General Question

Critter38's avatar

Is hell immoral?

Asked by Critter38 (2459points) October 21st, 2008

Does it make sense to you to create a place where everlasting excruciating fiery torment exists for some people (souls)?

Who do you believe is deserving of such eternal torture? For what purpose?

I ask because many democratic nations do not have the death penalty, do not torture even those guity of the most heinous of crimes, and the primary focus is ideally on rehabilitation of individuals (if possible), and protection of society in the meantime, not revenge.

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33 Answers

wundayatta's avatar

Yeah, it’s immoral. Mainly because it is a misleading idea designed to keep people in line via hypothetical punishment. We now know that these techniques don’t work to educate our children, and, in fact, they create harm.

Back when the Bible was written, or other texts with other notions of hell, people probably didn’t know better. Punishment may have been the only way people knew to keep folks in line.

Punishment may work in the short run, but it doesn’t get you what you want in the long run. Fear, too, is a short-sighted technique for manipulating people. It hurts them much more than it helps. In my book, that’s immoral.

AstroChuck's avatar

No. It’s akin to asking if Neverland is immoral. I don’t believe you can call a fictitious place immoral.

Critter38's avatar

@AstroChuck. Perhaps a rephrase then. Is the concept of hell immoral? I think it is reasonable to ask whether it would be moral to do something or not, as such a concept should be able to be argued for or against in regards to morality (regardless of its existence).

tonedef's avatar

To get down and dirty with behavior analysis terms, hell is better described as negative reinforcement. A negative stimulus is present (anxiety re: going to hell), and the organism performs a behavior (goes to church, prays, fasts, etc.) to temporarily eliminate that behavior.

Re: the question, though, I agree with daloon.

@AstroChuck, I think the question was phrased ambiguously, but I think part of it was asking if it’s immoral to believe someone is deserving of hell .

jasonjackson's avatar

@Critter38: yeah, I think it’s immoral – in other words, if god exists and has created hell, he’s a huge asshole.

asmonet's avatar

@Jason: Then again it’s almost impossible to get there. You can do one thing to avoid it, even if you do a thousand things to deserve it. Just accept God.

Then again I used to be Catholic and now I’m Agnostic. Clearly, I don’t really believe that too much.

susanc's avatar

But isn’t it kinda silly to compare the concept of hell with the practices of
“democratic nations”? I mean, do you really think that “democratic nations”
don’t practice torture?
Separately, do you really think that “democratic nations” (which were INVENTED in about 1770) are on a par with religions thousands of years old?
Let’s rephrase: do we think hell is nice? Do we think it’s a good policy?
That’s the point, dude.

AstroChuck's avatar

I don’t think a belief can be called immoral, although acting on some of those beliefs might be considered to be. Of course the people who truly believe and act on those beliefs are simply doing what they feel is right. The concept of what is moral and what isn’t is simply subjective.

Critter38's avatar

@ susanc The issue was never meant to be about democratic nations, that was just how the question arose for me. Feel free to ignore the democratic comparison if it doesn’t work for you.

@astrochuck. Fair enough. But for those who believe in hell presumably they see it as inflicting god’s justice. This does change the perspective somewhat.

Also although what is moral or not is subjective to some extent, I don’t think any of us benefit from making it a completely relativist concept. There are at least continuums of good or bad that are at least useful for discussion.

seVen's avatar

This is an issue that bothers many people and it stems from an incomplete understanding of three things: the nature of God, the nature of man, and the nature of sin. As fallen, sinful human beings, the nature of God is a difficult concept for us to fathom. We tend to see God as a kind, merciful Being whose love for us overrides and overshadows all His other attributes. Of course God is loving, kind and merciful, but He is first and foremost a holy and righteous God. So holy is He, in fact, that He cannot tolerate sin. He is a God whose anger burns against the wicked and those who disobey Him (Isaiah 5:25; Hosea 8:5; Zechariah 10:3). He is not only a loving God; He is love itself! But the Bible also tells us that He hates all manner of sin (Proverbs 6:16–19). And while He is merciful, but there are limits to His mercy. “Seek the LORD while he may be found; call on him while he is near. Let the wicked forsake his way and the evil man his thoughts. Let him turn to the LORD, and he will have mercy on him, and to our God, for he will freely pardon” (Isaiah 55:6–7).

