There is a thing that Christian apologists commonly say which, from the atheist standpoint, really doesn’t make any sense. It taunts us, like a puzzle, especially since the Christians who say it rarely even bother to explain what they mean, or perhaps they don’t actually know what they mean at all. That saying is “you send yourself to Hell!”
This is an absurd statement because, for one thing, no one knows where Hell is. So how can anyone send anything there? Not only that, but we clearly don’t have the power to send ourselves anywhere we do know about, let alone to an unknown place. Humans do not have teleportation powers. So why do Christians say such a bizarre thing?
Keep in mind how crucially important it is for people to keep the moral high ground, because of the manichean worldview: “we” are the “good guys” who only do “good things,” so any “bad thing” “we” do presents a dangerous paradox which must absolutely be resolved. The concept of Hell is no exception: the belief that good people go to Hell simply for not believing the right thing is not something a “good guy” would do, therefore this paradox must be resolved somehow.
There seems to be two main ways in which the paradox is resolved. One is to argue that people who go to Hell were all evil anyway. This is the argument adopted by William Lane Craig. And it’s so batshit insane, it’s such a sheer lunacy, that it’s unlikely to ever be widely adopted (unless Christianity ever regresses in a major way). Which is why people tend to adopt the second way: arguing that God actually doesn’t send anyone to Hell, you “choose” to got to Hell. Everyone is in Hell of their own “choice,” so there really are no innocents in Hell.
Evangelist E. A. Johnston, in his sermon Why The American Church Quit Preaching On Hell, points out how imbecilic this argument is:
God is the one who sends the sinner to hell. Do you believe that? Do you? This sad spiritual declension in the church in America has been going on for years. Years ago, I listened to a prominent leader of the Southern Baptist Convention say this, he said, “Folks, God doesn’t send the sinner to hell. No sir, you send yourself to hell, friend.” That’s what the dear boy said but he was dead wrong, friends. Dead wrong. You don’t send yourself to hell. If you had any say-so in the matter, you would run for your life away from the smoking pit of hell.
If we really had the power to send ourselves to Hell, then we would also have the power to send ourselves to Heaven. And if Hell is as bad as they say, then who wouldn’t rather use their teleportation power to get away from that place?
I know that many Christians may reply (if they read this blog, which I know they don’t) that this argument is not really about humans having some weird teleportation power, but about the “choice” to get saved or not. People who “refuse” to get saved “put themselves in Hell.”
First of all, there are millions of people who never “refused” to get saved, they just never had the opportunity to do so. Unless you are willing to join William Lane Craig in his laughable and hateful belief in “transworldly damnation,” there simply is no way to argue that people who lived before Jesus “put themselves in Hell.”
Second, I don’t believe we “refuse to get saved.” People do what they do because of their personalities and their circumstances. I can no more help being an atheist than someone else can help being a Christian, a Hindu or a Muslim. We all react to the ways we were indoctrinated as children, either by buying into it or reacting to it. Either way, we didn’t “choose” our indoctrination, our circumstances, or our personality.
But most importantly, the reframing contradicts itself: if all we do is get saved or not get saved, then we’re not “putting ourselves” anywhere. We’re all still on Earth no matter what happens.
Here’s an analogy. Suppose a robber comes up to you with a gun and says “give me your money or you’re gonna kill yourself.” Then you refuse to give him your money, and he shoots you. Did you just kill yourself? Clearly that would be a semantic confusion. You created a situation where it was desirable for the other person to shoot you, but you didn’t literally commit suicide. To say that you committed suicide would be to blame the victim, to erase all that the robber did. Which, in this analogy, stands for God. And there, I think, is the crux of the issue.