Seven Reasons Why I Don’t Believe In Hell

Note: You are reading one of several posts in the “One Hell of a Lie” series. I have expanded the series and compiled it into a FREE e-book that can be downloaded in PDF format. Click Here to download the free e-book as a PDF, and please feel free to share it with a friend.

I find that people are utterly puzzled when I tell them I don’t believe in hell, and over the past few weeks it has become increasingly evident to me that I need to flesh out my position on this topic. So if you’ll indulge me for a few minutes, I’d like to lay out the information I learned which caused me to abandon my former belief in a fiery afterlife.

1. We tend to think of the underworld as an Israelite or Jewish “revelation” that was passed on to Christianity during the first century, however this is not true. The concept of an “underworld” existed long before the dawn of the Israelites’ religion and is also found in ancient Mesopotamia, Zoroastrianism and Greek myth. When people buried their deceased loved ones, they often wondered what happened “down there” under the dirt. This concern and curiosity caused people to theorize, and even prompted the development of such intricate afterlife companions as the Egyptian Book of the Dead. Humankind has always developed ideas about the next “life” or “world(s)” to help cope with the uncertainty involved in death and dying.

2. The concept of the afterlife (Sheol) that has been recorded in Jewish/Christian scripture probably emerged from the Israelites’ contact with the ancient Babylonians. This would not be the first religious concept to be borrowed from their neighbors. It is widely known that the Ten Commandments, the Genesis creation account, the story of Noah, and other things were heavily influenced by the culture in which the Israelites lived. Furthermore, Sheol is not “hell.” It is a shadowy pit without fire or demons… It’s a place where everyone went upon death. (Click here to read a rabbi’s exploration of this topic.)

3. In the New Testament, the word hell masks a ton of metaphor. We are often unable to see this because we have been so thoroughly indoctrinated by a literal/traditional reading of the text. I wrote about this last summer, so instead of rehashing it all here, I’ll suggest that you read how the concepts of fire, Hades (which is a product of Greek myth), and weeping/gnashing of teeth can be alternatively understood.

4. Torturing someone for eternity is not “justice.” Neither is “banishing them from God’s presence forever.” I like Rabbi Max Weiman’s observation that in true justice, the punishment fits the crime. The punishment for a human moral infraction could never logically be eternal because we are not capable of committing eternal sins. Jesus (a Jew) made reference to an ancient concept of justice that involved “an eye for an eye”, which brings to mind the degree to which many (but obviously not all) Jewish people believed that the “scales” should be balanced in the process whenever possible. What’s most interesting is that Jesus went on to teach that holy justice meant abandoning even the eye-for-an-eye idea because in his mind, God would be much more gracious than that– and would expect the same from us.

5. The concept of an all-powerful deity who expects me to forgive 70X7 times when he clearly is unable to do the same is simply beyond my imagination. Frankly, I just can’t believe it. If you read my blog, you know I’m no theologian, so I’m not interested in stringing together a bunch of patristic theory or half-hacked scripture to prove that God tortures people. If there is a God, then surely, his ability to reason, carry out justice, and love us will far exceed any theory or practice we can concoct in this life. And, I don’t think we need a torture theory in order to highlight the beauty of forgiveness.

6. I’ve become convinced that we are attached to the hell doctrine because we don’t know what else to believe. However, from my view that’s not a good enough reason to promote a co-opted theory about an abusive deity in an arguably fictitious underworld.

7. Finally– telling someone to worship their torturer is abuse. I don’t care how you slice it and dice it. It doesn’t matter what kind of package you wrap it in or what kinds of pretty songs you sing about it. There is something unhealthy about a religious experience that has fear at its center. There is something wrong with a religion whose adherents are afraid to leave it because their deity might torture them. And there’s something equally wrong when it isn’t okay to come out and say that to people without being afraid of the consequences. I think we should re-examine the religious construct we’re offering to people and question whether it’s healthy… whether it’s something we truly want the next generation to believe… and whether we believe it because we want to– or because we’re afraid not to.

