No roots

A little back and forth on Twitter today between American Atheists and some people about belief in hell. It started with an observation that belief in hell is inconsistent with belief in [god’s] unconditional love, which set off some “not all Christians believe in hell” pushback. So AA said

I suppose in that case, those Christians believe everyone goes to heaven?

@awhooker Not necessarily.

@AmericanAtheist What do they believe happens to those who don’t?

@awhooker No idea. You’ll have to ask a Christian what he/she/they believes.

Each individual will have a different conception of the afterlife. But not all Christian denominations believe in hell.

For example, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Seventh-Day Adventism, and Christadelphianism don’t ascribe to such a belief.

Nothing remarkable about any of that, it’s just that it struck me what a footling, pointless, empty, ungrounded way of trying to get understanding it is. It’s all floating around in the air, tethered to nothing. It’s all just making it up.

With other kinds of conversations and arguments and attempts to get understanding, the parties are attempting to consult something – information, knowledge, data, evidence in the case of factual disputes, or values, rights, laws, politics in the case of disputes over principles, or both combined in many cases. But then there’s this weird other category where everything is just claims, and people believe them or they believe different ones, but in neither case is there anything more than just claims. These over here “believe” everyone goes to heaven while those over there “believe” some people go to heaven while other people go to hell. There are no roots on “believe” – it just dangles there, connected to nothing, leading nowhere.

Nothing new in that. It just annoys me afresh at times, the way people will take seriously states of affairs like “Each individual will have a different conception of the afterlife” as if that’s reasonable as opposed to an incoherent anarchic babble.


  1. Wowbagger, Designated Snarker says

    It’s fairly typical Christian behaviour – as I used to say, it’s another case of them wanting to have their cake and eat it too: anything they can nail down by quoting scripture they will, but anything they can’t will be explained away via whichever nebulous, fluffy means of goalpost-shifting they can come up with at the time, all the while conveniently ignoring the contradictions.

  2. Al Dente says

    It’s all just making it up.

    Isn’t that the whole point of theology?

    I once listened to two Christians argue about infant vs. adult baptism. They were using the same Biblical references to support their positions.

  3. screechymonkey says

    I once listened to two Christians argue about infant vs. adult baptism. They were using the same Biblical references to support their positions.

    You must be mistaken. I have been assured by Sophisticated Theologians (TM) that nobody believes in the literal truth of the Bible.

  4. A Hermit says

    Grandpa taught us the Bible can only be properly understood in the original German.

    Then he would laugh for some reason…

  5. Stacy says

    A friend of mine once explained to me that she uses reason and evidence in most aspects of life, but when it comes to “things we can’t know for sure” (we were talking about the possibility of an afterlife, and what it would be like,) she preferred to just believe what made her feel good and provided comfort.

    I think I used to do that. I think I stopped, not as a matter of principle, but because I just couldn’t do it anymore. Figuring out what was true and real mattered more.

    I’m not sure whether that was because I had an admirable desire to face reality or simply that the old lies just weren’t believable, or comforting, any more.

  6. latsot says

    My parents are the sort of Christians who believe in hell and – particularly and especially – in people like me going there when we die.

    I’m not a parent, but I’d like to think that if I were, I probably wouldn’t want my children spending eternity in firey torment. I don’t think I’d want the devil’s pitchfork up their arses or their having to jump in and out of lakes of eye spikes or whatever it is. I’m not a theologian, you might be able to tell.

    But I have two points anyway. The first is that my parents have never done one single thing since I told them I’m an atheist to persuade me not to be. They don’t seem to care that I’m going to spend eternity speared on the multi-barbed penis of Satan himself (again, not a theologian, but it sounds about right). That’s totally OK to them.

    The second is that *almost nobody* seems to feel like that. People who believe in hell occasionally ask me if they can save my soul but when I say no they generally smile politely and move on.

    This puzzles me.

    If I believed in hell, I would spend every minute of every day trying to persuade people not to go there. I wouldn’t rest – I wouldn’t be able to rest – until I died having saved as many souls as I could. But almost nobody does that, And the few people who do are considered crazy even by the standards of people who say believe in hell.

    So does anyone really believe in hell? Maybe those people who think there’s a competition and only a few people will be allowed in heaven. The fact that that makes more sense than what most people say they believe is very troubling.

  7. Omar Puhleez says

    A bit of remedial theology is necessary here, IMHO. I refer the reader to Mathew 16: 18-19 (King James Version):

    “18 And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.

    19 And I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.”

    Thus did Christ give His Church an open cheque, and full permission and power to make up any necessary theology as it went along; including the power to call Hell into existence.

    Theology will always trump cosmology. ‘Big Bang’ and all that stuff? You’ve got to be joking!


  8. quixote says

    I was reading an excellent post at Gin and Tacos about the unfathomable crappiness of internet providers. One of the commenters conclusively proved the existence of hell.

    “American telecommunications companies … prove that while there may or may not be a God and angels, Satan certainly has plenty of demonic minions.”

    End of argument, don’t you think?

  9. brianpansky says

    this is funny. my family was one of those superior “we don’t believe in hell” types.

    we believed everyone gets resurrected, then some of them get cast into a lake of fire and die fairly quickly, and are gone forever. permanent death for them, for some reason. much superior.

    also, i wrote a similar blog post where i called these people “belief-ists” because they deal in terms of “beliefs” not in terms of reasons.

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