Studies on Hell-Believers? August 28, 2009

Studies on Hell-Believers?

“Bob” was reading a book about Hell and had a question I couldn’t answer:

I was wondering if you could direct me toward any studies that show people who believe in Hell value other people less. [A Christian friend] claims the opposite.

Can anyone direct Bob to good sources of information for this?


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  • Pony

    Surely that should be “show if people who believe in hell value other people less.” Otherwise you’re just looking for information that supports your prejudice.

    I think people who think hell is other people value other people less, at the very least. 😉

  • Alan E.

    I think your question should be expanded to separate the different versions of hell. The modern view is Dante’s “Inferno” version. I think this is important because Dante was very specific with his. Certain deeds, acts, and people were singled out and punished accordingly. Other versions of hell expand upon this. Even others have hell as just one singular place. The requirements to get in vary. I would start at the library of a large, liberal arts college library. I don’t know of anything specifically, but I do know that the UC Berkeley library has an extensive section relating to religious versions of hell. Also, talk to both the paid librarians and the student workers there. Both will have different experiences within the library.

  • Alan E.

    On a slightly off-topic note, there is an ad at this page for a Calvinist conference. Now Calvin was one of the ultimate pushers of the ideology of hell.

  • ungullible

    Although I don’t have the link, I believe our friend Dale McGowan over at parentingbeyondbelief.com once referenced a study which showed that kids raised by very absolutist parents (“Do it because I said so”) were actually less ethical adults than those raised by parents who explained the reasons behind their behavioral expectations. The explanation being that the latter group was given a better and more sophisticated framework on which to base future ethical decisions.

    I think the “Do it or go to hell” mentality of the bible clearly falls into the former “Do it because I said so” category.

  • mikespeir

    I suspect it suggests they value their beliefs more than people, anyway.

  • ungullible

    OK I found the link: http://parentingbeyondbelief.com/blog/?p=239

    The study was regarding people who risked their own safety (behaved altruisticly) to rescue Jews in Nazi Germany:

    Non-rescuers were 21 times more likely than rescuers to have been raised in families that emphasized obedience—being given rules that were to be followed without question—while rescuers were over three times more likely than non-rescuers to identify “reasoning” as an element of their moral education. “Explained,” the authors said, is the single most common word used by rescuers in describing their parents’ ways of talking about rules and ethical ideas.

    I had the gist right, but off on some of the details. Still… I think it applies well.

  • Although I do not know of any specific study, can say in my general experience with Christians, at least those who take the idea of hell seriously, they do tend to exhibit, as the previous comment mentioned as well, a more athoritarian understanding of morality. Things that are wrong are wrong “because God says so”, and things that are good are good “because God says so”. They tend to not fully examine any real reasoning behind this, being content with their absolute believe in a god.

  • littlejohn

    This would be difficult to quantify, but I get the impression hell-believers are looking forward to looking down from heaven to watch people they dislike being tormented.
    That in itself suggests a shortcoming in the empathy department.
    Also (and this has been quantified), literal religious believers are, on average, less intelligent than skeptics. Is it reasonable to assume a correlation between IQ and morality?
    I think so.

  • Thanks for that link, ungullible. I just Facebooked it, and may have to blog about it.

  • This link shows one depiction of what the religious think about hell. Click the image, when rendered, for full size. Look at location #10, “Damned Viewer”. It is VERY popular.

  • Caitlin

    Hmm. This is only anecdotal, but in the book Birth: The Surprising History of How We Are Born, Tina Cassidy writes about how the power of the church affected midwifery/obstetrics through the years, and one fact that stood out to me was that the church declared it was better to let a mother die in a difficult childbirth while trying (however slim the chances) to save her infant than to kill the infant to save the mother (which was relatively common before safe cesareans were available — there are pictures in the book of tools for crushing the babies’ skulls!). Anyway, the church’s reasoning was that it was more important to save the babies because they needed to be baptized, whereas the mother was presumably already saved and could die and go to heaven.

    That’s convoluted, I know, but to me it was a good example of how belief in an afterlife (which doesn’t even have to include hell) can cause one to value the lives of others less. It was okay to let a woman die because you were only depriving her of life on earth, rather than risking depriving the infant of eternal life.

    I don’t know that Bob’s premise is true, but that’s one way to look at it.

  • medussa

    @ Jeff: Holy sh*t!!! What a nightmare! That isn’t heaven, it’s hell, it’s a fraud!
    Not only location #10 (I thought it was unchristian to hate people? And how dare I get listed with Adolf Hitler!), but also a bunch of the other bizarrenesses, like the nu-body machine (have sex as much as you like??!! In heaven? You need a new body for that?) and the marital coitus palace??!

