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Thread: Why do people believe in hell?

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    Why do people believe in hell?

    The belief in hell was one of the first things that made me question the validity of the version of Christianity that I had been taught to believe as a child. I was about 7 when I started experiencing cognitive dissonance regarding this belief. It made me upset to think that this god who I had been taught was all loving had a place to punish people for all eternity. For years, I did my best to ignore it or try to understand it, until finally at the age of 18, I stopped believing in that version of Christianity and the hell that went with it.

    So, when I read an article recently that asked why people believe in hell, I found it intriguing and disturbing. I'd like to know the thoughts of others, especially any Christian conservatives that dare to explain why they believe in hell.

    https://www.nytimes.com/2020/01/10/o...sultPosition=1


    Once the faith of his youth had faded into the serene agnosticism of his mature years, Charles Darwin found himself amazed that anyone could even wish Christianity to be true. Not, that is, the kindlier bits — “Love thy neighbor” and whatnot — but rather the notion that unbelievers (including relatives and friends) might be tormented in hell forever.

    It’s a reasonable perplexity, really. And it raises a troubling question of social psychology. It’s comforting to imagine that Christians generally accept the notion of a hell of eternal misery not because they’re emotionally attached to it, but because they see it as a small, inevitable zone of darkness peripheral to a larger spiritual landscape that — viewed in its totality — they find ravishingly lovely. And this is true of many.

    But not of all. For a good number of Christians, hell isn’t just a tragic shadow cast across one of an otherwise ravishing vista’s remoter corners; rather, it’s one of the landscape’s most conspicuous and delectable details.

    I know whereof I speak. I’ve published many books, often willfully provocative, and have vexed my share of critics. But only recently, in releasing a book challenging the historical validity, biblical origins, philosophical cogency and moral sanity of the standard Christian teaching on the matter of eternal damnation, have I ever inspired reactions so truculent, uninhibited and (frankly) demented.
    The author goes on to explain that there really wasn't much evidence for such a belief in the early Christian writings.

    No truly accomplished New Testament scholar, for instance, believes that later Christianity’s opulent mythology of God’s eternal torture chamber is clearly present in the scriptural texts. It’s entirely absent from St. Paul’s writings; the only eschatological fire he ever mentions brings salvation to those whom it tries (1 Corinthians 3:15). Neither is it found in the other New Testament epistles, or in any extant documents (like the Didache) from the earliest post-apostolic period. There are a few terrible, surreal, allegorical images of judgment in the Book of Revelation, but nothing that, properly read, yields a clear doctrine of eternal torment. Even the frightening language used by Jesus in the Gospels, when read in the original Greek, fails to deliver the infernal dogmas we casually assume to be there.[/QUOTE can't copy the entire article but you get the idea. So, why do people find the belief in hell so inviting? How is it that one can believe in a just god, and also believe in eternal punishment, sometimes just for not believing the same things as themselves?

    I sort of get it, when a person says something like, that guy who got away with murder etc. will get his punishment when he dies". This is especially true if the person has never been punished in life for his/her evil deeds. It allows a person to believe that someone who is immoral will one day see justice. Even though that, imo, is a very silly belief, I can at least understand why it might be attractive, if one is able to take the supernatural seriously.

    But, to believe that a nonbeliever, a person who believes in a different god, or even a very immoral person will be punished for all of eternity seems obsessively cruel. So, what is the attraction and how does a decent person maintain such a belief? It puzzles me because it haunted me during my early childhood. I rarely gave it much thought in my teens, and then finally at the age of 18, I was able to free myself from such horrible beliefs. How can some cling to this horror? What is it's appeal?

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    Sapere aude Politesse's Avatar
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    It was the first part of my "orthodoxy" to go away, as a child. I realized one day that I would not create such a place, if I were God, and that it seemed ludicrous to claim that I was more merciful and compassionate than God. My views have evolved a bit over time; I'm a bit more sympathetic to the view of parts of the Eastern Church, that Hell describes the experience of God to one who has not been atoned to Him. But that sympathy does not extend to thinking that they are actually right. If you need to find Hell, for real, I think you need look no further than the simple hells we all create for each other. If there is a Satan, he must be thrilled at the way doctrines of hellfire shift people's attention away from their conduct toward one another and towards kowtowing to some contrived portrayal of God.

