God in this verse is similar to a super-computer, a very large power source that continuously feeds on human souls to sustain itself. All human souls come from God, and remain connected to it through a metaphysical umbilical cord. A person is born with this cord, as it is transferred to them from its mother. When that person dies, that cord draws that individual to God, allowing it to subsume the soul. It then eternally feed on it like a living battery. Every human instinctually feels this connection to their god throughout their life, confirming his existence to all.

The human deity is in an arms race with multiple gods (orcs, elves, etc). Souls are power, and the more souls of a race exist, the more that particular god benefits when they go to it after death. When gods create the first batch of their race, it takes a sufficient amount of energy. However, as that race produces offspring and creates more of itself, the return of investment increases, giving the god access to more power. Therefore, gods desire their individual races to expand as far and large as possible, creating the logic behind the command "be fruitful and multiply".

In our verse, most religions have a version of hell which exists to punish those that God sees as evil, usually reflecting primal fears of that culture. Souls which fail to follow the tenets of a faith spend eternity here suffering for their sins. In this world, gods cannot afford to send souls to a separate place of torment because they depend on the collection of souls to increase their power, and discarding them would be a waste. However, as souls are very valuable, there would be no reason for people to follow the rules of faith and remain "in good standing" with their god, as everyone is going to have the same fate of being absorbed into their deity.

How can this religion rein in humans without the promise of an afterlife?

  • 55
    $\begingroup$ You may have noticed that religions with hells do not stop people from behaving badly. $\endgroup$ – RedSonja Jun 12 at 13:36
  • 5
    $\begingroup$ @RedSonja Nothing prevents 100% of bad behavior, but research show that societies that believe in Hell have a strong correlation with lower crime rates. journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/… $\endgroup$ – Nosajimiki Jun 12 at 13:57
  • 10
    $\begingroup$ Do you really need to threaten people with eternal punishment in order to get them to behave? $\endgroup$ – Draco18s Jun 12 at 17:15
  • 35
    $\begingroup$ @Nosajimiki that particular study has been heavily criticized for improper methodology, ( as well as throwing out data that does not agree with their conclusion) There is also evidence of the opposite effect. pitweb.pitzer.edu/academics/wp-content/uploads/sites/38/2014/12/… $\endgroup$ – John Jun 12 at 17:16
  • 13
    $\begingroup$ @Nosajimiki: "Societies that believe in Hell have a strong correlation with lower crime rates": so for example Colombia (100% Catholic) has a lower crime rate than Japan (no Catholics to speak of) or Sweden (79% atheists or vaguely spiritual)? $\endgroup$ – AlexP Jun 13 at 11:15

20 Answers 20


There are two parts to any religion. There's the god bothering, heaven and hell bible bashing aspect, and then there's the community. Religion isn't just about god and belief, it's also about community, identity and belonging. This is a very powerful aspect that should never be underestimated.

It's really the community that controls your behaviour over and above what the rules actually say. You'll see this when you look closely at any religious group and compare their day to day behaviour with what's written in the rules and scriptures.

An example of this would be some Christian groups, where aspects of the old testament are quoted as the basis for holding certain positions on behaviours such as homosexuality, when the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross technically absolved them of any requirement to follow the rules of the old testament.

So why? because the community has said that this is the course of action to follow. To be a member of the group you must behave like this. The people they identify with behave like that, and so they do too.

The real enforcers of the rules are the gossiping curtain twitchers watching your every move, not what's written in the book. The punishment for failing to follow the rules of the group is expulsion from the group, social exclusion. The city dwellers among us think nothing of this, there are plenty of other groups, but in a small town or village, places where everyone is a member of the same church, it's a serious punishment.

  • $\begingroup$ Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. $\endgroup$ – L.Dutch Jun 15 at 10:56

All human souls come from God, and remain connected to it through a metaphysical umbilical cord. A person is born with this cord, as it is transferred to them from its mother. When that person dies, that cord draws that individual to God, allowing it to subsume the soul. It then eternally feed on it like a living battery. Every human instinctually feels this connection to their god throughout their life, confirming his existence to all.

Given this information, I can think of one thing. People who do not follow a "path" that is deemed right by their god would feel bad, an interior force that would make them feel worse and worse the more they participate actions that are against their god's value (they could still do it, they'd just feel more and more uneasy).

