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25 February 2014 @ 06:26 am
The hell you say  
I grew up secular, and my introduction to the concept of Hell was A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. My immediate reaction was, "These Christians are bloody savages!" I have a mathematician's understanding of infinity, and the idea of an alleged deity torturing people forever, for real crimes let alone for pulling their pudding, struck me as monstrous, especially if, as John Calvin believed, He created them so that they couldn't help pulling their pudding.

Of course, I have since learned that many Christians have managed to retain the good parts of their religion while believing that Hell is metaphorical, or there really isn't anyone sentenced to it, or it isn't forever. People are always capable of being better (or worse) than the systems they belong to.

To my utter lack of surprise, a study has shown that belief in Hell makes people less happy.

Thanx to andrewducker
Arthur and Kevin's Nellorat: dore_paradiso_angelsnellorat on February 25th, 2014 04:13 pm (UTC)
Right in your own home, there's a Christian (however wonky) who believes that Hell likely is not purely metaphorical and is eternal (not infinite) but who isn't any unhappier for it.

Decided this should be an entry in my own LJ; I'll edit with a link to it later.

Basically, I thought it was very meaningful that the conclusion of the study was primarily about a belief in a God who is "malign," and Hell was their index for this. I think that many ways of believing in a literal Hell create de facto belief in a malign deity (although many or even most such believers would never admit it), but it doesn't have to.

The worst beliefs this way, I think, combine elaborate Christian ideas of Hell with a kind of Old Testament rules lawyering. So anything you do wrong gets you sent there. If a Christian has a deep emotional sense of Christian forgiveness, s/he can actually be pretty sanguine. Even smug, but that's a different problem!

It could be that the emotional attitude a person reaches about the Christian afterlife is at least in part a feature of hir self-esteem (I deserve to be saved/damned), but I've also known at least one person with very low self-esteem to be a happy Christian based on the theology of salvation alone. In fact, he was explicit that given his low self-esteem, the main appeal of Christianity to him was that all he had to do for forgiveness is want to be forgiven.

I completely agree that certain views of God do lead to intense unhappiness. In Grace Abounding, John Bunyan is bi-polar (which he may literally have been). one minute sure he's saved and the next that he's damned, and the latter writing is pretty hard to take.

I'm more with Sir Thomas Browne, who had a hard time believing that anyone was a true Christian to avoid Hell rather than to gain Heaven. As often, he was being too mellow and/or encouraging, but I think he has a point. To connect it to another hobbyhorse of mine, it's like a health scare will get a person into good eating habits for months, but there have to be basic changes--including, I think, eating food you like--to make it permanent.