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Leaving the Fold part 2: What the Hell, God?

ex-Xtian (aka Thal) ~

The title "What the Hell God?" is based on an entry found on the website TV tropes called "What the Hell Hero?" It describes any event in a book, film or other medium in which the hero is called out on their actions wherein the hero breaks their own moral compass and therefore is criticized for it. I could go on for pages, and indeed have gone on for pages in my blog (see below for the link)about how God appears not to follow his moral compass especially in the Old Testament. Here however, I thought I would stick with the aspect of Christianity that has bothered me the most, Hell.

Ironically, I first started having difficulty accepting Hell when I started reading Christian literature, including books by apologists and a few wacky ones on the end times most of which paint a picture of a God who is less than loving. Hell does the same thing, after you peel away Christianity's shiny exterior wherein evangelists advertise the idea of a benevolent God you reveal something far less loving. I discovered as much when I came across one of the many stories Christians use in evangelism. It is the audio book 'Kingdom of Affabel' by John Bevere. The main characters in it are a group of friends named after certain attributes that sounds a bit corny, such as a guy named Independence and a woman named Charity. At the story’s climax this group of 5 friends are whisked to a kingdom that alludes to heaven where they are judged by the king, King Julian, as either worthy of entering the kingdom or being banished. Of these 5 friends only 2 make it into heaven the rest go to a realm of banishment that is obviously meant to allude to Hell. One is unfairly banished due to the actions of another character but that was not the only issue I noticed with the story. One striking moment in this audio drama is when the girl named Charity asks the character who is an allusion to the Holy Spirit, a wise old sage named Sageous, if her friends made it into heaven as she has not seen them nor learned of their fate yet. When Charity asks about the ones who did not make it Sageous deliberately avoids answering the question and it is little wonder why. Had he answered it honestly instead of brushing the inquiry to the side, the entire mood of the audio book would have been changed dramatically especially if Charity had become distressed or broken down (which would have been more realistic) at the news her friends were condemned and the entire purpose of the audio book, to convert people, would have been ruined. That’s because there are problems with Hell that, although Christian’s may not admit it, they are uncomfortably aware of. Hell, whether it was originally part of Christian belief or not, has unfortunately become a cornerstone for Christianity as it provides a need for salvation in order to avoid it. Without Hell, as far as Christian’s are concerned there is nothing that we need to be saved from.

As the step-son of a pastor I was brought up constantly being reminded of the dangers of Hell and that I must honor my parents or God would say he did not know me and condemn me to eternal torture. As one could expect to happen when a child is taught this I developed an enormous fear that simple acts of disobedience would cause the same God who apparently claimed to love me to turn on me in an instant and condemn me to an eternity of suffering that fiery pit called Hell. Now I find the idea of teaching a child that, to be totally abhorrent. Not only that, what of children born to non-Christian parents, say someone in India who is more likely to be Hindu, or someone born in the Middle-East who is more likely to be Muslim. They will grow up believing their religion is the correct one because that is what they are taught to believe. So does that mean they will go to Hell because they were born into a society that isn't Christian, whose values they have come to reflect? There are many non-Christians who follow what the Apostle Paul calls the 'fruits of the spirit'. Do they go to Hell while someone who only converts on their deathbed after adhering to none of these fruits goes to heaven? How is that just? How is having hell to pay (pun intended) for not believing in Jesus, through no fault of your own, just?

After thinking the above through I also realized that Hell never appears in the Hebrew Bible and nor do the Jews believe in it. It first appears in the King James Version of the Old Testament wherein it has been used in place of the words netherworld, the place of the dead, or Sheol meaning the grave. I learned this after comparing the KJV with a copy of the Hebrew Bible. Neither the word Sheol or Netherland is used to refer to the fiery pit of torment that is the Hell of the New Testament. Despite this, some Christians say the Jewish idea of netherworld or oblivion where your soul ceases to exist is the same thing despite neither the New Testament nor Jews agreeing with this. Although Judaism has had varying ideas on what happens to sinners after they die, at worst in Judaism the most sinful of souls were believed to be destroyed in a fire often compared to the one that burned outside Jerusalem. This was quite far from an eternal punishment and the condemned simply ceased to exist. There is much conflicting opinion among Christians as to whether or not Jews believe in hell with some Christian’s responses implying, though rarely said directly, that the Jews have been reading their sacred texts incorrectly for the last millennia or two. This is countered by some who suggest that God has blinded the Jews from seeing the truth. If he wants them to believe in Christ, why would he do that? It makes no sense that he would not only decide that the Jews were not his chosen people anymore as Paul implies but that he would deliberately blind them so that they would not realize this, and according to doctrine, would not be saved because they did not believe in Christ. Perhaps in Galatians when Paul mentions that all have heard of Christ and therefore have no excuse in not believing in him.

The very idea that all non-believers including friends and kin (in many instances) of believers have an eternity of torture in a fiery pit waiting them does not make God sound benevolent. I would not wish eternal damnation in Hell on my worst enemy regardless of what they had done. Nor do I think eternal torture is befitting for a finite crime. God, in theory at least, has all creation, everything, under his complete control including the so-called ‘curse’ of sin. If he is powerless to act against the curse, then he is not omnipotent. Surely, there were many other ways to deal with this ‘curse’ if that is what it is. Hell instills such fear in people, that there are undoubtedly many who call themselves Christian not because they follow Christ out of loyalty but out of fear of what awaits them if they are not subservient to God. It has been proven throughout history that fear is an extremely powerful and highly insidious means of controlling people, not befitting of a benevolent God. This fear also conflicts with the doctrine of ‘free will'. If such a thing existed a person’s eternal fate would not hinge upon whether or not they chose to worship God and acknowledge Jesus as their lord and savior (as most pastors would put it).