Think of someone walking out their dogs on leashes. The human follows a defined path. Some dogs may hate on each other and will either fight or stay away from their rivals. Some dogs may love each other, getting close and running around each other, entertwining their leashes. If a dog wants to go somewhere the human isn't going, it'll eventually feel a "pull", as the leash won't be able to extend all the way. The more the dog tries to go where the human doesn't, the more powerful the pull will get.

If the dogs want to be able to walk at ease, they will have to learn to walk together in the same direction as the human walking them. However, if too many of them try to follow another path, the human might feel pulled towards them and will diverge from the original path.

You could think of the metaphysical umbilical cords as the "leashes" and the values of a given god as the "path" taken by the human. The more someone strays away from their god, the more they feel an uncomfortable "pull" towards the right path. Each god is different and might not follow the same path (each of them is walking out their own "dogs"). You could also use the fact that some leashes might entertwine with each other as people spend time together (relationships, mortal enemies, seller/buyer, families, random encounters, etc.), to draw their lives closer and closer together, making them feel the same kind of "pull" when following a different path from one another.

  • $\begingroup$ I like this idea as a solution. It relates well to Valhalla and could offer those that walk closely to God to enjoy a union with him when their time comes to cross over. It is something to look forward to and to aspire to achieve that ultimate reward of becoming one with your God. The deterrent would then be to be isolated and to dissapate into the abyss if you should break that umbilical cord and wander away from your God. Never to enjoy the glory of becoming one with him and living evermore. $\endgroup$ – WJK Jun 13 at 3:12

The premise is that fear of hell is sufficient to deter evil-doing. I'm not sure I buy this premise, at least in the long run. You're probably thinking of Christianity, but the Christian narrative doesn't support this premise either. From a Christian perspective, the Old Testament narrative is something like this:

God: Hey Israel. If you do these good things then really good stuff will happen. And if you don't really bad stuff will happen.

Israel: OK. Sign us up. We'll do the good things.

God: And just so you know, the things that will happen if you do the bad things are really bad. Like you'll end up eating your own children. (see Deut. 28)

Israel: We know. It will be fine.

[Israel does some bad things]

God: Um... Israel. Remember that thing we agreed on?

Israel: Oh right, shoot. Gonna be good now.

[Israel does some worse things]

God: Um... Israel....

[Israel continues doing some bad things (e.g gang rape, recapturing freed slaves, child sacrifice) ]

[Bad things eventually happen like God said they would.]

Even though the bad things did not quite equate to hell, when you read about them (Deuteronomy 28) it sounds sufficiently terrifying that you think it would be an adequate deterrent. But it seems that high punishments and rewards, while they may pressure people to behave in certain ways in the short term, are insufficient to actually make people refrain from evil.

  • 6
    $\begingroup$ A browse through history books will show that threats of hell have never stopped evil people. $\endgroup$ – RedSonja Jun 12 at 13:38
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ This, and @Nosajimiki's answer which explains the motivation for morality in under the New Covenant. $\endgroup$ – Dan W Jun 12 at 15:37
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ The problem here is that it's usually Yahweh either telling the Israelites to do the bad things, actively helping the Israelites to do them, or sometimes just doing them 'cause someone pissed Him off. $\endgroup$ – jamesqf Jun 12 at 18:36
  • 4
    $\begingroup$ @jamesqf No, it's not. Don't look at the Old Testament with the eye of modern morality, look at it with the eye of a contract lawyer - God made a contract with Israel, and he blesses Israel when they uphold it, and punishes them when they break it (which they do, over and over again) - and the terms of that contract are laid out in the Law of Moses. $\endgroup$ – nick012000 Jun 13 at 5:42
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @Nosajimiki I disagree. All those people watching witches burn? All those crusaders and jihadists? Just normal everyday humans, doing what their religion told them to do. $\endgroup$ – RedSonja Jun 14 at 5:16

Let's first begin by addressing many of the misconceptions that this question seems to be stirring:

