Well, I just watched the Kansas City Chiefs blow an 18 point lead and lose a playoff game so in order to get my mind off of that I decided to jump on here and write my counterpoint to the article that I wrote a few days ago, The Fear of Heaven.
As stated in my last blog the only reason that I saw Heaven as a good alternative is due to my fear of hell. Heaven was seen as a boring and awful place but hell was definitely something to be shunned, wasn’t it? Well, the more I looked into the Biblical narrative the more I began to see the Christian idea of hell as nothing but a fear tactic used to do exactly what it had in my life. A place of eternal punishment, if you don’t take a moment to actually think about it, is more than enough to keep you in your pew on Sundays, paying your tithes, and doing the will of the church. In today’s blog I will discuss a few of my reasons for why hell is not a place to be feared and what’s more is a place that was never meant to be viewed in the way we do today.
Hell and the Old Testament
It comes as a shock to many Christians that the Jews did not have a definitive view of the afterlife. The Old Testament is based around the idea that if you follow god’s law, your life here on Earth will be blissful and blessed. The only real story that goes against this in the OT is the story of Job and yet in the end, due to his strong faith, he is rewarded with much more than he lost due to the trials that he was put through. (Although getting a new wife and more kids would never truly replace someone you lost, but hey that’s not a part of the story) You’ll notice when you read the Old Testament that when the Israelites followed god they had nothing but sunny days and more gold than they could handle, at one point it states that the wealth of Israel was so great that silver was as numerous as the rocks on the ground. When the Israelites turned away from god they would go through nothing but struggle and heartache.
The OT narrative is one of allegory and is meant to point out that if you are a good and just person, good and just things will happen to you, if you are evil then evil will happen to you. I know that in reality this is not the case but that’s the narrative the writers of the OT were attempting to promote. It was the same style of prosperity doctrine that I spoke of in my article Wednesday Woo: Christian Edition: Name It And Claim It.
In terms of the afterlife we find that the Jewish people were split on the idea. Some viewed death as going into an eternal sleep(Sheol), while others believed that their was a paradise in which the good entered but the bad were separated from.
Simple evidence of this claim is found in the book of Acts:
“For the Sadducees say there is neither a resurrection, nor angels, nor spirits, but the Pharisees acknowledge them all.” Acts 23:8
Regardless of whether you were good or bad the Israelite’s had no concept of eternal punishment, the evil would be punished in this life having their kingdoms destroyed, their children die, or famine descend on the nation.
Hell Is Based On The Greek Hades
What might upset conservative Christians more than anything else is that their idea of hell comes from immigration, not necessarily of people but of ideas. The Greeks had a belief in the afterlife where the souls of the dead would go to Hades. When a soul entered the greek underworld they would first have to pay a fare for a ride to Hades, if they couldn’t pay they became a spirit roaming the earth, if they could they entered the underworld. Once there they were judged based on the merits of their past life. If they were good they were allowed to enter the Elysian fields, a place of bliss and happiness. If they were evil or simply because the gods did not like them they could be eternally punished.
The New Testament states that when we die we are judged, the believer gets to go to heaven and the unbeliever goes to hell where he will be eternally punished. This is nothing more than plagiarism of already existing ideas that would have literally floated or walked its way into Palestine by the time Christs ministry is said to have begun. The Middle East, being in the middle of everything, has long been a crossroads of trade routes between Eastern and Western cultures. Not only were goods traded but obviously at some point ideas were shared as well and so Christianity adopted a belief in an afterlife that was incredibly Greek in nature.
Most of Our Ideas of Hell Come From Dante
Once again borrowing from the Greeks, as well as the Romans, Dante came into the picture and fleshed out our idea of hell. In his “Divine Comedy” there is a section called Inferno, where he talks of hell and adds details to the various layers that one can find themselves in. Gluttons might be forced to eat for the rest of eternity, constantly throwing up their food and being forced to chew it back down again. A Murderer might find himself being constantly murdered throughout eternity in one way or another. However, his ideas of hell have almost no biblical backing whatsoever and were a work of fiction meant to describe the journey from and evil sinner to being within god’s graces. It was never meant to be taken as fact and yet throughout time the church has borrowed from Dante’s vision in order to add even more fear to the believers mind and keep them steadfastly in the good graces of the church.
