Everyone’s Going to Greek Hell

Image courtesy of memegenerator.net.

One of the indignities famous atheists in Christian nations have to go through is religious schadenfreude. It’s not enough that someone who doesn’t believe dies; fundagelical Christians have to remind the faithful that they’re burning in hell. Bruce Gerencser wrote a very good post documenting the latest round of it with Stephen Hawking. Some of the comments Mr. Gerencser found were some of the worst things people can say about each other.

Why does this happen?
The easy answers are related to church doctrine and tribalism. Many churches teach something along the lines of if you don’t believe in Jesus, you go to hell. Hell is a place of eternal torment. For people who don’t draw the resulting conclusion, there are some Christians willing to spell it out plainly.

There’s a more practical reason for this: intimidation. As an atheist who used to be a Christian, I know exactly what terrible things my family will get told when I die. That’s one reason why I don’t advertise my face with my lack of faith; I don’t like the idea of my family getting held hostage. People I care about will get the same callous comments said about Dr. Hawking. Worse, some of them believe it, which will make their misery even more pronounced.

But there’s also an element of sadism. Every snarky comment on how a dead atheist now knows better gets laced with it. Some religious Christians have this need to gloat over how right they are, no matter the consequences, and no matter how it negatively affects others. It’s almost like inflicting emotional pain gets them closer to Jesus.

Image courtesy of memegenerator.net.

How is anyone supposed to deal with this?
It helps me to think things through. I have to question the wisdom of any beliefs which makes gloating over corpses a thing. Death is something that everyone has to face. Why make life more miserable for those that lose loved ones?

As this post title suggests, there’s also more than one religion out there. Why don’t we have people threaten others with the consequences of dead belief systems? Nobody really cares about having money to cross the River Styx or being saved by Valkyries to fight in Valhalla. Since I no longer believe in any deities, the idea of eternal threats sounds just as hollow as those of dead faiths. Issuing these threats only becomes an exercise in embarrassing oneself.

However, it’s the thoughts behind all of this that cause the most problems. More often than not, bragging about someone in hell is just a petty way of screaming, “I told you so.” The need to validate one’s beliefs becomes more important than respecting the lives and well-being of others.

Image courtesy of memegenerator.net.

To proponents of religion: think about the message this sends.
All too often, the ideas surrounding hell and damnation diminish human dignity rather than add to it. It’s like family of people outside the tribe aren’t allowed to cherish their loved ones. Their memory has to get sullied with the consequences of ideas the deceased didn’t subscribe to.

Many other negative things erupt as a result of this practice. It reduces a search for meaning into pithy and pathetic Internet commentary. It invites criticism in kind. It reveals ugly consequences of specific articles of faith. Regardless of whether Christians might agree with any of it, these things pop up to everyone outside the faith.

To fellow atheists and deconverts: try not to let it get you down.
In a very real sense, bragging about non-believers in hell is a limitation on compassion. It’s a cultural faux pas to non-Christians, and a source of guilt to Christians with consciences. As I’ve mentioned above, this phenomenon spawns its own particular brand of misery.

Perhaps the thing I find most difficult to deal with is the fact that this misery is self-inflicted. Eventually, some Christians are going to have to come to terms with what they believe about the afterlife as applied to people they care about. Anyone can make snarky comments about famous atheists they never knew in life. At some point, those snarky ideas will come home to roost with someone they did know personally.

I think with all this extra negativity floating around, I don’t want to add to it. Life happens in ways that are joyous and terrible, and the decisions I want to make ought to add to the former. The best I can do for people of faith is to invite them to abandon specific beliefs which might hurt them. The thing about being alive is that we all can write new values on new tablets.

Nobody has to go to Greek hell, or any of the many others people have created over the years.