  • Not everyone believes Hell makes people avoid doing evil; so, to prove or disprove this, you need a measurable effect of religious beliefs. While not every society follows the same idea of what evil is, certain crimes are nearly universal such as murder, robbery, etc. So to answer this question: Of societies where people believe in some form of an afterlife, the inclusion of Hell does statistically lower crime rates as seen in this study: Divergent Effects of Beliefs in Heaven and Hell on National Crime Rates. Therefore frame challenges that Hell is not relevant to human behavior are erroneous. This study also shows that belief in a Heavenly afterlife without Hell correlates to increased crime rates suggesting that answers that hinge on a fate of divine reward in lue of divine punishment are unlikely to work in practice.
  • On the topic of divine reward, the OP also states that "everyone is going to have the same fate". This suggests that an answer to this question should not hinge on any of the many other non-hell variants of divinely sorted afterlives such as Nirvana through reincarnation, Limbo, Purgatory, the many mansions of heaven, etc.
  • I also see a number of misinterpretations where the OP askes, "How can religions without a hell discourage evil-doing?". This question is not asking if people can be avoid evil without Hell. Of course people can avoid evil on their own, we do it every day. Instead it is asking if religion still holds the power to discourage evil without Hell. This means that answers that cite atheism, community, or other forces that exist without religion aren't really relevant either. They establish the baseline of how much we do evil left to our own devices, but ignore the actual question of religions' effectiveness in changing that baseline.

So considering the actual confines of this question, it stands to reason that any answer to this question probably lies squarely in the punishments and rewards religion helps people experience here in the mortal world instead of in death.

Examples include:

Your Goodness Supernaturally Affects your Legacy

Luke 11:11-13

Which of you fathers, if your son asks for a fish, will give him a snake instead? Or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!

Here, Jesus acknowledges that even evil people favor moral behavior towards their children. From this it can be inferred that without Hell, the legacy you leave for your family could become the primary motivator toward how you live your life.

If you also consider the old adage, "You are what you eat", then this lends itself to a strange relationship between god and man in which mankind strives to die in a state of being good and kind, because it makes their god good and kind. This would also lead to a whole new perspective on rehabilitation where no one wants anyone to die while they are still evil because it adds to the malliciousness of their own existence. In essence, Heaven and Hell still sort of exist, but they exist here on Earth as the consequences of our ancestors actions, and the lives we mortals live determine if our own children get to live in a state of Heaven or Hell.

Your Goodness Supernaturally Affects your Present

Matthew 5:7

Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.

Your God's personality might be affected by people's character while they are still alive due to their devine teether. If your wants and needs become a part of your god's wants and needs, then people would seek to purify themselves to improve how their god will treat them. I suspect this would probably be a stronger motivator than the first solution but encourages a more dystopian system of ethics than the first. Instead of people wanting to redeem their sinful neighbors, they may seek to kill them before their negativity can be reflected back into their world by their god. This fear of a harsh god could itself turn their god into a very harsh judge himself. The end result would be a significant decrease in evil though.

A Divine Relationship

John 14:15

If you love Me, keep My commandments.

For some believers, the simple call to love their god and maker is all the reason they need to avoid evil. If people care about their god, and are thankful for his gifts, then they will feel more inclined to "pay him back" in whatever ways they believe are righteous. Here religion can serve the purpose of telling people how to direct that gratitude into good deeds or the avoidance of bad deeds. Moreover, you mention your people can feel their connection to their deity; so, if your religion were to foster a direct relationship between the living person and the divine being, then if their god asks them nicely not to do something wrong, then they would be about as likely to avoid the bad behavior as if your close friend or family member were to ask you the same question.

  • 8
    $\begingroup$ That study as be criticized for using poor methodology and excluding data that does not agree with their conclusions. There are also several counter examples. dspace2.creighton.edu/xmlui/bitstream/handle/10504/64409/… Secular results are completely relevent as religions are quite capable of instituting secular methodolgy. Also many would argue religion is the baseline as secular societies are relatively recent inventions. $\endgroup$ – John Jun 12 at 18:01
  • 3
    $\begingroup$ Re "that which is illegal is normally also evil by its own society's standards", this is not true. For an instance, consider US (Federal) laws making marijuana use illegal. Recent polls (e.g. pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2018/10/08/… ) find about 2/3 of Americans think it should be legalized, so I would suspect very few think it's actually evil. $\endgroup$ – jamesqf Jun 12 at 18:33
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ @Nosajimiki actually it doesn't since they did not control for many factors (your study does not control for social inequality at all, separating developed and less developed countries is what you should do otherwise you ar including a known confounding variable.) and used the wrong analysis (linear regression is a poor choice when you have large outliers), a more limited study is more accurate especially when done with a proper analysis as opposed to just dropping a large pile of confounding variable in a linear regression. $\endgroup$ – John Jun 12 at 19:57
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @Nosajimiki Using "crime" is also problematic since the definition of each crime varies wildly across nations, homicide is used because it is one of the few crimes with nearly identical definitions, You can even check the criticism of the study provided by the site. if you don't believe me. journals.plos.org/plosone/article/comments?id=10.1371/… $\endgroup$ – John Jun 12 at 20:00
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ @Nosajimiki thats not the big confounding variable, not accounting for differences in standard of living, a known factor in many forms of crime as well as using general crime statistics in general are some of the biggest flaws. Also the dramatic differences in the time period used for each category, (1981belief 2008 crime?), Also no using the disparity between heaven and hell belief as the calculable factor results in only comparing belief in one and not the other, people who believe in both get excluded from the calculation. The flaws are so numerous the study is essentially worthless. $\endgroup$ – John Jun 13 at 16:06

