Worried about hell? Change your view. This is the first post in a series on responding to memes. What’s the big deal with memes? Read my previous post here to understand why I’m spending this time responding to different memes aimed at Christianity or the Christian worldview.
Today’s meme makes a pretty straight forward claim about hell. In the meme, the author states “You can’t go to hell if you don’t believe in it”. While I think most Christians would disagree with this, it can sometimes be hard to figure out exactly what’s wrong with the argument. Is it true? Can we escape hell by simply not believing in it?
Notice, this is not an argument against the nature or morality of hell. It’s a prescriptive assertion on a way to escape hell. And that’s what needs to be addressed. Is this a valid way to escape hell?
The Nature Of The Objection
Hell either exists, or it does not. This is a fairly straightforward concept. And yet many people get confused when talking about spiritual matters. They relegate religious claims to simple preferences. They don’t understand that the claims made by religion are either true or false. All claims made by all religions can’t be true, because they make contradictory claims about realty.
Different religions also make contradictory claims about what happens when we die. There seem to be 5 possibilities of what happens after we die. We can go to heaven, hell, purgatory, be reincarnated or simply cease to exist. There may be some slight variances within those broad categories, but those 5 capture all the possibilities.
Notice that all of those possibilities can’t be true. You can’t cease to exist, but also be reincarnated. You can’t be in both heaven and get reincarnated. These ideas are mutually exclusive.
Does Reality Conform To Our Beliefs?
Its popular in our society now to try and make reality fit our beliefs. If I want to live my life as a dog, society will reinforce the idea that I am a dog. Some might think it odd, but they would never say that I’m not a dog. That would be anathema. The prevailing thought is “If he wants to think he’s a dog, it’s not my place to interfere with his reality”.
But that’s not how reality works. If I believe that I have a million dollars in my bank account, but I don’t, the bank has no obligation to give me a million dollars. My belief doesn’t fit the reality of the situation. And no matter how much I protest; the bank isn’t going to give me a million dollars if I don’t have it.
Another example of this is given by Frank Turek. He asks the question “Do people who don’t believe in gravity suddenly float off the earth?”. No, of course not. Because gravity exists, whether or not you believe in it. Your ideas about gravity are not what make it work.
What About Hell?
As I said, hell either exists or it doesn’t. If it does exist, simply not believing in it will not help you escape it. It’s like a bank robber that is caught and goes before a judge. The judge finds him guilty of his crime and sentences him to jail. But the robber has his “get out of jail free card”. He claims, “Your honor, you can’t put me in jail, because I don’t believe in them”.
What is the judge going to do in this case? Release the robber? No, he’s not. The robber has committed a crime, and must face the consequences of his actions. We wouldn’t let him off the hook because he didn’t believe a jail existed. We wouldn’t even let him off if he claimed that he didn’t know robbing a bank was illegal. Our conscience should tell us that stealing is wrong.
I hope this helps clear up the confusion on this meme. Hell either exists or it doesn’t. What we believe about it has no bearing on the truth of the matter. But what are some quick ways to reply to this meme when you have limited time or space? Try asking a question. Here are some quick ideas:
- “Do people who don’t believe in gravity float off the earth?”
- “If I don’t believe in jail, can I commit crimes at without fear of punishment?”
- “Do you think things pop in and out of existence based on what we believe?”
- “If I don’t believe in this meme, will it go away?”
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