27 thoughts on “Everyone’s Going to Greek Hell

  1. Lots of great points here, SB. I have wondered about this phenomenon for almost seven years. You see, I had friends of whom I thought quite highly. They gave all the appearances of being successful: he had a distinguished career in the military, she was a teacher. After he retired, they both decided to get theology degrees; both of them went to some Southern Baptist academy in the States (they are Canadians). I would see them from time to time, as they had family in our community, and was friends with them on Facebook. He started working in a church in Ontario, and they’d post things from time to time. I took exception to a couple of things and voiced my opinion, but they’d smooth things over with some ‘pat’ response. Keep in mind that I was still a church-goer in those days.
    Then Christopher Hitchens died. I can’t seem to find the meme anymore but on their FB site, they posted something to the effect of “I wonder how Christopher Hitchens likes it in Hell?” At that time, I had no idea who Christopher Hitchens was. I was just flabbergasted. I didn’t know who the fellow was, but I thought it was so terribly insensitive and . . . well, just MEAN. Mind you, these were upstanding, good people (so I thought). I then started to investigate just who CH was, and found that I was quite intrigued with his views. (not to mention the fact that he’s an amazing speaker and his recall of facts astounds me) It wasn’t long after that, they posted something about Ravi Zacharias and I was quite upfront about my views on him. I think I might have said something like, “That man loves the sound of his own voice more than anything else.” Needless to say, we are no longer friends.
    When I think of the complete disregard for respect, the cavalier attitude of thinking someone somehow deserves a torturous afterlife (an imaginative endeavour, in my opinion), and the ‘wish fulfillment’ of someone getting what some righteous asshole thinks that person has coming, I bristle. More than that, I find it completely repugnant and a reflection on that person – and not a good one. As you say, it’s a phenomenon that spawns its own brand of misery. It’s as if some christians can’t think enough bad about someone when they’re alive; they have to extend it to death?? It’s a kind of sickness I cannot comprehend.

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  2. Whenever I think there can’t possibly be more reasons to run, fast and far, from the Righteous Believers … they up and prove me wrong. Amazing.

    (By the by, the Valkyries don’t save you as it were. They’re more of a taxi service that sings and has really cool horses. Though they do get to pick which warrior they like best, it’s the Allfather and Freyja who issue the party invitations).

    As for hell, damnation, purgatory and all the other fun stuff – if it were real, and exactly the way those people say … can you imagine the company down there? From Mark Twain to Carl Sagan, from Sun Tzu to Ragnar Loðbrók, Oscar Wilde to Douglas Adams and now Stephen Hawking?
    One Highway to Hell for me, please. Too bad I don’t believe in it…

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    • Yeah, the word “saved” is a typo I just left in there with regards to the Valkyries. Sometimes I jumble my myths together and they get all tangled up in my head like Schwartzes.

      Personally, I prefer the cliff notes watered-down version of the Egyptian afterlife. Every terrible person gets oblivion, while decent people get an ideal eternal existence.

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      • That’s a funny mental image 😀
        Thor taking the weekend off and sending some Maya rain god to do the job, suddenly you have hibiscus growing in Norway and a befuddled jaguar gets chased by a bear. Meanwhile at the Nile old Thoth accuses Frigga’s cat to have mistaken him for chicken and bitten him in the rear, and then Zeus comes down from Olympus to complain about the noise…

        But if we get to pick, I want Fólkvangr. 😛
        A place run by the goddess of sex, booze, and rock’n’roll.

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  3. At this moment I am at a hospice with my mom as her body fails. When she was still somewhat responsive, my auntie asked her if she’d like Auntie to pray for her. Auntie started to pray and my mom began repeating the prayer. Auntie switched to the standard prayer for salvation and soon my mom had repeated the magic words and had escaped hellfire. As my aunt told me this story she teared up and said what relief she felt, knowing for sure that her sister would be with her in Heaven.

    Basically, she had taken advantage of a very vulnerable person to make herself feel better. I am at the same time outraged and understanding. My sweet auntie was suffering and she did what she had to to make it stop.

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    • I’m sorry to hear about your mom, Jodi. And I’m sorry to hear about what your aunt did. I’d have the same set of mixed feelings too if someone did that to someone I cared about.

      I’d like to think that your mom’s nobility and graciousness towards your aunt outweighs your aunt’s selfish behavior, but I understand not everyone might see it that way. Personally, if I saw family display that kind of selflessness in your mom’s situation, I’d be proud of them.

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  4. I wonder if my non-Christian friends will think I’m going to Hell after I tell them I’m not Christian anymore? lol. Christians seem to be divided on the subject, some think you can’t lose you salvation so I would still be going to heaven but with less ‘God brownie points’ than them, while others… you know.

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