May 20, 2009, on this blog: Hell and the Credit-Card Lobby
Something like this notion of the deterrent value of Hell is frequently suggested as an objection to my initial statement in this post, that I don’t believe in Hell as a place of infinite and eternal torment. “But without Hell,” this objection goes, “why should anyone be good?”
To their credit, almost none of the devout people raising this objection really means it. They are not, themselves, shaped and driven primarily by the fear of punishment. Such a fear is neither necessary nor sufficient to explain their own belief in the obligation to be and to do good, to love, to do justice or to correct injustice. The fear of Hell is, for them personally, scarcely a motivating factor at all. Their motivation is more like what 1 John says, “We love God because God first loved us,” and not the terrorized and traumatized mutilation of that scripture, “We love God because God will burn us forever and ever if we don’t.”
So it’s telling that the main advocates of the idea of Hell as a deterrent are not themselves influenced by that deterrent at all.
Nor, unfortunately, are those who really need to be — the usurers, the torturers, the tyrants, abusers, enslavers, despoilers or predators.