The most debilitating concept ever contrived.
I have countless friends and relatives shackled by the chains of fearful imagination to a notion of a pit of eternal torture and loneliness.
Their evidence for its existence?
- Personal experience? No.
- The personal account of another’s experience? I doubt it.
- Scientific evidence? Definitely not.
- An ancient book of questionable authorship and canonization with stories of talking snakes and donkeys written long in the past and far enough removed from scientific methodology to conveniently make its authenticity largely inscrutable? Yes.
Hell is the most ingenious contribution to the vacuum of religion.
Here’s something to ponder. What would you do if you had a system of belief that you wanted to propagate as widely as possible?
Invent an enormous incentive. A horribly negative incentive.
You might simply tell people they are “sinful” if they don’t follow your particular standard of morality, but they might argue with you about this concept of “sin”.
However, couple the “sinfulness” with the notion of an unimaginably vicious punishment for “sin”, then suggest that, though the odds may be slim that “sin” and “Hell” are real, the personal loss to them if these concepts are real is so enormous, it would be foolish for them to reject your religion. They are insuring themselves from the most horrible—even if improbable—fate by accepting your religion.
This is the convoluted logic of fear that creates a cognitive vortex from which it is nearly impossible to escape. Even if they might begin to question the illogicality of an infinite punishment for finite “sin”, the mentally salient severity of the punishment justifies the dismissal of this cognitive dissonance. Fear will trump proper logic.
I know. I myself believed in Hell for many years. I have friends who still unabashedly claim that it was this horrific notion of Hell that made them flee into the “arms of God”, and the satanic logic of the ungodly who question the veracity of such a notion will not move them.
You may have competition. Other religions may invent and preach their own “Hells” to the same end of entrapping the fearful. Simply add horrors to your own Hell to make it the most terrifying. Pascal’s Wager will then work in your favor.
In addition, suggest to your potential disciples that any doubt jeopardizes one’s immunity from Hell, and make such doubt an effect of another invention called “Satan”. Add other concepts to plug any apparent holes in your theology until you’ve created an ontology that makes any critical analysis or scientific examination of your dogma impossible. It would also be beneficial to disparage science so as to inoculate your devout from the light of it’s application. And infuse the word “faith” with the connotation of something noble, rather than the violation of reason that it is.
Then sit back and wait a few generations. If you’ve included the essential fictional elements that interface most effectively with the human psyche, the greatest of these being the terrifying notion of Hell, you’ve got yourself a viable religion.
Shore up your following by telling your disciples that they are happy, and certainly far happier than the “godless” who live despondent lives as clearly stated in your “scriptures”. Tell them that it is everyone else who is deluded. Tell them that, if they get on their knees and close their eyes, or listen to inspirational music, or to the affective rhetoric of your pulpit, they can confirm all of these notions through direct communication with the dizzy god who wrote the scriptures that validate the fact that there exists a god who wrote the scriptures that validate the fact that this god wrote the scriptures that validate the fact that a god exists who wrote the scriptures that validate the fact that this god wrote…
Tell them their subjective and emotional minds are reliable instruments to assess the authenticity of their “spiritual” experiences. Tell them that their reward is in another life. Play on their insecurities and invert reality by telling them that truth has been granted in a comprehensive package of dogma to the intellectually lazy who simply exercise faith, while the wise of this world are blind.
It will become difficult to keep track of all the entities that your conjuring engine produces to plug all the holes in your script, but keep things vague enough for your religion to evolve. This way, problems associated with concepts such as slavery that fall out of favor with contemporary social trends, or miracles that fall under the scrutiny of probability science can be dismissed after arbitrary and creative reinterpretations of your “scriptures”. And should anyone begin to question this strange evolution of your religion, simply remind them that Hell awaits those who do not have sufficient faith.
Hell is the critical fiction that makes it all work.
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