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    Quote Originally Posted by southernhybrid View Post
    What is its appeal?
    What's the appeal among conservative and libertarian types to believe that the rich deserve their rewards and the poor chose their lot? Anything else would be a great injustice and like a world gone mad. The "haves" want their reward and they don't want bad people spoiling it by getting a reward too.

    Also consider the great injustice of God forcing his love on you. A lack of hell for those who choose to live outside God's little circle of love would be a great injustice! You're not the most godlike/valuable feature of the created universe without free will.

    So once the choice is presented, it becomes a matter of "you made that bed so lie in it".

    It wouldn't seem fair if there aren't a mix of winners and losers and they each decide for themselves which they'll be. It's the difference between a universe with Order in it (you get your choice: A or B), and meaningless existence (no choices, no way to separate the good from the bad).

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    Contributor skepticalbip's Avatar
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    Organized religions, like any organization, keep the members in line with a carrot and a stick. In a business organization, the member gets a carrot of a paycheck for following the rules and the stick of being fired for not following the rules. Organized religion's carrot and stick is heaven and hell.

    People believe and accept the rules laid down by religions primarily because they were indoctrinated into it during childhood. They generally stick with the religion because they have been convinced it is true plus religion is a comforting security blanket and offers tribal identity.

    A rejection of the religion's indoctrination would seem to offer a couple opportunities. Someone could either reject the whole idea of the supernatural as silly or could invent their own private fantasy of a supernatural realm tailor made to their own wishes of "what should be".

    ETA:
    I do find it odd that the question was why people are attracted to the idea of hell when the same question could be asked about heaven. Both are equally fanciful religious ideas.
    Last edited by skepticalbip; 01-11-2020 at 10:49 PM.

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    In 6th grade a nun lost her temper with a kid. She took red chalk scribbling it all o the blackboard saying 'This is hell and this is where you are going!'.

    I believe how people see hell goes back to Dante's Inferno.

    I think in the OT there was Sheol, some nebulous place underground. It was not a place of a heaven - hell duality.

    Why do people believe in anything?

    Socially heaven, hell, and god were social controls on the uneducated illiterate peasant population.

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    Sapere aude Politesse's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by steve_bank View Post
    In 6th grade a nun lost her temper with a kid. She took red chalk scribbling it all o the blackboard saying 'This is hell and this is where you are going!'.

    I believe how people see hell goes back to Dante's Inferno.

    I think in the OT there was Sheol, some nebulous place underground. It was not a place of a heaven - hell duality.

    Why do people believe in anything?

    Socially heaven, hell, and god were social controls on the uneducated illiterate peasant population.
    Indeed, the dead in Sheol merely slept, somewhat unrestfully. Gilgamesh travels to a similar underworld in his famous epic.

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    Senior Member excreationist's Avatar
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    Here are some excerpts from my sisters' pastor about how impressed he is with hell....
    https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=tzynfCuJRBY

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    Elder Contributor DBT's Avatar
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    Heaven and Hell: a system of reward and punishment as means of behaviour control: keeping the faithful from straying from the faith.

    Believe as we tell you to believe or very bad things will happen to you.

    Tormented for ever and ever, amen, by the God of Love and Tender Mercy.

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    Veteran Member James Brown's Avatar
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    When I see someone get away with evil, I comfort myself by believing that one day they'll get their just reward.

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    Quote Originally Posted by southernhybrid View Post

    So, when I read an article recently that asked why people believe in hell, I found it intriguing and disturbing. I'd like to know the thoughts of others, especially any Christian conservatives that dare to explain why they believe in hell.
    I take the Bible seriously, even the parts that horrify, baffle, confound me.
    That means that cherry picking is not really acceptable.
    That means that hell is pack of the package, notwithstanding whatever I may feel about it.The Bible treats it seriously so I must too.
    NOTE: No trees were killed in the sending of this message, but a large number of electrons were terribly inconvenienced.

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