Do you believe in Hell? If so, and if you’re from the Christian tradition like me, you probably believe it’s a place you go when you die to be punished for things you did while alive. A fiery place of torture worse than any you can imagine. Suffering that lasts forever and ever, and only believing in Jesus can get you out of it. Right?

Yeah, I don’t believe that. Here are my top ten reasons why.

(1) What we call ‘sins’ are just natural human traits

Deceitfulness, selfishness, coveting, idolatry, masturbation, hubris, boastfulness, hatred, lust, envy and many more ‘sins’ have one thing in common: most people do them, because they’re within the range of normal human behavior and easily explained by our biology as expressed in our genes. What supreme being creates life with a set of attributes and then demands it stop exhibiting those attributes under pain of eternal torture?  (Even the less common, more reprehensible sins of humankind – murder, rape, child abuse, etc. – have roots we can often understand and explanations in the social sciences.)

(2) The punishment of ancestral sin is inherently unjust

The doctrine of original sin states that all humans are born sinful, because their ancestors sinned and brought the rest of humanity down with them. But think about that. If our government arrested one of its citizens, tried them and executed them for a crime their parent or, worse, grandparent or, worse, some great- great- ancestor committed, everybody would swiftly cry injustice. We would immediately, instinctively and rightly object that the crime wasn’t committed by the arrested party at all, but by someone they’d never met and who merely happened to pass along their genes to the new, unwitting generation. What kind of God allows the punishment of the wrong person and calls it justice? (Some Christians do not hold to the most drastic forms of this doctrine, that we are collectively guilty because of the sins of our ancestors, or the one known as ‘total depravity’, but instead say that the sins of our ancestors gives us a tendency toward sin. This is little better. No deity I believe in is so cruel as to allow damnation for his creations because they have a baked-in tendency to do things this deity calls ‘bad’.

(3) Punishment for the absence of belief amounts to unbelievable cruelty

Evangelicals believe that salvation from Hell is tied directly to belief in God. But people disbelieve for a variety of reasons that are easy to understand. Sometimes people lack belief because they are predisposed to analytical thinking and have not been able to become convinced of God’s existence. Sometimes it’s because they lack the ability to sufficiently grasp the abstract. Sometimes they haven’t landed upon the ‘right belief’ among the jungle of ideas around them. Sometimes it’s because their personalities predispose them to find peace and happiness in other religious or nonreligious movements and ideas, or because they were born in a country with another religion entirely and taught the falsehood of the Christian one their entire lives. Whatever the reason, what divine entity would make the truth of his existence as ambiguous as it is and then demand that people believe it under pain of eternal torture? (Or, just as bad, demand intellectual dishonesty from people who simply haven’t been convinced? What should they do? Feign belief as though they held it? Fake it till they – somehow – make it?)

(4) Eternally-wrought vengeance cannot be considered loving or just

Jesus specifically refutes ‘eye-for-eye’ justice, so why would the entire cosmic justice system revolve around the same, obviously inferior idea? Human societies have already developed more sophisticated theories of justice which are not based on vengeance. So, then, what God – especially an all-knowing, benevolent one – still holds to it? Vengeance of this kind is simply incompatible with these characteristics of God.

(5) Rehabilitation and restoration are more desirable than retribution

It is better to restore someone than to destroy them. Even human beings know that rehabilitation and restoration are more desirable results than retribution. What supreme being would opt for the latter? An all-powerful God would be competent enough to bring about the former.

(6) A remnant in Heaven cannot be considered a victory

The bible speaks of the broad road that leads to ‘destruction’, interpreted by most Christians as Hell, and the narrow road that leads to ‘life’, interpreted by most Christians as Heaven. But why would God allow a future where many billions of souls suffer forever in anguish while the relatively few celebrate in Heaven? What kind of celebration could that possibly be? Christian theology asserts that God wins in the end. But no victory would be more hollow than managing to hold on to the faithful few while the beloved, unbelieving many spend eternity in great suffering. In any analogous circumstance, nobody would consider it any victory at all. In summary: it’s difficult to celebrate over the sounds of screaming. (You may say that victory cannot be measured in numbers. But the eternal states of individuals are important, if they will exist for eternity as religious people believe. Given this, the only number that makes sense – of humans suffering in Hell for all eternity while a loving, just God exists – is zero.