Hell Would Be Really Boring
Now I know what you are thinking, what do you mean Hell would be really boring? It’s a place of eternal punishment where all manner of torture can be executed on the non-believer. How on earth could that be boring?
Well, it’s really simple actually. We experience pain in an attempt to keep us from doing things that cause us pain. The positives of pain being that if we know something could hurt us, we are less likely to do it, and more likely to survive. Ask anyone with congenital analgesia if they wished they could experience pain and I doubt that a single one of these people would say no. Pain heightens the senses and often initiates the instinctual fight or flight response, it is integral to life here on Earth.
So why would this lead to hell being boring?
A person existing in a world where there is no ability to prevent pain, where death is not a possible outcome of that pain, would have absolutely no need to experience pain nor could they. Since those in hell are eternal beings just like those in heaven, they would no longer have any concept of not being in pain and regardless of how much you turned up the pain meter it would mean no difference. You can test this out today, though please do not test this out… If you were to place your hand on a burner set to medium-high heat and were somehow able to keep it there, you would feel no difference in the pain were you to turn the heat up to high. Pain is relative to not experiencing pain, so once you have burned your hand, turning up the heat will do nothing to the pain level you experience. (Once again, please do not actually perform this experiment)
So, if you are in a state of torment and you couldn’t die, eventually you would realize this fact and go about your business as usual. Just like in heaven, an eternity in hell would eventually be incredibly boring, though at least there would be some fear which would probably prolong the boredom from appearing for a bit longer than it would in heaven.
Hell Would Get Really Kinky
Let’s use a common example that we see occurring all the time here in the physical world.
Sam was spanked as a child fairly often. He grows into an adult and gets married. One day while making love to his partner he asks if they will spank him and when they agree he is given extreme pleasure by the thing that he feared as a child. Lots of folks enjoy a good spanking and in a lot of ways it is due to some strange form of nostalgia. Not only this but both pain and pleasure are relative emotions and are based around one another. Between each spank you experience a moment of calm which increases the pleasure.
Another effect that many adults enjoy is the power of controlled poisoning. Alcohol, Nicotine, and narcotics used in the correct amounts bring about an extreme form of pleasure, even though they are in fact a form of poisoning. The more you use the poison the more your tolerance increases and what might kill a beginner might only provide the experienced junkie with a slight high.
So how does this equate to hell?
Well, lets say on Tuesdays you get a hot poker shoved up your ass and it’s slightly less painful than the acid bath that you have on Wednesday. Well over time, the slightly less painful nature of the hot poker up the ass would convert to pleasure and you would patiently wait for the demon with the hot poker. On top of this over time any torture would eventually become tolerable and it would require a higher dose of torture to even have any effect. By the time you get through a hundred thousand years or so you’d be walking around with thirty hot pokers in your ass, your eyes gouged out, and a demons dong down your throat to even realize that you were still alive. Even then you’d be bored.
Hell Is Simply A Fear Tactic
People don’t like sitting in church, they don’t like giving their money each and every Sunday because god demands it, they don’t like being forced to live a dogmatic life that for the most part makes no sense whatsoever. Know what people also do not like? Being afraid.
Hell has consistently been used to keep believers in place. While you might not like any of the things your church forces you to do you definitely don’t want to risk even the possibility of hell and so you continue to faithfully do all those things you hate. When I first started having my doubts countless people would ask, Aren’t you afraid of hell? The truth of this matter might be both shocking and sad. I do fear hell but not because I think it is an actual place.
I fear hell because I was told to fear hell. I was told in Sunday school as a 3 or 4-year-old that if you don’t believe in Jesus, you will go to hell. I was indoctrinated into a belief that there is an unseen place of eternal punishment where the vast majority of humanity would end up. I was told that even a single sin could send you to hell and that even sins that you didn’t realize that you had committed could send you to hell. Nightly, before going to bed I would ask forgiveness from god just in case I had done something that might send me to hell.
As illogical as it might seem, in the back of my mind that early trauma to my mind still exists. It prods at me and pops up at the strangest of moments. Maybe I’m watching a movie or reading a book and the thought, “This will send you to hell” pops into my mind. It’s something that I think will constantly be with me but at the same time I know that hell is nothing to truly fear. It’s a made up place meant to do nothing more than exactly what it does to my mind, instill fear. I refuse to let this fear bother me, I will not let it control my life as I did for many years and I will continue to say,
To hell with hell.