Christians Love Hell More Than Heaven

March 9, 2011

In a previous post, I wrote about how religious believers use Heaven and Hell .  Basically, they can't enjoy Heaven unless they are sure others must suffer in Hell.

Sure, believers may feel offended by this analysis.  If you ask them, they probably would deny enjoying the idea of hell.  People deny all sorts of things if admission makes them look bad. 

Does this atheist have some special insight into religious minds that believers themselves don't have?

Actually, plenty of Christians know exactly how Heaven and Hell is supposed to work in the minds of believers.  Just days after my post, The Christian Post published an article saying that real Christians must believe in Hell, or else they will go to Hell.  This article, "Universalism: For Whom the Bell Tolls? – It Tolls for Thee" by Kevin Shrum , is an attack on the idea of Universalism -- that everyone eventually receives salvation and goes to heaven. 

The notion of universalism is as old as organized Christianity .  Its contemporary forms, such as Unitarian Universalism , remain small and marginal in numbers, yet theologically strong and potent.  Next to atheism, universalism may be the doctrine that causes the most outrage and contempt among traditional believers. 

In Kevin Shrum's hands, Hell becomes just about the most important part of all of God's creation.  And he claims to know -- according to his bio, he "has been in ministry for 29 years, currently pastors Inglewood Baptist Church in Nashville, Tennessee, and is an Adjunct Professor of Theology for Union University in Jackson, Tennessee."  So he knows about Christianity, all of genuine Christianity, I guess.  Well, at least he knows Hell, and he likes what he sees.

Shrum announces his contempt for anyone favoring Universalism, such as the Universalist he is addressing in this article, megachurch leader Rob Bell :

"Don’t you realize that the beach of universalism on which you’re stepping has been tried before and that, just as before, a tidal-wave of biblical truth and historical/theological consensus will sweep you away? You will become a footnote in the history of the church as just another well-intentioned ‘theologian’ who tried to spit into God’s powerful whirlwind of truth."

Shrum goes on to explain why Universalism cannot be God's plan:

"... if Love Wins in the way you are reported to say that it does, why be a Christian at all? I don’t get it. If, in the end, nothing really matters (how I live or who I serve) because God will save the worst of us even if we refused to follow Jesus in this life, why follow Jesus in this life at all? Why live holy or make any attempt to really love my neighbor?"

Wow -- Schrum actually just said that you can't really love your neighbor unless you can hate another neighbor enough to send them to Hell.

Maybe Schrum can also help confirm the other major claim that I made in my analysis: Believers love both Heaven and Hell because it confirms their childish moralism.  This childish moralism thinks that being good is about winning approval from some parental figure, approval that must be won over someone else who doesn't get that approval.  Like a six-year-old who can't feel praised unless the other child gets punished.

This crude moralism is there in Schrum's own words:

"If universalism is true, I’m going for the best of what both worlds have to offer – eat, drink, and be merry in this life for tomorrow I will die, and when I do die I get heaven no matter what happened this side of eternity. And what’s my reward? I get away with it! Fantastic! Again, please don’t tell me that I should still follow Jesus in this life because it will make my life better. Are you kidding! I’m a ‘stinkin’ sinner’ who is already uninterested in and struggling with changing my ways, so if I don’t have to and I can still get heaven and if thumbing my self-important finger in God’s face has no eternal consequences, this is awesome and I for one am all about it. If universalism is true I may or may not be faithful to my wife, depending on if it benefits me; I may or may not love my kinds, etc."

Evidently, being worthy is all about pleasing an authority figure who demands sacrifice, and one's sacrifice is worthless unless others are punished for not making that sacrifice too.

I'll say one thing about this pathetically childish way of being "moral" -- it uses an objective basis for moral rules, based on this Authority Figure who cannot be reasoned or bargained with.  I'll grant that reach for objectivity, a kind of objectivity that no atheism can match, but the resulting morality is worthless.  And this worthless "morality" is what Universalists are trying to avoid.

As for me, I'm a kind of universalist myself (no salvation for anyone, sorry).  I do sympathize with religious Universalism to this extent: traditional Christianity is indeed tied to a embarrassingly childish and cruel kind of morality.  The theological contortions of Universalism to avoid Hell are regrettable, though.  That tough struggle would be much easier by just giving up Heaven too.  If things can't get much worse in an afterlife, why suppose they could get better?  Just more wish-fulfillment fantasy at work.  Give me a morality, a humanist one, that finally centers on the one life that we all know we have.



