My father was a Protestant minister and I grew up in a rural Protestant culture in Australia, went to lots of church services and never heard anyone trying to claim hell was a real place rather than a metaphorical place. Belief in a real hell tends to be reserved for fundamentalists who are a relatively small proportion of Christians outside USA and some other countries. I think for religious people focused on love and kindness it is clear that hell is a mythological concept dating from primitive times and literally believing your God would torture people for eternity marks you out as having premodern values. While I don’t know about the distribution of the real beliefs of individuals in the Christian community I grew up with I was not aware on any discussion of hell as a real place.
Recently, on social media forums, I’ve seen quite a few questions from Christians asking why aren’t atheists terrified of ending up in hell. And assumptions (mainly from Americans) that belief in hell is the mark of being a Christian. At least in the mainstream media, hell tends to only get a mention as part of the rantings of fundamentalists and religious extremists. These are a tiny minority in Australia and Switzerland. So I decided to see what the data from the World Values Survey (WVS) and the European Values Study (EVS) tell us about the prevalence of belief in heaven and hell.Continue reading