What if Atheists are wrong? More about hell.by Don Lacey on Sep. 24, 2012, under Atheism, Christianity, Critical Thinking, Education, Ethics, Faith, Freethought, Freethought Events, God & Bible, Logic, Materialism, Question of the Day!, Reason, Religion, Science, Skepticism, That's Life!
It just seems that we can’t get enough discussion about hell. Hell is the big deal at the end that no one wants. Last night while listening to the Atheist Experience Podcast the subject came up again. One of the recently deconverted atheist callers still had concerns about the prospect of hell. Normally, the residuals associated with hell come in two flavors. The first is the nightmares about it that haunt our dreams. The second comes from Pascal’s Wager. The nightmares go away after a while as we overcome the early indoctrination but we can immediately reason ourselves out of Pascal’s Wager. Briefly, Blaise Pascal proposed that belief in God was a win-win situation. Living life as if God exists doesn’t cost anything but the rewards would be great if it turns out to be true. Variations of this gambit are everywhere but have you heard of The Atheist’s Wager?
Why don’t you just be an Atheist? If there is a god, and it is moral and loving and worthy of respect, then it won’t mind if people have rational doubts about it and rational reasons for not believing in it. This god won’t punish people for exercising their critical thinking skills and are skeptical of the claims of other, fallible humans. Thus, you wouldn’t lose anything.
And if there is a god who punishes people for rational doubt, why would you want to spend an eternity with it anyway? Such a capricious, egotistical, and nasty god wouldn’t be much fun. If you can’t trust it to be as moral as you are, you can’t trust it to keep its promises and make heaven nice or even let you stay for long. Not spending eternity with such a being doesn’t sound like much of a loss.
The threat of hell is very effective and since many are introduced to the concept at a very young age extremely hard to forget. Fear is a very powerful motivator. Some say that fear is the most powerful motivator. Fear of fire is particularly strong since everyone has experienced the unpleasantness of being burned at some time in their life. Those that would use hell as a motivator can take the real life horrible experience of being burned to seek a deep, durable connection then embellish on the idea by adding eternity to the mix. Burning forever!—no thank you.
But there is another real life consideration. How are we going to feel pain after we’re dead? As far as we can tell, it takes a wide awake conscious brain to feel pain. Doctors put patients to sleep with anesthesia and do all sorts of hellish things to the body including cutting them open and there is no pain. If you want to get technical about it:
Pain involves an incredibly complicated myriad of physiochemical responses leading to the perception of an unpleasant sensation arising from actual or potential tissue damage. (http://www.vasg.org/the_pain_process.htm)
In other words when we die the pain stops. That’s the reason they shoot horses in the movies, isn’t it? Here are a few words on the subject by the comedian Jim Jefferies (NSFW).
Hell is a dumb but useful concept. We teach it to our young people to keep them in line. We anchor the belief with real life experience but no one has seen it in spite of the fact that there are many can describe it in great gory detail. It can be a useful concept that can shake a believer out of their theological delusions. Jerry DeWitt is the first graduate of the Clergy Project a support organization that helps preachers and pastors who have lost their religious faith cope with their unique situation. It was the incongruity of the existence of hell and a loving god that got Jerry to start doubting his religious education:
…I appreciated that he stressed that there were two constants motivating him in his faith and which eventually led him to his unbelief, and they were the love of truth and the love of people. He wanted desperately to stop people from going to hell if that was the truth of what would happen to them. And he spent 25 years trying to work out the truth about who goes to hell until he first theologized away all belief in hell and then finally reasoned away all belief in such theological delusions whatsoever.(http://www.patheos.com/blogs/camelswithhammers/2012/03/atheist-preaching/)
Jerry came out from behind the pulpit and started applying his skills in helping other recently deconverted Atheists. He is now the Executive Director of the Recovering from Religion organization. There is a newly formed Tucson Chapter of that organization that will be meeting this Friday (September 28th) at the Coffee Exchange on Campbell Ave.