The church's insistence on the reality of eternal punishment and its escape plan, completely misses the whole point of Jesus, namely how to really live here and now. Everything in the church's doctrine of hellfire is about managing the future and denying the present. God is supposedly in control of the here and now, requiring no sustaining effort on man's part; but, as far as the eternal future is concerned, everything depends on man.
In defense of eternal punishment I hear the argument that God's sense of justice is higher than man's and His ways mysterious so we honor and reverence Him appropriately by asking no questions. Since most probably agree that they wish God's sense of justice did not allow eternal torment, I wonder how most men developed such a warped sense of justice which is so opposed to God's own. Is this some more work of Satan, the great deceiver, causing us to miss the necessity of God's form of justice?
The idea, that man's sense of justice would allow for a greater display of mercy and compassion than God's, paints a pathetic picture. How could I out love the God who is defined as Love. How can eternal punishment be seen as an act of love? How can love that never fails ever cease? If God is offended by these questions, then the atheist rightfully is more the object of respect than the Christian. At least he is being honest with himself, not blindly submitting to atrocities in the name of righteousness.
That which would be unconscionable on the part of man cannot be made noble and just when committed by God, and no amount of fear or scriptural exegesis can ever change that fact. Either God's higher level thinking yields something counter intuitively magnificent and marvelous, or God is not worth knowing much less honoring. A god I cannot emulate because of revulsion will ever be an alien being, incapable of inspiring me to be my better self.