Dahaar wrote:I don't believe in the concept of hell. And you can be a good Christian without it.
Yes, it does say, that God is a jealous and angry god, but that's the old testament. The new testament shows him as loving and forgiving and everybody will come to heaven eventually. But that doesn't imply that we can just do what we want on earth.
I chose to quote this, because it is one of the modes of thought common among religious believers that I find most interesting. Christianity has moved far away from its early focus on hell; where once God was wrath and retribution, he is now Love. Christianity has a strong history of catering to the "needs" of its followers. Take the New World for example. With the collective fear of the inexplicable mysteries of the natural world, the concept of hell was in full swing. With famine, hostile natives, disease, wild animals, etc. the focus of day-to-day life, sermons and approaches to proselytizing played upon this by portraying God as a force more terrifying than any encountered in this "shadow life," that is, if one did not commit oneself fully to him. Think of Jonathan Edwards, "Sinners in the hand of an Angry God," and his contemporaries.
What was the function of this? Well, on the one hand, it had significant shock value. Congregation members were largely uneducated, awe-struck people doing the best they could to survive. Introduce a force like the one Edwards was capable of presenting, and it was certain to have an effect, more importantly, an explanation (more on this later). Secondly, it did something for these people, that we should be familiar with today. Humanities obsession with "the apocalypse" is far reaching. From Revelations, to the recent Mayan calender phenomenon, it does appear that collectively, we are beginning to take these things less seriously. But we still entertain the idea; it is deeply rooted in our psyche. Blockbuster movies are great at representing this, mirroring the collective anxieties of the age: alien invasion, global weather shifts, nuclear war, and there are still those dwindling groups waiting for the second coming...
It isn't entirely clear what humanity's obsession with its own destruction actually is, though one explanation might be that it enhances our daily life in a sort of Heideggarian, being-toward-death kind of way. Entertaining this explanation, it is easier to see why the "fire and brimstone" sermons may have been more effective in a less-scientific, more survival-based stage in our development.
And, now... In an age of science, after major wars, and daily exposure to atrocities committed to humans by humans, after athiest existentialist thinkers such as Nietzsche, Sarte, Heidegger, etc. it is easier to understand why our apocalyptic visions, while not fading, have taken on a more scientific edge. Likewise, religion has become most effective (in terms of the business model it has always been, that of recruiting believers) by offering a respite from a constant barrage of these "worldly" problems. In a sometimes jaded society, bordering on nihilism, God needs to be love, escape, and acceptance. And scholars have always bent over backwards to interpret scripture to suit the needs of the masses. It isn't as if the New Testament wasn't available during the age of fire and brimstone; only the focus and interpretation has changed. And so now we have a lot of heaven, and little hell.
It is interesting to view the development of Christianity in a holistic sense. The questions then become, is scripture forever malleable? Is science a rebuttal to the religious debate, or is it simply a new form of "religion," a sort of belief system defined by faith--not in a God in this case, but in indecipherable mathematics which must be debated, with portions being created as developed, all to explain something the lay person will never grasp, and therefore never have a chance to accept on anything other than faith?