So that’s it y’all. These are the reasons why I’m a proud, card-carrying, hell-free heretic and proud of it. I hope it clarifies my position on this topic. Thanks for reading.

30 responses to “Seven Reasons Why I Don’t Believe In Hell

  1. I recently found your blog, and enjoy it very much. You have made such good points here, and in your other posts on hell. I've been re-thinking this doctrine myself for quite a while, and finally came to the point where I could no longer accept it as is commonly believed, either.

    I think there's Biblical room to see judgment as something that happens while we are in this life. Jesus taught that we will reap the consequences of our own actions, and Paul said that we will be rewarded in this very body for the deeds we have done – good or bad (2 Corin. 5:10)! I also believe that God's chastening is redemptive in nature.

    I believe that heaven and hell are indeed very real; very literal. But also that they are both here on this earth – present realities, ways of living we can enter into here and now, as Rob Bell said in Velvet Elvis. Paul taught that the Kingdom of God IS peace and joy, and Jesus proclaimed the kingdom of Heaven is at hand – so close we can reach out and touch it! I think hell on earth is created when we are consumed by the flames of our own anger and hate, tortured by desires which are never satisfied, and tormented by never-ending fears (1 John 4:18). These fears that create a hell on earth are only increased by teachings such as hell..

  2. Thank you Crystal,

    what a fine post. And thanks to Gabrielle for RT-ing it

    On your way to liberation aren't you, well bless yourself ;-)

    I like your scientific-ish points 1, 2, 3 here although they will be debated by the fundamentalists, demanding you to show proof of that while they reserve the right to believe in an unprovable doctrine

    So I really like the first sentence of 4, the first sentence of 5, the first sentence of 6, and the first sentence of 7

    That would make for a very small blog post ;-) and I like everything you say here but if I take just those 4 lines, I think you show me the (in)balance between love and fear

    Are you familiar with Don Miguel Ruiz? You will absolutely love what he says

    Keep up the eu-angelos!

    Love,

    Martijn

  3. hello.

    first of all you should not say that this is belief created by men, you should really believe in real hell.

    To Mae: Hell is real and it is after this life.

    continue to Crystal S. Lewis and all readers:
    you should really believe in real hell, so your first 4 reasons and 6th are canceled.

    probably i am saying with incorrect english. i hope you understand my words.

    to 4th reason: but god prevents you from hell! you have not said about such anti-reasons. so, he prevents you when you are in this life, so, if you do not obey god, you are not right. 2nd argument against your 4th reason: you have much more sins! because there are much more sins, not only directly yours! any results that you produce can produce sins because you have not made it correctly, and that sins are also written as your sins. i am muslim, and you would know that about sins if you learned islam, but you are like closing eyes to islam religion – you have not said about islam.

    to 5th: why god should care about you if you do not respect him? you even are not believing into hell!!!

    to 7th: hell is to make people fear, if they do not fear of hell after death, and think that there is just nothing, if not paradise, they would think that nothing is quite OK.

  4. and 3d argument against your 4th reason: the way Mae said, “hell … is created when we are consumed by the flames of our own anger and hate, tortured by desires which are never satisfied, and tormented by never-ending fears” such way hell can continue eternally, because of your own features and features of other hell inhabitants.

  5. Thank you everyone for reading this post and for commenting so positively. I've come to a place in my life when I no longer cringe to admit the things I've listed here. A part of the freedom I now experience comes from knowing that there are other people in the world who have reached the same conclusion. I spent several years believing that I was alone in not believing in hell because no one ever talks about this. As the years have progressed, that has changed– and I think it will continue to change.

    @Динар We obviously don't agree, but all perspectives are welcome here. Thanks for sharing your convictions.

