Image from a Christian fundie's blog showing an atheist burning up in "hell". A nice cartoon rendition, but hardly plausible!
All right, let's concede (though I already showed its logical improbability and incoherence), e.g.
that the fundies are half right, and some kind of "hell" awaits all those terrible unbelievers that refuse to be saved. Do we have anything to worry about, even if this "hell" is somehow around in the after life?
I argue here, NO! And for emphatic rational reasons, which can be traced to the believers' own bible! (Including the KJV)
First, even if it does exist there can't be any "fires" such as depicted in the image above from a fundie's blog, showing an atheist burning up. Fire constitutes a physical, thermodynamic plasma which cannot exist in any supernatural realm. Yes, some plasmas can reach nearly one trillion degrees, but they can't exist in any supernatural realm or in terms of a putatively surviving consciousness even IF the afterlife realm is supra-physical and not supernatural. If supra-physical only quantum waves would prevail, and these couldn't support anything as macroscopically extensive as "fire" or "burning". Indeed, even if one were to put his pinky finger into the Sun's 2 million K corona, he'd not be burned because the corona is essentially a vacuum with almost no density. Plasma must be sufficiently dense to impart a burn! This would be reinforced in a post-death quantal energy realm.
Thus, we may emphatically rule out any kind of "burning", though I do concede it makes for a colorful form of scare mongering. (Note: some fundies insist the fires are "supernatural" as is the "burning" but they've never explained precisely how this manifests, nor even proven a "soul" for it to manifest can exist!)
Second, the believers' own good Book discloses that if it does exist, it cannot be "everlasting" or eternal. So, worst case scenario, we're there just for a bit - which makes it more analogous to the Catholics' purgatory.
Bear with me.
The Greek for "everlasting punishment" in Matthew 25:46 is "kolasin aionion." Kolasin is a noun in the accusative form, singular voice, feminine gender and means "punishment, chastening, correction, to cut-off as in pruning a tree to bear more fruit." Meanwhile, "Aionion" is the adjective form of "aion," in the singular form and means "pertaining to an eon or age, an indeterminate period of time..
Critical examination discloses the Bible speaks of five "aions"(minimum) and perhaps many more. If there were "aions" in the past, it must logically mean that each one of them has ended! When one uses terms such as "past", "present" or "future" he's no longer referring to anything that's everlasting because the latter concept admits of no temporal distinctions!
The New Testament writers spoke of "the present wicked aion" which ended during that very generation.
Obviously then it was followed by another "aion"-e.g. the "aion" in which we presently live, which will be followed by a future aion.The point? If there are "aions"past, present and to come, it must mean that aions don't last and the one we live in will also end. Thus, these "aions" are in no way never-ending or everlasting.
There are also verses describing "the consummation of the aions" (from which eons is derived) showing that each "aion" (nee, eon) ends, hence again can't be eternal!
Other notable examples:
-"the coming eon" (Matt.10:30, Luke 18:30)
-"the present wicked eon" (Gal.1:4)
-"the oncoming eons" (future) (Eph.2:7)
-"the conclusion of the eon " (present) (Mt.13:39,40)
-"the secret concealed from the eons" (past) (Eph.3:9)
Obviously, the Greek word "aion" transliterated "eon" cannot mean "eternal." A study into the Greek of the Biblical period and before will bear this out. Thus, Matthew 25:46 which embodies the Greek, "kolasin aionion", cannot mean "eternal punishment" but rather a "temporary punishment" or "temporary chastening.
Thus, even IF Matthew 25:46 does refer to a real, putatively active "Hell" it can't be "everlasting, only temporary only. Since "Aionion" is the adjective of the noun "aion", then this argument applies to ALL forms, passages, words that contain these words, no exception.
Hence, we must conclude that either: a) Matthew 25:46 is a bogus later addition, or b) Matthew 25:46 represents the deliberate, fraudulent alteration of an original text in which the Greek forms were changed to reflect an "eternal" as opposed to non-eternal duress or punishment.In either case, the hellfire fundies are either liars or ignorant, take your pick.
What form might the "chastening" take if any? I suspect from exegetical analysis it could take different forms according to WHO is chastened, and it may not be all one-sided. That is, the assumption that only atheists are to be chastised and not Christian bible bangers.
For example, I believe a Christian Fundie bible banger will face chastisement if he cops to a belief in "being saved" purely to save his hide. The Power that Be, assuming it exists, would likely reincarnate this fundie as a poor, starving African and make him live out an extra existence in rank poverty and in a different religion (Islam, or some African tribal cult) to learn religious humility and dump the exceptionalism.
The mirror chastisement might apply for a head strong or belligerent atheist. He might be born again as a Christian fundie who is also forced to learn all their bollocks and blather, including biblical inerrancy. By the time he's exhausted that life, he's mastered at least some respect for what the captive fundies have to endure.
I also note that rebirth into a temporary new life that is more humbling, chastening and deprivating compared to what one had, is a kind of ideal "aion-ic" punishment which would likely meet the temporal requirements implied in Matthew 25:46.
My point is, even if some punishment awaits humans, it won't be anywhere as horrific as the crazed fundies claim, nor will it last forever!