What is "evil" from this God-battery's point of view?

It values large soul counts. So anything which brings another soul into existence is good and anything that gets in the way of new soul creation is evil. Promiscuity and drunken Bacchanalia are good. Chastity, planned-parenthood and "headaches" are all evil.

Murder which is classically considered evil doesn't actually interfere with soul counts. It just harvests an already existing soul before its time. Murder of a female of childbearing age however is the ultimate evil act. Sinners who perpetrate this most unholy act should be harvested in some lengthy and excruciating way.

Such a definition of "good" and "evil" actually makes the religion's task of encouraging "good", very easy. Promiscuity and the defense of females is hardwired into our genes. No heaven or hell would be needed to keep us virtuous within such a moral code.

  • 8
    $\begingroup$ You're being a bit shortsighted here. The goal isn't how many women get pregnant, or even how many babies are born, but how many of those babies grow up to have their own children and grandchildren. Your society needs to be scalable and sustainable. $\endgroup$ – arp Jun 12 at 2:07
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @arp, I am being no more shortsighted than most religious moral systems. Consider the Christian mandate, "Thou shalt not steal." which contains no exceptions for extra-ordinary need (is it moral for a starving person to steal food from the well fed?) nor exceptions for greater social good (shouldn't the urgent needs of the masses sometimes trump the ownership rights of current possessor?) Religious moral codes are relatively primitive guidance mechanisms which rely on the human clergy to work out the more esoteric aspects of their application to any given culture. $\endgroup$ – Henry Taylor Jun 12 at 12:47
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ @arp it really doesn't need to be sustainable, since it is competing with other religions it just needs to win to become dominant and winning is going to be who gains the most support not who uses the fewest resources, massive consumption fueling massive gain is a winning strategy in theis set up. $\endgroup$ – John Jun 12 at 20:07
  • $\begingroup$ Well, according to Catholic dogma, as long as a soul has drawn breath it is valid, and if it dies immediately then it hasn't had time do do any sins. Every soul singing god's praise is a win. I paraphrase Mother Teresa. $\endgroup$ – RedSonja Jun 14 at 5:20
  • $\begingroup$ @John "it really doesn't need to be sustainable" by the definition of sustainable, a non sustainable society would collapse and risk extinction (and the effective death of the god, as it's only a matter of time before the other gods overtake him). So for each god, the optimum strategy is to support the largest population possible (because more people = more babies = faster power growth. AKA snowball to victory. as implied in the OP) $\endgroup$ – Tezra Jun 14 at 14:47

Honor and Shame

Well, evil can be discouraged in several ways without necessitating a negative afterlife, though it is expedient to have one. However, it is not necessary, as evidenced by the ancient Semitic religions which had no real conception of the afterlife beyond a shadowy rest. For instance, most ancient Near Eastern cultures were very strict honor and shame cultures; societally negative actions, which can generally be called evil, were dishonorable, and led to ostracism in the community.

People could be driven to good by what is essentially divinely sanctified peer-pressure; the natural human instinct toward social acceptance, and the desire to be seen as a valued and worthwhile member of the community can encourage altruistic behavior.

The honor of the religion and the honor of the God could be linked via the religion's holy texts to the behavior of its adherents (and even without the explicit connection, outsiders will judge the deity's honor by the behavior of its devotees). This would lead to the genuine adherents wanting to demonstrate honorable behavior.