Man, in his unregenerate state, is corrupted by sin and that sin is always directly against God. When David sinned by committing adultery with Bathsheba and having Uriah murdered, he responded by praying something interesting: “Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight…” (Psalm 51:4). Since David had sinned against Bathsheba and Uriah, how could he claim to have only sinned against God? David understood that all sin is ultimately against God. God is an eternal and infinite Being (Psalm 90:2). As a result, all sin requires an eternal punishment. God’s holy, perfect and infinite character has been offended by our sin, and although to our finite minds our sin is limited in time, to God—who is outside of time—the sin He hates goes on and on. Our sin is continually before Him and must be continually punished in order to satisfy His holy justice.

No one understands this better than someone in hell. A perfect example is the story of the rich man and a beggar named Lazarus. Both died and the rich man went to hell while Lazarus went to heaven (called Abraham’s bosom in Luke 16). Of course the rich man was aware that his sins were only committed during his lifetime. But interestingly, he never says: “How did I end up here?” That question is never asked in hell. He doesn’t say, “Did I really deserve this?” “Don’t you think this is a little extreme? A little over the top?” He doesn’t say any of that. He only asks that someone go to his brothers who are still alive and warn them not to come there.

Like the rich man, every sinner has a full realization of his wretchedness in hell, a fully informed, acutely aware, and sensitive conscience which becomes his own tormenter. This is the experience of torture in hell—a soul fully aware of his or her sin with a relentlessly accusing conscience, hammering without relief for one moment. The guilt of that sinner produces shame and everlasting self-hatred and loathing. The rich man knew that eternal punishment for a lifetime of sins is justified and deserved. That’s why he never protested or questioned being in hell.

The realities of eternal damnation, eternal hell, eternal punishment are frightening and rightly so. But this is for the good of the sinner, that he might, indeed, be terrified. While this may sound grim (and it is!), there is good news. God loves us (John 3:16) and wants us to be saved from hell (2 Peter 3:9). But because God is also just and righteous, He cannot allow our sin to go unpunished. Someone has to pay for it. In His great mercy and love, God provided His own payment for our sin. He sent His Son Jesus Christ to pay the penalty for our sins by dying on the cross for us. Jesus’ death was an infinite death because He is the infinite God/man, paying our infinite sin debt, so that we would not have to pay it in hell for eternity (2 Corinthians 5:21). If we confess our sin, ask God’s forgiveness, and place our faith in Christ, we are saved, forgiven, cleansed, and promised an eternal home in heaven. God loved us so much that He provided a means for our salvation, but if we reject His gift of eternal life, we will face the eternal consequences of that decision.

AstroChuck's avatar

You say “the realities of eternal damnation, eternal hell, eternal punishment are frightening and rightly so.” What you mean is what you belive to be the realities.

shadling21's avatar

I’m with Chuck. This question makes little sense. It is interesting, though.

For one, morality is a broad term. It differs from group to group (and person to person). So this question should be worded, “Do you think that hell is immoral?”

But, as Chuck pointed out, a place (if it can be defined as such) can’t be moral or immoral. It just is (or is not). The idea that people are really grappling with here is whether or not it is right for some deity to punish the soul of a human eternally based on what happened in their past life. So again, we edit the question to ask, “Do you think that it is right for a god to punish the soul of a human eternally, as it is believed to happen in hell?”

But here’s the major turning point – someone who believes in the God of the Judeo-Christian variety probably believes that it is this God who dictates what is right and wrong, so the actions of God are unquestionable. The answer has to be yes, for if God does it, and God is always right, then it must be right.

If you don’t believe in a Judeo-Christian God, your answer may be very different. If you believe in many gods, the question enters a new level of complexity, since the actions of one god may oppose those of another. The question becomes an issue of “depends what god you’re talking about”.

And lastly, if you don’t believe in God, you probably think this question is ridiculous since many atheists don’t believe in heaven, hell, gods, or souls at all.

Hmmmm… Did I miss anything?

AstroChuck's avatar

Nope. I think you about covered it.
GA, btw.

McHobbes's avatar

No. that doesn’t make sense.
But if you have a better understanding of what hell actually is what heaven is and the whole belief system behind it all… then it starts to click.
But… the internet is scary/sketchy for finding accurate info on it.

AlfredaPrufrock's avatar

Since no one actually knows if Hell actually exists, or Heaven either, it would be hard to say.

Group think (organized religion) says fiery barbecue pit of damnation for all time; my individual theory is “life here on earth.” Given the moral of the Prodigal Son, I believe in a benevolent supreme being, who doesn’t want you to fry forever. I believe you perfect your soul, and you get to move on. But that’s just me.

PIXEL's avatar

@daloon I really liked your answer and completely agree. Why is it that we must do bad to someone for him not to do the same? There are also many lies in the Catholic religion. Sorry if that offends. Update: * I am not an athiest. I just believe Religion isn’t healthy. Be spiritual and respect God. *

It was pretty much written to scare people into doing good even if nobody was watching them. This was before we had police of course so they came up with this idea.

