Not too surprisingly, there are some people out there who think God exists.
But for most of these people God isn’t just some random God, but specifically all-loving, benevolent, infinitely kind, supremely moral, and the perfect role model that we should aspire to be. (Despite, of course, all the suffering in the world he permits.) God is great, allegedly.
And for yet more of these people, God has created this place called Hell where people who sin or do bad things go. And in this place, people are tortured terribly and infinitely in ways we can’t even imagine. Sometimes, these people are tortured for as little as not believing in the correct God.
Yes, this means highly respected people — anyone from Carl Sagan, to Anne Frank, to Mohandas Gandhi — are possibly being tortured simply because they failed to accept the correct God. They’re all good, morally upstanding people, but condemned by some theologies simply for being the wrong religion.
…An idea of such a place is repugnant in the extreme. And yet it’s made by the same guy who is all-loving and perfectly benevolent? How is that not the biggest contradiction you’ve ever heard.
How can anyone, let alone Carl Sagan or Mohandas Ghandi actually merit infinite torture? How is that actually justified?
Seven Reasons Hell is Unjust
But it gets worse.
First, the idea is blatant religious discrimination, and therefore is unjust. You’re sent to Hell for believing the wrong religion, which is totally contradictory to the freedom of religion and free exercise thereof. God is actually worse than the governments of many countries.
Second, the idea punishes belief, not moral character, and therefore is unjust. Hell doesn’t punish people who commit heinous crimes like raping and murdering dozens of people. Hell doesn’t punish those responsible for mass genocides. Hell doesn’t punish those responsible for harming anybody. Why? Simply because any such person can simply ask for Jesus’s forgiveness after doing all these crimes and receive it. All Hell does is punish those who fail to believe.
Third, the idea is completely disproportionate, and therefore is unjust. You’re tortured in Hell forever, literally without end. There is no way anyone could ever do something so terrible as to deserve infinite punishment. You can never have infinite punishment for purely finite sins. This is the exact opposite of a proportionate punishment, off by a factor of infinity.
Fourth, the idea cannot be squared against God’s omniscience and omnipotence, and therefore is unjust. God is a being that allegedly knows everything that has happened or will happen, and thus knows every sin you will commit against him. Additionally, God possesses an infinite amount of power to do something about it, to reveal himself and educate you about your follies. Yet, of course, he does nothing. He stays a silent no-show, even when eternal damnation is on the line. As I argue in “Where is God?”, a proper revelation could save billions of souls… but no revelation.
Fifth, the idea cannot be squared against free will, and therefore is unjust. God claims he wants you to have a free choice to accept him or reject him. But this choice is no more free than the mugger who points a gun at you and claims you had a free choice to hand over your money or get shot. Here, God is forcing you to hand over your obedience or get sent to Hell. Not much of a choice at all.
Sixth, the idea of Hell is capricious and arbitrary, and therefore is unjust. God, being all-powerful could have created a punishment system that did not involve infinite torture after death. Instead, he could have designed an actually effective deterrent, such as a very visible and effective karma system of perfectly proportional punishment. God could have created a system that was both more effective and didn’t involve torture, yet chose not to do so.
Seventh, the idea of Hell enshrines a tyrant who rules through fear, and therefore is unjust. If God really was the paragon and pinnacle of moral virtue, it would be obvious to everyone who observes his actions and behavior in this world. All sane people would immediately flock to worship such a perfect being, myself included. We wouldn’t even need to be promised the rich rewards of Heaven — it would be reward in itself to be in a loving relationship with such perfection. And it goes without saying that we definitely wouldn’t need Hell to fear in order to motivate our worship. All Hell shows is that God is so inadequate and unworthy, he needs the most blatant of threats to get people to follow him.
The Problem with Babies
But it gets even worse, yes even worse than all of this!
Remember that God exists, is all good, and wants everyone to make a conscious, informed, and free choice as whether to accept him or reject him. Remember that this is the most important goal of everyone’s life.
Now contrast this with not only the fact that eternal damnation faces you if you choose wrong, but that some people don’t even live to make this choice! Babies, allegedly possessing a soul since they were born, end up being delivered stillbirth, or being born only to suffer a birth defect and die.
Other babies live a bit longer, only to catch pneumonia or some other disease, and die. Yet more babies die of infanticide, and yet more die of hunger. The routine death of babies is a fact of life. But how does this add up? Why does God allow all these babies to die before being capable of making a conscious, free, and deliberate choice to accept or reject him? Seems kind of silly, doesn’t it?
And where do the souls of these dead babies go, if they haven’t yet made a choice?
Do they end up getting a free ride to Heaven? If so, doesn’t that mean that it is absolutely and unequivocally moral to murder any baby, just so they don’t grow up and accidentally choose to reject God? How could this killing ever be bad if it results in saving a person from infinite torture and giving them infinite bliss instead?
If not, doesn’t that mean that babies are losing out on a chance to be with God, and thus infinite bliss, through no fault of their own? How could God ever be considered fair if, though having the power to save these babies, he willingly prevents them from living to make a choice?
This is a serious dilemma to which Christianity has no answer to, since both options reflect terribly upon the belief in Hell and how God operates.
And feel free to replace babies with other awkward problem groups, such as mentally handicapped people incapable of making actual choices or split-brain people who are one-half atheist.
Excuses Don’t Fly
The standard excuses to get God out of this mess just don’t actually work when examined with any degree of scrutiny.