Obviously, and honor and shame system would not "keep" everyone "good," as there are always those who have no honor, and thus no shame. However, the wider religious community should be able to defend the honor of their God from these rogue elements.

I have found that writing practical examples of honor and shame cultures is difficult, because, as a U.S. citizen, the general culture is very different from any extant or previously existent honor/shame cultures; however, I don't doubt their strength. For instance, in modern Japan, families will distance themselves from deviant family members to protect the honor of the family.



enter image description here

All the souls are gonna be God-Chow anyway. They die expecting heaven and instead get eaten.

So why not let them expect hell for sinners as well?

  • 3
    $\begingroup$ It's not necessary for hell to exist, just for people to believe it. $\endgroup$ – TemporalWolf Jun 13 at 22:34

How can religions without a hell discourage evil-doing?

The same way you discourage your children from doing evil: a combination of

  1. Moral teachings/parables,
  2. examples of the temporal and spiritual rewards that one receives for Good Behavior,
  3. examples of the temporal punishments one receives for Bad Behavior, and, finally
  4. temporal punishments for Bad Behavior.

Whether those temporal punishments are enacted by the religious authorities, the secular authorities or God Himself is up to you.


In Mormonism, they have different levels of heaven. A lower level doesn't necessarily mean hell, just not as prestigious as the highest level. Similarly in Norse Mythology, some people go to Valhalla to be waiters/waitresses for eternity. Obviously someone would rather be served then the server, but by no means is the Valhalla Server's life hell.

A solution of combining these thoughts with yours, might lay in the level of fuel each follower provides the God; followers would make themselves the best they can be to provide the best fuel for God, allowing them selves a sense of purity on earth and accomplishment in death.

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ While many religions have "Not Hell" punishments, the question is saying there is no difference at all what happens when you die. You just become part of your god's power; so, Mormonism and Norse solutions to a Hell-less afterlife don't seem to answer the question. $\endgroup$ – Nosajimiki Jun 11 at 15:19
  • $\begingroup$ @Nosajimiki I edited the answer to clearly connect my idea to his. $\endgroup$ – Alex Jun 11 at 15:37

I am presently reading Shashi Tharoor's book 'Why I am a Hindu', and this very question is addressed: Why should someone behave without the threat of hell?

Hinduism's main concept is that everyone's soul has a body. This may seem like a subtle difference with the Abrahamic faith's conception of a body having a soul, but it's an important one. The soul moves on a winding path through multiple lives, inhabiting various physical forms, towards leaving the earth and joining with the cosmic spirit (Brahman; creator God essentially).

Hinduism is a reward driven system. There are many Hindu books (Bhagavad Gita, etc) which contain many stories about righteous behaviour and moral duty (dharma). And if one serves their dharma well in this life, it improves their karma, which one could think of as sort of spiritual credit.

If someone generates good karma, it means they will be reborn in a better form, and thus move closer to the eventual endgame of joining with the cosmic spirit. But if they have lived a sinful life, and generated plenty of bad karma, then their next rebirth will be a physical form which pushes them further away from their end goal.

The point here is that hell is not necessary (or even something a creator God would do; the concept is regarded as immoral by many Hindus). Hindus have a strong storytelling tradition and mythology drenched in moral and philosophical problems. Ultimately, Hindu behaviour is driven by a desire to achieve the end goal of unity with God as quickly as possible. Their behaviour is reward driven.

It's possible to elaborate on this, and argue that essentially for Hindus, and for Buddhists especially, the cycle of rebirth and life itself is a sort of self-imposed hell.

Hindus generally consider that the pursuit of happiness is good; accumulation of wealth, status, romance, sex, family, etc, is fine and indeed part of a fulfilling dharma (if done righteously). In contrast Buddhists tend towards a rigid and unsentimental understanding.

For many Buddhists, it is precisely emotional attachment to the physical realm which inhibits spiritual progress towards nirvana; ending their soul's recycling and endless rebirth. This leads many Buddhists to adopt ascetic principles and practices, attempting to create distance between themselves and their desires. For Buddhists the concept of hell is not really intelligible, because endless rebirth is a sort of sewer-like hell when compared to a state of final enlightenment.

There is however a hell-like concept in some Buddhists sects, but this is tied to the Chinese conception of hell rather than something fundamental to Buddhism itself.

