Friday, March 27, 2009

I believe you're going to hell...and I hope I'm wrong.

I've been thinking about the concept of hell a lot lately. I would like for you to think about it too, especially if you are a believer in some form of hell. First lets take a brief look at what hell is, at least in general without getting too far into specifics or different religious explanations.

What is hell?
Hell is a place that human "souls" go to after their mortal life on Earth ends. No other species on Earth, at least according to most mainstream monotheistic religions, is at risk of going there.

What happens in hell?
You are subjected to the ultimate form of torture. Your "soul body" will burn in a lake of fire. You will be tortured and mutilated and suffer the most unimaginable suffering from the moment you die for all eternity. There will not exist a single moment of respite from this continuous torment.

What factors determine whether or not I will go to hell?
It varies according to which belief system you adhere too. But according to my religious friend, you can go to hell for either of these two conditions. (1) You do not accept Jesus Christ as your personal lord and savior (ie, you are not a Christian). (2) God will judge your life and if you did not "follow his rules" as he outlines in the bible well enough, then he damns you to hell. Muslims, from what I know, believe all non-Muslims go to hell but I'm not sure if any other conditions apply.

Once I'm in hell, how do I get out or make my situation any better?
You can do nothing to change your fate after you die. Once you're in hell, you will stay there for all eternity. God will not forgive you and will not show a single ounce of mercy for you no matter who you are, no matter how apologetic you are, and no matter how much you are suffering and crying out in pain asking for mercy. He will allow it to continue. Forever.

Where did hell come from?
Like all things, God made the decision to create it. He deemed the existence of hell, of eternal torture, a necessary and just thing.

How many people living today are destined to go to hell?

Let's provide an estimate how many people are going to go to hell, shall we? Well, the answer of course depends on which religion is correct. (Most) Christians say that all non-Christians are going to hell while (most) Muslims say that all non-Muslims are going to hell. For the sake of keeping this short, we will consider just these two religions. Also because I'm not God and can't judge whether someone is a "proper" Christian or Muslim and doesn't deserve hell, I'll just say for the sake of argument that 100% of persons of the correct faith are not going to hell. I'm also going to ignore denominations and just assume that both Catholic and Protestant, Shiite and Sunni, etc. are all not going to hell (even though many of these denominations believe that this is not true). So lets take a look here. The graph below is from and lists an estimated distribution of the world based on religion.

Now according to, the human population of the world is somewhere in the ballpark of 6,706,993,152 people, or 6.7 billion. As a comparison, the population of the United States is approximately 307,212,123 people, or 0.307 billion people. The US population accounts for 4.58% of the current world population.

If the 66% of the population that is non-Christian world is damned to hell, that's 4,426,615,480 people, or 4.4 billion. 4.4 billion people are deserving of eternal torture and punishment according to mainstream Christian belief. And if we assume that Allah is the one true God instead of the Christian one, looking at the 79% of the non-Muslim world we have 5,298,524,590 or 5.3 billion on the verge of eternal damnation. To put that in perspective, if the Christian teachings are true then a quantity of people that is over 14.4 times that of the current population of the United States is deserving of the worst suffering imaginable, forever (the number of non-Muslim damned is 17.2 times).

Holy crap!!! I thought your god was supposed to be a loving and merciful character? How is it that so many people sing praise to Jesus (who is God) or Allah and say nothing but wonderful things about them when they surely realize that of the number of people who are currently living on this Earth, he is sending 4.4 b-i-l-l-i-o-n of them to be tortured for eternity simply because they don't believe in him? I am having trouble finding the correct ways to express the seriousness of this. Lets think about the horrors of the Holocaust in Nazi Germany. About 2.2 billion people on Earth believe that the other 4.4 billion deserve a punishment that is far, far, far, FAR worse than what those poor, innocent Jewish and other minority victims suffered. Furthermore they deserve to suffer in that state for all eternity without a shred of hope for temporary respite, not even being allowed a second death. If Jesus is justified in torturing those who are "inferior" for not believing in him, why don't I ever hear Christians making the claim that Adolf Hitler was justified in his actions during the Holocaust? Is the only difference because Jesus is a God while Hitler was merely a man? Does that mean that there is a different set of morals and justified actions for a God than a man? If God is justified in everything that He does, does that imply that the more powerful or knowledgeable a being is, the more correct their seemingly unethical actions would be?