    Mae, you are so right! I wanted to stand up and applaud after reading this section of your comment: “I believe that heaven and hell are indeed very real; very literal. But also that they are both here on this earth – present realities, ways of living we can enter into here and now, as Rob Bell said in Velvet Elvis. Paul taught that the Kingdom of God IS peace and joy, and Jesus proclaimed the kingdom of Heaven is at hand – so close we can reach out and touch it! I think hell on earth is created when we are consumed by the flames of our own anger and hate, tortured by desires which are never satisfied, and tormented by never-ending fears (1 John 4:18). These fears that create a hell on earth are only increased by teachings such as hell…” YES!!!! Thanks for commenting.

    @Martijn: I am not familiar with Don Miguel Ruiz… Can you recommend a specific book or article? I'm intrigued. :)

    Thanks everyone for commenting. Have a good weekend!

    Crystal

  6. Anything Don Miguel Ruiz has written really, but The Four Agreements would be the best one to read. It's a booklet that takes 3 hours to read, nothing Schopenhauer-like ;-)

    1 be impeccable with your word
    2 don't take anything personally
    3 don't make any assumptions
    4 always do your best

  7. Wonderful post. 4, 5, and 7 are the strongest reasons I reject the traditional doctrine of hell. Mae makes a great point: hell is something we create here on Earth. Ironically, some of the worst personal hells have been created by a belief in the traditional doctrine of hell.

    @Динар- Please correct me if I'm wrong, since I don't completely understand what you are saying (and I don't mean that as an insult, English is an incredibly difficult language and I have great respect for anyone attempting to learn it), but are you saying you reject #7 because fear of hell is necessary for someone to be good? If so, I completely disagree. Actually, I think if a person is only being good because of fear of hell or desire of heaven, then that person isn't actually good, since their is an ulterior motive for their behavior.

    I also reject that fear is necessary since you cannot force someone to love you. God might be able to get humans to pretend to love Him out of fear of hell, but that love will never be real. If God truly desires a relationship with His children, He could not (and would not, in my opinion) ever use fear as a foundation. Only forgiveness and love work as a foundation.

  8. to Sammy:
    God has made this world and it works. It is fact. And existence of paradise and hell is fact or like fact, for people who know them or believe to them. we cannot change it by thinking that it is not good to force people to be good with frightening with hell. but that frightening is like instrument of God to make this world working. God is creator of the world, so he is correcting this world with different methods, moreover, he controls this world all time. if a man is afraid of hell, this means that he believe in it, it is part of believing in true religion of (given by) God. If a person believes in true religion and obeys it, he is good person.

  9. Well, with all do respect, I disagree. I don't believe I can change reality just by my thoughts. But the God I know and believe in is too good Himself to force people to love and worship Him by scaring them with hell. To be blunt, that would be pretty pathetic, and any God who needs to terrify people into loving Him is not worth our attention, let alone worship.

    I also disagree that believing in a “true religion” makes someone a good person. You can believe in anything, and still be an evil mass murderer. You can be an atheist and be a good, selfless person. You are a good person because of your actions, not your beliefs.

  10. “… I don't believe I can change reality just by my thoughts.” – but i have not said so, i have not said that we can change reality by thoughts, so i am also like you.

    “But the God I know and believe in is too good Himself to force people to love and worship Him by scaring them with hell.” – but why you beieve exactly so, why you imagine god this way? think, does it coincide with reality? – no. god has given to people ability to select any way they want. so, many people do not believe in him and they are not forced, and they make bad deeds.

    « I also disagree that believing in a “true religion” makes someone a good person. » – See carefully, do not hurry, I have said: “If a person believes in true religion and obeys it”.

  11. I was not accusing you of thinking you can change reality with your thoughts. What I meant was that I am aware that I don't get to choose who and what God is.

    I imagine God that way because that is the God I have personally experienced. That IS what coincides with my reality. The God I know is a God of Love. The God I know would never, ever abandon any of His children to everlasting torment in hell.

    Yes, you are right, many people do not believe in God. But those people are not necessarily bad. Not believing in God does not make someone do bad things, nor does it make them a bad person. I know many atheists who are kind, selfless, and loving people. And I know extremely devout Christians who are mean, selfish, and judgmental.