So... what this means for your idea hunting is that hell does not need to exist as it does in Christianity or Islam, because life itself is hell already, or because the soul of the individual is motivated towards a spiritual endgame, and immorality will repeatedly push the individual's soul further and further from this objective.

Perhaps the tether between individual and deity is a little slack? The speed at which the soul returns is changed by their morality somehow. Or that the strength of the tether varies, and in worst case it could end up being bounced into a new body instead. Perhaps, the quality of the soul's 'charge' depends upon their righteousness in life, and perhaps, in worse case, a wicked life will actually accumulate no charge and so cannot be pulled back to their God.


Let's for the sake of argument pare our putative religion down to the one known thing nearly all human religions share: The Golden Rule. For variety, I'll give you a form of it from Jainisim:

A man should wander about treating all creatures as he himself would be treated

This, without any concept of a "Hell", proscribes behavior that causes evil to others. So someone who does evil to another, is simply not following this religion.

As with any religion, being shown to not be following it can have all kinds of real-world repercussions upon the miscreant, typically including some kind of ostracism from the community. If that's a community which is important to you, then there's lots of incentive to act right.


Your deity's long term goal is to have humanity prosper and thrive so that the maximum souls are collected over the long term, the very long term. Thus, the religion should be very concerned about viable communities, long term stability, be fruitful and multiply, all that good stuff.

People, being people, can be short-sighted, greedy, or go dancing on slippery slopes. The solution? Peer pressure. Break socio-religious norms, and your family gets shunned. You have trouble finding a mate, your kids (or nieces/nephews) (*) get shunned, your line does not prosper, if you are far enough out of norms your family changes their names so that your name dies out and your contribution is lost.

Think about the current social movement to stop saying the names of mass murderers, to deny them fame and their measure of immortality. Now extrapolate this to a whole society where your value is in how you are remembered a hundred years from now.

(*) Infertile? Queer? Maybe you won't have DNA children, but you can still make an impact on your community, you can still inspire people to take your name, can still get your name on statues and plaque and history books, can still have people tending to your grave hundreds of years after you died.

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Nice last paragraph. Alan Turing, Lawrence of Arabia and Oscar Wilde for clear examples of this. $\endgroup$ – Graham Jun 12 at 14:32

There already exist Christian religions that don't believe in Dante's vision.

A God that would punish and torture people for all eternity is not the loving God of the Bible. For these believers, the Bible's hell is simply a name for the graves where totally unconscious bodies lie awaiting the resurrection.

At the final judgement, people will either be transformed to spiritual children of God, or will be permanently destroyed, burnt to ashes, and exist no more.

Followers do the right thing because they believe it is the right thing, not because they believe their behaviour will earn them a reward, and not because they fear punishment. They have hope of their eventual spiritual fate, but they don't fear the alternative of permanent unconscious death any more than an atheist fears being dead.

Note that I'm not evangelizing or trying to convert anyone, but you might get some useful ideas from these examples of booklets and articles on the subject:

United Church of God: Heaven and Hell

Philadelphia Church of God: What Is Hell?

Living Church of God: The Truth about Hell

  • 2
    $\begingroup$ Christians that don't ascribe to Hell tend to cite John 14:2 "there are many houses in my father's mansion" as an alternate interpretation that Hell does not exist, but rewards still exist based on a believer's merit. $\endgroup$ – Nosajimiki Jun 11 at 15:26
  • $\begingroup$ @Nosajimiki, see also Luke 19:16-19: "Then came the first, saying, Lord, thy pound hath gained ten pounds. And he said unto him, Well, thou good servant: because thou hast been faithful in a very little, have thou authority over ten cities. And the second came, saying, Lord, thy pound hath gained five pounds. And he said likewise to him, Be thou also over five cities.". $\endgroup$ – Ray Butterworth Jun 11 at 21:57
  • $\begingroup$ the nature of hell in the Bible could be debated – it's figurative language talking about something outside human experience – but it's clear that some kind of hell exists, and that it's thoroughly unpleasant and to be feared. Nevertheless, you're right that hell is not the motivation for behaviour; I think @Nosajimiki's answer better explains the motivation given in the Bible as love for God. $\endgroup$ – Dan W Jun 12 at 15:50

Frame challenge 1: You do not need a hell to deter humans from evildoing. Humans are genetically wired to be compassionate anyway: You suffer if you see a peer suffering (if the suffering being is "none of us" this is greatly reduced, that's why de-humanizing and ostracizing are the first steps on the path to mass murder).

