prescence.
I cannot and do not accept the teaching of many fundamentalists or evangelicals and pentecostals that it is either 'Jesus or the fire' however we do need to remember virtually all the world's religions postulate the existence of a hell and that working diligently towards love, compassion and away from selfishness and egoism in this life are essential to salvation. In my experience this is no less true in Buddhism or Islam than in Christianity. It is essential in this life to work diligently towards your own salvation, to grow deeper into an intimate union with the Real, and cultivate everything which destroys hate, anger, and anything which is opposed to a spirit of love and goodwill to all other human beings and creatures.
I believe in hell as a place where the sinner is removed from his sin, meaning that the person will pay for what he or she has done in their sin, whatever it is. I do not believe that one remains in hell for ever, it is just a place where we understand what we did wrong and can come to see in what way we have done wrong against God and his Creation. The only chance of staying in hell for a very long time ( which only God knows how long it will be, each soul understands at different times) is if we have done something really bad. As about the holocaust, I do not believe the people whom have perished there are in hell, in fact, I am certain each of them have been welcomed into the arms of the Loving Father and have been made to sit by His side, it is in fact the bad people, the nazis, that are going to stay in hell the longest time, until they have understood what they did and how badly they have wounded God and his creation by doing what they did. I have never been to any place of the holocaust but if I ever went I would pray for the people that died there and hope that their souls are now at peace in Gods embrace. God doesnt mind about if you come to him as Chrisitan or Jew, he loves you anwyay. The only reason why he sent his different messengers is that people understood one time but then forgot again and again so he had to send messengers time and time again for us to understand. In the end he has even sent himself in the form of Jesus of Nazareth for us to understand. But, all the messengers are coming from God, so all religions are the same thing, a message from God in different versions. God is love, so, God does not believe in the hatred that we humans often say he does believe in and when we do horrible acts in his name, hes not with us at all, but is wondering why on earth we are using him to do these terrible things. The people to do the holocaust, when they said they were Christians or belivers of any faith, were as far away from the real message of their faith as we are from understanding the nature of Gods Love and Being.
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