Is Hell Divine Overkill?

By James Rochford.

Many modern people are appalled at the use of temporary torture, even in times of war for even the most despicable of criminals. How is it, then, that the Christian God could torture someone in flames for eternity for simply not believing in him? The punishment does not seem to fit the crime. Atheist Christopher Hitchens claims that the doctrine of hell brings psychological damage –particularly to children.[1] So does Richard Dawkins.[2] In his book Atheist Universe, skeptic David Mills writes,

Would you, as a loving father or mother, torture and burn your children at the stake for misbehaving?[3]

The Church totally overlooks the crucial question of proportionality of punishment: Does the punishment fit the crime? The U.S. Constitution specifically prohibits cruel and unusual punishment, regardless of how grotesque the criminal offense committed by the perpetrator. This means that even serial murderers and child molesters cannot be tortured or physically abused while incarcerated. For God, however, no amount of torture seems sufficient to satisfy His lust for vengeance. Sinners will be fiendishly roasted forever –not merely a thousand years, or a million years, or a billion years, but eternally.[4]

Mills seems to take his definition of hell from medieval tradition, rather than from the Bible! However, the doctrine of hell is morally offensive to many people today. Likewise, agnostic philosopher Bertrand Russell writes, “There is one very serious defect to my mind in Christ’s moral character, and that is that He believed in hell. I do not myself feel that any person who is really profoundly humane can believe in everlasting punishment.”[5]Are these objections to hell legitimate? Let’s look at a number of common objections to the biblical teaching of hell.

OBJECTION #1: “Is hell a place of fire and brimstone?”

OBJECTION #2: “Why is hell eternal if we only sin for a few years?”

OBJECTION #3: “Does God have the right to send people to hell?”

OBJECTION #4: “Why doesn’t God give us a second chance after we die?”

OBJECTION #5: “Why would anyone ever believe in hell?”

OBJECTION #6: “How could we ever be happy in heaven, if we know that we have loved ones in hell?”

OBJECTION #7: “Why does hell bother our conscience so much?”

The Stakes are High

[1] Hitchens, Christopher. God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything. New York: Twelve, 2007. 220.

[2] Dawkins, Richard. The God Delusion. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2006. 354-366.

[3] Mills, David, and Dorion Sagan. Atheist Universe: the Thinking Person’s Answer to Christian Fundamentalism. Berkeley, Ca.: Ulysses, 2006. 188.

[4] Mills, David, and Dorion Sagan. Atheist Universe: the Thinking Person’s Answer to Christian Fundamentalism. Berkeley, Ca.: Ulysses, 2006. 187.

[5] Russell, Bertrand, and Paul Edwards. Why I Am Not a Christian: and Other Essays on Religion and Related Subjects. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1967. 17.