Is Hell Ethnocentric?


Over at my blog I had a post up about the book Us against Them: Ethnocentric Foundations of American Opinion by Donald Kinder and Cindy Kam. In the book Kinder and Kam define ethnocentrism as generalized prejudice, the propensity to separate the world into in-groups and out-groups. From Us Against Them:

Ethnocentrism is the psychological tendency to separate our social worlds into “us” and “them.” As a part of this process we attribute virtue to people similar to ourselves and vice to out-group members, people from different ethnic groups, nations, socioeconomic strata or belief systems. More, given these attitudes we are ready to help in-group members and thwart out-group members. One more quote from Us against Them:

It seems to me that hell is quintessentially ethnocentric, the religious outworking of an ultimate and eternal separation of Us against Them, with the virtuous in-group in heaven and the vice-filled Others in hell.

As a psychologist it makes me wonder if ethnocentric Christians are more drawn to belief in ECT. It’s a testable hypothesis. Thoughts?


Or maybe that ECT creates ethnocentrism. I know I was (still am some but recovering). My worldview changed when I came to the understanding of UR, not the other way around. For me it was a divine revelation that brought UR to me, so the change was quite abrupt. It wasn’t like “hmm I see the world as brothers more now so maybe that hell idea doesn’t’ work anymore”.


That makes sense–belief in hell creating ethnocentrism. If you are intentionally and consciously sorting the world, from childhood, into saved vs. damned that can’t but affect how you parse the social world.


I would have to agree. A belief in (everlasting) hell tends to produce ethnocentrism as far as I’ve seen as well.


To me, the idea of the “us versus them” goes back before “Hell”. Competition for food, water, land, a mate. If you ask me it’s “ADAM” and this makes the idea of Hell believable…For a while. :slight_smile:


Fascinating OP thanks Richard. I didn’t know there was a word to describe what I have certainly recognised within myself already. If we haven’t got an enemy, then we need to invent one.
When the cold war with USSR ended, we had to replace it with the next in line.
It follows as night follows day that if we have an enemy, we need somewhere to put him. Hell fits the bill perfectly.

I’m curious about this last statement.
I imagine that ethnocentricity is a universal trait deep within the human psyche. ‘Christians’ (church-goers) are well trained to give the correct tribal response rather than being honest.
I wish you well in your endevours.


That’s true, and it may explain why other world religions have their own versions of hell or judgment, some god-sanctioned way to describe in-group members as virtuous in contrast to out-group members. My take is that ethnocentrism, while a universal feature of human social psychology, varies from person to person. My hunch is that the most ethnocentric individuals within a given culture would be the most drawn to and dogmatic about hell (or similar such doctrines).


Well sure Richard:

…the evidence of this tendency/need/compulsion to divide into “us vs. them” is everywhere. But ethnicity is only the most obvious of the categories by which the division/separation occurs. Tribes, skin color, family, as categories for proper division (given the underlying assumption that division MUST be in play) has given way to divisions by categories of what we believe! So, substitute right beliefs (you know; my churches beliefs are superior to yours), or right actions (like trying hard enough not to be a sinner), for ethnicity and we have an updated “Christian version” of the mental workings necessary to make me part of the “saved” (you know, the good guys!) and the “lost” (that’d be the “bad guys” over there.)

Now it’s quite fascinating that, in the “art” of war, one of the first tasks in getting your soldiers to be willing to kill their soldiers is that of demeaning, dehumanizing, and ultimately demonizing the “other”. In the ordinary course of things, that soldier more than likely wants only what “my” soldier wants; peace, family, companionship, love, and enough to eat. – except he’s trying to take my food (or land) and he started it, and he’s dirty and different, and, well, pretty soon one becomes convinced it’s almighty God’s will that I make the other soldier die!! Quite scary actually.

I’ve always been puzzled by the so called “Liberal” Christians reflexive embrace of Evolution; these sorts of divisions are easily seen to be born of a need to further my genes (and gene pool) at the expense of your’s – with whom I compete for scarce resources. Couldn’t THAT be the innate source of this “ethnocentrism”? (perhaps a slight deviation from your topic; but interesting to me nonetheless!)
(The central importance of a good creation doctrine then, as I see it, is a very proper and rational placement of my worth as part of God’s family… Your worth too…)

There remains ingrained in us somehow, this assumption that there simply MUST be winners and losers. We’ve talked about it briefly here before (can’t find precise spot) but it’s like imagining having a SuperBowl where BOTH teams win the game! Unthinkable! Why even play the game in the first place? Imagine: a football game played with the ethics of Christ’s teachings! Here; I realize you are trying to get into the end zone; let me help you. Yes, I have a “team” of my own, but I shall help you get into MY end zone for a touchdown. And imagine that is reciprocated. — seems we simply lack the imagination necessary to visualize everyone being a “winner”. (and no, I’m not talking about the kiddy stuff where each kid gets a trophy just for being there… but, in a way, I AM talking about that!)

Imagine an ethic – the ethic of Christ – where everything is up-side-down… where YOUR joy becomes MY greatest happiness; and mine becomes yours! It’s almost inconceivable isn’t it!! I’m so confidant that my needs will be met, that I can spend ALL my time concentrating on making sure YOUR’S are met! Imagine the possibilities! Contrast with the ethic of me being worried first about myself. Soon enough, you come to be seen as a threat to me; so instead of helping YOU, I must resist you. Downhill from there. And ECT hell is a natural end point of that sort of self centeredness. I don’t only want to beat you, to capture the prize that you can’t have, but I want to torture and humiliate you; badly and for a very long time.

So yes. I think ECT is a pathetic window into the depraved sin sick mind which so desperately needs to assert it’s own importance and superiority at the expense of another. Part of an elaborate justification to explain the unexplainable.



