The arguments about whether or not hell exists or if it does what is it like, or whether or not it's everlasting or temporary or figurative/metaphorical took up most of the film's content, but while such debates (usually in the form of calm insistence versus rabid, fire-breathing, believe-what-I-believe-or-die-horribly evangelism) were moderately entertaining, what struck me as the the strongest message was the apparent need for some people to have hell as a very real thing in their lives. Hell for some people seems to be a necessary post-death consequence for un-Christian (and pre-death) behaviour on earth. Sometimes that was overtly expressed as a desirable idea by which to live a life, and at others it was more of a rather clear implication, but the very idea of the necessity of hell was intriguing.
Hell is by no means unique to Christianity (as are surprisingly few aspects of Christianity, by the way); both Islam and Buddhism describe (differing) hells, and many ancient religions also included the concept and representations of a place of nastiness where the naughty folk ended up. The ways in which 'hell' is described are many, however the consensus is that it not somewhere to take the kids for an interactive learning experience - it's deeply unpleasant, involves almost (or, for some doctrines; actual) interminable pain, suffering and discomfort, and is generally very, very bad. It sounds a little like some of my experiences of flying with Westjet, but with added flames. It's nastiness is, perhaps perversely, something which some people seem to rejoice in describing and warning the world about, despite the fact that they've no idea if they are telling the truth or not. Funny how so many people KNOW something which they then defend by saying that it's something they BELIEVE (usually emphasised as if believing is somehow more noble than knowing something factually) without the need for proof, but that's religion for ya. The Westborough Baptist lunatics showed up a few times in the documentary, but there's no need to even discuss the ramblings of such sick, distorted minds as those.
However, the existence (if only in the minds of people prepared to believe in what amounts to scary fairy stories - and by the way, I like the phrase 'scary fairy', don't you?) of a universal place of (possibly unending) punishment strikes me as a wonderful example of how religion follows human behavioural patterns and mob reasoning, especially with regard to social organisation. The very simple model of action bringing about consequences (and since we're not discussing physics, I do not mean 'an equal and opposite reaction') is something that sentience allows us to fully appreciate. As intelligent animals we learn that an action causes something to happen. Consequence is, therefore, not a principle given to us by any religious dogma; we already inately know this to be true in every aspect of our lives, whether it be as a baby crying to get attention/food/comfort or our conscience pricking us about performing an act we know to have been unethical or immoral. How convenient, then, that religions of the world have so reliably sought to enshrine and impose a system of reactive retribution and punishment upon society - dare I say it - perhaps to control such societies?
I'm not buying any of it. The idea of hell is for me a shining illustration of how religion is a human and manufactured concept. The notion that a supreme (and especially a merciful one) being condemns people for any (usually irrational) reason to an eternity of suffering defies logic and common sense (and don't come at me with the old cop-out about god being mysterious) unless religion is simply a flawed concept designed to promote order and control within society.
Perhaps the best example of this that I have seen was included in the film I watched last night, wherein in the Yoonited States we were shown a church group which, in order to make sure that people follow the path of Jesus Christ, have in the woods constructed - literally - something that they call 'Hellhouse'. Yeehaw, praise the lord! Parties of people visit this facility of their own free will, and are presented with dramatic vignettes which allegedly depict 'hell'. They include dramatizatons of rape, mass shootings, assaults and subjugation, suffering and terror. There seems to be a lot of fake blood involved. Essentially, it's a halloween show with added Christian moralistic lectures thrown in. It's a "You'd better be good, or else this is what awaits you!" show. Aside from being very much like a school play (many of the performers are of high school age) with standards of acting to match, the premise is hilarious and constitutes nothing more complex than a very, very simple sermon.
The organizers say that fear is not the point: "We ain't lookin' to scare anyone." despite the fact that throughout the experience, the viewers are subject to entreaties to change their lives or else. By their own standards, this lie condemns the speaker to hell (they tell the onlookers this in very clear terms: liars go to hell). Obviously it's a very crude, rather unintelligent attempt to scare the congregation (who frankly have to be equally thick just to be turning up in the first place) into thinking the same way. Be like us or go to hell. That, when you distil it, is the message not only of this group, but of the major religions of the world. The only thing more scary than that is the threat to actually come and kill you - or convert you on pain of death - if you don't think the same way, but surely, religious folk wouldn't do that, would they????? Sure they DO, all around the world, every single day.
Hell isn't real - there has never been any credible evidence of it or of any other mainstream religious beliefs. Hell exists only as a concept with which to frighten young, vulnerable, uneducated, superstitious, previously indoctrinated or intellectually challenged folks to toe the line, to stay in line and do as they are told. It's a simple, if somewhat disproportionate message: be like us or we warn you: you will suffer for ever.
Hmmm...sounds like manipulative human nonsense to me.