“God doesn’t send people to Hell, people do by sinning.” Yeah, and Hitler didn’t send people to concentration camps, the Jews did by being Jewish. This hardly gets God off the hook, because he is responsible for creating such a barbaric and horrific punishment and such an arbitrary and capricious standard for what should be punished. If you find a society where eating carrots was punished by forcing you to eat your first-born son, you wouldn’t say “Well, it’s his fault for eating the carrot”.
“All they have to do is accept Jesus, how hard can that be?!” Yeah, and again do whatever it is that Hitler wants and nothing bad will happen to you. It’s not Hitler’s fault, he doesn’t want to send you to a concentration camp, in fact it hurts him to do so! He just wants you to renounce all your personal beliefs and give into him, letting him rule your life completely. How could you blame him for torturing you for not doing what he wants?
“Sinning against an infinite God requires infinite punishment.” Hardly. In fact, it’s the exact opposite — if punishment is to rectify harm done to an individual, then all sinners have to rectify the harm they’ve done to God. But that’s just it, God can’t be harmed. It’s impossible to any sort of damage to an infinitely powerful being. Thus sinning against an infinite God requires no punishment, unless you harm someone else in some way.
“Rejecting God is an infinite crime.” How? Why would God, again an infinite being with no imperfections, possibly be slighted at all by someone who fails to believe in him? What, are we to seriously believe that God is somehow offended? Are we really to think that the ultimate crime in the world deserving of infinite torture is not genocide or rape or murder, but saying that God does not exist or that another religion is preferable?! Talk about warped priorities!
“God defines what is moral, so he can’t be in the wrong.” But if God defines what is moral, why should we humans have to care about his definition? This is an abuse of definitions by smuggling connotations, thinking that just because God says its good changes something about the qualities of the act.
“It is still possible that, somehow, Hell is actually just. God works in mysterious ways.” Likewise, it is still possible that zebras are capable of flying, yet are holding out on us. Perhaps Zebras work in mysterious ways too? However, it is widely considered unreasonable to insist on a hypothesis that says zebras have the power of unassisted flight, simply because we have no reason to think so. Thus, unless we actually have a reason to think that Hell is just, the minuscule possibility shouldn’t bother us.
But the Bible Doesn’t Teach An Infinite Hell of Torture!
The last ultimate excuse to save the all-loving God from the vast injustices of Hell by denying that Hell actually takes place in an infinite torture sort of way. These people might advocate anihilationism, the idea that God simply removes from existence everyone who fails to meet his standards. These people might advocate universalism, the idea that everyone eventually ends up reconciled and in Heaven with God. Or these people might advocate that Hell is not actually all that painful.
But a reading of some Bible passages paint a much different picture, with Qur’an passages being completely unambiguous about the torture going on:
“So shall it be at the end of the world: the angels shall come forth, and sever the wicked from among the just, and shall cast them into the furnace of fire: there shall be wailing and gnashing of teeth.” – Matthew 13:40-50 (KJV)
“The same shall drink of the wine of the wrath of God, which is poured out without mixture into the cup of his indignation; and he shall be tormented with fire and brimstone in the presence of the holy angels, and in the presence of the Lamb: and the smoke of their torment ascendeth up for ever and ever: and they have no rest day nor night…” – Revelation 14:10-11 (KJV)
“But I say unto you, That whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment: and whosoever shall say to his brother, Raca, shall be in danger of the council: but whosoever shall say, Thou fool, shall be in danger of hell fire.” – Matthew 5:22 (KJV)
“Then shall he say also unto them on the left hand, Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels” – Matthew 25:41
“And if thy hand offend thee, cut it off: it is better for thee to enter into life maimed, than having two hands to go into hell, into the fire that never shall be quenched” – Mark 9:43
“But as for those who disbelieve, garments of fire will be cut out for them; boiling fluid will be poured down on their heads, whereby that which is in their bellies, and their skins too, will be melted; and for them are hooked rods of iron. Whenever, in their anguish, they would go forth from thence they are driven back therein and (it is said unto them): Taste the doom of burning.” – The Qur’an, sura 22:19-22
“Those who disbelieve Our revelations, We shall expose them to the Fire. As often as their skins are consumed We shall exchange them for fresh skins that they may taste the torment.” – The Qur’an, sura 4:56
Of course, believing in a religion with no Hell or a much reduced Hell, even if potentially biblically unsound, is much more justifiable tan believing in a religion that condemns non-believers for infinite torture. Such a belief is massively horrific to even imagine people seriously considering and adopting, perhaps requiring a massive conspiracy theory to maintain.
Just the fact that alleged holy texts like the Bible and the Qur’an teach such horrific torture and contempt for those who simply fail to find a religion convincing is enough basis to reject that religion outright as unenlightened and uninspired.
If a God exists, which I think does not with near certainty, I would hope that he isn’t the author of the Bible or the Qur’an. There is no way such an architect of Hell could ever be the paragon of moral virtue or the locus in which all goodness rests.
But on top of that, we see God going against everything Hell is designed to solve by allowing people to die before reaching an age in which they can freely make a choice to accept him, or live in a mental state of being incapable of making this choice. God’s own actions are self-defeating to his stated goal. We would never expect God to make such a choice if he exists, but we would expect this to be the case if there is no God.
This is enough basis to reject Christianity and Islam altogether.
Followed up in TheraminTrees’s Atheism, Part I: Incompatibility
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