Christian Morality and Hell

Protestors at a pride parade in Jerusalem with sign that reads, "Homo sex is immoral (Lev. 18-22)"
By Benj, via Wikimedia Commons

Among the many accusations some Christians direct toward atheists is the notion that we are immoral. Without belief in their preferred god and whichever version of their bible they think it better than the others, we have no moral foundation. And yet, a belief system which includes the expectation that the majority of the world's population will suffer the horrors of their hell while a select few are magically transported to some sort of heaven is considered morally just. If this is their idea of morality, I'd suggest that we are better off finding our moral grounding elsewhere.

To be fair, some Christians have jettisoned this concept of hell from their dogma. They realize that it is not possible to reconcile the forgiveness they want to preach with eternal damnation. Sadly, they seem to be in a small minority. For many Christians, hell is a central part of their belief system (and it shows).

The Christians still clinging to the hell they imagine are quick to explain that their god provides everyone with a choice. Their hell can be avoided by conforming to the will of their god. But how is this choice (i.e., do what I say or suffer for all eternity) a moral exemplar? I am reminded of an abusive parent and see little evidence of love here.

Most of all, I am concerned about what Christians' hell-belief does to their interactions with nonbelievers in this life. How can I expect to be treated as an equal, worthy of respect and dignity, when interacting with someone who is convinced that I am destined for the worst sort of punishment they can imagine? And not only am I destined for this fate, but I am assumed to deserve it!

I suppose that some Christians do manage to get past this to some extent. At least, some Christians are capable of befriending atheists even if they may remain convinced that we are heading for eternal torture. I'm not sure how they do it. It seems like it would be hard to maintain that sort of mindset. Perhaps they are just taking pity on us.