by Darcy West
reprinted by permission
Aside from the incongruity of an all-powerful, loving
God possessing the ability to intervene but declining to do so in the
suffering and human misery we see around us, it is the Christian's concept
of heaven and hell that reveals Christianity, in my opinion, as a primitive
and barbaric belief system unworthy of the many kind and compassionate
people who subscribe to it.
In my talks with Christians offering a wide variety of
perspectives, I have found virtually none who could deny a belief in some
sort of hell. Biblically, the concept of hell is impossible to avoid.
Misguided fundamentalist Christians, wishing to convince nonbelievers
that they will be tortured forever and ever if they do not convert, often
point to verses like Revelations 20:10, "And the devil who had deceived
them was thrown into the lake of fire and sulfur, where the beast and
the false prophet were, and they will be tormented, day and night forever
and ever." (NASB) and Matthew 25:46: "And these will go away into eternal
punishment, but the righteous into eternal life." (Matthew 25:46, NASB)
in an attempt to drive home their point and to jolt the "sinner" into
seeing the error of his ways.
Christians clinging to a literal interpretation of the
bible will tell you quite happily about hell, referring to it with what
I perceive to be an odd sense of relish using words such as "an unfathomable
darkness" or a "burning solitary confinement." In their zeal to persuade
you to think as they do and to give them the respect they believe is due
them, before it is too late, these Christians create morbid word pictures
of hell and of you in hell begging for mercy.
Fundamentalist theologian, Charles Spurgeon, said this
about hell: "In hell there is no hope. They have not even the hope of
dying-the hope of being annihilated. They are forever-forever-forever
lost! On every chain in hell, there is written 'forever'. In the fires
there, blaze out the words, 'forever'. Above their heads, they read, 'forever'.
Their eyes are galled and their hearts are pained with the thought that
it is 'forever'. Oh, if I could tell you tonight that hell would one day
be burned out, and that those who were lost might be saved, there would
be a jubilee in hell at the very thought of it. But it cannot be-it is
'forever' they are cast into the outer darkness."
The first thing that came to mind after reading Mr. Spurgeon's
feverish tirade about hell is that this man needs his meds, and how. Another
thing I find interesting about Mr. Spurgeon's theatrics is that he states
that there would be a jubilee in hell at the thought that all the "lost"
might one day be saved, and not that there would be a jubilee in heaven.
Oddly enough, many fundamentalist Christians seem to be quite attached
to their belief in hell. When I once asked a group of Christians how they
would feel if their God changed his mind about hell and decided to welcome
all into heaven, they became quite angry and said that such a thing was
impossible. I then quoted from the Greek New Testament where Jesus, when
speaking about heaven, is credited with saying that "with God, all things
are possible" but the fundamentalists were adament: they would not be
refused the vindication of hell for those who did not agree with their
As we as a society evolve, Christians evolve as well. For
example, at one time, many if not most believers used the proverb "spare
the rod, spoil the child" as proof that whipping their children with belts
or "spanking" them with paddles was pleasing in the sight of God. Most
modern Christians, however, take the advice of their pediatrician who
warns them against using physical punishment as a form of discipline,
and these Christians insist that the phrase "the rod" is only used by
in this proverb in the metaphorical sense, meaning that one should not
use appropriate discipline such as time-outs.
As Christians slowly but surely evolve, they change the
way they approach scripture and how they interpret it. This is also true
regarding their views about hell. Many if not most Christians have become
sensitized to the brutal and evil implications of a God who would eternally
torment people in hell and do not believe that their God would do such
a thing. These modern-day Christians would find the words of dated theologians
such as Spurgeon laughable, at best. Yet, sadly, just as there were once
many Christians who hotly defended their "God-given right" to own slaves,
there are still those in "Christendom" who cling to their belief in eternal
torment and who are quite brazen in their use of scare tactics to manipulate
the unsuspecting, the ignorant, the weak, and the vulnerable.
I asked many of these bible-believing, hell-preaching fundamentalist
Christians whether or not they thought children could be sent to hell,
and many asserted that yes, they could but that it depended on the age
of accountability. Although this phrase, "age of accountability" appears
nowhere in the bible, fundamentalist Christians often repeat such phrases
because they heard the phrase used in a sermon and simply assumed it was
in the bible. Christians believing in the fundie-created "age of accountability"
doctrine will not cite a specific age at which they believe a child reaches
the "age of accountability" and is therefore subject to being eternally
tormented in hell, but they believe generally believe that this age differs
for each child. Some fundamentalists will tell you that a five-year-old
could be at the age of accountability, while others will say that ten
is the absolute youngest age at which a child could be damned. How sad
it is to think that there are actually people in this world who believe
that there is a "loving God" who will someday drop five-year-old children
into an eternal fiery pit.
I asked Christians who claimed to hold such a belief whether
or not the knowledge that five-year-old children were burning in hell
would have any impact on their ability to enjoy paradise, and their answers
were stunning. Many Christians informed me that no, this fact would not
take away from their happiness. Guess why? Because they would have
no knowledge of it. Have no knowledge of it? I asked. You mean that
your God is going to somehow inoculate you against any previous memories
or knowledge? Do you mean to say that your God will wipe away memories
of a beloved child? Will you remember ever even having given birth to
that child? Many said no, the only thing they would be aware of is that
they were saved by their God. I asked them if they thought that would
be kind of a robotic existence. The replies?
Robot for God here!!!
I would be happy to be a robot for Jesus!