  12. Quoting Sammy: “Yes, you are right, many people do not believe in God. But those people are not necessarily bad. Not believing in God does not make someone do bad things, nor does it make them a bad person. I know many atheists who are kind, selfless, and loving people. And I know extremely devout Christians who are mean, selfish, and judgmental.”

    Amen to this. You're so right.

  13. Superlew, that’s very clever. In subsequent posts, I’ve written that I read Jesus’ references to hell as metaphorical teachings. And it’s not just my interpretation. People have chosen that perspective for centuries. Thanks for commenting.

  14. I like your post. Thank you. Hell creates great tension in conversation with my wife’s family. Our questioning of traditional hell constructs causes a strong defense/attack reaction. So it’s mostly better to keep our mouths shut. But for reasons like you have outlined, we find the traditional idea of hell doesn’t jive with our brains. As someone who challenged the empire or Rome and called for a new community of inclusion and forgiveness, it’s seems strange that Jesus is painted as someone who enforces eternal torture for those who don’t believe his good news.

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  16. This is the only writing of yours that I’ve read so far. I am a Christian who does not believe in hell as a concious and eternal torture. But, I would like to say that your writing does lack scriptural backing, and is worded more as opinions based on reasoning. For me, as a Christian who wants to draw others to thirst for the gospel of our salvation, I am careful to state my thoughts briefly, and back it with scripture. I, too believe that throughout the centuries, people have tried, fruitlessly, to scare people into believing in God. I cannot find scriptural support for the teaching of an eternal life in hell. I do see that God will destroy the wicked (Ps 145: 20). The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through Christ Jesus our Lord. The opposite of eternal life is death (John chapter 5, verses 19-30). I t says in James 5: 20 that the repentant soul is saved from DEATH. Now, we can’t ignore Revelation chapters 20 and 21 where judgement is explained. There is judgement and condemnation for those who are not found in the BOOK OF LIFE…a second death in the lake of fire. That takes care of justice and mercy. Only the devil, the beast, and the false prophet will be tormented eternally. Not people. See especially 20: 10, 14, and 15. Anyway, I firmly believe that God’s mercy draws us to him, not fear. Repent or perish, Luke chapter 13. God’s mercy leads us to repentance. Someone can cite that reference, I can’t find it right now. Be blessed, but also, be careful with the Word of God.

    • Dear Jars Camp,

      Thank you for your comment. If you continue to read the series, you will note that I have worked through most of the scriptures about Hell from a very scholarly (and arguably “Biblical” although certainly heterodox) perspective. I have not written about the Book of Revelation because I do not read it as commentary on the “End Times” and have wanted for some time to write a special series about that text. When that series is completed (probably later in the year), I will likely append it to the bottom of this series as well as my e-book about Hell.

      I appreciate that you have admonished me to “be careful with the word of God” and would encourage you to do the same. Thank you again for you comment and please feel free to come again any time. :)

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  18. THANK YOU! I have struggled more than I can express with the concept of hell. It does not make sense in conjunction with a loving, omnipotent God. If God is omnipotent and sees all from beginning to end of time, He would realize while creating hell that his human creations would go there, and if He were loving, He would either not create this hell, or He would not create humans. He wouldn’t just keep allowing billions upon billions of human beings to be born to just end up as eternal playthings for demons in a firey torture chamber. Hell does not make sense if God is loving and omnipotent. I have never been able to reconcile God and hell together. It is impossible.

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  20. “If you can’t say it simply, you simply don’t understand it well enough.” Albert Einstein

    ===============

    Is it accurate to say that your question is: “Can humans suffer eternal consequences for their actions?”

    If so, it seems you could also say you’re asking: “Can a human make irreversible (eternal) decisions?”

    Here are a few practical examples in response to the question:
    - If I cut my hand off (by choice) and feed it to an alligator. I cannot get it back.
    - If I divorce my spouse, and then they die. I cannot remarry them.
    - You get the idea.

    Life is full of examples where our actions appear to be as permanent as eternity itself. So what *evidence* does anyone have to advise or believe that we will not suffer equally permanent consequences in a dimension or reality beyond the one we’re currently living?

