Catch Hell

We asked Beliefnet readers if they know someone who's going to hell. Here are the surprising results.

Originally published in Newsweek

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Reprinted with permission.

Conservatives are more confident than liberals that they'll avoid hell--and that they know someone who won't. Liberals are less confident about their own chances of escaping hell and less sure they can identify the damned. These are a few results from an unusual online survey Beliefnet conducted this month among 10,000 of its members.

Asked to rate their "chances that you might go to hell," 46% of self-identified conservatives said "not a chance"--compared to 28% of liberals. Born-again Christians were the most upbeat about their odds: 55% said "not a chance" compared to 21% of Roman Catholics. Fifty-six percent of those who filled out the survey thought they knew one or more people who were "probably" headed south, with 64% of conservatives saying yes and only 47% of liberals. Conservatives, and men, are more likely to believe in hell as a physical place with fire and demons, as opposed to a spiritual state of separation from God.

Do you know the doomed? Sixty-one percent of men said they knew some hell-bound folks, compared to 54% of women. (It's unclear whether the results show that men are more judgmental, better judges of character, or hang out with more evil people.)

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Most people said the doomed are "acquaintances," but almost 25% said the hell-bound are members of their own family. Women were more likely to consign family members to hell, quite possibly because they spend more time with the family.

And why are these people going to fry? The answers reflect one of the oldest theological debates: which matters more, faith or good works? For instance, 60% of born-again Christians (almost all of them Protestants) said the unfortunates were going to hell because they didn't have the "right beliefs," compared to just 19% of Catholics who said that. Eighty percent of Catholics said it was because of the person's immoral actions, compared to 40% of born-agains. The same split persisted politically: liberals said damnation was determined by bad behavior; conservatives, by a smaller majority, thought beliefs mattered most.

In what may be a worrisome sign of the state of family relations, those who thought their family members were headed down were very likely to think of hell as a place of fire and torment. Oh, and eternal. It was unclear whether the respondents were expressing a prediction or a wish.

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