A good discussion by PZ Myers on heaven and hell. Like PZ, I’ve always found the ideas deeply suspicious, even when I wasn’t really old enough to know how batshit insane they clearly are. The clincher for me was the realisation that my parents say they believe that I’m going to hell and they don’t care. They don’t make the slightest attempt to convert me from my unbelieving ways so I can avoid all of eternity in torment.
What does this say about them, me or our relationship? Well, they could genuinely not care, of course. Or they could care but know that trying to convert me is futile. Or they could be hoping for a presto-changeo deathbed conversion. Or they could care but strongly believe that I have to make my own path and if that leads to hell, they shouldn’t interfere. Or just possibly, they might not really buy the whole hell business.
The latter seems the most likely to me. I’m pretty certain that if I believed my children were going to burn in hell for eternity, I’d do something about it. I’d devote my life to making sure it didn’t happen. I wouldn’t do anything else. I wouldn’t be able to live with myself knowing I might have been able to do something to prevent their everlasting torture. I don’t even have children and the very thought of it – even though I don’t have the slightest belief in hell – is genuinely upsetting. The notion that I could shrug and tell myself “well, it’s their choice” is entirely beyond me. I couldn’t do it. I doubt anyone could, if they really, really believed in hell.
I suspect this is yet another piece of cognitive dissonance that the religious are forced to contend with. I don’t think my parents have given much thought to the ideas of heaven and hell, probably because at some level they suspect that the whole business is nonsense. But religion comes as a package. You only get the smooth with the rough and the comfort they claim religion gives them is only available if you believe all the weird and logically untenable stuff. So best not to question it.
Or they might hate me and secretly delight in the thought of the devil having his way with the red hot poker, who can say?