Now I’m going to tell you this. Nothing makes God angry. He is not this jelous, angry, or vengeful God that humans have made him to look. This was another way to scare people into being good and not be sent to “hell” which brings me to my next point.

Hell doesn’t exist. Do you honestly believe not going to the right church sends you to hell? Isn’t the point to respect God and give thanks? Or do you think that eating meat on a friday will send you to hell? Lieing? Cheating? Stealing? Being Homosexual? The list goes on and on. If all these “rules” were real all of us would go straight to hell.

Now it’s as if people feel like they have to do good when you’re supposed to want to do good and that is sad.

I’m just going to tell you now. Don’t get to obssesed with this religion stuff.

Critter38's avatar

I’m an atheist. I see hell as an imaginery extension of a people who’s moral code was very much based on vengeance, one that is little more than the supernatural equivalent of a protection racket. Nothing bad will happen if….

In contrast what I see in some societies today is a gradual evolution in the morality of their justice systems to the point where many societies do not base it on vengeance. Even if they do not live up to the ideal, the mere fact that they reach for such a state is a tribute to humanity. I live in a society where we do not torture and we do not execute the guilty, no matter how terrible their acts.

So I think what concerns me most is when those who believe in Hell don’t appear to even try to justify God’s sense of justice (as presented in scripture) using their own moral compass. To my mind no God worth worshipping could possibly justify eternal torture, blame people for the sins of others (original sin), ignore the nature of the crime when handing out punishment, behave in ways that we cannot fathom using our own sense of morality (which he purposesly must have set limits to in that case), and yet at the same time demand our subservience, respect, and acknowledgement using a fiery stick.

Why worship a supernatural being which exhibits a morality which falls eternally short of the worst totalitarian regimes on this planet? If the answer is, “We are not in a position as mere humans to fathom the behaviour of God”, then I suggest we are not in a position to justify worshipping him. Unless that worship is just based on fear. In which case it is a very shallow form of worship, something akin to what Kim Jong il probably receives.

For that reason I find it wonderfully refreshing to read the comment from Pixel. Although we do not share the same views on the existence of God, we appear to share the same respect for our own internal moral compass, and sense of what is fair and just and what is simply unjust.

So thank you Pixel. Nice answer.

Noon's avatar

I had read something recently on fluther, and for the life of me I can’t remember who said it, I really want to give them the credit. But It was about the idea of sins on earth being of a finite nature, and the punishment of hell being infinite in nature.

If you are to believe in a hell in the traditional judeo-christian-islamic sense then you must admit that god is not just. An infinite punishment for something finite is simply not justifiable. Even if I were to live for 70 years, and was an awful awful person for my entire life. Is it fair to punish 70 years of wrong doing infinitely?

Now I have no problem if you believe this, but if you do, you must admit your god is not just.

fireside's avatar

Hell was a way to describe the torment of the soul to a society that had little common understanding of spiritual nature. As humanity progresses in knowledge and begins to find common definitions of spiritual experiences, we are better able to understand that Heaven and Hell are places we put ourselves mentally.

The use of Hell and Heaven was simply easier to explain to the people of the time. Much like when you talk to a small child and tell them that something is Good or Bad. As they get older, you are able to provide more nuance and are able to teach them how to recognize the spectrum of Good and Bad based on a variety of factors.

This helps to build a more complete individual.

So to answer the question:
No, i don’t think Hell is immoral, it is just an outdated description of an internal struggle.

wundayatta's avatar

@fireside: if this is the case, then why do some preachers still preach that ancient message?

fireside's avatar

@daloon – Well, my comments are based on my belief in progressive revelation

Since the Bahai faith has a prohibition against priesthood, there are probably very few preachers focused on the updated message.

Noon's avatar

So we meet again ;-) My question to you is why primitive people couldn’t be told this? Why couldn’t god just have intervened and said “You know, you are kinda getting this part wrong, let me help you out.”

fireside's avatar

Early man didn’t have the same needs and wasn’t necessarily ready for the same knowledge. When you look at the Eastern and Western philosophies, one is focused inwards while the others contains more outward projections. Now we are more ready to see the similarities of those concepts.

wundayatta's avatar

@fireside: oh. I thought you were talking about things such as evangelical interpretations of hell. As far as I know, Bahai is one of the more reasonable religions. But I had no idea that’s what you were talking about in your comments above.

I take it back, and will bow out of this conversation. The tone is a little more serious than I can do about subjects being discussed here.

