3 Reasons Americans Are Far Less Comfortable Talking About Hell Than Heaven


Have you seen that new movie “Hell Is for Real?” Of course, you haven’t. Because it doesn’t exist. It’s heavenly counterpart, however, earned $21.5 million in ticket sales in its opening weekend.

Sixty-four percent of Americans believe in the survival of the soul after death, and a majority believes in both heaven and hell, according to a Harris Poll released in December 2013. But while most are comfortable discussing the afterlife and heaven, talk of hell can scatter the masses.

So why are Americans afraid to talk about hell?

Rebecca Price Janney, a cultural historian and author of “Who Goes There? A Cultural History of Heaven and Hell,” traces the shift back about 70 decades to World War II. During this time, many asserted that American soldiers couldn’t possibly go to hell because they’d already served their time having “been through hell” on the battlefield. The idea offered great comfort to those at home who were grieving lost loved ones.

“This [idea] caught on and persisted over the decades,” Janney says, “and we saw it re-emerge strongly during the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks: ‘How could these dear people who died so tragically possibly go to hell?’”

Resisting the idea of a literal hell may offer comfort, but the reasons many today shy away from it may be more simplistic and pragmatic. I spoke to several people who have studied the issue and they listed at least three reasons we shrink back from hell-talk:

Hell Doesn’t Feel Fair
Some Americans’ theology of hell begins with arithmetic. The average American’s life expectancy is just shy of 79 years. How many years of punishment in what the Bible describes as “a lake burning with fire and sulfur” would be justified for eight decades of sin?

“Many Americans quantify their sins and then weigh it against not just punishment, but eternal punishment,” says Brian Jones, a pastor and author of “Hell is Real (But I Hate to Admit It).” “In their 80 years, maybe they cheated on their taxes or even on their wife. When their sense of fairness is projected on God, they have a hard time thinking God would prescribe such a thing.”

These Americans seem to feel like Admiral Fitzwallace advising President Bartlett to avoid a disproportionate response to Syrian aggression on “The West Wing”: “You’ll have dolled out 5,000 dollars of punishment for a 50 buck crime, sir.”

But what about those we think have committed a $5,000 crime? When it comes to Pol Pot or Joseph Kony or even one’s unfaithful ex-spouse, there seems to be less resistance to hell.

“Most people don’t believe they are bad enough to go to hell. Sure, we all mess up. But at least we’re not as bad as that guy,” says Preston Sprinkle, co-author with Francis Chan of “Erasing Hell: What God Said About Eternity, and the Things We Made Up” and professor at Eternity Bible College. “Hell, it seems, may be fitting for the Hitlers and Stalins of the world, but God–we assume–would never send mediocre sinners to hell.”

Click here to read more.

SOURCE: Religion News Service
Jonathan Merritt


  1. Pope Francis I, in 2014, makes a startling statement, “God is not Catholic; He’s Universal.” What is really revealing is when Pope Francis I states that, “There is no Hell!”
    “Through humility, soul searching, and prayerful contemplation we have gained a new understanding of certain dogmas. The church no longer believes in a literal Hell where people suffer. This doctrine is incompatible with the infinite love of God. God is not a judge but a friend and a lover of humanity. God seeks not to condemn but only to embrace. Like the fable of Adam and Eve, we see Hell as a literary device. Hell is merely a metaphor for the isolated soul, which like all souls ultimately will be united in love with God.” ~Pope Francis I, Time Magazine, 2014.

  2. I think the whole “hell” thing is both sick and sociopathic.
    Every “hell believer” believes HE or SHE is “saved”, but all others who are “non-Christian”–and some believe even some “Christians” who don’t worship in quite the same way as they do–will be tortured forever while they will be “blissful” in heaven.
    Even IF I believed this (which I don’t), any “God” that would treat “his creation” that way would be a monster that no same person could “love” and “worship”.
    I, personally, would rather think that everyone just dies than to think that EVEN ONE PERSON would actually suffer such a fate.
    Guess that makes me (the non-beleiver) more “moral” than you guys!

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