07 February 2009

A Damnable Doctrine

Hell is the core of Christianity; it is what Jesus came to save us from. We all deserve to go there, and there is only one way to escape: believe the right things. (Just what those things are depends on who you talk to.) And if for whatever (and however good a) reason you should die without that belief, you will be tormented forever in Hell by the God who loves you. It is as simple, cruel and absurd as that.

Here is what Charles Darwin said about it in his autobiography:

I can hardly see how anyone ought to wish Christianity to be true; for if so, the plain language of the text seems to show that the men who do not believe, and this would include my Father, Brother, and almost all my best friends, will be everlastingly punished. And this is a damnable doctrine.

It was Hell that did me in as a Christian. I, like Darwin, couldn't believe that my family and friends and billions of other nonbelievers (and religiously incorrect believers) would be tormented forever in Hell for their honest disbelief. It amazes me that anyone could.

Hell is indeed a damnable doctrine. Darwin, as usual, had it exactly right.


Colin said...

I agree 100%. This is relevant to my current situation. I confess I'm still quite afraid of hell but then I think to myself, even if I were to convert most my family and friends would be going there. I suppose a Christian would say it's my responsibility to evangelize to them but I have a hard time defending a religion like Christianity to myself, let alone other people. I mean..Noah's Ark? C'MON! Let alone the cruelty of hell which I doubt any apologetic could convince me is just.

How can I evangelize if I'm not convinced it's fair myself?

One might also say I'm supposed to love God more than my family and friends since he created me, but then again, he created hell. I think that makes being created a curse instead of a gift.

If I was saved, Heaven would be a lonely place for me as no one I know would be there. I actually asked a christian about how you're supposed to be happy in heaven if people you love are in hell. She said "God will erase your memories of them" either that or your just too damn happy to care. No thanks. That's just depressing.

Whoever created eternal hell was just plain sick, be it God or Man.

Matthew Blanchette said...

I think, when Man created Hell, he had no way of reckoning how damnable a doctrine it would be; he just said, "Hey! If you don't believe in what I say, or you're my enemy, you suffer eternal agony after you die! Boo-gah boo-gah!"

It's a damned shame that people insist on living good lives because they don't want to be broiled in the afterlife, not just simply because it's the right thing to do.

FrodoSaves said...


I disagree. I think whoever created it - certainly a man, or men - had a very good idea how politically useful it would be. We have a long history of being easily manipulated by fear. Hitler wielded his people's shame and embarrassment. McCarthy played on the common man's terror of the Red Menace. And history may prove me wrong, but it seems that Cheney is still harping on about nebulous threats from all comers in a bid for political relevance. Hell is no different, and since it was so obviously created by man - primitive minds are easily impressed by the superlative - I think it's extremely easy to smell the rat.

Or should that be 'Rat'?

Uruk said...

The doctrine of hell didn't do me in, but it looks worse and worse to me since I left Christianity.

If hell is to be eternal, can you imagine how disproportionate the punishment is?! Take a human life and put it next to 5 billion years. That's probably like comparing the length of your kitchen table against the distance of the United States from coast to coast! And so what if my comparison isn't very accurate, you get the picture. Because we're talking about eternity!

Who deserves that?

And worse, if God should be omnipotent and omniscient, that means that God has created people that he knows will go to hell. He has the power to either not create hell bound people, or forgive them. Yet, this doctrine says that God lets them parish.

Why not simply will sinners out of existence or not let them even be born in he first place?

Why have hell, with so many other options?

There are Christians who do not believe in hell. But I wonder if such people are truly Christian. I don't knock them for their belief. In fact, I admire it. But I'm sure other Christians would lump such believers into the same basket as us non-Christians.

strungout7777 said...

I've asked two of my devout Catholic friends who attend church regularly and teach bible camps to explain how a loving god could send people to hell for eternity. The best they could muster were vague, convoluted answers.

