Do Atheists Choose to Send Themselves to Hell?
A New Approach to an Eternal Question?
I often converse with theists on a variety of topics because they interest me, and I'm always curious to see different sides of an issue and discuss questions honestly and openly. One of the topics most often breached in one way or another is the Christian concept of hell - an eternal lake of fire that non-believers and followers of other gods or religions are doomed to forever. The concept of hell was a difficult concept for me to overcome in my journey out of faith, and it's one that many who are either struggling with their faith or are in the process of leaving it behind struggle with still.
Recently, however, I have had several people tell me in no uncertain terms that God does not send ANYONE to hell. Instead people send themselves to hell by refusing to acknowledge, worship or follow Him. This surprised me the first time I heard it, and it makes no sense considering all of the information. Yet it seems to the latest in a long string of excuses that believers posit for the immoral and unethical problem of eternal punishment by an all-powerful, all-knowing being for humans that he created. Does this new approach make sense? Not by a long shot. This hub will attempt to explain why this argument falls short, and highlight the reasons why fear (while powerful) is not an indication of love or true worship or faith.
Is Coercion Truly a Choice?
:Love me or I'll torture you forever"
While this may a sentence you'd expect to find in the latest slasher or psychological horror movie, it is the concept that I take away from reading the Bible and understanding the theology beneath it. In the believer's mind, God is often referred to as a Father figure who is perfect and above reproach. Therefore anything bad that happens in the lives of his followers is either as a result of their own inherent imperfection or as a result of Satan's influence.
The analogy of a mob-boss is not entirely out of place in this discussion. If you are a small business owner in a mob-controlled city, and a team of local mobsters approaches you with an offer, you may have to weigh your options carefully. Say that someone walks into your place of business and tells you that you can pay them a weekly stipend, and in return they'll look out for you and protect you. If you refuse to pay, however, they'll come back in a week and break your legs. After considering the options, you refuse to pay the sum. When the mobster comes back and follows through on his promise and breaks your leg is it your fault for not taking him up on his offer? Is this not comparable to the threat of eternal punishment for refusing to accept or worship the God of the Bible?
One of the arguments against the problem of Evil that is most common in apologetic circles is the argument from free will - but how free is free will considering the alternative? Love me and worship me or I'll torture you forever doesn't sound like that free of a choice - and were it framed in a different set of circumstances, most believers wouldn't buy it. Because it's framed within the scenario of their own chosen religion, however, they often see it as not only holy but just as well. This justification astounds me on multiple levels - especially considering the fact that in choosing this one deity to worship, they are ignoring similar threats from other faiths without a second thought.
What is Love?
According to the Bible:
1 Corinthians 13:4-8
4 Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5 It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6 Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7 It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
8 Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away.
How does the God that the Bible posits stack up to this Biblical definition of what love is? Firstly, I don't see anything in this passage about fear being tantamount to love. Therefore the admonition to fear God seems a bit out of place. Secondly, the Bible claims that God is a jealous God, which would mean that he envies. (Exodus 34:14) God is also prideful in proclaiming himself the only God in existence, and commanding his followers to worship him to the exclusion of all else - to the extent of requiring people to leave their families behind to follow him. This would also qualify as boastful and self-seeking. We also know from Biblical passages that God is wrathful and quick to anger - even Jesus had a temper (Psalm 7:11) (Deuteronomy 29:27-28) (2 Chronicles 29:10) (Matthew 23) (Mark 3) and that God keeps a record of everyone's wrongs who has ever lived - or will ever live.
According to these comparisons, God does not fit his own definition of love - as we will see in the next section, the qualities of God displayed in the Bible even fit the warning signs for an abusive spouse or partner - not the loving, kind and generous God image that many Christians insist on putting forth at every opportunity.
Fear or Love?
I've often made the argument that the God posited in the Biblical text seems a lot more like an emotionally abusive partner than a loving, divine being. When comparing the signs of an abusive relationship with the actions, words and intents of the Biblical God, the similarities become almost undeniable.
1. Living Life on an Emotional Roller-coaster:
A partner that goes from loving and affectionate to angry punishment of perceived wrongdoings is not evidence of love - it's evidence of abuse. The God of the Bible went from loving protector to the people of Israel to a vengeful, jealous god who punished them for disobeying the rules that he recognized were impossible to follow - a situation that ultimately resulted in him sending his only Son to die in order to forgive the sins of mankind - sins that were a direct result of not following the rules he set forth in the first place.