#1 Strubie on Wednesday March 09, 2011 at 9:50am

You make a good argument, but I don’t think that your interpretation of Kevin Shrum’s quote is the only one.  He could be saying that universalism gives one permission to behave in a way that he sees as being immoral.  I don’t think he’s saying that it’s inevitable.  I’m no fan of Christianity, but a vast majority of the Christians that I know don’t believe that you must be a Christian or even religious to be moral or to attain what they see as “salvation.”  Rarely am I ever told that I’ll go to Hell for my “atheistic ways.”  For all their self-identification as Christian, most of my religous acquaintances may as well be universalists.  I think that what they call Christianity is just their security blanket.  I think we’d all be much better off if no one adhered to dogma of any kind, let alone religious dogma, and I am hopeful that universalism will be the destination that all but the fundamentalist religions will converge upon.

#2 T-Rex (Guest) on Wednesday March 09, 2011 at 11:44am

I bet there are about 6 billion+/- people on this planet that have a different opinion. Of course, that’s just my opinion.

#3 Jim, Religion is Bullshit on Wednesday March 09, 2011 at 12:57pm

Of course christians love the idea of hell.  It is one very important element of their belief system that allows them to feel superior.

#4 liberalartist on Wednesday March 09, 2011 at 1:47pm

Hell is so much more interesting than Heaven, that’s why everyone reads The Inferno, but never gets around to the other two. It also supports the in-group mentality that “we” are better than “they” are. Not all christians follow that sort of mentality, which is why universalism appeals to many. But I agree, better to focus on this world than wishful thinking, besides Heaven would be a bore.

#5 jerrys on Thursday March 10, 2011 at 12:29am

Robert Putnam has been doing surveys of religious belief for years.  He has recently written a book titled “American Grace”. I heard him give a talk a few months ago.  His survey supported #1’s informal survey. The majority of Christians think you can go to Heaven even if you’re not a Christian.  He said that he had given a talk to a group of Christian clergy (I don’t remember which sect) who were adamant that it wasn’t true for members of their sect.  The clergy preach all the time that not only do you have to be Christian to go to heaven, you have to be a member of their sect.  Putnam said he had his data with him, looked it up and told them that indeed the majority of their members believed you don’t have to be Christian to go to heaven which upset them.

#6 Val Esman (Guest) on Thursday March 10, 2011 at 12:51am

I’m not surprised Conservative and reactionary Christians would attack universalism and by extension Unitarians.  Unitarians are probably, next to Quakers, one of the most progressive, tolerant and politically active churches around.  In every major city around the country the Unitarian church is both a sanctuary of tolerance and reason in conservative communities as well as being a community meeting place for political and progressive forums and conferences.  Some rent out space to groups like CFI for their speakers and forums. During the Vietnam war some Unitarian Churches provided sanctary for war resisters.

Many Modern day unitarians are certainly not caught up in either Christian scripture or the bible. They rightly gauge that the real hell going on is right here on earth.  And most specifically that being created by the new crop of Republicans and Tea partiers in Congress. 

And if you asked most Americans of any party, , they would probably agree with you that the future looks very dark in America.  Now why on earth would anyone possibly worry about some fictional hell?  Amazing that with all our problems anyone is listening or paying attention to the Shrums of this world.  But if they are, it’s part of the darkness that Carl Sagan prophesized that is descending upon America.

Tonight I saw the Lightkeepers with Richard Dreyfuss.  In the interview following the movie Dreyfuss specifically talks about human struggle between light and dark.  But he couches it in terms of science and reason.  He’s make a great posterchild for CFI’s present ad campaign IMO.

#7 Mary Anne (Guest) on Thursday March 10, 2011 at 3:10pm

The Baptist preacher does have a point, whether we like it or not, but what is not spoken of clearly is Love. I do what’s right because I love God in Heaven who wants to have an exclusive relationship with me (and you) which can only come through moral order, and cannot come through idolatry.

