Hell, other then being one of my favorite curses when preceded by the word bloody, is an interesting concept held in many religions, especially strong in the Abrahamic religions (the three ‘one true’ religions).
For those lucky enough not to be introduced to this terrible concept, it is the idea that if you don’t behave right or you don’t say the magic words before you die or even if a god doesn’t like you, you will be cast into this place of eternal torment. Sounds like such a benevolent god right?
Now what I find rather interesting about this hell place is that, other then the occasional vague reference of brimstone and fire, most people cannot tell you what it is like other then that it is less than pleasant. Sure, there are plenty of crazies claiming they have been there or that their god has told them (and only them) what it is like, but unless you are rather gullible (read hyper-religious), they will seem like the kind of person you want to keep a wide berth from. Other then the generic talk, the only thing that is elaborated upon is suffering, lots and lots of suffering.
So I have to ask, why the obsession with suffering? It seems to be mostly a scare tactic. As if the religious are saying “act like us or else”. Whenever a group resorts to threats you know to be wary. I believe a lot of this obsession can also be traced to the origins of the religion. When most of these started, a person’s life tended to be less then enjoyable more often then not. Life was hard, death was frequent, suffering was a constant thing. Then a group arrives claiming enlightenment. They tell the squalled masses that if they worship this groups invisible sky daddy (or daddies or mommies or flying mass of pasta), the masses will have a chance at a good life after their death. But to make sure the masses agree, they also threaten them as well as give them empty hope. They claim that if they do not believe, they will be sent to a place of torment, a locale where the suffering of this life is not only continued, but intensified. Now for your average ignorant desert dweller, believing seems a lot better then not (the idea of agnosticism and atheism was not very common in this time).
However this threat ignores a few key questions. One, why would an omnipotent and supposedly omnibenevolent being want any of its creations to suffer endlessly? This seems more of a human reaction, namely wrath. But wait, isn’t wrath one of the seven deadly sins? So does this mean that god is breaking his own rules? I guess if you make the rules you can break them. The second question asks, if god is omniscient, then doesn’t he already know who will go to hell and who won’t? Well there goes free will as well as makes god a bit more of an ass. It means those who will go to hell have no way of changing the matter, they are screwed either way. Even better, they don’t know who they are till it’s to late. Seems a bit off, doesn’t it?
This leaves us with two prime possibilities, either religions use the idea of hell as a scare tactic to get the ignorant masses to follow them or god is a pissy child getting angry at his toys. Obviously the first makes a bit more sense (and is far less terrifying). If it is only a scare tactic, then it can be safely ignored as anything even remotely close to truthful.