Monday, March 14, 2011

The Catch-22 of Hell

I had a few issues with something I read. Needed to get it down. Instead of the usual paragraph by paragraph dissection I just put a few of the central points in italics and discussed them. 


The Rob Bell Contoversy: Does Anyone Go To Hell?

So why can't a prominent Christian author even question how to reconcile Jesus' description of God's incredible, even incomprehensible love with the notion of condemning souls to eternal torment without being condemned as a heretic? I suspect there are several reasons. Certainly the threat of hell provides a motivational system par excellence. During the Middle Ages, for instance -- when doctrines of hell were most fully developed -- the desire to avoid eternal punishment motivated Christians to all kinds of pious acts, everything from donating money to build the Sistine Chapel to enlisting in countless Crusades.

These last two sentences are telling. “The threat of hell” is a superior mechanism of control. In order to avoid the most horrific punishment imaginable, people “act good.” This is different than “being good.” This threat is familiar through Pascal’s Wager. Also inherent in both Pascal’s Wager and the threat of hell is a lack of true faith (of which I am unconcerned with), a lack of personal accountability, a lack of true morality and a lack of logic. Much like Pascal’s Wager; the threat of hell does not instill any love for fellow humans or much of anything other than a “love” for anyone that promises to save you from the tortures of this world (reality) or the torture of an afterlife. It is a fear-based control mechanism designed by human agents in order to coerce others to follow their belief system or maybe even just those in power. This is not only disingenuous; it is immoral. Not only do I reject the notions of hell and Pascal’s Wager because I do not believe in the existence of any deity, but I logically reject the notion of an omnibenevolent god’s ability to even exist within the conflicting context of a judgemental and punishing god. It makes no sense.

The other point within this statement and alluded to earlier in the article is that the concept of hell was largely formulated as it is understood today during the Middle Ages (formally known as the Dark Ages). The concept of hell was created over the course of 1,000 years of some of the most trying times in European history. Who created this concept? The Catholic Church. If ever there was a self-serving organization that had no problem either consciously or unconsciously creating justifications for their existence, power, and preeminence it is the Catholic Church. The fact that the Christian concept of hell was (re)created over the course of approximately 40 generations and influenced by various cultures, languages and powers does not lend itself to the credibility of the concept. At all.

However, this does not mean that the Old and New Testaments get a “pass” on the current concept of hell. It really doesn’t matter. Hell is still implied.

To be fair; this lack of logic in the widely held concept of hell is not lost on the subject of the article. Rob Bell sees the inherent contradiction of a moral person going to hell. However, David Lose states:

But I think the importance we attach to hell today has more to do with the allure of certainty than fear of punishment. A clear sense of the rewards and punishments for having or lacking faith in Christ offers a compelling logic regarding our eternal destiny that reduces ambiguity from the life of faith. After all, and as many Evangelical Christians have argued, if you can go to heaven without believing in Christ, what's the point of faith in the first place? This certainty, in turn, lends believers a sense of authority, even power, as they have a clear standard by which to judge "who's in" and "who's out." Talk about seductive!

But as Bell notes in his video, our notions of hell don't only witness to our beliefs about the afterlife, they also speak volumes about how we imagine God. Is God primarily loving or angry, forgiving or vengeful?

He goes on to conclude that:

The idea that whatever religious path you choose is as good as any other seems detached, generic, and rather anemic, hardly representative of the passionate faith of those who follow Jesus. But to assume that God cannot in God's infinite power, love, and wisdom save all persons if God desires? ... Or to assert that there must be a hell if heaven is to be meaningful? ... Such sentiments seem at the very least to underestimate the God of biblical faith.

The problem with both of these concepts is that they still assume all loving/unconditional loving god can exist that requires worship and obedience while having created a hell, any hell, for punishment. There are already many arguments criticising the logical possibility of an all powerful (omnipotent), all knowing (omniscient) god that is everywhere (omnipresent). None of that makes any particular sense, but this is especially true in the Christian belief of the omnibenevolent god that created hell. Any god that exists which requires strict worship and punishes with extreme malice means the Westboro Baptist Church is right. Fuck that.

I suppose well meaning theists are caught in a Catch-22. Much of the criticism of religious views are that they are static and unchanging as opposed to science which can disregard previously held precepts in light of new evidence. Well, religious views are changing and evolving all the time. They obvious change because this blog exists and I, as yet, have not had my door kicked in and have been tried for heresy. Religious views do evolve because they are an expression of culture. Human culture evolves along with human biology.

Why does any of this matter and why we should we not stop criticising religion? Science changes and updates its views based on available evidence collected and tested via a rigorous methodology. Reason and rational thought do not make assumptions and logical leaps. There is nothing to base religion on. There is no compelling evidence to suggest it’s origins were inspired by real events and and there is no compelling evidence to suggest appropriate changes and updates should be made. The belief is based on faith which is no basis for any belief. By definition, faith is a belief not based on proof or evidence. The changes in religious ideas are not based on some new found evidence, but on the cognitive dissonance of those who can see the inherent flaws in the logic of various beliefs and attempt to alter them in order to lessen this dissonance so they can continue to believe. There is no real end to these rationalizations since there is no real beginning that can be provided as “truth” and the evidence is never there.