Friday, June 23, 2006

That lingering fear of hell.

A reader writes:

I've been reading your stuff online and it really sums up my feelings over the last few years. When everything about a person can be explained physically, what remains to be called a soul?...I too was raised a Christian and was rather obnoxious about it back in my 20's with all my bumper stickers etc. If people back then could see me now! If God exists why would he punish me for using my brain which he created? I think what most people call faith is really superstition. Its not that they believe but that they're afraid not to believe...Hey, do you sometimes still get a little nervous about going the other direction? I mean can a person ever escape early life (sunday school days) indoctrination? I'm still worried about hell on some level that I don't think I'll ever shake. I envy people who'll on their death beds have no fear of hell because they never went to church or believed. I think every Christian fears death and even hell!

I understand your fears, but I can truthfully say that, if you continue your course, I expect those fears will disappear. You will become like the people you say you envy, a person who could face death without the terror of hell.

Though the question of what hell would be like is something I sometimes think about, it is not something I fear. Although the fear of hell once dominated my life, that fear is now gone. And others have told me the same thing. When one first begins to doubt the faith of his youth, he will naturally have such fears. But it is my experience that the fear goes away after time.

I have often considered the possibility that I might be wrong. Suppose I wake up after death and find to my surprise that I must now face a judgement. Then what? Well, if we wake to find ourselves in an afterlife, then I think none of us could be so arrogant to say we know for sure what will happen next. We don't. Such an experience is so far from any data that we now have available that we would all be uncertain at that point. Now my best guess is that, if I should find myself alive in the afterworld, I will be glad that I did exactly what I did, that I honestly admitted my doubts, and willingly helped people to use their own minds to escape beyond the bondage of religious fear and start living.

Although I have been taught to fear hell from childhood, I would be very surprised if the fear of hell would come back to me at death's door. I have thought about that moment so many times in my life that I think I would be prepared. I expect for me that death will be like going to sleep. It will be like realizing that the consciousness that I call "Me" is going to sleep, never to wake.

If you fear hell, I would ask you to face that fear boldly. Think about it. Read the evidence that death ends all. Read about the lack of evidence of the need to maintain certain beliefs to escape hell. Think about what is important to you in life, and what actions in life will make you the most confident when you face the end of life.

Face the fears boldy, and then move on. Live life to the fullest. For it is life that matters, not death. And it is up to each of us to make the most of this life.


SpeirM said...

"I understand your fears, but I can truthfully say that, if you continue your course, I expect those fears will disappear."

I agree with those words. I was raised in a strict Christian home. There was probably no time when I wasn't acquainted with the concept of hell. Although I didn't dwell on it, it was never allowed to be too far from my consciousness. Consequently, it became as much an emotional entity as an intellectual one.

I deconverted a little over two years ago, and I can vouch for the fact that all that emotional momentum cannot possibly stop on a dime. The baggage the train carries has to slow down with the train, and it takes just as long. Many was the time when I lay on my bed saying, "God if you really are there, I could still be convinced, you know." (Nothing ever came of that, of course.) That was prompted, at least in part, by fear. The fear was primarily of hell.

I dealt with this fear by going back through the evidence, over and over. No matter what my heart wanted to believe, the evidence simply did not support it. And, after all, emotions provide a pretty unstable foundation. They have their uses, but one of those is not to cull truth from falsehood. Indeed, how many times had I been warned about relying upon insidious emotion from the pulpit! (Although emotions that led one TO the Faith were good and wholesome. Those leading away were evil, evil, evil!)

It goes away. It really does. Even the heart gradually falls into line as the brain carefully and patiently rehashes the evidence.

LorMar said...

Honestly, I think it depends on the environment one is in. I really don't see most christians as fearing death or hell. What I see are people who believe in a passive God who will never punish the believer. This goes back to the comment I made about the many christians who sin all they like because they are "under grace." I hate to admit, even I fall into that mold at times. To be very honest, I really don't fear hell. I have questioned the validity of the bible and christianity as a whole so many times. In fact, I still have questions. Questioning is a good thing. In my first email to Merle I said that I'd either discover that the God of the bible is a hoax or my relationship with God would be stronger than ever. I am not in the least bit in fear because I mentioned that the God of the bible may be a hoax. It is what I thought of at the time. At the same time, I did go back and laugh at myself for writing such a ridiculous thing; but I have no fear of writing such. In fact, that is a nicer way of putting it. I've said a lot worse toward God over the years (things I care not to list here). One thing I don't mind mentioning is when I threw my bible across my bedroom because "I was tired of it" to put it lightly. Some may not admit this, but many christians do the same and worse when they are angry at God. My point in mentioning this is because our environment/teaching influences how we think. If you are in a group or family that teaches you never to question God or constantly shoves the concept of hell down your throat, of course you will have a lingering and even debilitating fear of hell. I am a christian simply because I want to be. I explore other religions, but they simply do not attract me like christianity does; but that's me and how I see. I can't speak for others who find that buddhism, islam, or wicca is more attractive.

Whether you decide to change your perspective of God or deconvert, it is entirely up to you. Fear should have nothing to do with it.