The Puzzle of Hell Solved
One problem for Christians is how to make the existence of Hell, eternal torture for sinners, consistent with the existence of a benevolent and all powerful God. A possible solution is to deny that Christian doctrine requires the existence of Hell. Observing an online argument over that question, one based on interpretations of the text of scripture, it occurred to me that there is a simpler solution to the problem of making scriptural references to Hell consistent with a benevolent God, a solution that should be obvious to an economist if not to a theologian.
The belief in Hell is useful as an incentive not to sin. Once a sinner has died, torturing him serves no useful purpose, so there is no reason for a benevolent God to go through with it. If it is still possible for the sinner to reform and be saved he should be given another chance, as portrayed by C.S. Lewis in The Great Divorce. If he is a hopeless case he can be painlessly removed from existence.
The obvious explanation of the available evidence, the explanation consistent with both the text and divine benevolence, is that scriptural references to Hell are a strategic lie. I do not know if there is evidence in scripture that God sometimes lies but I do not see how there could be evidence that he never does.
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One problem you will eventually run into in this line of thinking is that if you are dealing with a concept of god that:
A. Represents himself as all-honest
B. Represents himself as not all honest
C. Regardless of A and B, lies
You do a couple of important things: First, you create a god about who is inherently unknowable - i.e. He could be misrepresenting himself not just in that way, but many ways. For instance, once we've established that once a person dies after they have or have not done what god wants (in your model, simplified to "avoids sin"), he has no reason to punish them with hell, but he also has no reason to let them into to heaven, either; he's already established goal, and might as well eradicate them in that scenario as well.
Any motive we might assign to our model of god to try to prove that he wouldn't do that with heaven (But he says he lets us in! He is love! He is kindness!) is no more inherently reliable than claims that he'd send sinners to hell.
But within this model you also do something subtler: you set yourself up (practically, if not explicitly) as a controlling authority on morality that stands above whatever god you are modelling in the pecking order. I tend to think of models like this as, given enough time, resolving to sort of atheist-with-extra-steps. They pretty much all follow a model of:
A. I think people who do or believe X are bad or wrong
B. The God I believe in does or believes X
C. I will determine that on the matter of X, I am right and God must be mistaken or else has been relayed to me unreliably.
The Atheist's "Whatever I might determine my morals and beliefs to be, they come from my own reason, with me as the terminal decider of right for myself" doesn't really differ substantially from C. above. At least it doesn't absent some well thought out and reliable limiting principle, but if you've already determined that "on matters where I disagree enough with god, he's lying, wrong, or misrepresented", it's hard to think of something that could be.
I think the whole edifice is a mass of strategic lies, or fortunate errors: fine-tuned by evolutionary processes to confer advantage to believers. It formed the operating system for a civilization. Maybe we can construct a new OS based on reality someday, if we survive long-enough.