You are right that Christians can become infantile. The parable of the prodigal son in the New Testament accounts for the infantile behavior of the “good” brother who stayed with his father. But in the end, it is true love, the wish and prayer for Heaven for everyone, which makes us more like God.

#8 Val Eisman (Guest) on Friday March 11, 2011 at 2:06pm

It just occurred to me why the Supreme Court ruled that the offensive and obnoxious Westboro Church could continue to picket funerals including military ones.  Burying people has little to do with “free speech”.  But everything to do with the Christian belief of where people go to when they die.  And Westboro Church wants to promote the idea that the people they are picketing will all go to hell.  And the Supreme Court of the United States seems to think their notions of hell in more important than allowing people the privacy of laying their dead to rest in peace.  Yes, politics and rightwing religionists have risen above common human decency.

#9 jerrys on Friday March 11, 2011 at 4:09pm


The decision in this case follows a long line of cases on freedom of speech.  The fact that it was an 8-1 decision and that Thomas joined the majority suggests to me that you haven’t properly read the minds of the justices. 

Supporting freedom of [removed]which is a CFI principle) means supporting freedom of speech for those you strongly disagree with including Fred Phelps.

#10 Val Eisman (Guest) on Friday March 11, 2011 at 4:22pm

Freedom of speech is a concept that has its place just like other concepts.  It is not an absolute nor written in blood.  And there are places where human decency and tradition trump ideology.  Burying one’s dead is one of them.  This isn’t an abstraction where people need to come out and bring their politics.  It is a hurtful and unnecessary nuisance and has nothing at all to do with politics of the exercise of one’s freedoms.

In America people confuse freedom with license.  And what the Westboro bigots are doing in my opinion is exercising license, not freedom.  Just like in a croweded theater you cannot scream fire, so you should not be able to harrangue mourners at a funeral.

The Supreme Court lost its reason and its principles, (particularly Justice Thomas, an unethical guy if there ever was one in more ways than one) a long time ago.

Yes, every now and then the Bush(s) Supreme Court tosses a bone to a concept.  But its application is extremely reactionary.  This is where me and the ACLU and CFI part company.

Yes, off the point, but it has not escaped my attention either that CFI has embraced the classless politics of gender inequities and other such harmless politics while ignoring the more powerful forces of class in electing presidents who annoint these reactionary supreme court justices who make decisions like the United Decision (and step in to seat a President like Bush during Florida debacle with no legal or historical precedents) as well as issue their own presidential fatwas otherwise known as presidential “directives”.

#11 hoody (Guest) on Tuesday March 15, 2011 at 2:00pm

Sorry, but your generalization tends to invalidate your argument.  It is not the case of all Christians delight in hell.  Many -if not most-hew to what amounts to the argument alluded to in CS Lewis’ The Great Divorce.  We do not know who is in hell.  We may hope, and we do, that there is no one there.  And we take no delight in the notion that there are any there. 

To turn things around a bit, I could say that your thinking Christians delighting in the notion of hell is simply your own projections of the desire for karmic retribution upon people who dare to disagree with you.

#12 Val Eisman (Guest) on Tuesday March 15, 2011 at 6:13pm

Hoody, It’s Glenn Beck called the Japanese Earthquake God’s retribution. You will never find secular humanists saying any natural event in retribution.  Who but a Christian would try to speak for a nonexistent God? (Not that Glenn Beck is a Christian by any standard with the amount of hate he spews out daily.) 

Preacher heal thyself.

#13 David (Guest) on Wednesday March 16, 2011 at 7:19am

I’ve spent some time in both universalist and conservative Christian, hell-believing camps. An interesting thing is that many of these Christians cannot conceive of any sort of morality that is not based on fear of divine retribution- if there is no hell, then it’s time to party, as evidenced by the quote you included above.  There might be some acknowledgment that such an attitude is not as good as behaving oneself out of love of God rather than fear of punishment, but unless the threat is there, then there is no real reason to be good or even remain a Christian. I wouldn’t say that Christians love hell more than heaven, but their fear of it might be a more compelling motivator. The emphasis on hell is probably more of an indicator of spiritual immaturity rather than what Christianity teaches at its core. You won’t get very far explaining virtue to a 2 year old, but punishment sends a clear message…

Christianity is not alone here, however; pretty much every major religion has some sort of hell doctrine, even Buddhists.

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