I know that what I am about to say may cause a lot of Christians, Muslims, and people of other faiths to become furious but I will say it anyway. If the god (Jesus, Allah, Yahweh) in your religion is going to send all non-believers of your faith to be tortured for eternity without respite, then your god is much worse than Adolf Hitler. And much worse than Joseph Stalin. And much worse than Mao Zedong. Your god is much worse than all three of those genocidal mass murderers combined. I would love if someone could explain this and convince me why I am incorrect about what I just said.

Coping with a belief of hell

Why do people continue to hold on to the beliefs that all others who do not share their faith are going to be damned with eternal torture? Isn't it distressing to them? I haven't met all 4.4 billion people of the non-Christians nor have I met all 5.3 billion people that are non-Muslims, but I am willing to wager that a large majority of them are good, decent people and I'm sure that nearly everyone would agree with me on that. If I personally held that belief that those people deserve to be tortured, I would be devastated! I generally care about other people, including those that I've never met. My mission in life is to do what I can to make the world a better place for both the people living on this Earth now and for those who will live long after I am dead (and burning in hell?). I think I can understand better now those people of faith who make it their mission to convert as many people over to their belief system as possible, so long as they are doing so because they genuinely believe that these (innocent?) people would otherwise be tortured by their "loving" god (add sarcasm). But not all missionaries have that sort of altruistic intention in mind I'm sure.

I also think I now have a better understanding of the grief that must exist in a religious family when a close friend or family member rejects the teachings that they have shared. I grow more thankful every day that I did not grow up in such a family, because I know it would be so much harder for me to be who I am. Having become close friends with a religious person was hard enough on me. When she told me that she believed that I was going to hell, despite having nothing but positive things to say about me at that time, it really did hurt. And it was also very confusing and difficult for me to accept. How does she cope with that belief if she cares about me? How does she also respect my right to believe or not believe what I choose and not try to actively convert me? (I'm glad that she doesn't try that by the way). Is it just something that she doesn't think about? Does she avoid becoming emotionally attached to any person who she believes is going to hell? I wish I could ask her these things.

Is hell something that people deserve?

Whether my religious friend or another person believes that I and X billion number of other humans on the planet are going to suffer from a state of eternal torture upon death is one matter. I think that a question that many believers fail to ask themselves (and should) is "Do these people deserve that?". Lets examine three possible responses.

"Yes, I believe you deserve to go to hell for not sharing my belief."
Well then I wonder how your position is any different from Hitler, as incendiary as that may sound. Hitler believed that all Jews and other groups should be thrown in concentration camps, starved, beaten, and murdered en masse. You believe that all non-Christians/non-Muslims/etc. should be thrown in a lake of fire, tortured, mutilated, and tormented for all eternity. You both believe that certain groups of people deserve this inhumane, unimaginable level of punishment and suffering.

"I don't know, that's God's will."
But you still believe that these people will go to hell, right? So obviously your god thinks that they deserve to go to hell. And because your god is infinitely more powerful, more knowledgeable, and more benevolent than you (really?), you are just willing to default to his/her/its decision and respond "Yeah, that's cool with me". Personally, in some ways I find this answer to be almost more insulting than just saying yes. Perhaps you feel guilty, so you want to avoid the question and shift the blame to your god. After all, this is his judgment, right? Have you ever considered questioning his judgment? Have you ever considered saying to your god "Hey, I disagree with you torturing these billions and billions of people for eternity and I think you should stop"? If you haven't, then why the hell not?

"No, I don't think that you deserve that simply for not sharing my faith."
Great! You are more moral than the god that you worship. You are not alone either, because most human beings are as well. I know that if I was a god, I sure wouldn't be putting these people through so much suffering for not believing in me. Especially if I was the sort of god that wanted people to believe in me based on "faith", or belief without evidence.

I believe that you are going to hell, and I hope that I am wrong about that.

Everything I've said builds to this final pressing question that I've been pondering for the past week. If people genuinely hold this belief about hell, why do I never hear anyone say "I believe that you are going to hell, and I hope that I am wrong about that"? Do they really want to be correct that 4.4 billion or 5.3 billion of their fellow human inhabitants of Earth are going to hell, to be greeted by the screams of the billions more already there and to be followed by the trillions who will die later? I have been told that I am going to hell countless times throughout my life, yet not one person has expressed any sort of remorse about that belief. They've never told me that they wished that particular belief that they held was not true. Does that mean that they want it to be true?

