A while back I was conversing with a Christian friend who was outraged that Evangelist Rob Bell declared, in his most recent book, Love Wins:
“It’s been clearly communicated to many that this belief (in hell as conscious, eternal torment) is a central truth of the Christian faith and to reject it is, in essence, to reject Jesus. This is misguided and toxic and ultimately subverts the contagious spread of Jesus’ message of love, peace, forgiveness and joy that our world desperately needs to hear.”
He was outraged because for him hell is very much a real place, and by implying that it is not, my friend feels that Bell is really undermining an important and biblically supported piece of Christian Doctrine.
As a response, I stated that I agree with him that the bible, does support the concept of a hell, but it is for this reason (and many others) I find the bible to be morally and logically absurd and repugnant. Additionally, I said that the fact that Mr. Bell is inclined to reject this is a reflection of how divisive religions are and how much they tend to fragment. Also it is a reflection of the fact that Christianity as a whole is under pressure to adapt the norms and morals of our post-enlightenment era, just as it has had to adapt to a heliocentric solar system, evolution, the germ theory of disease ect. I have heard it said, and agree that “Christianity has been dragged kicking and screaming into the 20th/21st century.” and I’m glad it no longer burns witches or tortures heretics. For a religion that is still in need of dragging see Islam and certain sects of Mormonism.
At this point my friend pointed out that it is his belief that the eternal punishment of people in Hell “is necessary for people who reject Christ’s atonement for their sin.”
My question for Christians, then is Why should that even be necessary?: If this God is truly the all -powerful, all-knowing all-benevolent being of love he is claimed to be, he should be able to forgive everyone with out a brutal blood sacrifice. After all, nothing is too much for a God that is all powerful, all-knowing, and all-benevolent. The messed up thing about this theology is that this God created us such that in his eyes we are worthy of nothing but eternal torment in a place worse than anything the Nazis ever created. That’s important. If we are all wretched sinners it is because either:
A. He created us as such (& punishes us for it)
B. He created us with the full knowledge and intention that we would become such (and punishes us for it, which is just as bad as A).
Either way hell is simply God’s way of punishing us for being the way he created us (which is insanely immoral). But it gets more messed up, the God of Christian theology has decided that to prevent himself from punishing some subset of people this way, he would have come down in human form, and in a disturbing piece of theater allow humans to brutally murder him. This way HE could act as the blood sacrifice HE demands in exchange for His own forgiveness. That is of course forgiveness for being the way HE created us. The catch of course, is that the only way you can obtain this forgiveness is by setting aside your ability to think critically and be willing to accept that such a wild, bloody, immoral and nonsensical story is true.
That’s the scary thing. This God’s decide who gets sent to this eternal torment he created not on the basis of the quality of our character but on what we happen to believe at the time we die (which is a rather trivial thing to judge someone on). Christians can argue that God has a right to judge us however he likes, and they’ve got a bit of a point. If he exists I can stop him from judging me, but that doesn’t make it in anyway just. It certainly doesn’t justify sending me to a torture chamber forever. If an earthly dictator did this he would rightfully be declared a tyrant and a monster. Why then is it something praiseworthy that a God would do it?