Of all of the negative aspects of religion, I have found none of them to be more profoundly damaging to human dignity and self-respect than the threat of Hell for non-believers. This belief had an extremely negative impact on my life when I believed it and I think it is about time humanity starts pushing back against this doctrine of fear and manipulation. Recently, I have taken to boldly making the assertion that Hell isn’t real. It didn’t take long for the objections to start rolling in:
“Can you prove that Hell isn’t real? Do you have evidence?”
“Are you really willing to stake your life on it?”
“Can you really risk not believing it is real?”
I’m going to turn all of these questions back around. It is not intellectually honest to claim something is true in the first place without evidence to back it up. Show me evidence of Hell first and then we’ll talk. I spent much of my life floating around in Churches that preach Hell, and I have yet to see something that would qualify as real evidence for its existence to any self-respecting skeptic. That it is often further claimed that a non-believer’s disbelief is actually them CHOOSING to spend an eternity in Hell further exacerbates this problem. I will not accept some cosmic or eternal responsibility for not believing in something for which there is no evidence. If a God exists and my eternal fate depends solely on me believing in him, then I would have to expect that, if he is a good and just God, he would not fault me for not believing in things for which there is no evidence.
When I am asked if I have evidence that Hell doesn’t exist, I respond that I am under no obligation to provide evidence for its non-existence. This is not the way evidence works. This is a logical fallacy known as an appeal to ignorance. This is where the burden of proof is placed on the wrong side of a claim. The burden of proof rests with the positive claim. In this case, the claim is that Hell exists. This is an extraordinary claim, and the burden of proof lies purely with those who would claim that Hell is real. Because there is no evidence in favor of the positive claim that Hell is real, I feel perfectly comfortable in making the positive claim that Hell isn’t real because I never had reason to assume its existence in the first place.
It is irrelevant that there are profound consequences attached to not believing. I can assert an infinite number of things which would have profound consequences, if true, but without evidence there is no reason anyone should lose any sleep over any of them. For instance, I could say that in the afterlife there is a land where all of your dreams will come true forever, and that you can go there provided you take special care to believe that unicorns are real, while living this life. If you don’t believe this, you will be forced to watch re-runs of The Andy Griffith Show for all of eternity without ceasing. No one would take this claim seriously because there is no evidence for it.
It is hard to imagine anyone getting on my case for asserting that unicorns aren’t real. This is because, “That which can be asserted without evidence can be dismissed without evidence.” Fundamentally, there is no difference between asserting that Hell is a real consequence for not believing in God and that being forced to watch an eternal Andy Griffith marathon is a real consequence for not believing in unicorns (other than that, I would say, my example isn’t as mean-spirited).
I dismiss Hell freely and without concern because there is no evidence for it. In absence of such evidence I am left with the obvious conclusion that it arose as a method of invoking the cruelest kind of fear in order to manipulate people of good faith into accepting harsh doctrines which have empowered institutions of religion with enormous amounts of wealth and power for centuries. I refuse to be manipulated by such emotional violence.
I am truly sorry, and have great compassion for those who are obligated to accept such doctrines based on their faith commitments. It saddens me deeply that so many people must believe that such cruelty awaits their loved ones who don’t believe such nonsense. There is freedom from this mental oppression. That is the good news. I will spread the good news that Hell isn’t real because life is so much better when it is lived without that kind of fear.
I have found happiness and personal fulfillment through the relationships I have with my friends and family, through the exploration of science and our ever-increasing knowledge of the universe, through art, literature, nature, and music. This is something that all people can experience. But many have been severely emotionally damaged by their belief in, and fear of Hell. I want to help those people. Our lives are worth living before death. We should not compromise our lives because someone thousands of years ago said we would burn forever if we don’t listen to what he had to say.