Critter38's avatar

@Noon It’s simple aplogetics.

You start with a premise that there is a god, and that he or it is loving, and then imagine a scenario that justifies the revealed anomaly (hell, biogtry etc…), so that you can safely arrive back at your starting conclusion. Eg. It’s not that god is unjust, its just that we weren’t ready yet to be that nice. What is strange about such arguments is that much of the sexism, biogtry against others, slavery, and blooshed is not just left for a future more enlightened generation to be discussed by a later prophet, but is actively encouraged or perpetrated by those who claim to be prophets.

Similar example of apologetics at the end of this thread.

@fireside, no offence, but your argument is really saying that women weren’t ready to be equal, homosexuals weren’t ready not to be persecuted, slaves weren’t ready to be freed (would’ve made a rather useful addition to the ten commandments don’t you think?), etc.. rather than saying, hey look, the earlier humanity gets an idea in its head that is rationally justified (slavery is wrong), the earlier that humans will fight to rid the world of such suffering. At least can we not agree that it doesn’t makes a lot of sense?

Anyways, I have no doubt that you are capable of coming up with a story that can be used to justify anything that is apparently out of step with a loving god (at least to an outsiders point of view). I can come up with a story too, the question is though, does such a story make any sense as a starting point, rather than as a retro fit tacked onto the “existence of a loving god” scenario?

fireside's avatar

Slavery was shown to be wrong in Moses time and yet still existed in the past century here in America. Maybe some messages are more timely to the culture than others.

Sorry that the prophets of the ages haven’t shared your specific view of what the most pressing issues of the day are. Equality is a slow and steady march that has been confirmed through their messages and should be humanity’s goal.

But if you think that you can understand how thousands of years of cultural teachings have led us astray or should have been different, that is your choice.

Critter38's avatar

How is equality confirmed through multiple and repeated messages that homosexuality offends god, or that those who do not share your faith will burn in hell, or that women are not equal?

We absolutely agree that culture’s take time to change, but would you not agree that if Moses or Jesus made a pronouncement to their followers that slavery was against the will of god that this would have helped to end the practice just a wee bit sooner (mentions are made in Exodus and Leviticus, but absolutely no condemnation is to be found there)?

Once again, I’ve said it before I’ll say it again, for what it’s worth I like your take on religion fireside. This is not personal.

I just don’t get the argument that somehow there was a net benefit in waiting to reveal these “truths” (let alone the fact that instead of spreading such messages universally they were limited to some “chosen” people….), when repeatedly followers took as gospel whatever these prophets told them, no matter how inconvenient or banal.

fireside's avatar

All I can offer are my presumptions, but I would guess that it was more important to focus on ending sacrificial offerings and on getting the people to not kill and steal from each other first. Moses was speaking to a people who were wandering the desert, not comfortable suburbanites.

The other thing that I consider is that promulgation of the tribe was of the utmost importance at that time, so the idea of assigning roles to aid in that promulgation was seen as paramount.

I personally am more of the belief that Jesus was preaching of the equality of women and that Mary Magdalene was a very prominent disciple. I do think that when the Bible was canonized, there were people who took that as a threat to their power and manipulated the message.

Do I think that gay rights was/is an important issue to resolve in moving towards equality of all humanity, yes. Do I think that it was/is more important than the focus Baha’u’llah has placed on global unity and the sameness of religion, no. Do I think that humanity can only handle a certain number of major changes at a time, yes.

Jeruba's avatar

If you think God creates, ordains, and owns morality, and you also think that God creates, ordains, and uses hell to punish those who violate his laws, then either you have to believe that God is violating his own principles (making him the first but not the last power to do so) or you have to believe that anything that God does is by definition not immoral (a view that would have set well with Nixon).

Any God whose actions made sense to us and whose logic we could follow wouldn’t be much of a god, just a big human.

To me the question is a matter of academic entertainment for those who enjoy arguing about such things and has no meaning in any other context.

Critter38's avatar

@fireside Thanks for sharing your views. No surprise, it doesn’t work for me. But hey, my views don’t work for you either.

CMaz's avatar

Immoral is immoral when morality is in place. There is no morality in hell, so it just is.

Thammuz's avatar

Evaluate this yourself: Hell is supposed to be a punishment for those who did something wrong.
Punishment is applied to correct a behaviour, in order to prevent its repetition.
Hell is eternal, thus nullifyig the educational value of punishment because anybody who is punished eternally never gets to put in action what he learned.
Ergo: Hell is pointless torture.

As for the obvious retort “god said it so it is just” people: Here are the directions towards the fact that your reasoning is circular.

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