Monday, June 7, 2010

If you believe in Hell and you aren't an Evangelical, screw you

It occurred to me the other day that anyone who really believes in Hell as a literal place of eternal suffering for non-believers, ought to be out there every day trying as hard as they can to convince other people of "the truth". In particular, I'm thinking of the vast masses of Catholics who just callously go about their day-to-day business believing that most of their friends and neighbors will burn forever in a lake of fire. That's stone cold, yo.

Of course, it's also far less annoying than evangelizing. So really this is a purely academic point. It's totally fucked up that someone would believe I was going to experience maximal suffering forever and ever, and yet not do anything about it -- but if the alternative is annoying the piss out of me, I guess I won't complain too much.

Most of the theists I have any respect for don't believe in Hell anyway, or at least not as a place of eternal and/or unbearable suffering. It's hard for me to understand how anyone could believe in Hell and not go completely insane in a matter of days, so I guess this is all a moot point.


  1. I've often wondered about the same thing.

    I've known lots of people who believed I was going to hell, but only one of them ever made a serious effort to "save" me. (As a bonus, it provided 3+ years of hilarity.)

    And with the amount of time she wasted on me, she probably could have saved hundreds (if not thousands) of more pliable souls. But then "god" gave me to her as her special little project. Seriously.

  2. Do Catholics really think that? In RC Sunday school - taught by nuns - we were told that if we were bad and died we would go to purgatory where we would wait until we accepted god then go to heaven because God didn't want anyone to go to hell as he loves them. Sounds more or less like this life except eternal. I must has missed the hellfire thing since I stopped going.

  3. Consider how hard most people would try to talk you out of committing suicide if they thought you intended to kill yourself, to the point of bringing themselves to tears while begging you not to kill yourself- even if you were a stranger standing on the railing of a bridge.

    Then consider how few people bother to do more than lift an eyebrow for you, though they believe you are committing eternal spiritual suicide.

    Do these people really believe what they believe, or do they really just believe in believing?

  4. @CASz: IANACatholic (nor have I ever been), but my understanding is that we are more or less both right.

    According to the nuns at your Catholic school, because you had been baptized, you would just get knocked around in purgatory for awhile (assuming you didn't get excommunicated, of course). I, on the other hand, having been baptized by Mormons instead of by Catholics, would suffer unbearable pain for the next infinity years.

    @Karl: I don't think it's "belief in believing" per se... I think these people literally believe, but we're just not evolved to behave on a day-to-day basis on abstract knowledge in the distant future. That goes for both true and false knowledge.

    BP's failure to prevent the Deepwater Horizon disaster might be seen as a prime example. Clearly it was not just an insatiable desire for profit that led to this; it was also a failure to deal with the abstract possibility of grave future consequences.

    Catholics really believe I'm going to hell, but it is difficult for them to live their lives as if that is the case, because the possibility is so abstract. By the same token, BP execs most likely really believed that cutting too many corners on safety could result in a disaster that would eventually cost them billions (not to mention the loss of life and the environmental consequences), but it was unfortunately difficult for them to live their lives that way, either.

  5. RE: BP- A little bit of cognitive dissonance and a bit of this as well:

    “…as a species we’re just really bad at understanding costs that come later on. Instead, we assign a disproportionate amount of importance to what’s immediate and tangible.”

    -Barbara Kiviat of writing about credit cards but applicable to far more.

  6. Please don't mention credit cards and lack of foresight :/

    When my kids get into their late teens, I'm going to make sure they get a credit card and then run up a bill they can't pay -- so that they have their fuck-up and learn their lesson when they have a teenager's credit and therefore can only get one or two thousand dollars in debt. Much more fixable than learning your listen at 30.... :/

  7. I thought everyone went to purgatory, god being kind and all, not just RCs but then I misinterpreted a lot of stuff

    (was CASz)

  8. It's totally fucked up that someone would believe I was going to experience maximal suffering forever and ever, and yet not do anything about it -- suppoose it was just an infinitesimal possibility... any sane person woild do all they could to find out... not to piss you off or anything, but there you are... quandry caught between maintaining your "Atheist" stance and honest searcher...

  9. Right, but you are echoing a form of Pascal's Wager. Suppose there is an infinitesimal possibility that I will burn in Hell if I don't worship Jeebus... if so, there's also an infinitesimal possibility that I will burn in Hell only if I worship Jeebus. There's an equally infinitesimal possibility that I wasn't going to burn in Hell, but by posting this comment that tips the scales somehow and I will.

    Your last phrase implies a false dichotomy between "'Atheist' stance" vs. "honest searcher". I would assert that I came to my present "stance" via a process of honest searching. So where's the quandary?

    An honest search for truth has brought me to the conclusion that, in all likelihood, there is no afterlife and no god(s) sitting in judgment. It has also brought me to the conclusion that any given Pascal's Wager can be met by an equal and opposite Wager -- so the infinitesimal possibilities of unfalsifiable claims all cancel each other out in any cost-benefit analysis.

    Let p be the infinitesimal probability of any given evidence-free unfalsifiable claim being true. Let B(c) be the benefit/cost to me should a given claim c be true. The benefit/cost I should factor into my decision process based on unfalsifiable claims will be the sum of all p*B(c).

    But for any given c, there is a c' such that B(c)=-B(c'). (An equal and opposite -- and equally unfalsifiable -- claim) So I can rewrite my decision factor as the sum of all p*B(c) + p*B(c'). Or, using substition, p*B(c) + p*(-B(c`)) = p*B(c) - p*B(c) = 0.

    In other words, evidence-free unfalsifiable claims should affect my decision making process diddly-squat. The summation of the cost-benefit of all conceivable unfalsifiable claims is a big fat zero.