What is Hell?
Hell is a concept in Christianity and some other religions (such as Islam) wherein those who commit sins or who commit sinful unbelief (AKA: Rejecting Jesus) are tortured for an eternity in fire after they pass away.
Why do people go to Hell? Using the Bible to Answer the Hard Questions
Don't go to Hell! A Korean artist paints her "experience" visiting "Hell". Reasons for going to hell according to some denominations are lying, drinking or eating forbidden food, complain, cheating on your partner, worshiping other gods or idols, being gay, not believing, thinking for themselves, stealing, killing, raping, etc.
Hell - Roots (thanks ~Mephistophilez)
An example of a deviant on deviantART using the threat of Hell: "If [atheists] dont know who God is they will Burn up in hell because there is life after Death" Notice how the person using the treat does so so confidently. The idea that they are talking to someone who they believe might be tortured by flames for an eternity does not phase them.
What purpose does Hell serve?
The concept plays into people's fears. Christians who believe in Hell often do not dare to fully examine any doubts they have. They dare not allow their children to potentially suffer the consequences of this what-if: children are taught from an early age that sinners go to Hell (I know I was). Christians who believe in hell proselytize in an effort to 'save the souls' of sinners (non-Christians), as well as increase their own chances of getting into Heaven. Many who believe in Hell see Atheism as something that leads to damnation. Some who believe in Hell may tend to value the status of a person's eternal soul over their individual freedoms and rights. (Source)
The threat of Hell touches ex-Christians, too. Those of us who might have believed once that Hell is a real place might feel irrationally fearful of their de-conversion leading to Hell. Some Christians might take advantage of this vulnerability and attempt to bring the questioning or ex-Christian back into the beliefs set by playing off of the threat of eternal Hellfire.
How does Hell Hurt Christianity?
Quoted from that previous source:
-Many Christians want to see God as a friend supporting them during life's troubles. They also want to believe that God is looking after deceased loved-ones and that they will be reunited with their loved ones in Heaven.
-The idea of a tyrant who sends souls to Hell for minor sins or unbelief doesn't fit easily with the idea of a God of love.
-Some Christians just don't let themselves look closely into what type of God they worship.
I've gathered a few links together for you, the last one will be a video that you are free to watch at your own discretion - it has disturbing imagery which will be explained later on.
Christian threatens atheists with Hell on The Atheist Experience. An example of the threat of Hell in action. [They discuss the beginnings of the universe, whether or not there is a higher power to the higher power, the threat begins at 5:10 in the video.]
The folks from The Atheist Experience explain that Christians don't understand why it is insulting to threaten us with Hell. The call ended up being a spoof, but the host still made a good point.
John Shelby Spong, Fmr. Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Newark (retired in 2001) discusses Hell, and states, "Hell is an invention of the church."
Here are some interesting links:
Iron Chariots Wiki Page: Hell
De-Conversion.com: Fighting the Fear of Hell and Eternal Torment
Losing My Religion: The Injustice of Hell
Living After Faith: Rich's Response to Pascal's Wager
Joe Holman Online: Why You Shouldn't Fear God (Hell)
Now for the last video I wanted to share:
YouTube has been on a rampage of censorship lately, so I can't link to the video directly. But if you can bear to watch it, the link will be provided at the bottom of this journal after a few warnings and a description.
What kind of god would condemn his children to burn in hell for an eternity?
This video by The Thinking Atheist is a difficult video to watch. It contains disturbing imagery of real injuries caused by fire. So please be aware of that. Here is the description as provided by Seth from the Thinking Atheist:
"This is a difficult video to watch, but it deals with a difficult subject that should not be avoided simply because it is unpleasant. The harsh imagery is necessary in a world long desensitized, and while it may grieve your heart, it's ultimately designed to engage and challenge your mind.
Burn injuries are some of the most horrific and feared injuries. Those who intentionally burn others are monstrous and sadistic to the extreme. This video takes a hard but necessary look at the terrible consequences of burning and the "benevolent, loving and just" parent that demonstrates his love by setting fire to his own children."
If you feel comfortable enough with viewing this video, the link is here on Vimeo.
Anyway, that all being said, if you are freshly de-converted and having fears about Hell, please don't hesitate to reach out to people in the atheist community... Many of us certainly have been in that same place before and understand that irrational fear that is left over from our religious pasts.