2. Continual Isolation:
The God of the Bible himself claims that he is a jealous God - one that does not like to come in second place to anyone - or anything - else. His followers are expected to have faith in his promises and weather the bad storms that life brings them, all while worshiping and adoring him and praising his name. Questioning this God is tantamount to sin itself, and doubting puts otherwise good believers going through a rough patch on the path to hell itself. Christians are supposed to recognize that they're separated from the rest of the world, and that they are apart from it, awaiting their rewards in heaven while others serve out an eternal sentence of torture for not believing.
3. Insane Jealousy:
God admits that he's a jealous God who does not want to face competition of any kind from any other Gods, from money or from the people that surround his believers every single day. God demands worship and adoration, and he demands that his followers do their best to conform to his rigidly strict guidelines for life that he laid out in the Bible and in the example of Jesus. Failure to do so results in the blemish of sin on a person's soul - a sin that needs to be forgiven and washed away in blood before God can stand to be in your presence.
4. Anxiety or Nervousness:
The God of the Bible not only wants to be worshiped and adored, but he also wants to be feared. Fear is not love. A child with an abusive parent may fear what their parent will do to them at the slightest provocation - how much more is there to fear from a divine being who supposedly has the power to literally make your life hell on earth, and then send you to a literal hell for all eternity if you do not serve, worship or believe in Him properly.
5. Constant Reminders that You're Not Good Enough:
The traditional Christian theology teaches its adherents that mankind is inherently worthless and unworthy of the love of a divine Father. It's only by his grace that mankind can be saved the just punishment for their sin and evil, and by the blood sacrifice of his only Son - who is himself - who died to save the select few who are destined to accept him. Teaching children that they're dirty, sinful and unworthy carries a high cost to self-esteem and a recognition of talents, skills and abilities. It can cause permanent damage unless caught and corrected in adolescence or early adulthood, and linger on throughout an entire life of feeling worthless and not good enough except through divine intervention.
6. Feeling Trapped or Confined:
Survivors of relationship abuse who eventually broke free often recount that they felt trapped and unable to leave their abuser due to the level of emotional abuse that they suffered. Abusers tell their partners that they're unworthy - that no one else will ever love them, that they're not good enough to be loved and that without the abusive partner their lives will ultimately be meaningless. When the fear of eternal torture and punishment is added on top of this emotional abuse, the consequences can be dire. Questioning or doubting God even for a moment can often be seen as the unforgivable sin - which will land you in hell for eternity with no hope of redemption.
7. Taking All of the Blame:
Instead of taking responsibility for their own negative behavior or being held accountable, abusers often blame their victims for their behavior, and this concept is found scattered throughout the Bible. Since human beings are told that they're inherently sinful and unworthy, anything that they do can be seen as a result of their own inherent unworthiness. God, according to Christian theology, remains blameless. Since God is perfect, he often receives all of the credit for any good things that happen in believer's lives, but receives none of the blame when things go wrong. When something bad happens, it's a result of the believer's sin, lack of faith or the influence of Satan - sometimes a combination of all three. When Christians face illness, they are often told that the reason that God chose not to heal them is because they didn't have enough faith, removing the blame from the all-powerful being that they worship and placing it squarely on their shoulders.
Does God Send People to Hell?
The Ultimate Judge
Almost no one would ever choose eternal hell, knowing with certainty that it existed when the other alternative is eternal paradise. Atheists, on the other hand, do not willingly choose to go to hell - ultimately God is responsible for sending them there, regardless of this new apologetic tactic. It's simple when examined clearly in this if/then scenario.
1. the God of the Bible created all life
2. created the rules by which all life will be judged
3. Did not see fit to provide sufficient proof of His existence
4. God is the ultimate judge of who is saved and who is Damned
God is ultimately responsible for sending over 2/3 of the entire population in the history of the earth to hell forever for either not believing He exists or for worshiping a different God.
It boils down to this. I choose not to go to hell. I also withhold belief of extraordinary claims without extraordinary evidence - none of which has been presented, even when I was a believer. If God does exist and finds me worthy of damnation for failing to believe in Him or Accept him, then He will have to send me to hell on his own accord, because I choose not to go.
© 2014 Julie McFarland