    And I have to wonder how Michael Jordan feels about being featured in the Hall of Heroes, along with all the dead people there.

    Where did this come from? It’s very telling about the artist’s ideals.

  • Miko

    The original question and some of the follow-ups in the comments are completely unquantifiable. The results of such a study would say much more about the researcher than they would about the subjects. How do you tell if someone “values” other people? By taking them to church with you, the Christian asserts, before quickly concluding that people who believe in Hell tend to value others more (under the proposed criteria).

    @littlejohn: Is it reasonable to assume a correlation between IQ and morality?

    I’d say no. In addition to problems with defining morality in a meaningful way (and, honestly, defining IQ in a meaningful way), I doubt that even a properly conducted would find a correlation. Socrates suggested that someone who knows what is right will automatically do it, but you’ll find few adherents to that view nowadays.

    You might find a connection between socio-economic status and morality, since those higher up the ladder have had less of a need to test their limits, but even there I’d be skeptical.

  • Keith (the pastor)

    Christians hold various views of hell. I personally do not find support for the “eternity of torture” in Scripture … rather the hell I see depicted in Scripture is an eternal separation from God, i.e. non-existence. If such a study has been done or will be done, I think its value would rise with its attention to differing views of hell. My anecdotal experience is that those who heavily emphasize the torturous aspects of hell tend to use more scare-tactics when trying to evangelize. They would not see this as hatred of non-Christians (they might even see a guy like me as a hater … because my theology “softens” hell to the point that it doesn’t strike enough fear to move people to accept Jesus), though it’s usually hard for me to tell the difference. That’s just my subjective experience … I’d love to read a study if anyone finds one.

    Oh yeah, and the map of heaven is total bs. If the God I believe in exists, heaven is His party, not mine. And since it’s His party … it will probably include a lot of stuff that hasn’t even crossed my mind. My five-year old wants cake for his birthday. I want a trip with my wife to the “marital coitus castle” (gosh, that sounds creepy, lol). That sex even exists hasn’t crossed my child’s mind … so his map of the perfect birthday wouldn’t include it. Something tells me heaven will be less like a carnival of narcissism and much more like something we haven’t even thought of yet. And whatever that something is, it will be about Jesus, not us. There’s my unsolicited two cents, if it’s even worth that much :-).

  • medussa

    Personally, I always welcome your comments, Keith.

  • Rest

    [quote]This would be difficult to quantify, but I get the impression hell-believers are looking forward to looking down from heaven to watch people they dislike being tormented.[/quote]

    As an ex-evangelical/charismatic Christian, I certainly felt a little bit of anticipatory vindication knowing that unbelievers would go to Hell. I’ve used and seen it used countless times in arguments against non-believers. “Well, you may laugh now, but you won’t be laughing when you’re in Hell and discover that I was right all this time!”

    This type of thinking was not uncommon amongst some of the most famous Christians in history, as the following quotes attest:

    Peter Lombard, the Master of Sentences:
    “Therefore the elect shall go forth…to see the torments of the impious, seeing which they will not be grieved, but will be satiated with joy at the sight of the unutterable calamity of the impious.” Sent. Iv 50, ad fin

    Augustine:
    They who shall enter into [the] joy [of the Lord] shall know what is going on outside in the outer darkness. . .The saints’. . . knowledge, which shall be great, shall keep them acquainted. . .with the eternal sufferings of the lost.” [The City of God, Book 20, Chapter 22, “What is Meant by the Good Going Out to See the Punishment of the Wicked” & Book 22, Chapter 30, “Of the Eternal Felicity of the City of God, and of the Perpetual Sabbath”]

    Thomas Aquinas:
    In order that the happiness of the saints may be more delightful to them and that they may render more copious thanks to God for it, they are allowed to see perfectly the sufferings of the damned. . .So that they may be urged the more to praise God. . .The saints in heaven know distinctly all that happens. . .to the damned. [Summa Theologica, Third Part, Supplement, Question XCIV, “Of the Relations of the Saints Towards the Damned,” First Article, “Whether the Blessed in Heaven Will See the Sufferings of the Damned. . .”]

    Jonathan Edwards
    “The view of the misery of the damned will double the ardour of the love and gratitude of the saints of heaven.”
    “The sight of hell torments will exalt the happiness of the saints forever. . .Can the believing father in Heaven be happy with his unbelieving children in Hell. . . I tell you, yea! Such will be his sense of justice that it will increase rather than diminish his bliss.”
    [“The Eternity of Hell Torments” (Sermon), April 1739 & Discourses on Various Important Subjects, 1738]

    Thomas Boston, Scottish preacher, 1732:
    “God shall not pity them but laugh at their calamity. The righteous company in heaven shall rejoice in the execution of God’s judgment, and shall sing while the smoke riseth up for ever.”

