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Our panel of 88 professional philosophers has responded to

Question of the day

Hello, What I am about to say is a desperate call for help. I am reaching out to you so that I may be assisted with this dear worry I have been plagued with for several years… Basically, I am paranoid about what will happen to me after I die. Because of argument amongst equally learned, intelligent, capable philosophers, I can’t figure out what the afterlife (if there is one) will consist of. The reason this is an obsession and highly alarming to me is because several different religions state you must believe such and such in order to escape hell (eternal torture). You can’t simultaneously be a follower of incompatible religions, so it’s like you’re taking an eternal chance in believing anything. Moreover, it seems the superiority of one religion over the other cannot be determined. Philosophers argue about this stuff night and day, and the arguments never end...nothing is ever decided for certain. No one can be sure of anything. Must I believe that when I die, I’ll more than likely go to some sort of hell? My morals aren’t terrific, you know. This is driving me mad! It is something I dwell on ALL the time. Life is so terribly fragile, and any of us could go at any time. I’m at a higher risk of death than a lot because of heart disease problems in my genes. What is a man supposed to do in a predicament like this? You probably have beliefs about the afterlife, but how can you be SURE of them when you are aware of the other equally knowledgeable minds that don’t believe as you do--that have solid arguments for their own worldviews and against your own? You can’t say that you’re somehow superior to a whole mass of intelligent minds!

You likely won't like my answer, but here goes. You write

"You probably have beliefs about the afterlife, but how can you be SURE of them when you are aware of the other equally knowledgeable minds that don’t believe as you do--that have solid arguments for their own worldviews and against your own?"

Sorry, but I think this is just false. It's not a matter of my "worldview" (Not sure I have one of those.) It's that the supposedly "solid arguments" just aren't there.

If you don't believe me, try to find anything like a good reason. The fact that some religious texts seem to say that non-believers face such a fate doesn't count. Saying something doesn't make it so and doesn't count as an argument. Trying to make the case that there's life after death at all is hard enough; adding unpleasant speculations about what such an afterlife might be like makes the overall package less likely, not more.

Theologically, the case for Hell is (pardon me) God-awful. We're supposed to believe that a being worthy of our worship would consign people to everlasting torment because of — what? The finite harm they've done in their finite lives? Or more risibly, for not believing the right things about dark and difficult metaphysical matters?

Here's the short version: in spite of its popularity in some religious circles, the belief in a Hell of eternal punishment is an idea for which no one has ever produced anything like a good reason. There's enough to worry about without worrying about this. In fact, I'm tempted to say that there's a special place in Hell for people who teach people to believe in Hell.