I believe you're going to hell...and I hope I'm wrong.
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.
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 adherents.com and lists an estimated distribution of the world based on religion.
Now according to cia.gov, 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.
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.
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.
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".