Frame challenge 2: There's also the question what exactly constitutes "evil". For humans, it is make somebody suffer; for Orcs, it may be something different.
For now, I'll simply define "evil" as "not following your god's commandments", whatever the god or the commandments may be.

Answer: Assume that evil-doing sentients are less nourishing to the god. So the god will send commandments that make their souls more nourishing.
A really evil person might have negative nourishment value. So the god severs the tie, to avoid being poisoned by that evil.
Hell, then, would be the state of being disconnected from your god. Either because being disconnected is horrible in inself (makes you permanently and irrevocably depressed, delusional, or whatever). Or maybe because there are other, ungodly supernatural beings that feast on disconnected souls.


As Renan suggested in the comments, your god could set things up like the Hindu or Buddhist system, where the criminal dead get recycled into lesser beings until they get it right.

Instead of lesser beings, the reincarnation would be into less fortunate circumstances for evil doers and more fortunate circumstances for the good and pious. Only those who mange to do sufficient good to break out of the wheel get a permanent place with their god. Everyone else gets drained and sent back for another round. Rechargeable batteries: cheaper in the long run.

  • $\begingroup$ Why would the deity send you back instead of just consuming your energy the first time? Your moral rightness does not seem to make you more or less of a snack the way the OP worded the question, nor does being consumed by your god necessarily sound like a reward. $\endgroup$ – Nosajimiki Jun 11 at 15:16
  • $\begingroup$ @Nosajimiki that's assuming the god can put a permanent end to someone's existence. Which can be good, or can be bad as a deterrent, the argument here is rather open. "I'm going do die soon, so I don't care and will do many evil things!" - "You will be reincarnated as a maggot!" - "No, no, I will behave then!" $\endgroup$ – Alexander Jun 11 at 16:23
  • $\begingroup$ @Nosajimiki: Think of it like this: If the god needs energy, which it gets from souls, then it must also require energy to make them. Otherwise, the god can simply create an infinite number of souls, kill them off in an instant and harvest them in perpetuity. Thus, there must be a cost associated with soul creation. By recycling a soul, this cost is avoided, at the expense of a slightly lesser amount of energy received on each cycle $\endgroup$ – nzaman Jun 11 at 16:57
  • $\begingroup$ @nzaman If that were the case, then why not always recycle the souls regardless of their deeds? Perhaps a god might have a reason for sending certain people back with preferential lives, but giving up the power he's invested into a soul to take someone out of the cycle does not seem in the god's best interest. $\endgroup$ – Nosajimiki Jun 11 at 18:19
  • $\begingroup$ Assuming a belief in reincarnation and karma accomplishes the goal, wouldn’t it also accomplish the goal if the belief were false? $\endgroup$ – WGroleau Jun 12 at 14:19

Fear can be overcome with greater fear. Fear of hell in the distant future can be overcome with a greater fear of losing something precious in the present. The worst part being, the greatest fear is fear of the unknown, because people will fill the lack of information with their worst nightmares. The moment you define it as hell, it is no longer an unknown, but a well defined entity. And though some will fear it, others will not. Especially if it's going to hell after death.

Thus the best way of discouraging evil doing would be to simply enforce an instant punishment of some kind. Like implanting a multipurpose spell in their souls that would punish them when they commit sins and reward them. The spell can be inherited or gained from baptism.

  1. Group shunning can work this can be we don't deal with you directly or it may mean they don't deal with your entire family causing them to all hate you as well as you brought this upon them. Depending on how far removed you are from stuff and if you don't have survival skills already learned then you might be in a very hard spot you can't trade, get food easily, prepare that food, ask for guidance, go to the doctors, get medicine someones going to die given enough time. Not to mention your family may just stop helping you too and banish you from them.
  2. For some religions the hell is the grave not something to be tortured. To be absorbed back to god or not in this case is something similar. Don't you want your gods love? Don't you want to be taken care of in their loving embrace not left to fester and suffer through lack there of? In this case you have abandonment, implied pain, implied suffering, implied missing out sure this won't sway some but for others it could also be enough. The hell here is not being connected to the god do you have stories were they're swallowed by evil or their abandoned soul unconnected to the god is eaten and abused by something dark or demonish.
  3. Making people ill by loosing their connection maybe a rot and derangement settles in the mind no one wants this fate.

