The only reason I believe in hell is because Jesus taught it.
This is one thing we can be certain about regarding Jesus’ ministry: he believed in hell. Jesus’ teaching on hell is widely attested in all our synoptic gospels (Mar. 9:43, 48-49; Mat. 8:12, 13:41-42, 22:13, 25:46 , 49-50; Luk. 12:5, 16:23). I believe that one can argue that John 3:36 warrants a teaching on hell as those who reject Jesus “the wrath of God abides on him.” After death, where would this wrath abide on a person other than in hell? Other verses in John (5:24; 8:24; 11:25-26; 20:31) refer to judgment and eternal death for rejecting Jesus. Lastly, at a stretch, Jesus in the book of Revelation (14:9-11; 19:3) also teaches on hell, but of course this is revelatory and cannot be confirmed or disconfirmed by the historian. Other than Revelation, all the canonical gospels report of Jesus’ teaching on hell.
If Jesus was really resurrected from the dead, which I am certain he was, then we can trust his message. If so, then hell is a place that exists and where people who reject Jesus will go. Therefore, I don’t think that these are just some “threats” that Christians make at non-believers. I’d argue that it is reality, therefore, I reject the meme’s caricature of Christian belief regarding hell.
I can also sympathize with many non-believers who have hell shoved down their throats, much like the man wearing the T-shirt in the meme is doing to others (it is not uncommon for parents to threaten their children to coerce them into their belief system – this is wrong and it is damaging.). The shirt is certainly not a loving way of getting the message across, but it is the truth. Without Jesus one cannot enter the Kingdom of God, so where else can one go to other than to hell? Hell is interchangeable (as I see it) with “eternal separation” from God. Nevertheless, there are much more loving ways to bring the reality of eternal separation from God across to non-believers that will not make them angry. The shirt is also not representative of Christians in my experience. I can hardly imagine anyone from my cell/bible/small group wearing anything remotely like this shirt.
“I can’t prove shit…”
In other words, the meme is saying that one 1) cannot prove that hell exists and/or one 2) cannot prove the veracity of their religion, hence the reason that believers need to resort to threats.
In reference to point 1, it is true. I cannot prove empirically that hell exists. I cannot teleport there and bring back a chunk of hell-stone to Earth and analyze it beneath a microscope. But the fact that Jesus taught on it combined with the fact that he left an empty tomb when he was meant to be dead (in other words, he was resurrected as an act of God), tells me that there is something more to this story. For that reason alone I am confident that hell exists or will one day exist (theologians differ on this point).
In reference to point 2 I think there is some truth to the meme. Many believers threaten people with hell for their unbelief. Often it can stem from a believer’s inability to defend his/her faith on intellectual grounds, hence he/she must resort to playing the “you’re going to hell” card to end the conversation. This is not unique to Christians though. For example, at times atheists will ask me why I believe in God, and I’d reply “because of Jesus.” We will discuss why, and I’ll present the facts. Not long after the atheist in question will lack a rebuttal and play that usual piece of brilliance: the “Jesus never even existed!” card. Both can be guilty of this. Both I disagree with.
I think hell can be defended via the ministry of Jesus and his empty tomb. I believe it is a real place that cannot be empirically verified. However, that is not an issue for me in hindsight of Jesus’ empty tomb.
Of course I don’t like the reality of hell. I don’t want people to go there, and I don’t want to go there either. But we need to realize that what we want is not what is. And because it exists the most loving thing a Christian can do is bring as many non-believers to Jesus as possible. One way of doing that is not for Christians to be walking around with shirts that are overtly offensive. Atheists also should not tell Christians that their beliefs are “shit,” that’s not likely to win over converts.