(7) Hell extends disproportionate consequences for finite acts

Even if we did decide that retribution is a valid form of divine justice, it cannot be disproportionate and also just. Evangelicals believe that the least of their sins would warrant Hell, all by itself. So a child who lies about doing their homework, for example, would be deserving of eternal torment just for that alone, rather than the punishment being, say, merely to be lied to in return. Not even those most committed to retributive justice would accept this utterly disproportional form of it if they didn’t feel they had to. Moreover, when we see disproportional punishment within human societies, we instinctively and rightly consider it injustice. (Take Hitler, for an oft-cited example. He brutally slaughtered millions, out of what seemed like pure evil. But he didn’t do it forever! His ovens have long been cold, his guns silent. His actions lasted a finite time. So, even eye-for-eye retribution against Hitler would only allow us to ‘kill him back’ a finite number of times. Hell for eternity – even for Hitler – would be disproportionate punishment for his sins.)

(8) Christian ideas of Hell are based on dubious interpretations of biblical words

Modern biblical scholars generally agree that the words translated as ‘Hell’ in the English versions of the bible started in ancient Jewish belief not as a place where punishment was dispensed, but as a subterranean underworld of forgetfulness, a place of unconscious, silent existence for everybody who had ever died. Sheol was the original word that referred to this concept in Hebrew, later translated into the Greek word Hades, which brought with it an entire mythology to the concept of the underworld. This was distinct from the Greek concept of Tarturus, which was a place of punishment distinct from Hades. The originators of these ideas believed they were physical places under the earth. By tracing the concepts through history, it is easy to see that they have been misappropriated and conflated together to create what became the evangelical Christian doctrine of Hell, but that doesn’t give much confidence in the idea of it being true. ‘Eternal fire’, ‘Lake of fire’ and other terms are thrown around in metaphor in the New Testament, before Hades itself is thrown into the lake of fire after all the dead people are emptied out of it (Revelation 20). How can Hell be sent to Hell? It seems obvious that these terms have been dubiously utilized.2

(9) The idea that people are ‘choosing Hell’ is an abhorrent one

Christians often say that people have a choice to make between accepting Jesus’ offer of salvation or rejecting it. If they ‘reject’ it, they are thus ‘choosing Hell’ as their permanent future. The existence of this choice may be obvious to them, but most people do not conceive that there is such a choice to make. For the vast majority of people who live and have ever lived, the details, consequences and existence of such a choice is extremely ambiguous, obscure or even completely imperceptible. They either haven’t been rationally convinced that they must consider the matter seriously, or they have barely heard of it. Everyone, upon having the truth of such a choice miraculously and unambiguously revealed to them, would immediately choose eternal reward over eternal suffering. Nobody in a functional frame of mind would actively choose pain and suffering in the manner that is claimed; that is an obvious truth. It is a falsehood, then, to imagine that accepting the reality of this choice ‘by faith’, out of ignorance rather than knowledge, is a virtue. What would God be testing for, if this is how it works? Gullibility? Why would blind faith in the unseen be the value God wants to reward? What’s so important about blind belief? It doesn’t make sense, so it’s very likely to be wrong.

(10) This doctrine is Christian theology minimizing its own central tenet

The central tenet of Christianity is that God sent his son Jesus to suffer and die for the sins of the world so the people of the world wouldn’t have to. Is this ‘grace’ enough to accomplish the transformative feat of bringing salvation to humankind? Or does the story end with, ‘If only humankind had accepted it!’ Ironically, therefore, Christians who believe in eternal Hell for the unbelieving are minimizing their own Savior’s sacrifice and his power to save. Salvation of the few by blind faith would not be even remotely as powerful as salvation of the many by grace.

There are many more, I’m sure (for example, we could make note of the fact that, from a certain perspective, it’s very easy to see how our worst fears can combine with our ideas about vengeance and our instincts about justice and the desires of organized religion to control, giving us some other very good ways to explain belief in Hell other than its actual existence). But those are the first ten that occurred to me.


1 Hades was the Greek name for the underworld of Greek mythology and was more like the Catholic theology of limbo, used in the bible as a translation of the Hebrew word Sheol.

2 This is just the beginning of the confusion; Gehenna, for example, is translated as ‘Hell’ too, even though Gehenna was actually a physical place you can find on a map.