    ===============

    On a separate note:

    Sammy, I appreciate your boldness to publicize your thoughts. I do the same and get flack for it. I think that (you sharing your thoughts) is a mark of wisdom and someone who heeds to truth, no matter how it conflicts with their belief’s.

    ===============

    Lastly, I’d like to respond to your points separately because, if you’re truly seeking the truth, I think you should re-evaluate some of your reasoning for the following reasons:
    1. The Bible doesn’t claim to be the source of the creation of eternal consequence (AKA hell). In other words, it never says that there isn’t more to hell, how it works, what it is, why it exists, etc…
    2/3. Because the Bible makes various analogous references to hell, occasionally inconsistent with each other, it seems impossible to assume that they are literal or exact descriptions. Rather, it seems readers have to assume they’re trying to articulate the point that suffering the consequences of your actions is greater than you can bear and will produce insurmountable regret that cannot be reversed.
    4. The Bible simply doesn’t say that God will torture anyone. Rather, that the victims will be tormented as a result of the consequence of their actions.
    5. The Bible clearly indicates that forgiveness is extended to those who accept it. And that those who do not are welcome to pay their own bill if they so choose. You’re words indicate a, common, underlying philosophy that *Hell* exists for those who make mistakes. Again, the Bible indicates that it is for those who, ultimately, choose to remain separated from their creator (including Satan and demons as the Bible describes them). To believe that *Hell* exists for someone who simply err’s IS absurd. That’s probably why the Bible doesn’t teach that (to the best of my knowledge).
    6. I won’t respond to this because my other responses seem to tackle this.
    7. See 4 and 5.

    • One thing I forgot to add, I *think* it’s possible that if Hell is eternal separation from our creator, and it’s true that nothing can exist apart from God, then Hell is actually ceasing to exist, eternal unconsciousness, etc…

  21. People send themselves to hell because of the choices they make. Read the Word kjv/nkjv… It’s in there.
    By telling people there is no hell it is telling them it’s ok to sin cause they are going to heaven anyway. That is not truth! People are watching our actions and words what if we lead them astray we could be responsible for their soul! Who wants to lead someone to hell? NOT ME!! And if the opposite is true that there is a heaven why bother being born again if we all get free tickets to heaven? If it’s such a debate then why wouldn’t you use common sense and lean more on the side of caution??? Why would John the baptist tell us we need to Repent? Come on!!! The Word of God is easy to understand stop making it into something it’s not!

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  23. The 70 x7 thing is a reference to people who say they are sorry and God offers full forgiveness too. That was the point: Since God keeps forgiving, what wouldn’t you? As far as the idea of worshipping an abuser, that’s a weird twist that resembles some takes Catholicism but is nothing like biblical Christianity. People worship the God who rescued them from the consequences of a dumb choice. Nobody believe that eternity in hell is justice. Justice is doing what’s right – not rebelling against everything decent and holy and destroying yourself in the process. God’s wrath will be served up finally and quickly – as justice should be. But the lake of fire is not a function of punishment (and it’s not hell – Christianity doesn’t teach that hell is eternal, btw) , it’s an eternal state chosen by those who’ve rejected the only alternative. It’s the reality that only sin could have brought to pass. It’s the choice of those who would prefer it over relating to a maker who is wise, more loving, and holier than they are. It’s the end result of foolish pride. So it’s not so hard for me to imagine. The blame doesn’t lie with the God of the Bible. It’s the God of popular and trumped up religion that can’t jive with the extistence of hell. God is bigger than that and present no conflicts whatsoever. I hope people who prefer hell and the lake of fire over God find happiness there. But I don’t see how they will.

  24. Brilliant,intelligent read!!,in a christian and i love god,i pray regular but ive always felt that the idea of hell was just cooked up over centuries to frighten people into going to church (& ya gotta admit it certainly worked),but that’s religion for you eh,quite frankly the idea that Jehovah would allow such a place to exist is obscene,for me,hell just makes good horror movies,nothing more.

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