I'd guess "probably not", at least for most decent and caring human beings. So why don't they abandon it? Why is religion this "all or none" deal to so many people? Can you not continue to believe in God while rejecting the belief in hell? Can you not believe in a heaven if you do not believe in a hell? Many people have already rejected many aspects of their belief system, whether they realize it or not. I have yet to meet a Christian who adheres to Deuteronomy 21:18-21, which states that you should stone your unruly children to death. (I've also yet to meet a person who does not admit that they were not unruly at some point during their childhood). I could list dozens, perhaps hundreds of examples like this that you would reject, I promise you.

If from the bottom of your heart of hearts you believe that I am going to hell, that will always make me sad. Even more so if you are a beloved person to me. But I hope that you'll at least have given the idea of hell some thought. And maybe, just maybe, you'll say to me one day "I believe that you are going to hell...and I hope that I am wrong".

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Anonymous Lil said...

I'm not particularly religious although I've been brought up to practice Buddhism/Taoism.

The concept of hell that I know is not attached to the faith but to morality. Regardless of religious believe, it is through bad morals that every individual will be judged and I think this is a good concept to encourage everyone to live righteously. Well, as righteously as possible.

Human mind is complex, and what is perceived as righteous by one doesn't always means another person sees it the same way.

I've never given this much thought to be honest, because a place in hell is never something that had been emphasised for importance of major sort by my family. But we certainly don't believe anyone deserve to be condemned for eternity for having their own set of believe.

I guess this is reflected in my family, where some of us are Buddhists/Taoists, some of us are Muslims (my aunt married a Muslim), some of us are Christians. And you know what, we still love each other and we understand each other's values. Surely this kind of harmonious existence should be encouraged?

11:33 PM  
Blogger Tyler Olsen said...

Thanks for commenting Lil. I've been anxious to receive feedback on what I said in this because I feel strongly about it.

Are you speaking of the Buddhist hell? I'm not familiar with Taoism yet, but I believe that "hell" in Buddhism is reincarnation where as nirvana is complete nihilism. You bring up a good point with morality being the decider in who goes to heaven/hell, and indeed for a long time I was mistaken in thinking that was the deciding factor in a Christian believe system. Still, morality determining whether one goes to heaven/hell leads to an important question. What is moral? Who decides what is moral? Is it moral to be homosexual? Is it moral to fantasize about members of the opposite sex? Is it moral to beat your children? All cultures and religions have different answers to this question. So if there is some god or deity handing out the moral code, how are we to know what it is when this being doesn't provide us with concrete evidence of which set of defined morals is correct? And it also again brings up the point, does someone actually deserve to be tortured for eternity simply for living an immoral mortal life? Does finite crime deserve infinite punishment?

I agree that harmony between various faiths and belief systems should be encouraged. I agree with that very strongly. But many fundamentalists of religion purposely seek to segregate based on religious belief. Many people of faith absolutely refuse to marry, date, or even become friends with people who do not belong to that faith, and they cite their religious texts and leaders as their reason for that stance.

9:05 PM  
Anonymous Lil said...

Unfortunately? Fortunately? In Malaysia (where I'm from) Buddhism/Taoism are often practiced together which means it's a poly-deity worship system. My family practice them more from a tradition point of view instead of strict study of the scriptures etc.

In between the mix of the two religions, I am not aware of eternal hell concept. As you said, it leads to reincarnation. Trying to recall what my late greatgrandma used to tell me, for the sins we commit, there would be an appropriate afterlife punishment followed by a memory-erasing step, sort of like soul cleansing if you must, and then reincarnation as a chance to better ourselves.

The values instilled by my family would be to be honest and truthful and not deceive, to do no harm, to be humble and accept mistakes when done and learn from it, to help those who needs it, to save for rainy days but never place money as highest priority, and to work hard to succeed deservingly.

I was never taught that morality is linked to sexuality, I did get punished now and then when I was young but I think it hurt my family more when they did that than it hurt me physically, which was very momentary. The last time I did something that warranted a punishment, my greatgrandma shedded some tears and from then on, never again did I try to cause them any grieve knowingly.

I personally think it's silly to not want to love/care for someone because of religious differences. Life is too short to not appreciate love that's given unconditionally, and life is at the same time too long to live in isolation/misery because one chooses not to welcome love into his/her life. Why use religion as a barrier from achieving a more wholesome life?