After thinking through all the above, I decided to pose the following answer to Christians: If God allowed you to swap your place in heaven with a loved one’s place in hell, would you do it? Thereby forfeiting your salvation and ensuring theirs. Responses to this question that I posted in several online forums, have been varied and at times distasteful. The distasteful answers made me glad I was not a member of the answerer’s family. So far, I am yet to receive a genuine "yes I would" as an answer. Based on previous responses to this I am quite sure that Christians are not comfortable with the idea of hell. Whether mild and sub-conscious or not, it still commands fear or discomfort in all that believe in it. Nobody likes the idea and it would be a worry if they did. Another question which seems to get quite varied responses from Christians is: does God still love the people that he sends to hell? Unfortunately many times the answer I have received has been no because God only loves those who have chosen to love him and his son. This does not support the idea that God’s love is unconditional because only loving someone if they love you in return is by no means unconditional love. Also, of the people I have heard of (or met) who do not get along with their children through little fault of their own. Very few (I would hope not any), have desired to see their child severely punished or tortured for not loving them. To many parents, and hopefully most if not all, severely punishing their estranged child through torture, would be the last thing on their mind.

Another thing that bothered me was the belief of early Catholicism that infants that were not baptised and died go to Hell (and ome people still believe that) This makes God sound like a tyrant who makes it a crime to simply be born. Some Christians continue to believe this, but they do not make it well-known as the idea is considered barbaric even among believers. For parents who believed this, it caused considerable grief especially for those who had to endure the loss of a child due to a miscarriage or the child being stillborn. Now a common belief is they go to heaven, this would make these infants far luckier than anyone else as they never have to know the fear of hell nor the ‘curse’ of sin. This also makes the stance many Christian’s have against abortion a little odd since the soul is saved from any risk of being damned which I will not expand on this further due to the immense controversy surrounding the issue.

I often wondered as my deconversion came to its final stages how much pressure Christians who spread God’s word realize they are being put under. If they do or say the wrong thing to someone who turns them off becoming a believer, even if it were by accident, they are potentially jeopardizing that person’s soul. For a pastor, or any evangelist, that is an enormous responsibility. The very idea that by doing the wrong thing you could have some responsibility for someone choosing not to follow Christ and then ending up in Hell was not a pleasant one and it was something that troubled me well before I decided to leave Christianity. I kept thinking that I could never be an evangelist if I might bear some responsibility in someone ending up in Hell. The idea of accidentally doing this was terrifying and is one aspect of Christianity that I particularly do not miss. Sure, some say that God will guide you and you will not make a mistake, but that does not explain why some Christians make slips while evangelising, and some of those slips were not small.

Hell never appears in the Hebrew Bible and nor do the Jews believe in it. It first appears in the King James Version of the Old Testament wherein it has been used in place of the words netherworld, the place of the dead, or Sheol meaning the grave. It is often said by Christians that Hell was not meant for humans, according to one Bible verse, and was meant for the angels who rebelled. This does not explain why humans go there given God had the foreknowledge of humanity sinning (presumably from the Bible) and total foreknowledge of who would and who would not go to Hell before they were even born (an unpleasant thought to be sure). This would make more sense if God was not omniscient and was not in control of any of the circumstances that would lead to the fall of man and was not expecting Satan to spite him after exiling him to Earth (which does not happen in the Old Testament as seen in the Book of Job where Satan is on speaking terms with God in heaven). A few things would make more sense in the Bible if God was not omniscient and man’s rebellion took him by surprise, and his plans did not always go the way he had intended them to go. However, this would in no way be considered to be in line with any current theological interpretations of the Bible. Although Christian denominations may have distinct differences at times, I am quite sure they agree that God is omniscient. While I do not claim to understand how omniscience would work I do think being omniscient and knowing everything that will and will not occur seems to eliminate any point to existing. The state of being omniscient makes it also very odd that God gets angry, how does one get angry at an event they always knew was going to occur and that is completely within their control? The way Paul describes the day of God’s wrath seems to be like it is an impending doom, that is inevitable and not within God’s control, and which he also planned, which makes no sense whatsoever.

Asking too many of the above questions about whether or not Hell was befitting of a benevolent deity was one of the nails on the coffin of my faith, if not the main one. Even after asking all this, the other thing that got my attention is that the things which can be considered sinful and land you an eternity of pain in a fiery pit of torment range vary considerably between denominations. Actions such as murder and the seven deadly sins are more universally agreed on. However other things that are worthy of eternal punishment seem very extreme. Some Christians think that prioritizing an ill family member, friend or just prioritizing other relationships in general above God is enough to make God condemn you to to Hell for an eternity, sounds like somebody got jealous (God is apparently a jealous God, from Exodus 20:4-5). Most people would find it a bit trying if they had to contend with this level of jealousy from a partner. Likely this apparent ‘sin’ of not prioritizing loving God over other people enough is inspired by one of the more weirder lines apparently spoken by Jesus in the gospels:

“If any man come to Me and hate not his father and mother, and wife and children, and brethren and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be My disciple“
- Luke 14:26

In conclusion, of the main reasons I deconverted Hell was probably one of the biggest factors. That and asking lots of questions as well as reading too much Christian literature. I can't say that I'm totally free from my fear of Hell, only a life threatening experience would determine that but I'm free of the hold it had on my life. Looking back I can see Hell for what it is. An immoral and insidious control mechanism that is designed to keep believers believing.


Leaving the Fold Part 1: