10 Questions About Hell From an Atheist

Jul 8, 2015

by Herb Silverman

When it comes to discussions about heaven and hell, I prefer Mark Twain’s quip: “Go to heaven for the climate, hell for the company.” Since OnFaith has published a few pieces lately from evangelicals on their theologies of hell (see here and here), I figured I’d throw my 10 cents into the ring and ask: What the hell is going on?

There are probably as many ways to think about hell as there are believers in hell. And as an atheist, I think the right way to think about hell is also the right way to think about heaven — both are nonexistent.

All this afterlife theology raises a lot of questions. Here are just 10 of them I’ve wondered about:

1. Why is faith not only important, but perhaps the deciding factor about who winds up in heaven or hell?

Whenever I’m asked what I’d do if I meet Jesus when I die, I say I would then have enough evidence to become a believer. Apparently, though, that would be too late. If a creator god exists, why would she create so many evidence-based humans if she wants us to make faith-based decisions?

2. Why do the last 30 seconds of life matter so much?

If an Adolph Hitler repented on his deathbed for his role in the Holocaust and accepted Jesus, some say he would go to heaven. I think it would be more reasonable (though what’s reason got to do with it?) for a person to be judged on his or her lifetime actions rather than on an end-of-life belief.

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15 comments on “10 Questions About Hell From an Atheist

  • 1
    Miserablegit says:

    Thankfully I don’t give a flying fuck about the afterlife, when I am dead that’s it I do not need some witless arbitrary religious nonsense about some invisible friend supposedly making a decision on whether its upstairs or the burny fires. All that cock was just proof of how vindictive the xtians can be in deciding who goes where and terrorising its believers into doing what they are told.

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  • I could add a few more questions to the absurd list:

    Do you have to go to the toilet in heaven / hell ?

    Is the food good ?

    Do the Catholics have their own special compound and believe they’re the only ones there ?

    Repeat above question for the +/- 38,000 different varieties of Protestantism and Judaism, Islam etc.

    Do the blessed have a view over the fiery lake ?

    Is the Church of England’s hell a nice warm bath rather than a fiery lake ?

    Are there any marriageable virgins in heaven ?

    Is there night and day in h / h ?

    Where is Jerry Falwell and that Westboro Baptist guy, whose name escapes me ?

    Does money exist in h / h ?

    And so on. Others I’m sure, will be more humerous.

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  • What sort of heaven will the pedofiles and child raping Catholic priests be experiencing? We know they are in Heaven because they accept Jesus and all that stuff, so presumably their niche is populated with fresh-faced sexually insatiable little cherubs. Or maybe that is hell for them because they probably prefer compelling the unwilling and naive to accept their genitalia. So the heaven for the priest is also simultaneously the hell for the recipient of their attentions. You’d have to be an omnipotent supernatural being to come up with and make a system like that work.

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  • Mr DArcy
    Jul 8, 2015 at 2:29 pm

    Do you have to go to the toilet in heaven / hell ?

    The RA video suggested an answer – Damnation without relief!!

    Do the Catholics have their own special compound and believe they’re the only ones there ?

    They did according to a Dave Allen sketch!!

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  • Shhh…don’t ask any questions! You’re being difficult. And if you dare to question things, make sure to always return to your respective sacred text to find the answer. Do not try to find alternative answers and viewpoints from outside your religion.

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  • As I heard it told by an intelligent teacher (also a take-it-seriously catholic), heaven and hell are states of mind, and in particular of the dying mind, hence the importance of bringing peace to the dying, e.g. the Last Rites.

    Note she didn’t say “ONLY states of mind”, as your state-of-mind is the only thing you ever experience, so it can’t be dismissed with an “ONLY”, as if it is less real than something else.

    Add to that the physics of time dilation, as, for example, when approaching the event horizon of a black hole, and we see that subjective time is a flexible construct. So the eternity – in heaven or hell – could occur in the final second(s) of life. Nice physics metaphor that, event horizon and black hole standing in for Death, which is also a horizon from which no-one returns.

    This was explained to me as an un-refutable proposition that heaven and hell are indeed “real”, in that they can be experienced, and can be “eternal”. Anecdotal evidence would come from survivors of Near Death Experiences, who would (presumably) report experiences which could be extrapolated into predictions (unverifiable) of Actual Death Experience.

