When my friend Doug wrote that “God loves us like an abusive parent,” it sounded so very harsh, but it then reminded me of that most troublesome of concepts: hell.
I was raised Catholic, where hell was portrayed to be a very bad place to go. Many Catholics, however, and many liberal Christians, don’t believe that hell is a place where people are literally tortured. Check out today’s conservative Christians, however, on your local AM radio station. You’ll hear them fervently arguing that the version of hell taught by moderate Christians is way off the mark. Hell is not a metaphor or a mere figure of speech. Here’s what it is:
The reality of hell is the most horrifying, terror striking, fearful truth known to man. It encompasses the worst possible fear and the meanest conceivable existence, continual never-ending torture. “And they will be tormented day and night forever and ever (Revelation 20:10).”
Therefore, many fundamentalists believe that someone sent to hell will be (literally) tortured (literally) forever. It will be like being forced to go to Dachau, the Rape of Nanking, Abu Ghraib or worse, for eternity.
Where does our Constitution stand on forcing people to endure such places? The Eighth Amendment to our Bill of Rights prohibits “cruel and unusual punishment.” Here’s how the U.S. Supreme Court defined cruel and unusual:
Cases mentioned by the author are, where the prisoner was drawn or dragged to the place of execution, in treason; or where he was embowelled alive, beheaded, and quartered, in high treason. Mention is also made of public dissection in murder, and burning alive . . . It is safe to affirm that punishments of torture, such as those mentioned by the commentator referred to, and all others in the same line of unnecessary cruelty, are forbidden . . .
See Wilkerson v. Utah, 99 U.S. 130, 135 (1878). The concept of hell also raises other constitutional issues, most of them involving the claims that hell involves A) torture and B) forever. Substantive due process includes an individual’s right to be adequately notified of charges or proceedings involving him, and the opportunity to be heard at these proceedings. In criminal cases, it ensures that an accused person will not be subjected to cruel and unusual punishment. Procedural due process embraces those fundamental rights that are implicit in ordered liberty.
People going to heaven are, in theory, supposed to enjoy it. But how could that be possible as long as hell existed too? If a reasonably decent person were to end up in heaven, how could he or she possibly enjoy their heavenly life knowing that even one of their friends was being tortured “downstairs” forever? Only a mentally deranged person could stop caring that a friend was suffering greatly.
To illustrate, try to imagine that nice secular humanist woman down the street (the one that helps tutor disadvantaged children) being sliced by knives, electrocuted, beaten to a pulp and repeatedly thrown hard against a concrete floor. This sort of brutality is exactly what the conservative Christians have in mind to motivate us to “love” God. For them, this is divinity in action. It is only while drumming these horrific threats into the heads of other adults (and children), that conservative Christians then “invite” these terrified souls to “freely” come worship the Creator.
I, for one, won’t stand for this. I simply can’t give homage to such a Being or to such sick and wacko ideas as hell. The solution is to boycott heaven. We must all agree that we will refuse to go to heaven unless and until that fiery pit (or frozen wasteland, or whatever) is dismantled with a promise from On High that it will never again be used (except, perhaps as a museum or an historical site). We all need to stick together on this one.
If you are afraid of what God will do to all of us if we refuse to go to heaven, remember Doug’s comment: “God loves us like an abusive parent.”