If Limbo, Why Not Hell? Janet Brazill


Janet Brazill

By Janet Brazill

It’s good to know the Catholic Church is evolving. Catholic theologians have now met to consider scrapping the concept of limbo, the incomplete afterlife postulated by the Roman Catholic Church for infants who die before being baptized. Protestant reformers eliminated this idea from their theology in the Middle Ages.

Now, if religions would only do away with the cruel idea of hell!

The fear of never-ending torment in a lake of fire after death has ruined many lives and has been responsible for unspeakable crimes–from the Inquisition, where thousands were tortured and converted, then burnt at the stake to rescue their souls from the fires of hell, to Andrea Yates, who believed in the devil and killed her children to save them from going to hell.

Many primitive religions used the threat of punishment after death as a means of controlling believers, although Christianity appears to be the only one that preaches punishment for all of eternity.

Unfortunately, the idea of “hell” is a handy tool for anyone in authority.

Take the Air Force Academy chaplain who ordered cadets to tell their nonChristian friends that they will “burn in the fires of hell” if they don’t attend Christian worship services. Or Patrick Henry College’s requirement that home-schooled students sign a “statement of faith” that hell is a place where “all who die outside of Christ shall be confined in conscious torment for eternity.”

The Freedom From Religion Foundation often prints samples of the hate mail it receives. These messages are full of bad language, bad grammar, and wishes that God send all atheists to hell.

It is clear that this concept appeals to those with a “bully mentality”–sadists who can take delight in the suffering of others.

Religious bullies are especially dangerous. Blaise Pascal, the 17th century French mathematician, philosopher and theologian, remarked that “Men never do evil so completely and cheerfully as when they do it from religious conviction.”

Voltaire reportedly observed: “Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities.” Indeed, all crimes committed in the name of religion are based on myths about an afterlife, such as the reward of 72 eternal virgins for Muslim suicide bombers, or glorious life in a Christian Heaven for killers of abortion doctors.

Thomas Paine noted: “Of all the tyrannies that affect [hu]mankind, tyranny in religion is the worst; every other species of tyranny is limited to the world we live in; but this attempts to stride beyond the grave, and seeks to pursue us into eternity.”

Ironically, current surveys show that most Americans disapprove of torture, yet many of those same Americans worship a god who allegedly uses eternal torture as a punishment.

Since the concept of limbo is now understood as having been devised to console parents whose babies died before they could be baptized, people should be capable of concluding that the idea of hell was likewise contrived, although with more devious motives. In the early years, the fear of hell’s torment was useful in ensuring compliance with church doctrine. Modern religions, however, learning from psychiatrists that this dogma of damnation can cause some to develop mental disorders, should disavow promoting this barbaric myth.

If the church can discard the idea of limbo, why not hell?

Foundation member Janet Brazill is a retired computer systems analyst, living in Colorado. She frequently writes articles for the Freethinkers of Colorado Springs, which publishes weekly columns in The Independent. This article was originally published in the Feb. 23–Mar. 1, 2006 issue.

Freedom From Religion Foundation