I've also asked these friends if they can locate heaven or hell, or where they could exist. I suggested to them that they probably lie outside the universe (I can't picture another planet having the characteristics of the heaven described by some Christians. Hell, I suppose that could be located on Venus, Mercury or other rocky planets whose orbits are tight to stars).

For arguments sake, I assume heaven isn't a state of mind or altered consciousness, since brain functions probably stop at death. Let's say a man dies and his soul leaves his body for heaven, like a beam of light. It would take billions of years for it to leave the universe, assuming it's traveling at the speed of light. Maybe souls could never leave the universe because it's constantly expanding.

My friends say I think too literally about the situation. But according to the bible, their savior, Jesus, flew BODILY to heaven. Can you image how far he's traveled since leaving earth? I feel for Jesus, because no one told him how far he'd have to travel to get home. Plus, he probably wasn't briefed about space's temperature (about -450F), black holes, radiation or gamma ray bursts.

Uruk said...


Good point. My son started to ruminate over how other kids at school were always "throwing the bird" -- you know, giving someone "the finger".

He said that a classmate told him that you can give the devil the finger and it's OK. Just make sure you point your middle finger down, because pointing it up is pointing it to God.

So, then I asked him where he thought heaven was.

Of course . . . the sky, he says.

Then I pointed out to him that the earth is round, so up for us isn't quite up for someone in . . . say . . . Australia, or the South Pole.

So I asked him again, where is heaven?

He quickly moved heaven to outer space.

What about the moon? Is heaven out there?

Then he (being seven years old) moves heaven to another dimension of the universe.

He's got it all figured out.

The ancients seemed to think that heaven was in the sky. The earth was most likely believed to be flat. The tower of Babel was a real threat that God had to thwart.

Hmmmmm . . . .

Hell . . . that's easy. That's in the core of the earth!


Errancy said...

I struggle with the idea of hell too.

I think it's worth saying that even Christians who accept the hellfire and brimstone version of hell don't say that God sends people there for their unbelief. Unbelief prevents people from escaping hell, but it isn't a reason for being sent there; people are sent there for their sins.

I'd still prefer a toned down version of hell though. I'm just not sure how well that sits with the Bible.

Uruk said...

Errancy, you said:

" . . . even Christians who accept the hellfire and brimstone version of hell don't say that God sends people there for their unbelief."

That is true. I would say things like that too, when I was practicing Christianity.

But, notice how that argument from Christians makes God appear powerless. That goes against the classic view of God-- the omnipotent One that can do anything he wills.

I've heard countless preachers throughout my 25 years of Christian experience say that God can do anything but fail.

I've only heard one fundamentalist type say that God could fail. This preacher took the risk of saying that God fails every time a person dies, yet has not accepted Christ and lived a holy life. God failed by allowing that person to not be reached by his love, and as a result another soul is lost to Satan's hell.

The people in the congregation became really quiet when that preacher spoke. His foreign words were unheard of. He only survived making such comments because he was a high ranking Bishop within the organization. Bishops of his caliber are considered nigh infallible and people often feared such types more than the invisible God.

Personally, I couldn't help noticed the contradiction. I kept quiet like everyone else, but his comments stayed with me.

I think the preacher was hoping to subconsciously pass the blame from God to the members of the church. We failed because we weren't witnessing enough. We weren't God's hands and feet and expression of love enough. We were not Christ like examples enough.

But why does an omnipotent God need help from human hands and feet to represent him when he already has all power to say and do what he wants?

Omnipotence, I think, gives God way more trouble than people consider. And the idea of hell only makes this philosophical problem worse.

Errancy said...


Complex questions, but here's the germ of an answer:

Theologians distinguish between God's antecedent will and his consequent will. God's antecedent will is (roughly) what God wants before he considers the actual circumstances of the world, his best case scenario. God's consequent will is what he actually wills given the circumstances he finds.

Thanks to free will, the two can come apart. God's antecedent will might be to welcome everyone into heaven, but faced with unrepent sinners his consequent will may be for some people to go to hell.

