I’ve said for a long time that Hell – an eternal, infinite punishment meted out by a deity to certain of its subjects after their death – is an idea that most people haven’t really thought through.
(I actually wrote this piece about a week ago – it’s just by chance that it’s turning up right after I posted my latest video where I talk about something similar.)
And I still think it’s clear that a lot of people don’t really understand what Hell means – certainly not most people who believe it exists, and claim that a God who isn’t purely evil would ever allow anyone to end up there.
It’s possible that there’s someone, somewhere in the world, who can genuinely begin to get their head around the unending nightmare of fiery torment that many Christians picture Hell to be, and still gleefully delight in the thought of people they don’t like being sent there to suffer beyond any conceivable proportion.
But I suspect that far more often people are, perhaps wilfully, just not taking on board how sadistic and horrifying an idea it is.
One thing I hadn’t thought about, though, is the fact that many Christians, if their philosophy is taken to its logical conclusion, are seriously risking an eternity of agony for their children, simply by all that begetting that their good book encourages them to get up to.
And I can’t think of any way this can really be reconciled, except by the same kind of denial which prevents them from thinking about eternity to any depth in the first place.
Think about voluntarily giving your offspring non-trivial odds of languishing in the Christian vision of Hell, forever. Then ask yourself: how many times shall I get myself neutered to make sure that can never ever ever happen to my children?
Frankly, your answer shouldn’t even be as low as 1, but if it’s any lower then either you’re a deeply twisted and malevolent creature, or you didn’t understand the question.
Where I differ from Francois, primarily, is in how harshly to judge people because of this reasoning. I don’t think most of them are evil, or imbecilic. Not thinking things through in great detail comes very naturally to our species, and being paralysed with terror over what Hell would actually be like is not conducive to being able to get anything done in life. Essentially blocking it out from all considered thought is a very understandable path to take.
A question more commonly asked of religious folk is why they get sad when loved ones die, if they truly believe them to have “passed on” to a “better place”. The fact that Grampa is going to be blissfully happy forever now, and someday you will be too, is somehow not a source of unbounded joy, but merely of scant comfort in a time of apparent tragedy.
The only example that springs to mind, of people being genuinely ecstatic with expectation for the exciting future awaiting them on the other side, is cult members immediately prior to knocking back the flavoured drink mix. Maybe people not in the grip of some sort of mania don’t think through the implications of the existence of Heaven either.
In any case, it’s not really surprising that things happening in this world are given more weight than whatever might be going on in any kind of afterlife. This world’s actually here. It’s right in front of you. There’s something viscerally real about it. It doesn’t need to be believed in.
It’s probably a mercy that, however much they might downplay its importance, the real world is the one which a lot of religious people act as if they live in.