There are many reasons why you should not be a Christian, but one of the most powerful ways to cause a believer to question their faith is to show them how terrible their supposed god is. The vast majority of people who identify as Christian are wonderful, loving, good people – and they’ve probably never thought through exactly how terrible their god would have to be if it existed.
One of the most powerful ways to show this is through the argument from the existence of hell. This argument is powerful because it is an internal critique. It assumes the truth claims of Christianity for the creation and final destiny of the universe, two things that really can’t be whitewashed over as easily as the particularly nasty bits of slavery and genocide in the bible. That doesn’t mean the apologists won’t try, but this part of Christian theology is so horrible that they’re going to have a hard time of it.
So let’s start with the argument in a simple syllogism:
1.) God is omnipotent, omniscient, and wholly good
2.) God chose to create the material universe, heaven, and hell
3.) Hell is eternal conscious torture
4.) There is no moral justification for the eternal conscious torture of any being
5.) Therefore, god is not moral (Contradiction, P1)
The argument becomes even more powerful when you consider the following supporting syllogism, which assumes that god necessarily had to create hell in order to also create the material universe and heaven:
1.) Non-existence is preferable to eternal conscious torture.
2.) If hell was necessary for creation, then before creation god knew there are beings who will suffer eternal conscious torture.
3.) It would be better for those beings (who will end up in hell) to have never been created.
4.) Therefore, their creation was not for the benefit of creatures who end up in hell, but for the benefit of those who will end up in heaven, god, or both.
Think about that for a minute, and consider what this means the Christian god had to consciously decide in the grand scheme of things.
In Christian theology, before creation god is the only thing in existence. He exists in this trinity of perfect self-fulfilling love. At some point, decides he will create the angels and heavenly hosts, knowing Satan will arise from that, and a third of the angels will become demons. He also decides that he will create the material universe and humans, but that humanity will fall and need to be redeemed. And he does all of this so that eventually we can get to a state where all of those who freely choose to love god will live forever in the paradise that is heaven. Except there will also be those who reject god, and because of god’s justice, those beings must be tortured for eternity in hell.
But if god has this foreknowledge, why not just create only those beings that would freely choose to love god and go straight to heaven? Well the Christian apologist answer here is that if only those beings were created, then not all of them would choose to love god because they’d be in different circumstances.
This means that in order to achieve the goal of the saved and the angels praising him forever in heaven, god must create the condemned and demons to be tortured forever in hell. These are beings that would quite literally be infinitely better off if they were never created. In fact for this group, to be created as some form of animal, like a cat or dog that can just live and then die, would be infinitely better than to be created as an angel or human.
And this is no small group of people either. The bible explicitly tells us in Matthew 7:13-14 that a majority of humanity will be condemned to hell, compared to the few who will be saved. Not that this matters much in terms of the argument from hell. It’s a lot like the moral thought experiment where one could create the perfect society if only they would perpetually torture one child. Is it moral to torture the child in order for millions more to be happy?
Like most normal people, I’d say no; emphatically.
But let’s turn the question back to god. He has the choice here, before creation, to go through with creation, knowing that even a portion of it will be infinitely better off never being created, or he can continue on with his perfect existence as a trinity of self-fulfilling love. What most people don’t realize is that god had the option to not create. In fact, not creating is the most moral choice he could make if he knows that eternal conscious torture for any subset of beings is required if he is to go through with creation.
The issue is that none of us signed up for this, no one asked to be created. On Christian theology, all humans are born sinful, already condemned by default, and if they don’t pick the right religion, willingly, then they’re consigned to eternal conscious torture. And on top of all that, you’re born into a world where we have all the questions of whether or not god exists, let alone whether or not Christianity is the true religion.
Think of this as some kind of demented game show, except you’re drafted in without your consent. You’ve got to pick the hosts favorite color, get it right and you win infinite wealth but if you get it wrong you’re subjected to torture. The host never appears directly but remains hidden. He sends his kid out to tell you what his favorite color is, but then also allows in a couple thousand other people in there too, all claiming to be his kid and claiming the host has a different favorite color. Is that any kind of game show you’d be happy to be a part of?
Seriously Christians, if you believe in hell, this is the god you worship – the god that decided torturing beings for eternity was a price worth paying so some folks could go to heaven. Is that really something you want to worship, let alone hold up as the standard for morality?
The real good news here is that there’s no evidence that god exists, let alone that Christianity is true. And there’s plenty of evidence that hell is just a myth added in by the writers of the New Testament who were influenced by Greek and Roman views of the afterlife, because if you look at the Old Testament, or talk to some modern Rabbi’s, you’ll find that the Jews don’t really have the concept of hell that Christians do, it’s not in their holy books.
None of that however changes the fact that most Christians do believe hell is real, and as a result do believe that it’s moral to subject people to eternal conscious torture. This is one of the main problems with Christianity it makes otherwise perfectly decent people defend morally reprehensible ideas like hell.
Now in my next post for this series, I will tackle the common objections we get to the Argument from Hell.