Recently I had the following blog post show up in my feed (http://www.patheos.com/blogs/unfundamentalistchristians/2014/10/atheist-and-christian-argue-about-hell-guess-who-wins/) It’s an interesting discourse and will only take a minute or two to read, so I recommend it.
The blog post frames its idea in the context of a conversation between a Christian and an Atheist. I doubt that the conversation featured is a real conversation, as claimed, but I do agree with the conclusion and it does go some way to explaining my current position on hell and the Christian god.
In my Christian days, I certainly held the position that hell was the destination of everyone who did not pray a prayer of commitment. You could do it as a child or in your dying moments, so long as the commitment was genuine you were heaven bound.
In reading the conversation depicted in the blog post linked above between the Christian and Tom, I tried to answer Tom’s criticisms as I would have when I was a Christian. I found it difficult. As time moves on, I find it harder and harder to dig out the old Christian justifications that I used to have on the tip of my tongue. I know I would have steered away from the negative aspects that Tom focusses on and made my responses about the redemptive nature of conversation and how salvation is a rescuing of us from the pit of hell. The thing that this Christian message misses is that this hell that salvation supposedly saves us from is a hell that is made by the same god who is trying to save us from it. Why not just do away with hell completely?
If hell was something that was external to god and outside of his control and therefore we were all doomed to that torment unless we accepted his rescue, then that would be a more palatable position. That is not possible in the Christian doctrine because that would mean that god is not able to do and control everything. It creates a place where god has no control and Christian doctrine denies that possibility. Therefore hell has to be something that god controls and he dictates who goes in based in the apparent free will choice of loving him.
Imagine I were to give a choice to my daughter of sleeping in her comfortable bed at night or sleeping on a bed of nails based on her telling me that she loved me. I would be criticised for being a bad parent. My unconditional love for my daughter means that I will give her a comfortable bed to sleep in every night, regardless of what she says or how she behaves that day. Yet the Christian god, who I am told loves me, will treat my eternal soul with less compassion than I treat my daughter. On that basis I think I can say that I am better than god! (That might be an intentionally provocative sentence).
In discussing this blog post with my wife, I had the chance to put forward to her the position that maybe God intends everyone to go to heaven anyway. This is an idea that was given in a comment on a previous post (https://confessionsofayec.wordpress.com/2014/10/11/i-dont-like-that-i-wont-see-you-in-heaven/)
Both my wife and I agree that the idea that everybody goes to heaven anyway is daft and logically doesn’t follow the Christian message. If everyone really went to heaven then the whole point of salvation and life of Jesus effectively becomes irrelevant. Yet these are central to the Christian message and so I can’t see how that idea could possibly work. I’d love a supporter to explain it to me.
As an atheist I find the hell doctrine of Christianity incoherent. More than that, it actually undermines the salvation message by allowing this sound argument against the all-knowing and all loving god that it tries to back up.