  • GG

    I agree with Miko that this doesn’t seem like a quantifiable study that could exist. Can you value someone if you do it with an ulterior motive?

    For instance, take all the charities and services provided by Christians to the poor, homeless, and foreign. Oftentimes it is done out of pure care and compassion, but there is also the ulterior motive (that I know from personal experience) of doing good to someone in order to get on their good side so that they’re open to conversion.

    My brother’s church does good works not just for the sake of valuing the individual, but for the sake of saving them from Hell and chalking up another point/soul for Heaven.

    So is this ulterior motive a sign of caring for the individual and valuing them? Or something else?

  • Rest

    @GG:

    It reminds me of someone close to me who said that people going to Christian soup kitchens were rude if they objected to the Gospel being preached to them, because they’re getting free food and should at least take the time to listen.

    I know that the churches I attended always emphasized the great rewards we’d be gathering for ourselves in Heaven for every charitable deed we performed. It’s a great way to fleece the flock of their money!

  • Julia

    Based on absolutely no data whatsoever besides my own personal experiences, I expect people who believe in hell would generally treat non believers as ‘less-than’, hold them at arm’s length and/or condescense to them. This could be interpreted as them been asshats, or it could be interpreted as a coping mechanism. Something along the same lines as not making a pet of an animal that will end up as your food.
    Does that translate to them valuing people less? I don’t know.

  • Defiantnonbeliever

    I wonder how much a believer’s location makes a difference.
    Personally, having lived in different parts of the US, I’ve noticed fairly large differences. In the old south religion is in your face all the time, near nyc it’s less noticeable but still there, as it is in wisc. and in parts of the rockies.
    Authors I’ve read seem to say it’s largely a matter of where one is born and raised.
    Perceptions of the harm religious culture causes varies with location as well. In my experience, if it’s not in your face you don’t tend to notice until some religion inspired law slaps you up side the head or tortures and kills someone you know with denial of timely and full health care, education, social services, income, convenience, stupid wars, or somesuch.
    Something in human culture makes people callus to the suffering and needs of others, I wish it was as simple as a belief in hell but do-gooders of all stripes help create hell here for many.

  • CatBallou

    I’m not acquainted with your comments, Keith, so I hope I’m not being too abrasive when I ask you what the hell, you should pardon the expression, is the difference between

    Something tells me heaven will be less like a carnival of narcissism and much more like something we haven’t even thought of yet.”

    and

    “I have absolutely no information or evidence on the topic but I feel justified in having an opinion anyway.”

    It’s this kind of leaping to comforting conclusions without a shred of evidence that makes so many of us atheists doubt the reasoning ability of believers.

  • Monika

    Epiphenom has an interesting article about the social function of religion.
    The blog itself is a good source for informations about religious people and how they think.

  • DreamDevil

    Nice comment, Kieth. Always nice to see religious folks that don’t use their religion to empower themselves through putting others down.

    Still, even if Hell is a separation from God into non-existence…. I would still opt for that choice.
    The monotheistic god is not somebody I’d like to hang out with.

  • mikespeir

    Keith,

    Yeah, I think we all know the map is BS. It’s just for fun.

    As for the “separation from God” stuff: the believer is convinced I’m separated from God right now. And I’ve gotta say, it ain’t half bad! In fact, I spent a lot of years on the other side of the fence. At very best, it was no better.

  • trixr4kids

    Love the religiouscomics.net “Heaven” comic–thanks, Jeff.

    Go Carts!
    Dinosaur Petting Zoo
    Line for God’s Lap

    🙂

  • medussa Says: @ Jeff: Holy sh*t!!! What a nightmare! That isn’t heaven, it’s hell, it’s a fraud!… Where did this come from? It’s very telling about the artist’s ideals

    I saw it here at Friendly Atheist about a year ago. Hemant gives his source as toomanytribbles. You can follow the link. I think the heaven depiction is VERY funny.

  • After following a few links myself, I came upon the original artist for that heaven map.

    In the right margin of the linked website, you can see a link to purchase a poster of the map for $30. Impress your religious friends.

    You can also see his other work.

  • Keith (the pastor)

    CatBallou,

    You said,

    I’m not acquainted with your comments, Keith, so I hope I’m not being too abrasive when I ask you what the hell, you should pardon the expression, is the difference between

    “Something tells me heaven will be less like a carnival of narcissism and much more like something we haven’t even thought of yet.”

    and

    “I have absolutely no information or evidence on the topic but I feel justified in having an opinion anyway.”