Oh yes – a big PS here Richard…

I’m thinking about the whole scapegoating thing that Rene Girard talks about…
… the ancient human ritual of picking a suitable victim on whom to place blame for our own flaws, ceremonially slaughtering him, and thereby absolving us of our sins.
I think this mentality and dynamic plays a part here…

I’d love to hear what you think of this whole scapegoating ritual perhaps on another thread some time…



Great thoughts, TV :slight_smile:


My comment on this though would be we need to remember not to generalize too much here.

There are those who only casually or half-heartedly believe in everlasting hell or annihilation, because that’s all they’ve been taught, and because they’ve been taught that alternative views are totally wrong and can’t be true, are ‘heresy’ or ‘false teaching’, so aren’t viable or valid… and there are those who, like I did, wrestle deeply with these things, and want desperately to believe otherwise, but don’t believe they are allowed or permitted to. :frowning: That’s where I was for a few years, and that’s where I imagine many of us here have been (and lets not forget where we came from, so we don’t become proud), and many people out there are now.
Yes, there are those who relish the concepts of everlasting hell or annihilation, because they may have negative attitudes towards other people that they don’t like or feel uncomfortable with, that sort of thing, but I imagine they are probably not as much of a majority as we might think.
I believe that the majority of people who tow the party line on eternal punishment/eternal separation or annihilation, deep in their consciences and hearts are uneasy about the whole thing, but don’t feel free to disagree, for whatever reasons (most of those reasons would be based on fear, I’m thinking… I know that was the case for me), so perhaps that is something to consider… though, then again, my guess is the majority of people, the average person, would only want really, really bad people, like serial killers and child molesters and dictators and the like, to be punished or separated forever, or else annihilated, though they would want to see most people saved… or at least that’s my guess. :neutral_face:

Anyways, just trying to say that this is perhaps more complicated then we might think, and there’s no formula, because every individual is different, and there may be many other psychological/emotional/spiritual factors that play into this.

Just my two cents :wink:

Blessings :slight_smile:



Hey TV… doesn’t Matt in this last post sound very familiar?? :laughing: FEAR!!!



Eh? :question:

I have no idea what you’re talking about. :laughing:

By the way, welcome Bret :smiley:


Actually, you probably woudn’t guy… sorry. It’s just that TV aka BobX3 and I were having a small discussion on how FEAR holds sooo many people back in changing their minds, they feel semi-safe in what they think they know even if it is damaging to them in the long run … they hang on to their old belief systems out of FEAR. Just found it interesting that you brought it up too.

Sorry about the confussion guy! :blush:

And thanks for the welcome!



Ah, okay :slight_smile: No problem :slight_smile: And you’re welcome for the welcome :laughing:

And you can call me Matt :slight_smile:

Blessings to you :slight_smile:



Your caution is noted and appreciated.

And Bret, as for Fear, yes indeed: huge topic I think.
In this topic/category brought up by Richard, seems like peer pressure plays a big role. Fear losing the approval of the group; fear because we know where those not of our group are going…

I’m wondering if this social phenomenon is partly why Jesus said “Other sheep I have, that are not of this fold…” – recognizing both that we humans are prone to doing this (us/them - other fold/our fold) and discouraging that practice.



cursory read so far, but i think ethnocentrism can arise from fear.
if you’re in a village in the middle ages, you’ll naturally distrust strangers. you’re quite likely to band together, and even sell your souls to a local lord for protection. all because you know that the next stranger you see might be leading a raiding party!

fear of the unknown, justifiable or not, can lead us to band together in similar groups.

so for those that believe ECT, or YEC, etc, …i think alot of their theology is something they know if they examine too hard, it’s going to collapse. if that’s the case, they fear that maybe EVERYTHING they believe is a lie, and they fear that deeply.

i guess in my own experience, i’ve always been lucky that God Himself is the centre of my theology. i could be wrong about everything, even the gospel account about Christ, and i still know this Entity loves me, and wants to bring everyone together.
that’s really helped, but i’m aware that not everyone, in fact hardly anyone! has that kind of assurance. they sometimes need their tribe to continually affirm their status as a member of the in-group.


Another thought/response Richard:

I’m sort of seeing the entire book of Romans as affirming for us that we are all sinners and thus all in the same boat as-it-were; all in need of redemption and saving and grace. Which of course could be looked at (should be looked at) as a repudiation of any notion of “us vs. them” (which seems to really be a common urge and tendency) given the common plight we all share.

Romans 11:32 –

– seems a particularly poignant reminder of this reality.

This entire idea of a hierarchy of us vs. them – wrong and malevolent as it is – emerges I think as a reflection of our deep inner insecurity. Insecure in our identity, (we are the offspring of the King! handiwork of His creative mind!) insecure around others (believing them to be as selfish as we are, and thus unsafe; a potential threat) and thus believing, almost out of desperation, that the only way to security is to formulate ways to be part of the “in” group; part of the proper power structures… structure we eagerly construct to save ourselves…

I think that the gospel could be told quite well and convincingly by a psychologist/philosopher (not so much a theologian…) on this basis. Immediately after sin; “we were afraid!” (insecurity breeds fear) and God exclaiming “who told you that you were naked!!!” (why would such self exposure seem so fearful if one was certain he was secure and safe?) This fits – much better I think – with the idea that Christ’s life/death/resurrection on our behalf and thereby our salvation is spoken of in terms of taking His Robe of Righteousness. Not to cover our sins and inner ugliness (as if God can’t see through this mysterious cloth) but to illustrate that we are safe again; our security with God and the Universe restored again…



Great thoughts TV :slight_smile: