Avoidance of hell
The avoidance of hell is a commonly cited reason for believing in God.
Hell is a horrific place where souls are tortured for all eternity. Obviously, no one would want to be consigned there when they die. If you don't believe in (our conception of) God, you will go to hell. So you better believe in God (accept Jesus as your personal savior, join our church, etc.).
The threat of eternal damnation and torment is an ever-popular argument of fundamentalists and presuppositionalists. It is simply an argumentum ad baculum (argument from force), even though the person making the argument does not claim to be the one to carry it out.
Obviously, the threat of hellfire is most effective against those who already believe in heaven and hell, such as theists who are angry with God. Its common use against nonbelievers is puzzling, because to threaten someone with something that they don't believe in is utterly ineffective.
Effective counter arguments include:
- Asking for proof that hell exists in the first place.
- Pointing to another religion's concept of hell and explaining that the apologist's argument can be applied equally well to themselves as regards this other religion.
- Pointing out that one cannot force oneself to believe in God even if one is scared by the possibility of going to hell.
Comparison with Pascal's Wager
The simple threat of hell differs from Pascal's Wager in several key respects:
- Pascal's Wager is an intellectual, philosophical argument. The threat of hell is most commonly raised as a purely emotional appeal.
- Pascal's Wager, as a philosophical inquiry, does not address all extant religions. Many religions exist which do not include hell in their cosmology. This is relevant because the typical phrasing of the wager argument assumes that there are only two responses: Belief in the stated religion and disbelief. Consideration of other religions shows us that the odds of any religion being correct are most accurately compared to both disbelief and belief in any of a panoply of other religions. As a wager, this means that betting on the named religion isn't the safest bet, but one of a huge number of equally dangerous bets, all other factors being equal.
- With the threat of hell, hell is assumed to exist. Pascal's Wager treats this as an unknown.