    It’s this kind of leaping to comforting conclusions without a shred of evidence that makes so many of us atheists doubt the reasoning ability of believers.

    No abrasion taken. Please allow me to give four reasons that my statement does not reflect poorly on the reasoning ability of believers.

    1. I was open about the fact that I was speculating and I was humble about it. I’m not asking you to agree with my speculation … it is speculation and presented as such. I do not claim my statements as fact, but as opinion. I have no reason to not feel justified in having an opinion … as long as I present as just that. There is no faulty reasoning in presenting an opinion as an opinion.

    2. My statement was not that I knew every detail of heaven if it exists. Rather, I was challenging a map of heaven that claimed some plausibility. I found it implausible according to the Bible, given that its focus was on human reward and not on God. My reasoning in calling the map bs because its heaven-as-playground depiction is unrelated to the teachings of Jesus is not without a shred of evidence. To discredit the map, I only have to prove it false … not prove my own opinions verifiably true (which I plainly did not attempt). There were no leaps of reason in disproving the validity of the map.

    3. You suggested that I was leaping to comforting conclusions. Suggesting that heaven is not a carnival of narcissism is not a more comforting conclusion, but a less comforting one. My motive in challenging the map is because it is itself an example of believers leaping to comforting conclusions. To repeat, there were no comforting conclusions drawn.

    4. When dismissing an argument, it is good to present an additional argument that one finds more plausible. This I did by suggesting that heaven – if it exists – is much more likely to be described in ways we have not imagined yet. This thought is in contrast with the pov of the map, which suggests that we can know details about heaven’s layout. My argument is that the experience of heaven is more likely comparable to something we haven’t experienced than to something that we have. I have not given evidence of this, I’m simply suggesting such an argument is more plausible to me than the map’s claim to know the details. Please note that even this more plausible argument was labeled as overpriced two-cent opinion.

    It is important to me that you know that I am not a follower of Jesus because I am compelled that I have any clue what heaven is actually like or because I want to receive a reward there.

    And I will admit to one reasoning error … that I in anyway treated the map as serious may have been a mistake :-).

    I hope that this further explanation will help renew confidence in my ability to reason. If it does not, please continue to help me grow in my ability to think through what I write. Thanks!

  • Keith (the pastor)

    Dreamdevil,

    You said,

    Nice comment, Kieth. Always nice to see religious folks that don’t use their religion to empower themselves through putting others down.

    Still, even if Hell is a separation from God into non-existence…. I would still opt for that choice.
    The monotheistic god is not somebody I’d like to hang out with.

    Thank you for the comment. I understand that you would opt for separation from an immoral monotheistic God. If God exists and is in fact a composite of all His worst stereotypes – I will opt for non-existence with you.

    However, I have a hypothetical question for you … and if you answer it, I promise that I will not use it as some set-up for a philosophical counterpunch to try to evangelize you. I just want to know …

    If Jesus’ life is a picture of what God – if He exists – is like, would that be someone you would like to “hang out with”? Why or why not?

    Again, I’ll just listen … no counter arguments.

  • Keith (the pastor)

    Thanks, medussa :-). I appreciate how welcoming everyone at this site has been :-).

  • Keith,

    I’m afraid that you might have been duped about the map. The map was drawn by a cartoonist who I would guess is a religion critic making fun of the beliefs of many (but not all) Christians.

    Thank you for your honesty in saying that you are agnostic about actual knowledge of the details of a theorized afterlife. I remember sitting in a Baptist adult small group discussing heaven a while back were everybody pretty much described that map “to a tee”.

  • Keith (the pastor)

    mikespeir,

    You said,

    Keith,

    Yeah, I think we all know the map is BS. It’s just for fun.

    As for the “separation from God” stuff: the believer is convinced I’m separated from God right now. And I’ve gotta say, it ain’t half bad! In fact, I spent a lot of years on the other side of the fence. At very best, it was no better.

    Thanks for the comment. I know I wasn’t exactly breaking up-to-the-minute news when I declared the map to be bovine donation :-).

    Some food for thought, let me know if you think I’m way off base here. The way I personally understand who God is, I don’t think you are separated from Him right now – if He exists. If He’s who I think He is, I don’t think we can push Him away by unbelief or sin or blasphemy or stuff like that. I think death is the point of separation, but as long as we’re living … God – if He exists – is involved in our life for the better. The fact that the move to “the other side of the fence” has made your life better is a good thing and I’m happy for you.

    My statements here are made on an assumed premise, so I do not expect you to accept them as evidence or fact. Just trying to interact to better understand how you think of God – if He exists. Thanks.

