—John Eric Santos

I once heard a rant, disguised as an argument that
just because some people reject the idea of hell, doesn’t mean it would
disappear. Of course, it is only proper to ask about where exactly hell was located
and how that person figured that such a place existed—and of course, instead of
receiving answers, I received a fiery
threat: it would be too late for me and I would regret that I have never
believed and so I would end up deep fried in a stereotypical description of a
netherworld where there be tormented souls either pointlessly enslaved by
horned, red creatures with tails, giant forks, and whips. I would meet new
neighbors there undergoing unimaginable ways of torture; their cries would fill
me with utter distress as I watch my skin boil. I would be deaf to my own
scream from the excruciating pain of being submerged in the infernal river. I
would not know if it is day or night—such time orientations would slowly
vanish. There would only be eternity—an eternity of suffering and regret.

So I guess, if the literal hell is real, then our suffering is endless. If such a place exists, then there can be
no peace for a frail, flawed human being: (1) suffer on earth; (2) then suffer
in the afterlife. But most preachers and apologists would argue that there is
salvation. If one accepts the Judeo Christian God in his heart and repent, he
would be saved. So there is an option after all! We can evade eternal torment.
We only need to accept a particular deity and we are spared. So worship this
god; follow his bidding or else go to hell—this is basically the condition.
Same goes when a mugger gives you a choice to give up your purse or have his balisongstuck in your throat. And we
should be grateful we are given a choice. Hurray for free will! But can we
blame people with this line of thinking? We have been terrorized with the
concept of hell ever since the day our ancestors submit to Christianity.

Fear and incentive can really motivate people: (1) Clean your room or I won’t allow you to join the field trip. (2) Help me with the household chores and I’ll raise your allowance, if you don’t, I guess that means you won’t save enoughmoney to buy that cell phone. (3) Love me and I’ll give you everything! If you don’t, I’ll spread rumors about your sexual orientation. (4) Worship Me and go to heaven or face the horrors I have prepared for you… my child. If a friend would only agree with my ideas because he is afraid that we won’t be friends if he disagreed, then I’d rather hear him contradict the things that I am saying. Being respected or loved or worshipped out of reward or punishment is never a good thing.

For more than three-hundred years,
most of us have been afraid of a mythical place for sinners no different than Tartarus. We have been led to believe by
the Western Invaders that we were heathens; we were primitive humans with
devil-worshipping practices and beliefs. The missionaries during the early
Spanish colonization—according to Lumbera et al, (2005)—believed that our
literature; our indigenous culture came from the devil himself. So in order to
be saved from the hands of the devil, most of our recorded lores were destroyed
and Filipinos were baptized as Christians. Salvation at last!

Lenin said that a man with a gun can control a hundred [men] without one. And why not? A man with a gun can control us simply
because we are afraid to get shot. Once we are consumed by fear, we can be
accordingly controlled. Fear for those who wield it like a sword is power. Fear
has been one of the effective ways to control people. Combine lies with fear
and you are on your way to rule. Why don’t we ask history about this? The
crusade, the inquisition; our three-hundred-year heritage of submission. There
is no good reason why I should disagree with the writer who said that “Fear is
a mind killer.” Fear restrains an individual to ask important questions. Let’s
say a person wants to ask: who created god? First, a person would hesitate to inquire because of his fear of being
judged by people who are afraid themselves to question; second, he would fear
the judging eyes and ears of an omniscient, omnipotent imaginary deity with
anger management issues. Fear sets limits to critical thinking. If a child, at
an early age, is taught that a deity should never be questioned because he/she
will be punished—worse, be introduced to Phlegeton—then
the child is taught to be submissive out of fear. Suspending critical thinking
through threats of a mythical place of misery is not exactly a good way to
raise children. Well, it is obviously abusive.

What are we teaching kids these days—that we are at the mercy of an entity that we
cannot see but can see us every time, anywhere and unless we worship it, we would be condemned—along with the
imaginary enemies (the devils)—to burn for all eternity? Instead of threatening
them with a god that seems to be a creation of the mind, can’t we just
entertain their curiosity? Can’t we give them a chance to question even what we
adults teach them? It is alarming to read textbooks in Values Education that
teach students Bronze Age literature as facts and they should lean not on [their]own understanding. It is alarming that we are fearless when it comes to being sure that a scripture, written by different men with contradicting ideas
and value systems, is an infallible source of truths. It is alarming that
anyone who questions its credibility would be deemed a blasphemer and be
threatened to go to hell. It is alarming that we fear fairy tales more than the
real issues that we should be concerned about. One of the ideas that marked in
my head in F. Sionil Jose’s Po-on is evil is often a creation of our minds. Is
it not enough that we have people with ill intent—considered to be real
threats—that we have to invent devils? We have enough hell here on earth. There
is no reason to invent one and then fear it.

Fear strips us of our freedom to
think freely. Unless we start questioning the validity of our fears, we would
never be free. Fear teaches us nothing but false humility. We should not equate
submission out of fear to humility.
And fear is not a basis to be good. Should a person have a reason to do good or to be good? Shouldn’t we help
others not because of a promise of a paradise or a threat of an inferno, but because to help others is
simply a human thing to do? We are already bombarded with indoctrination and
cherry picked verses. What a man needs now is to strengthen his reason that he
neither needs to be threatened nor rewarded in order to determine that killing
and stealing is wrong.

And hell—if it exists—shows how
willfully thick, obtuse, and cruel a deity is, to subject his creations to such
torture which is to begin with, He knows (given that He is all knowing and all
powerful) their nature before they were born. And if a man is cast out into the
fire for being a skeptic—for rejecting traditions and superstitions; for
braving a world lacking in logic and heart, then he should have no regrets for he has lived his life free from
the shackles of fear and ignorance. Hell is for the fearless which is why if
hell exists, there would be no evidence that Pascal was ever there.

If there is anything to fear, it is
Shakespeare’s notion that hell is empty because all the demons are here.