A poster on another forum has an interesting idea. He suggests that in religion, the severity of the threat for non-belief (or non-compliance) is proportional to the amount of bullshit you’re being asked to swallow.
On the face of it, this seems intuitively true. Go to a UU church, and you’re asked to believe that there might or might not be, or have been, or will be, something that might, or might not be thought of by some people as God, and that it might or might not love us, or maybe it’s just a metaphor. Predictably, there’s no threat of punishment for not believing as they do. If you decide you’re not into it, you’re just asked to return the casserole dish from the last pot luck.
On the other hand, to be a Christian, you must believe (to one degree or another) that God magically created everything, and knew everything that was going to happen, and loved man so much that he created him horribly flawed, so he (Jesus, who is actually God, but not quite) had to sacrifice himself to himself so that he could forgive us for the way he made us. Oh, and also, all the animals of the world fit into a boat the size of a tennis court. And the world stopped rotating so that some Jews could kill some non-Jews one day. And there are talking snakes. And women should not speak in church. And God wants ten percent of all your money.
On the face of it, it’s pretty hard to swallow. But then, if we don’t believe, it’s TEN TRILLION YEARS OF BURNING TO DEATH WITHOUT DYING!!!!!
It also seems to me that the emphasis on hell seems proportional to the moderation of the denomination. Episcopalians rarely preach about hell. They also tend to support women’s choice, gay rights, and they don’t believe the world is six thousand years old, or that the stories in the Bible are literally true. Southern Baptists, on the other hand, seem to have a quota on threats of hell per sermon. And they are mostly Biblical literalists.
So, I haven’t given this idea too much thought, but it’s damn interesting. Any comments, readers?