    A happy Christian no more proves God than a happy atheist disproves Him, but I hope we have more and more of each :-).

  • Keith (the pastor)

    Jeff,

    Yeah, I think I was duped. At least I didn’t post like five or six commments about it :-D. Color me embarrassed. Thanks for the heads-up. 🙂

  • CatBallou

    Keith, I know you presented your view of heaven as an opinion, and that’s what I challenged: not the opinion itself, but the fact of an opinion. Still, I’ll address your four points:
    1. You say “I have no reason to not feel justified in having an opinion.”
    There’s a difference between opinions about which foods are delicious, and opinions on things about which we know nothing. The first is a matter of taste, and thus defensible, but the second is absurd.
    Let’s say you have a large box in your attic, the contents of which are known only to you. For me to have an opinion about what’s in the box would be ridiculous, and I simply wouldn’t bother. To dismiss the opinions of others in preference for my own would be even sillier. And yet that’s what you’re doing.
    2. You claim that your previous posting disproved the validity of the map, but I wasn’t arguing about the map. I was simply pointing out that “something tells me” isn’t a strong argument for anything, and yet it’s sufficient for you! If you had stronger evidence, you didn’t present it.
    3. Although you say you don’t find comfort in the notion of a heaven beyond what you can imagine, and that you’d prefer a narcissistic experience, I’m rather skeptical. Do you mean that if you arrived in heaven to find that it consists of a birthday cake for your child and lots of sex for you and your wife, plus whatever earthly pleasures you might like, you really wouldn’t be disappointed, just a little bit? Aren’t you really hoping to be dazzled beyond your imagination, for some transcendental experience that wipes away all mundane concerns? That’s certainly what I’ve heard from other believers.
    4. I don’t have to present an alternative version of heaven, because I wasn’t dismissing your version of it; I was pointing out the absurdity of having (possibly comforting) opinions about matters for which there is no evidence. I certainly don’t have any plausible arguments about the nature of heaven (see item 1).
    But your response to my posting was to elaborate that “the experience of heaven is more likely comparable to something we haven’t experienced than to something that we have.” Why is there any probability statement here? You admit that you have no evidence for this statement, and yet you still find it more plausible. Why is that any more than wishful thinking? If you had simply said “I have no idea what heaven is like but I hope it blows my mind,” I wouldn’t have challenged you at all!

  • Keith (the pastor)

    CatBallou,

    Thanks for the response. Point four wasn’t to suggest that YOU should have presented an alternative … I was just explaining why I gave an alternative in my original post. I agree that there was no need for you to present your thoughts on the nature of heaven, and apologize for my lack of clarity.

    I do have an opinion of what kind of heaven the Bible describes. This may or may not be relevant to heaven’s existence or what experiencing it will be like if it exists. However, Scripture’s depiction of heaven is not a box I can’t open … it is one that is ascertainable. My opinion that was the the map’s depiction of heaven was less faithful to Scripture than my argument – which is essentially that Scripture describes heaven figuratively because we are not able to comprehend the details.

    That I argued that the map doesn’t accurately reflect Scripture was only because I was unaware that it was done as a goof.

    Personally, I’m not following Jesus in the hope that one day I enter paradise and have an indescribable transcendental experience. I’m following Him because I want to emulate His life … and make this world a better place. I think much, much more about this life and this world than I do about heaven. This may or may not be typical of believers, but it is true of me.

    Currently, we have Christians who find joy at the thought of someday watching people suffer in hell (I initially thought the map was a creation of one such Christian, though I was mistaken). I disagree that such a depiction of the afterlife is consistent with Scripture. That is the argument that I have tried to make here. This argument is not silly, the original point of this thread was a request for studies that connect what people believe and what they do. If some believe from the Scriptures that an aspect of heaven is to watch others be tortured … they should be confronted about the fact that it is not shown in the Scriptures to which they point, IMO. And if a hateful Christian is convinced that Scripture does not show this, perhaps they would then be able to confront whatever hatred motivates that belief. And this would make this world a better place … my priority in following Jesus.

    I have not presented the argument in full … I can if you would like. Perhaps it would be better for us if I just acknowledge that I have no idea what heaven is like, though I do have an idea of what the Scriptures say heaven will be like. And that description doesn’t include watching people be tortured. Hope that helped make sense.

  • Katy

    So, I see that the comments have kind of gotten off topic, but I just wanted to throw it out there that when I was a believer, hell made me terrified for people I knew who weren’t Christians. I never thought of them as less important. I spent hours praying and crying to God to spare them. It was actually one of the things that lead me away from Christianity. So I think how hell makes someone react to other people has more to do with about the person than the doctrine.