Phil Force, Survivor of Brain Cancer and Author of Letters From Limbo
This is a tricky question. It is really hard to provide an absolute answer without offending someone. Many of us spend our whole lives trying to please a higher power in the aim of gaining His/Her/It’s favor and winning a spot in Heaven while simultaneously avoiding Hell. Others see ideas of Heaven and Hell as a sort of behavior modification. If one is threatened with the punishment of Hell or bribed with the reward of Heaven, he or she may be more likely to engage in behaviors valued by society. The same sort of behavior modification efforts may be found in the cultural practice of Santa Clause. Children are taught that good behavior leads to rewards of presents and that bad behavior leads to punishment, a kind of taunting in the form of a gift of coal. Like the Santa Clause story, there is no lack of consequence for either path, good or evil. There is either reward or punishment via lack of reward.
Some believe those who commit evil are sent to Hell. Others say, the only way to avoid Hell is to accept Jesus into your heart. Let’s tackle the second one first. Would a just god send people to an eternity of suffering simply for believing something other than teachings of Christianity? Would this mean that all who do not believe Jesus died for their sins are evil? This seems rather irrational.
Now let’s look at the first. Who among us has not behaved in a selfish way at one point or another? Who among us has not engaged in behavior someone else would deem “wrong”? Even though we may view our own actions as morally wrong in hind-sight, I believe we all have to feel justified in our actions our we wouldn’t engage in them. Even if we know we will regret said actions, we feel justified at the time we act. Society may impose rules of morality, which would seem to complicate and simultaneously simplify our views of right and wrong, but our true measure of morality comes from within. Would a just god send you to Hell for acting according to your own measure of right and wrong?
Whether Hell is a real place or not, efforts to win God’s grace would seem to, at times, work to benefit us, as a species. Other times, we fight over who is right, killing and dying for our beliefs. The question may not be “Is hell real?”, but rather, do you like living in a world where people believe it is?