I would be whatever my Lord wanted me to be.
Would you be a killer for your Lord? I wanted to ask, but
I restrained myself.
Christians tell me the bible says that the people in hell
will be able to see the people in heaven, but not the other way around.
How odd. This "paradise" described by Christians does not sound like much
of a paradise to me. It sounds more like being confined to a padded cell
in a mental institution, only being allowed out for regular praise sessions
of the institute's director. How much happiness could one be capable of
after being subjected to a supreme form of shock therapy in which all
memories of a past life and current knowledge of reality is suppressed?
One fellow skeptic said to me: "The Christian's view of heaven is sitting
around strumming banjos all day. How fun could that be? Another said,
"It sounds like heaven will be filled with robotic beings, completely
subservient, with no possibility of resistance." One Christian argued
with this view saying, "No, that is not how it will be. Heaven will be
a very busy place." Why? What will there be to do? I can only imagine
hundreds of zombie-like Christians lying passively on their pallets, managing
a sort of half smile as they hear the day's agenda being announced over
the intercom: Attention Robots. Praise sessions for our Lord will take
place at 9, 12, 2, and 5 today. How ghastly!
When Christians speak of the "hope that is within," is
it honestly a hope for this type of existence they are referring to? They
can't be serious. Even removing the possibility that children will be
burning in hell and assuming there will only be unbelieving adults there,
a belief in the sort of heaven and hell described by Christians is morally
reprehensible. No true Christian could believe such a thing. It would
be a contradiction in terms. The Christian's heaven is not a place any
sane or loving person would want to spend one minute, much less an eternity.
When I have explained these thoughts to liberal Christians,
they shake their heads and say, "That is the viewpoint of the fundamentalists.
It is not ours. We believe that Jesus desires that none should perish
and that hell is not a burning pit, but merely a separation of man from
God." Surely, this is a much nicer viewpoint than the first one. Granted,
it is a little easier to accept. But one has to ask: What is this viewpoint
based on? To believe the view presented by liberal Christians, one would
have to believe that the writers of the bible got it completely wrong
when they reported Jesus's words on the subject of hell. While I can certainly
understand the need on the part of the truly loving Christian to attempt
to paint a kinder and more generous picture of God than the one the bible
provides, one does have to ask the question: If the writers of the bible
could have been so wrong in getting Jesus's words down correctly regarding
his view of hell (this view of hell from Jesus was referred to in all
four gospels), how can we know that the writers got anything right?
Let us say, for the sake of argument, that the writers
did get Jesus's description of hell wrong and that hell is "merely' a
separation of man from God. Is this viewpoint really much of an improvement
on or more compassionate than the first view?! I talked with a liberal
Christian parent named Terry about this view. I asked Terry to answer
the following "what if" questions:
What if one of his children chose not to believe in or
"accept" the Christian God? Would that child then be doomed to spend an
eternity in a place separate from his eternity? And if so, would he still
want to or be able to worship the God that would make such a judgment?
Surprisingly, or perhaps not so surprisingly, the only answer Terry would
give to this question is the following: "I don't believe my children will
reject my God."
Again, I asked him, "But if they did reject
God, what then?"
But still, Terry refused to answer the question, insisting
only that, "My children will not reject God."
I pointed out the New Testament claims that Jesus said
that he had not come to bring peace, but a sword. He supposedly said that
he had come to set husband against wife, father against son and that whoever
would not choose him over even his own child would not be worthy to be
his follower. I asked Terry what made him so sure that he would be the
exception, but still he refused to acknowledge it as a possibility.
Is Terry's stance an honorable one? I believe Terry when
he says that he loves his children, but if his children know that their
father believes they will spend an eternity separate from his eternity
if they do not worship his God, is this really allowing them the freedom
to make their own choice? Is this really love?
I can understand Terry's refusal to answer the question
because there are really only two answers to it, the first of which could
not be acknowledged by a truly loving parent and the second of which could
not be acknowledged by a truly sincere Christian. If Terry had said, "Yes,
if my child rejected God, he would be doomed to spending an eternity separate
from me, and though I would be sad, I would still continue to worship
my God," Terry would not be a truly loving parent. If Terry had said,
"No. I don't believe God would let that happen, and if God did let that
happen, then I would not worship him," Terry would not be a sincere Christian.
This is how hell places Christians in a Catch-22, in an
impossibly unnatural position that I truly do not believe a loving God
would impose on one of his creations. Yet, if Christians don't really
believe in hell, then why would they believe in a need for salvation?
And if they don't believe in a need for salvation, they don't really believe
in the message of Jesus. And if they don't really believe in the message
of Jesus, then they are not really Christians.
Many modern day Christians do not like to admit that they
believe in hell, and yet without it, all other doctrinal tenets become
irrelevant. A belief in hell, regardless of how conscious or unconscious
that belief is, would be a terribly hard burden to carry around. I cannot
imagine having to look at the world through a hell-stained lens. Every
bright and joy-filled moment would become marred, every beautiful picture
dimmed. No one should have to live their life fearing an evil dictator
in the sky. No one should have to look forward to becoming a Robot for
Robots do not have minds. Robots are incapable of bringing
about change in the lives of others. Robots are not morally responsible.
And most importantly, robots do not have hearts and are therefore incapable
of giving or receiving genuine love. There must be something better. If
there's any hope at all of changing the world we live in, we must do better
Copyright © 1998-2000 by Darcy West. All Rights