Okay--I don't know what the deal is with Hell being a thing serious columnists are seriousing about, but I read Douthat on the subject and, well, okay, this atheist feels a pull towards weighing in. He comes about as close to saying what I think is at the base of the concept of Hell, and why I, even if I embraced Christianity, would probably still be leery of accepting the idea of Hell.
Doing away with hell, then, is a natural way for pastors and theologians to make their God seem more humane. The problem is that this move also threatens to make human life less fully human.I don't scoff at the possibility of damnation--I embrace it. If a God exists who would condemn me to Hell for my honest try, then I will try to burn every day with the same human consciousness that led me to chose the life I lived. The rest is up to God. The reality of my human choices before death were the human consequences, and all I can ever say I did was minimize the harm I would do to others, and further those causes I saw as being good. It's not that no one keeps score--it's that I don't think God is the umpire--other people and their lives are. God, if there were one, is supposed to be omnipotent, omniscient, merciful--and yet here on earth, people starve, or are abused, or are forgotten. I'm not omniscient, I'm not omnipotent, but I know this life isn't just.
Atheists have license to scoff at damnation, but to believe in God and not in hell is ultimately to disbelieve in the reality of human choices. If there’s no possibility of saying no to paradise then none of our no’s have any real meaning either. They’re like home runs or strikeouts in a children’s game where nobody’s keeping score.
I understand the impulse for wanting to see things straightened out in the afterlife, but for me--it's a cop-out. Sadly, I think for some quantity of Hell-believers, the existence of Hell is for them, a part of their understanding of the Heavenly reward. It's not just that one should be rewarded for one's good works--oh, no. It's that one should see those in opposition pay for being so....oppositional. And this idea of "seeing the bastards pay" must have lightened the hearts of many who were never compelled to faith by the image of silver-lined clouds and angels with harps--they wanted to see mean bosses and harsh creditors and crooked politicians fry, fry, fry. (Or worse, just the desire of the repressed to see the less-repressed get theirs. The envy of the chaste for the chased, the envy of the miser for the reveller--it isn't pretty.)
But it isn't real to me. It's a revenge-fantasy. I'd rather see people I view as utter bastards pay by making their own collossal mistakes because they often do. And if they don't, well, maybe part of my loathing of them is on me, and I'll forgive them for not making a total botch of their lives--it seems like the Christian thing to do. Or should I say, the "fully human."