June 24, 2019

Do Your Friends Think You're Going to Hell?

Buddhist hell

Here's a fun question to consider: Could you maintain a friendship with a Christian who thought you would end up in hell? I realize that you are an atheist and that you don't believe in hell. Maybe that makes it easier for you to set aside the beliefs of someone who did. Still, I am curious about whether you think you'd be able to stay friends with someone who not only believed in hell but also thought you were heading there. I am not sure whether I'd be able to maintain such a friendship, although I'd probably give it a try. Even if the Christian did not talk about it often, I would know that they believed I deserved to be tortured forever. I think that would be a problem, and I'm not sure I could get past it.

Hell is one part of Christian doctrine that few Christians like to discuss. I can't say I blame them. Reconciling a loving god with everlasting torture can't be easy. Why would anybody worship the monster who created hell? Those who describe themselves as liberal or progressive Christians often seem to ignore hell as much as they can, leaving it to the fundamentalists to celebrate. I suspect some Christians reject this part of their doctrine altogether. Good for them! It is certainly a start.

Given what hell is supposed to be, I think I would have trouble maintaining a relationship with someone who was convinced I was going there. A big part of that is that if they believed I was going there, they'd probably have to believe that I deserved to go there. I'd have a difficult time trusting them or imagining that they would have any interest whatsoever in my well-being. How could they not treat me differently if they thought this was my fate? I imagine I'd also have some difficulty wanting to be friends with the sort of person capable of believing in hell.

Does that seem harsh? How many friends do you have who think you should be severely punished for not believing what they believe. Probably not many, right? Now go several degrees beyond that to imagine that the punishment is as severe as possible and that it is endless. I guess I'm not sure why I'd want to be friends with someone who thought so little of me that they'd be okay with the idea that I deserved eternal torture.

The fact that I do not believe in heaven, hell, gods, souls, spirits, and the like would make little difference here. It will still matter that they believed this and that they believed I deserved to be there. Frankly, I'd be baffled as to why such a Christian would want to be friends with someone bound for hell. Do they think I'm just here to test their faith or something? Regardless, I think I'd have little desire to maintain a relationship with such a Christian.

An early version of this post appeared on Atheist Revolution in 2008. It was revised and expanded in 2019.