Lin Yutang and why no one is going to hell

by Jon

In his book The Importance of Living, Lin Yutang outlines his conversion away from Christianity toward being pagan, and explains his view on sin:

Anyway, from pursuing literary studies, I feel, like all modern Americans, no consciousness of sin and simply do not believe in it.

Continuing that particular passage, he explains why he believes no one is going to hell:

All I know is that if God loves me only half as much as my mother does, he will not send me to Hell. That is a final fact of my inner consciousness, and for no religion could I deny its truth.

When I first read that passage years ago, I was dumbfounded by its simplicity and its implications.

My conception of reality makes room for God’s existence or non-existence, without any necessary change to my beliefs or behavior. A Taoist’s behavior is based on his observations; he doesn’t need a God calling theft a sin to observe the effects of theft, and recognize that it hinders a happy and harmonious society. The Taoist has no need for God, nor his threats of eternal damnation.

But for the sake argument, let’s presume the Christian God exists. Now, regardless of our behavior on Earth, do we really believe he would send his own children to hell? Doesn’t he love his children, as all good parents do?

Some will argue that even our parents punish us for our wrong doings, but to them I ask: would that punishment ever be condemnation to eternal suffering? Would they really ever go that far?

Some people will argue that without the threat of eternal damnation, people will run amok. And so Yutang puts the argument forth:

“Why,” I reasoned with a colleague, “if there were no God, people would not do good and the world would be topsy-turvy.””Why?” replied my Confucian colleague. “We should lead a decent human life simply because we are decent human beings,” he said.

I believe that if our goal is a happy and harmonious society, then we ourselves can see what behaviors hinder that goal. What need have we for God and hell?

Yutang ends thus:

This appeal to the dignity of human life cut off my last tie to Christianity, and from then on I was a pagan.

What do you think? Leave a comment below!


An earlier draft of this article was originally published February 5, 2008 under a former pseudonym of mine. I rescued it with WXR to HTML, and I present it here revised and expanded.

/jon