What’s the point of Hell?
The below conversation began as a message to the IAmAnAtheist.com feedback form. After that, the correspondent (“Guest”) appeared to be replying from a smartphone, so her responses are perhaps more terse than they might be otherwise.
Guest: Parents discipline children with time-out, spanking, whatever so that they will learn to be have. God uses Hell in the same way. If it was not for Hell, then there would be no punishment for many sins and people would try to get away with everything. Can you tell me why an atheist would be moral, other than accidentally or just feeling like it, without fear of Hell?
Me: I’d like to respond to your question on my blog, but first I need some context. It sounds to me like you are a Christian. If so, can you tell me what type of Christian you are (Catholic, Protestant, Mormon, etc.)?
Guest: I’m evangelical.
Me: Thanks. Now, I’d like to get an idea of how good a deterrent Hell is to sin. This may sound silly, but can you give me an example of a time when someone might choose not to sin because of the danger of going to Hell?
Guest: I’d like to steal some money from my friend’s purse but then I’d go to hell, so I don’t.
Me: As an Evangelical, you have accepted Jesus and been born again, correct? After accepting Jesus, how big a sin would you have to perform to go to Hell?
Guest: It’s just an example. Jesus is infinitely forgiving. I can’t go to help.
Me: Then let’s look at it from the other side. Say a non-Christian is tempted to steal from her friend’s purse. If she resists, will she go to Heaven?
Guest: All fall short of God’s grace.
Me: Could I avoid Hell by always living a moral life or doing good deeds?
Guest: No. All humans are sinful. You have to accept Jesus.
Me: So the only way to avoid Hell is to accept Jesus Christ as my personal savior?
Me: In that case, it seems that Hell has no value as a deterrent to sin. If I’ve accepted Jesus, I’m going to Heaven whether or not I’m a sinner; if I haven’t accepted Jesus, I’m going to hell whether or not I try to be moral. Fear of Hell can’t possibly have anything to do with my moral decision making, because my moral decisions have no impact on whether or not I’m going to Hell. So, to repeat an earlier question, can you give me an example of a time when someone might choose not to sin because of the danger of going to Hell?
It’s been a week, and I haven’t received a ply to my most recent message.