The [Im]morality of Hell

Find this awesome flowchart here.

I've previously discussed whether God would punish people for all eternity just because they don't believe that God exists. If atheists go to Hell (and Hell exists), God is judging merely on the basis of belief.

A recent episode of The Atheist Experience countered the idea that atheists send themselves to Hell; God is responsible for sending people to Hell. Now that that's out of the way...

Theists typically think of Hell as a place of eternal damnation that people go to because they violated God's rules. In the case of the rules, God determines what is right and wrong and this right and wrong is supposed to be unchanging.

According to the Bible, a person goes to Hell for blaspheming the Holy Spirit, for instance. Many Christians may propose that murderers and rapists would go to Hell. If God is all-just, his sending of people to Hell must be just...but is this justice? It is permissible to create unchanging rules and punish people for eternity because they break the rules? The concept of Hell is immoral, thus reconciling Hell and an all-loving deity is impossible.

If you don't follow the rules of God, you're punished for eternity without appeal because of thoughts you have thought and actions you have taken. Theists usually justify this by saying, "God created you and the world, so he could make the rules," but this is nothing more than servility and a might makes right morality in a "Big Brother state". God declares what is right because he has the power. He can choose to punish people for eternity for whatever reason that he wants. We can't escape this punishment, we're always watched by God, God reads our minds, and he fully can control us at all times...especially at death.

What if we don't like God's rules and think that they are unfair? Too bad, we can't do anything about it. In a democracy, we can work to get rules changed, appeal decisions by courts, etc. If we're punished for a crime, the punishment must be fair and will not be cruel and unusual. In the case of God, the punishment is eternal and torturous. An all-loving God would never orchestrate Hell.

My central objections are
  • 1) The rules God makes are nothing but a might makes right morality.*
  • 2) The rules are unquestionable and unchangeable.
  • 3) Some of the rules are absurd.
  • 4) God is not "checked" by someone else to ensure fairness.
  • 5) Hell is infinite punishment [torture] for finite crimes.
  • 6) People are condemned for beliefs that aren't turned into actions.
  • 7) People may be judged solely on the basis of belief.
  • 8) Complete control over a human being is slavery.

Let's consider many possible counter-arguments from theists dealing with Hell and God's morality:

Hell is not eternal torture, but rather is "separation from God," a void of nothingness or anguish

It's not quite clear that this is the case, according to church teaching and the Bible. Catholic Encyclopedia certainly disagrees. This does nothing to address problems 1-4 and 6-8, but rather attacks problem 5. Although this may not be a case of torture, a person is being deprived of a reward and is still being punished.

God gives you free will! You choose to break the rules he put in place.

This counter-argument tries to shift the blame away from God and to the person. As discussed above, God sends people to hell; people don't send themselves to Hell. It's extremely problematic to say, "Here, have free will, do whatever you want" and then punish someone for eternity because they chose to break a rule.

Well, humans have free will to kill someone, for example, and must pay the consequences, so this is the same thing!
No, it's not. Justified rules and punishments (don't kill someone - if you do, you get, depending on the severity and intent, you can get many years in prison) are fair, but this eternal punishment is not fair.

God is just like a human father. He makes rules and if you break them, you get punished.
The analogy of God as a human father is very problematic. Human fathers [should] fairly punish their children when they break the "rules" and is usually "checked" by the mother or other guardian. Fathers don't send their children to a basement to starve them, chain them to a wall, torture them, etc...and if they did, no sane human being would consider this just. Fathers aren't also able to punish for eternity. Children also grow up and are able to make decisions for themselves and get away from their fathers if they want. If I don't like my father and move out his house, I can do that and make decisions for myself; I no longer need to listen to what he has to say and obey his rules if I'm not living with him. When people get older, they move out and longer have to listen to their fathers...and this is expected. In the case of God, there's no getting away and no "growing out."

A friend of mine recently developed what appears to be an attractive argument that a theist might create:

Imagine that you made a robot.
Would you punish the robot if he disobeyed you?
If yes, why can't God punish humans?

This line of argument tries to make punishment of whatever kind justifiable, but robots are much different than humans; robots are not humans, animals, or sentient beings that have feelings. Even if they were beings with rights and feelings, I still don't think that it would be fair to unfairly punish a being even if we created the being. If the robot were a slave, slavery would also be problematic. If the robot were non-sentient, I would find it permissible to destroy the robot if it murdered someone, for example. No problem there.

We shouldn't have to bow down to an eternal being and follow his every word just because he created the universe and us. If God exists and punishes people for all eternity just because they don't follow his rules, he's no better than a dictator and we're nothing more than slaves without free will in the afterlife.

Should anyone have to worry about any of this? The atheist, of course, doesn't believe in the existence of God or Hell and would say that there's no good reason to support the claims being made...so there's no problem there. ...and don't even try pulling Pascal's Wager.

Aside from my bulleted objections, IronChariots.Org has some more:
  • God was unable to create or develop other systems of punishment/reward that were less harmful to human life and the high value he himself attached to it.
  • God was bound to a higher standard of morality if he was unable to forgive sin without the blood sacrifice of animals or other divine beings.
  • God cannot be omnipotent and "wish that none would perish" while declaring that some will perish.
  • God is a liar if he wishes all to be saved yet devises an intricate sorting system that is the cause of those who will perish.
  • God cannot be Omnibenevolent if he creates people when as an Omniscient being he foreknows that they will end up in Hell.
  • *Objections to this argument and discussion of Eutyphro's Dilemma will be discussed in a future post, but even if the laws are just, infinite punishment is not justified.