    People are told of this illness that is linked by the loosening of the connection between the deity and the person then people don't want to get sick and those embarking on the lessening path (non belivers, those loosing faith) will become sick to the point of personally worry they don't want to die in such a horrible manner and know that is what is coming to them if the continue to press onward.

    They will then be faced with continuing to attempt to unbind themselves from the god and go mad or else try to steer back this is of course considering one can't adopt a new god one more suited to their own personal tastes and abilities to worship but some people just can't put themselves to worship anyone or anything so in this case they can only go insane and become ill which would be horrible for them.


As much as I agree with lots of the answers stating various reasons as to why you would not need a Hell to stop people from being "evil", and that "evil" is a very, very difficult thing to define, I'd like to give you an answer that to me feels quite logically (you still should look into the philosophical/theological problems with the question).

No access to heaven

Simple as that, in general, this concept could be fleshed out and be a big part of the explanation as to why some races do the things they do. There are gods, all are different and all have a different race they created (at least in my understanding) if there are more gods than the more similar the gods are the more similar the races that they create are. Every god has a different code/idea as to what is "evil" and what "good".

As all beings are connected to their god, they also feel their desires and power. So someone dies and gets absorbed, all bystanders feel and "realize" what is going on. If someone defied their god, their absorption would feel "wrong" to the living, somewhat off, forcefull and overall not pleasing (this is the way the living get to know that that person was a sinner and that sinning, whatever that is in that case, is probably not a good idea).

Their soul is still getting absorbed but their memory gets erased which does not allow them to reunite with their ancestors within their deity.


First of all whether hell exists is irrelevant, all that has been argued is that belief in hell deters crime. Priests in your setting have the exact same ability tell people they will go to hell as priests here do. That it makes no sense for your setting also doesn't really matter, religious belief is not limited to what makes sense. Many people prefer their faith to be more than the sensibility of this world and are even proud of it. And I have to admit they do kind of have a point.

It is not like people who believe in Hell here have or need evidence to support that belief. Science requires beliefs should be backed by some evidence, religion doesn't. Religion is about choosing to believe despite lack of evidence.

Second it is not strictly speaking belief in hell that is the deterrent. It is belief that there are rules of what not to do set by a higher power that will be enforced without fail. "Can I get away with it?" is an important question for any wannabe bad guy and if the answer is "Never, God sees all and he will make you pay for it sevenfold." that is pretty good deterrence.

The point is that you can replace hell with some other mechanism. Karma and reincarnation have been used. Generally hell is scarier and better deterrent but "scary" is matter of perspective. An active God with mortal servants can make bad karma very scary if he wants to. If the inquisition finds evil doers without fail by following the taint of bad karma and punishes them, hell is not really needed. God can also simply curse people who annoy him. In a stratified society being reborn or demoted to a slave or unclean caste can be scary enough. Especially since this invariably results in people belonging to such groups being treated very badly. They deserve it because of the things they did after all.

Last the gods do not actually need to do anything. Leaving this to the mortals to sort out will work just fine. Governments and religious organizations will try to keep order without divine intervention being required. Their solutions to the problem will evolve over time to match the actual need. Specifically if belief in hell is needed, they will tell people hell exists and believe it themselves unless the Gods directly intervene to prevent that.

If you want to stress the lack of hell some purely secular method might be preferable. People might simply watch each other and use social pressure to enforce compliance with social norms. This is fairly natural and effective in small groups but you could extend it cover nations if it is organized by the state religion. Remember that the point is that there are rules, and somebody is always watching, and punishment follows. Who is always watching and who will punish is not important. A big brother style society would work just fine and you can get it at low technology if everybody is part of the system. Might actually work better that way.


You could add that consumed souls from brave and faithful people can be redeployed again. So people are promised a better and second (or third, fourth, ...) life, if they behaved well.

For other people to realize that, the reborn people have to somewhat differentiate from a new, "first life" soul.

So people will look up to other people in the community that have gone through multiple rebirths.

New contributor
Csharpest is a new contributor to this site. Take care in asking for clarification, commenting, and answering. Check out our Code of Conduct.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.