Even though I was raised in a secular household, I can remember having a fear of Hell even as a child. Seeing images of fire and torment on TV, in movies, and in books was terrifying to behold. While it certainly wasn’t a subject which kept me up at night or gave me nightmares, I had an irrational fear that I might somehow end up there. I was scared of it, and so I wanted to learn about it to try and understand it better. I know now that many of the references in the scriptures to things like locations of unending fires referred to actual physical locations and not metaphysical ones, and that the modern perception of Hell is one informed primarily by Western fictional literary creations. As a result of my self-education my belief in Hell has shifted pretty dramatically. I no longer believe in the stereotypical concept of Hell filled with fire and horned demons poking people. In fact, I don’t really believe in the Christian idea of Hell at all.
In my opinion, Hell cannot exist if one believes in a loving and forgiving God as the two ideas are mutually exclusive. If you believe that God created mankind and endowed us with free will, then how can that same God punish a person who never asked to be created in the first place for exercising the free will he/she was endowed with by the Creator? That seems awfully cruel and hypocritical of said Creator to me. I’m sure there are people out there protesting that certainly a Hell must exist as there are people on this Earth who have done things worthy of terrible and eternal punishment. I would have to agree that there are certain individuals who have existed, exist now, and will exist in the future who I too feel deserve to be punished for truly heinous actions; murderers, rapists, child molesters, animal abusers, Hitler, etc. However, I am not God. You are not God. Our personal feelings and wants for those we feel have done enormous wrong are borne out of a very base human desire to see the good rewarded and the bad punished. That’s what WE want and have projected these desires on to our image of who God is and what God does. If we perceive something to be just and good, how could God disagree? If we feel that someone deserves to suffer for murdering a child, how could God disagree?