The Mad Torturer and Me: The Lunacy of the Hell Delusion
As an atheist who debates theists frequently, I often am warned that my immortal soul is in grave jeopardy. A range of religious individuals—not just Christians—have told me that disbelief in God will result in severe punishment after corporeal death. When Christians, in particular, are involved, it is never long before Hell is invoked. For the uninitiated, the Christian conception of Hell is the place in which those isolated from God will spend eternity—being tortured, abused, burned, crushed, maimed and brutalized in perpetuity. Oftentimes, Christians ignore my actual arguments and simply try to frighten me by citing Hell—crafting example after agonizing example of what is in store for atheists such as me.
Although such a strategy might give less secure atheists pause, I never could be converted back to being a believer simply by way of blind fear. There also, of course, are several problems with the whole Hell doctrine. In this essay, I shall lay out four of the main ones: What immaterial soul? Which God must one worship? How could God invent Hell? Why worship a wrathful God?
Whenever anybody warns about the grim fate of my immaterial, eternal soul, I generally respond as such: “I cannot waste a single moment worrying about an immortal soul which, as of yet, hasn’t been substantiated through evidence.” Obviously, the doctrine of Hell depends upon an essence surviving corporeal death, but what that essence is never has been fully elucidated. Some of my previous essays have attempted to lay the primitive “soul” notion to rest, citing scientific research that reveals the brain is the place in which one’s personality, character and memory are stored. Perhaps the other insurmountable problem for the soul—particularly in relation to Hell—is its questionable ability to feel pain. How, exactly, can a soul be tortured and brutalized? Pain is a decidedly bodily phenomenon, involving nerves, tissue and the brain. If a wispy essence, divorced from the body, can feel pain, I want to know specifically how it works.
Perhaps the biggest problem for every religion is the following: There are 10,000 more vying for adherents—each equally likely as every other. Unless an enterprising Christian presents to me some heretofore undiscovered evidence that Yahweh is real, I must classify that deity alongside Zeus, Mithras, Enlil, Anu, Nintu, etc. Given the egocentrism of most gods, I doubt generalized piety would suffice. So, if Anu actually is the One and True God, Christians are pretty much screwed. If it is really Mithras after all, the world’s population does not have a whole lot to which to look forward. Then again, the legitimate deity might be Hargozinu, whose existence shall not be discovered for 2500 years.
At this point, quoting Dr. Carl Sagan’s “The Demon-Haunted World” might be instructive:
Here, for example, is what is written in a cuneiform inscription on a Babylonian cylinder seal from the second millennium B.C.:
“Oh, Ninlil, Lady of the Lands, in your marriage bed, in the abode of your delight, intercede for me with Enlil, your beloved.
[Signed] Mili-Shipak, Shatammu of Ninmah.”
It’s been a long time since there’s been a Shatammu in Ninmah, or even a Ninmah. Despite the fact that Enlil and Ninlil were major gods—people all over the civilized Western world had prayed to them for two thousand years—was poor Mili-Shipak in fact praying to a phantom, to a societally condoned product of his imagination? And if so, what about us? Or is this blasphemy, a forbidden question—as doubtless it was among the worshipers of Enlil?
Our third problem with Hell is a definitional one relating to God’s alleged properties. For most Christians, God is defined as omniscient, omnipotent and omnibenevolent; that is, Yahweh is all-knowing, all-powerful and all-good. The question here is so obvious as to be frequently overlooked: What kind of all-good entity would invent a place such as Hell? Remember that Hell is a place in which humans are tortured and brutalized until the end of time; indeed, Yahweh’s fire pit is far worse than the torture chambers that were Jeffrey Dahmer’s apartment and John Wayne Gacy’s suburban dwelling. Speaking personally, I know that I am not omnibenevolent. And yet, even so, I never would want to expose anybody to limitless agony—or any agony at all. Yahweh’s overt sadism seems to preclude simple benevolence (let alone omnibenevolence!) and thus call into question the very definition of God.
Bearing the previous discussion in mind, the time finally has come to tackle the question of whether one should worship a wrathful God. Considering my Dahmer and Gacy analogies, it really does seem rather strange. Those two serial killers are rightly reviled by the public at large (indeed, our tax money went toward murdering Gacy in order to prove the point that murder should not be committed), yet mad torturer Yahweh ought to be worshipped? To continue with our serial killer motif, I will quote a previous essay of mine, in which I argue that God, if existent, booby-trapped Theodore Robert Bundy:
If God were omniscient, he knew Ted Bundy would become a serial killer. If God were omnipotent, he could have created Ted Bundy any way he wanted. If God were omnibenevolent, he would have created Ted Bundy as a decent human, since no omnibenevolent entity would damn his own creation to Hell. For, such would be analogous to a toymaker knowingly making a faulty toy and then blaming the toy for being faulty.
If we, for the sake of argument, make the completely unjustified assumption that God exists, we can draw two possible conclusions: 1. The omni-everything God definition is incorrect. [Thus, we can be certain of nothing about God’s nature, and we have no insight on how to please him.] 2. Hell does not exist, and never has existed. [Hence, even atheists’ infidelic souls are safe.]Perhaps you have been moved by my arguments, and perhaps not. But, bear this in mind: Whether there is an afterlife or not, the earthly life is the only one that is manifestly in evidence. Enjoy it, and live it to the full.
I suspect no second chance awaits us.