When people say that God can't fail, they're thinking in terms of his consequent will; whatever God consequently wills comes to pass.

When the preacher you mentioned said that God fails when someone dies in unbelief, he was talking about God's antecedent will; that isn't God's best case scenario.

That said, I do agree that the concept of omnipotence is problematic (not necessarily incoherent, but problematic). People dismiss the paradox of the stone as a philosophical cliche, but I think it has some bite, and there are a couple of other issues too.

Uruk said...


I follow you. I used to believe that way, too. I called it God's "permissive" will and his "perfect" will.

But somehow, that preacher's comments didn't fit your explanation because our congregation was super conservative and God could not be praised or worshiped enough. "Fail" and "God" should never be in the same sentence. That was taboo within that particular congregation I attended.

But, I see your point.

But, the Bible says that it's not the Lord's will that any should parish, but that all would come to repentance.

Maybe I'm taking that verse out of context, but how is God doing me a favor by giving me free will via his permissive will? Isn't he then allowing me to retain ambiguous feelings about his doctrine or existence? He's giving me permission to take myself to hell.

Or am I being a cop-out and blaming God for my rebellion?

Before anyone says that, I don't wanna go to hell!! I'll bow down to God if I could be clear that he exists and be clear of what he wants. I was raised Baptist. When someone told me that the Apostolic Faith Doctrine was the only true way, I was doubtful, but I investigated. I cared about my salvation and I wanted to be sure. Once I become convinced of their doctrine, I complied and left the Baptist church and sought to fulfill the teachings of the Apostolic Faith doctrine.

Then someone else comes along and says that my adherence to the Apostolic Faith isn't correct for what ever reason. Any body can take the scriptures to support their "inerrant" view of the scriptures.

Then what?

Well, the problem with communicating in text is that you can't see facial expression or hear inflections in people's voices.

Please don't feel like I'm blasting you or anything like that. I'm only sharing my point of view. So, I hope my tone is peaceful.

Errancy, are you still a believer? If so, I won't press the issue any further unless you're mutually interested in this kind of dialogue. I don't want you to feel like I'm talking an argumentative posture or anything. I'm not interested in "deconverting" you if you're still religious. I'm only sharing my feelings. And, I welcome any difference of opinion.

A lot of what I've said in my comments have just come to me recently-- like in the past month. Before then, I never gave omnipotence, evil in the world, and hell very much thought.

But now I find that I have a lot to say on the issue. Had this post come out a few months ago, I doubt I would have had much of an opinion at all.

Oh, and btw, Good post, Steve. For me, it's been mental simulating.

Errancy said...

> Please don't feel like I'm blasting you or anything like that.

Not at all! Your tone's spot on.

> are you still a believer?

Yes, I'm a Christian (although some fundamentalists would probably want to disown me). As I said before, I'm not particularly keen to defend a fire and brimstone version of hell, but to continue the discussion here goes anyway...

> the Bible says that it's not the Lord's will that any should perish...

This is about God's antecedent will; given that some don't repent, he consequently wills that they perish.

> how is God doing me a favor by giving me free will?

I'm not sure that he is doing you a favour. I think handing out free will is a bigger-picture decision than that.

Free will makes it possible for the universe to have a moral dimension, and that's arguably a good enough reason for God to have given it to us.

How that works out for each of us individually is another matter though; if unbelievers are going to suffer eternal torment for their sins, then they would have been better off without free will.

Just to reiterate: I don't have firm views on this, and I certainly don't think that I have all the answers. I just somehow seem to have ended up trying to articulate this particular position for the sake of our discussion. :)

Uruk said...


> Yes, I'm a Christian (although some fundamentalists would probably want to disown me). As I said before, I'm not particularly keen to defend a fire and brimstone version of hell, but to continue the discussion here goes anyway...