    All of which is somewhat disconcerting, to put it mildly, to a rational unbeliever in anything claimed by preachers, politicians, industry lobby groups and used car salesmen.

    Therefore, I propose a toast:

    May you die in a good mood.

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  • I’ve always liked this little thought provoker that a nun once frightened a female colleague of mine (before taking her knickers down and spanking her over her knee!) (I have elaborated a bit coz my memories a bit blurry)
    “Imagine a ball of solid steel as large as the observable universe. Then imagine that a butterfly lands on that ball every billion years. When that ball of steel has eroded to nothing….YOUR TORMENT WILL HAVE ONLY JUST BEGUN!”.

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  • Anyone contributing to this site knows the whole god, heaven and hell malarky is tosh, but that does not stop religion (or the accommodation of the religious view of the the world) dominating politics, and therefore government. It gets away with it because too few people actually say — out loud and unambiguously — that it is tosh. People being mostly creatures of the herd go along with the apparently prevailing view, and say they believe in a god, etc., etc., as that seems to be the way of things but look at their behaviour and they clearly do not really believe any of it.
    This comes out as watered down religion — “I believe, but … “. The rules and restrictions go, the idea of hell goes (except for the likes of “Hitler” etc.) and wishful thinking takes over. Point out that it is this wishful thinking that forms the swamp that the extremists hide in; the costs to society of perverse decisions to accommodate all this ‘peaceful religion’ nonsense, and remind them of the atrocities over the centuries from their cuddly religion’s origins and most people will come out and admit that it is “nonsense really” and it should probably not be taken seriously by people in authority.
    A bit more putting it bluntly and challenging the wishful thinkers would probably do more to loosen the grip of religion on public life than any logical or factual challenges to particular details of clerical claims. Hitchens and others have provided the ammunition to challenge the particulars, but it is down to the man in the street to speak up and show atheism is real, rational, constructive and serious. There are far more ‘closet atheists’ than public surveys ever show, but they need to be outed if religion is to be ousted.

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  • It always amuses me that so much of what many Christians take both literally and personally about Hell, the Devil and the like are entirely extrabiblical. Then again this is true of most of their ideas about angels and heaven as well.

    But with the questions about Hell, while there are a multitude of them that are valid that will likely never get an answer, most curious to me is the idea that one gets eternally punished for the actions of a mere 70+ of activity. That somehow if an afterlife somehow exists, this time is more important than any to dictate what your behavior is guaranteed to be like for all of existence. Even worse, that an omnibenevolent entity would think any of this is a good idea in the first place.

    Hell, isn’t about divine justice, it’s about punishment for not thinking sharing the faith and believing as the church does. Persecution for not engaging in the group think quagmire that this disturbing ancient notion comes from.

    Honestly, it always baffles that a species that still has no idea how to punish those responsible for crimes here on earth without swaying to extremes and operating more out of revenge than justice thinks that any man made document would contain a divine code for how people should be treated eternally. It’s truly maddening.

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  • @OP – There are probably as many ways to think about hell as there are believers in hell. And as an atheist, I think the right way to think about hell is also the right way to think about heaven — both are nonexistent.

    There have been plenty of examples of volcanic lava and pyroclastic flows destroying large areas, lava-tybe caves with rivers of fire and poison gasses in them. Like modern earthquakes and tsunamis, the woo-mongers of history have attributed disasters to the wrath of their gods to frighten the superstitious into given their cults support. Likewise any benefits of nature, harvests etc., or the work of scientists, rescue teams, or engineers, have provided the basis for asserting that beneficiaries ” need to thank god(s)” for these benefits!
    Delusion-centric thinking involves gods in everything, despite obvious evidence of other causes!

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  • I must admit to being mildly surprised last week when a couple of Jehovah’s Witnesses knocked on my door. Two very pleasant youngish women with French accents. When I explained that the Bible was written by many different authors over a few centuries, edited, changed and ‘corrected’ to suit the particular brand of Christianity, she (the main speaker) agreed with me ! When I said that her Bible meant I was doomed for the fiery lake, she denied it ! Obviously ‘progressive’ JWs who believe hell is the absence of God !

    I’ll go with that interpretation, having been without God so far in my life. Why believe in nonsense now ?

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