I got a kind of amazing comment yesterday by bexie on my Atheists and Anger post (kind of amazing that it’s still getting comments all these years later!), and I wanted to quote it here in its entirety so people wouldn’t miss it. Take it away, bexie.
“And I’m angry that their religion, which if nothing else should have been a comfort to them in their old age, was instead a source of anguish and despair — because they knew their children and grandchildren were all going to be burned and tortured forever in Hell, and how could Heaven be Heaven if their children and grandchildren were being eternally burned and tortured in Hell?”
This right here is the original thing that led to me losing my Christian faith. I was raised Christian, by my Baptist mother. We went to church every week, and I liked it – I liked the hymns, I liked the other children there, and I liked skipping up and down the aisle to the music when the hymns were being sung (I remember my favourite was ‘Shine Jesus Shine’). And for a while, I liked Sunday School, until I hit about ten years old, moved up to the next age group, and we stopped just being told the nicey nice stories about what Jesus did. I remember one Sunday School session being almost exclusively about the following passage from the Bible (I forget where in the Bible it’s from, and the wording may not be exact, but):
“I am the way, the truth, and the light. There is no way to the Father, except through me.”
And we were told that this meant the only way people could get into heaven was if they accepted Jesus Christ. Everyone else would go to Hell.
This didn’t sit right with me, even then. I remember raising my hand and saying “What, even nice people? People who don’t do anything bad?” and was told that not believing in Jesus made them bad people, and that’s why they would go to Hell.
We were also told “All sins are equal in the eyes of the Lord” – so if we told a small white lie, like the good old “The dog ate my homework”, in the eyes of God, this would be the same as going out and murdering someone – which even to my childhood self, seemed like a completely and utterly crazy concept. It made absolutely no sense. I didn’t understand why these adults, who were supposed to know so much more than us, could actually say such a thing.
But back to the not believing in Jesus = Hell thing. This caused me much, much panic and terror and crying later on, once I’d had time to think about it, because I remembered – my father, who was divorced from my mother, who had never harmed anyone in his life, and who, in my opinion, was the single most wonderful, amazing and greatest person in the universe, had told me, after I asked why he didn’t go to church, that he didn’t believe in God.
And according to what I was taught at church, by the minister, the Sunday school teachers, my own mother – this meant that he would go to Hell.
I didn’t want my daddy to go to Hell. Why would God ever want to send him to Hell? He’s such a wonderful man – and he has primary progressive multiple sclerosis. He’s been in a wheelchair since I was about seven years old, and will never walk again. Over the years since, he’s been slowly losing the use of his arms and hands as well as his legs, is confined to his home, and lives in almost constant pain. So according to my Church, God gave him a horrible, progressive, incurable disease, that makes him suffer greatly in life – and then punishes him further when he’s gone by sending him to be tortured for an eternity in Hell?
Why would anyone WANT to believe in a God like that?!
And then, later, I came to another realisation – Heaven was supposed to be a paradise, where we all lived happily for eternity. But for me, it wouldn’t be Heaven unless my Dad would be there, too. How on earth would I EVER be able to enjoy a paradise, knowing that my own dear father was suffering an eternity of torment in Hell instead? It wouldn’t BE heaven. It wouldn’t be a paradise.
And that’s when it struck me – the whole promise of Heaven is a complete and utter lie. They promise me Heaven – yet also promise that my father would go to hell – meaning that it wouldn’t be Heaven. And in the years since, not just my father – my sister, who is atheist. Practically all of my friends. My fiancé, who is Jewish. According to what I was taught, they would all go to hell.
So basically, if I went to Heaven, I’d be totally alone (apart, it must be said, from my mother, and while I love her with all my heart she does my head in after a couple of hours on earth, an eternity with ONLY her for company would be… gargh) with the knowledge that everyone else I’ve ever loved or cared about was burning in Hell. And at risk of sounding like a broken record… that would mean it’s not Heaven.
And that’s what eventually made me stop believing in God, Jesus and religion in general – because isn’t the whole POINT of religion “Do what it says here and you’ll go to a lovely place when you die”. That’s what it all revolves around. Not just Christianity, but ALL religions revolve around something good happening when you die. And if that isn’t true… then the whole thing is a lie.
I didn’t come to all these conclusions that day when I was ten, however. It took a long, long time before I finally realised this truth – or maybe I realised it then, and it took me that long to accept it. It wasn’t an easy thing. In those years I still went to church, Sunday school, and when I was older, Bible study sessions. Each one seemed to slowly push me further away, as I found problems with more and more things I was being taught as fact.
But you know what… sometimes, even though I’ve now been an atheist for years, and I’m now a woman in my twenties, I sometimes still sit bolt upright in the night in terror, thinking “What if there IS a Hell, and I end up there?”
A lifetime of indoctrination is pretty hard to completely shake off.