I've just become really acquaintance with someone like you in blogger world. And sort of like the original post suggests, hell seems to be central to the Christian faith. Ever hear of The Jerome Conspiracy? You may find it an interesting read. I wasn't totally convinced of his main point, but you might think he proves it after reading it. The author suggests that the doctrine of hell was added later. I won't sit here and say you're not a Christian for any unorthodox belief you might express (relative to Christianity). That's cool by me. I was fundamentalist, so I realize that I would not have considered you a true Christian back then. But today, I'd say if people feel the need to be Christians-- the truest of Christians who would actually do good in the world will have a flexible attitude like yours. I find that quality admirable.

The questions I keep bringing up are an expression of my growing skepticism of Christian doctrine. I see what you mean when you say that you aren't necessarily defending the doctrine, but you're just outlining the "logic" of those who believe in such a doctrine as hell.

> Free will makes it possible for the universe to have a moral dimension, and that's arguably a good enough reason for God to have given it to us.

When I was a kid, I wondered what would keep me sinless in heaven. If I had so much trouble living a holy life on earth, what would keep me pure in heaven?

At first, I was comforted by the idea that I'd have a "new" body. I wouldn't have a fleshly body, so the "sin nature" wouldn't influence me.

Then, I started to wonder what caused Lucifer (Satan) to fall from heaven. He was an angel, and took a third of angels with him when he defected from heaven, according to many Christians.

So, why does God seem to withdraw free will from us when the believers finally reach heaven? I say this because we will be sinless and perfect, supposedly. Will we never have a desire for anything sinful again? Does our free will become that resolute towards God?

What causes that? Or will God then take away our free will? Why did he let Lucifer rebel in heaven before "the fall", but promises to keep the saved pure in heaven.

I used to worry that I might mess up in heaven, like Lucifer did, and that perhaps I wasn't salvageable at all.

There didn't seem to be much free will in that. I felt trapped. As I got older, I just trusted God would have all that figured out. But now that I have a skeptic's outlook, the question comes back. The answers that usually comforted me then don't seem to work any more.

Carambax said...


In your post you've stated:

"there is only ONE way to escape: believe the right things."

But how can this be, since your SAB Contradictions-section says that there are SEVERAL ways to be saved according to the Bible?

PS: All in all I think your site is absolutely brilliant - thanks.

Carambax said...


In your post you've stated:

"there is only ONE way to escape: believe the right things."

But how can this be, since your SAB Contradictions-section says that there are SEVERAL ways to be saved according to the Bible?

PS: All in all I think your site is absolutely brilliant - thanks.

Steve Wells said...


You're right. I counted 29 ways of getting saved in the Bible.

But nearly all Protestants say there is only one way to get saved: believe the right things (salvation is by faith alone). Everyone deserves to go to hell and only faith can save them from going there.

Steve Wells said...

Hell is just punishment for sin.

Thanks clearing that up, Michael.

Who will be going there?

Tim Lass said...

It is indeed a damnable doctrine. The idea that un-repentant humans will spend all eternity in Hell for a mere few decades of sin has done more to destroy faith in God and the scriptures than the theory of evolution had ever dreamed of accomplishing. And if eternal torment for the wicked is true, then in the ceasless ages of happiness and joy to follow, how would you explain the loving benevolent character of God, if he is overseeing the torture of other human beings somewhere? ...and for all eternity no less. No rational thinking person would possibly approach, let alone love such a God. That's not the God of the Bible. That's a sadistic monster.
I am so glad that this "damnable doctrine" is not true; that the Bible actually teaches no such thing. The scriptures do clearly teach that there will be eternal death for the wicked; but it is a true unconcious death. Eternal torment is not eternal death, it's actually eternal life, in Hell.
Care for for a fuller explaination? Write.

Spoiled Pups said...

I agree with Tim. It is a shame I read only around 15% of Christians are annihilationist. The Case for Annihilationism by Greg Boyd is good.

ed said...

Just because you don't like how it sounds doesn't mean it's not true. "I only believe what I think sounds reasonable and nice"... that's not how truth works