November 18, 2011

Delighting in Hell

Christian hell

I suspect that some Christians experience a sense of sadness from their conviction that the vast majority of the world's people are destined for the hell they imagine. But there is another group of Christians who does not seem to feel this way at all. This group of Christians, a group which I have repeatedly encountered throughout my life, actually seems to delight in the thought of people suffering in their hell. I am sure you have seen the gleam in their eyes when they talk of their hell. You may have even noticed the joy they seem to experience at the prospect of others who do not agree with them suffering for eternity.

Many of the Christians who delight in hell would never admit that they feel this way. They will deny it if you ask because they assume they are not supposed to feel this way. But you can see it on their faces and hear it in their voices. There is little question that many Christians do indeed enjoy the feelings of superiority associated with the thought of what they think awaits others in their hell.

One of the themes that has come up in virtually every discussion with a Christian I've ever had on the subject of hell involves blame. The god in which the Christian believes is absolved of all responsibility for the punishment it is imagined to inflict in hell. Those who suffer in hell do so because of their own failing to accept what the Christian believes they should accept (i.e., Jesus). The Christian god has made what Christians regard as a fair offer: believe what I tell you to believe, or you will be tortured forever. Those who do not accept this offer have turned their backs upon the Christian god and so they deserve their fates.

As incomprehensible as this perspective is to many in the reality-based community, I suggest that it is at least partially about the narcissistic desire to elevate oneself above most others. The belief in hell and the role of salvation in avoiding it allows many Christians to feel that they are superior to most other people without feeling guilty about it.

Normally, unbridled narcissism would make most of us a bit uncomfortable. Few of us are able to say, "I'm right, you're wrong, and you are going to suffer for not agreeing with me" without feeling at least a twinge of guilt. But by convincing ourselves that the other party is not only wrong but refusing to accept a divine sacrifice, it becomes far easier to dehumanize them and feel okay about their awful fate.

Belief in hell reveals plenty about Christian morality and the inner workings the Christian mind. I don't know about you, but I'm not likely to let my guard down around those who delight in the prospect of my eternal suffering.

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