10:58 AM  
Blogger Tyler Olsen said...

Thanks for sharing your perspective and background Lil. I was unaware of dual-practice in two major religions as you described. I do agree with you on a large number of the things you said about your philosophies toward life. I think that is pretty cool considering that I am an atheist in America and you are a follower of two religions in Malaysia. :)

In Christianity, Judaism, and Islam, hell is indeed eternal and there is no way out of it, like I said in my post. Because I don't believe in any of these religions I obviously believe these claims are false. And as I said when I made my case, I think that everyone (who care about people) should also hope (if not believe) these claims to be false. I think that the concept of hell was invented by men as a threat to keep believers within their religious faith.

8:46 PM  
Blogger Tyler Olsen said...

I saw a co-worker reading this post at work today (awkward...). We had a brief discussion over IM and I told him to post his comments to the blog, but he didn't (or hasn't yet) so I'm going to post them for him. He started off by telling me that I'm wrong, to which I immediately replied "Great! Tell me why". Here is what he said:

I haven't read it all, but you're looking at it wrong. It's not about who deserves to go to hell. It's about who deserves heaven. You gotta meet His standards. That's about it. And those are pretty high standards. If you can't make it into heaven, if you don't meet those standards, then you gotta go somewheres else. And that's why people go to hell. Not because they deserve it for everything bad they did, but because they didn't meet the standards for heaven.

I find this point of view very interesting. It doesn't invalidate anything about my argument. All it does is use a different set of language to make God seem like a good guy, which I reject.

1) The number of people who are going to hell is still in the several billions and the vast majority of humans are going to hell instead of heaven.

2) God is still the one who makes the decision that everyone who doesn't deserve heaven deserves hell

3) God creates these "special rules" that you have to live by to get in to heaven, but isn't willing to tell you directly or even provide concrete, undeniable evidence of his existence.

4) Regardless of what language we use to describe all this, I still stand as strongly as ever that the believer should hope that they are wrong for the sake of humanity

Now one may choose to make the claim that God is great because he allows us a path to be saved. But what are we being saved from? Well, from hell of course. And who is the one who created, sustains, and condemns people to hell? Well, God of course (he created everything). Therefore, God is creating a path to allow us to be saved from God himself.

Omnibenevolence....right.... Lets not forget who created this messed up system in the first place...God did! I imagine one might argue that humans deserve this punishment because we are naturally "sinners". Well who created our nature? God did! He is all-powerful, and all-knowing, and he created man and woman knowing that he would all come about. If we're going to make the claim that God was our creator and that he is perfect and flawless, why should we have to apologize for being imperfect? He made us imperfect when he could have made us perfect, or at least gotten us pretty darn close to it. I reject the statement that "all humans deserve to go to hell" unless they meet these special requirements by some deity character. If that's true, then newborn infants who die prematurely are going to hell because of the argument for original sin (the newborns are born guilty because of the sins that their furthest ancestors committed thousands if not millions of years ago). I don't want to believe in such a God and even if I did, I wouldn't worship him. He is not deserving of worship if he sends a single soul to hell, in my own opinion.

Now to give my co-worker credit, he admitted that he didn't read the entirety of what I said in this post. I imagine that he just read my introductory statement defining hell.

5:57 PM  
Anonymous Lil said...

I think many people who practices the dual Buddhism/Toaism may not recognise that themselves and mistakenly see their religion as Buddhist on its own. Certainly in Malaysia, many Buddhist temple complex would have a main building to pray to Buddha, but there's also another large building within the complex that prays to deities of Taoism. It certainly is nice though, to know two religions can harmoniously be practiced together.

And what an interesting take from your co-worker. Still, as you mentioned, where it the cut off point that tips one between heaven or hell?

In any case, religion is always interpreted by men and the evolution of a religion between now and a few hundred years ago are certainly not the same. I remember reading, in the past, women who died in childbirth were not allowed to be buried in sacred grounds but just outside where usually thieves, murderers etc were buried because these women hadn't been "cleansed" since childbirth and therefore unpure. I was like, are you freaking kidding me? Why would bringing new life to the world be deem an act that made a woman unpure, in an age and time when it was believe that childbearing was her duty to her family? People can be very weird.

2:05 PM  

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