Out From Under the Umbrella

playing in the rain

[TW:hell, abuse] Still a Prisoner; in a hell of our own making

30 Comments

forgiveself

There are many of us who sincerely believed all we were taught.  We believed in heaven and hell.  We believed that anyone else who didn’t believe was headed to a place of eternal torment with weeping and gnashing of teeth where those we cared about and those we didn’t even know would burn forever and ever.  Some of us even wondered how that would be worked out.  Zoe wondered:

Jesus was love and then He wasn’t.  He was the judge.  The penalty, the sentence?  Hell.  What’s it like to love and then just toss even those most wicked of people into the eternal, the everlasting fire.  Does their skin sizzle, does it burn off and then mysteriously reappear only to burn off again?  The screams of those frying?  Do they scream?  Are their voice boxes charred to bits in the fire?  And the not very wicked?  Do they get maybe a cigarette burn and not the whole furnace?  If so, how many cigarette burns?

Personally, I always thought it would be the sensation of burning, maybe not actual flames, but still with the aroma of burnt flesh.  Smoldering smoke rising all about while untold numbers languished in the agony of their burning.  Anyone who’s ever had a third-degree burn would know.  That feeling – only consuming your entire being; whatever that might be.  That burning sensation that no amount of cold water or ice packs can ever really extinguish.  Painful.

hell

We believed this so much and were traumatized by it ourselves from early ages, not necessarily by our parents, but even just the general knowledge that seeped in from church, from television, from society.  Even if our parents didn’t dwell on it and teach us this heinous doctrine directly we got the message that hell was horrendous and no one wanted to be there – even if they didn’t know it themselves.

Because of this belief – which we internalized – we did the only loving thing we knew how to do.  We preached the gospel.  It mattered not if we liked the doctrine of hell.  It mattered not if it was reasonable or rational to believe it.  We started with the presupposition that God was and that this God was the Christian God of the Bible.  If that be true it didn’t matter if we agreed with his form of justice or if we approved.  Who was the clay to tell the potter what to do with his vessels?  He could break them into a million pieces if he wished; just ask Job.

This literal belief in hell drove us to subject ourselves to abuses beyond what we’d imagined.  Moreover; abuse begets abuse.  We abused others with the love we lavished on them.  We believed this doctrine so much that the trauma it caused was a necessary evil in our minds.  If it’s true that non-belief results in an eternity of torment, which is worse?  A little trauma in this life?  Or an eternity of trauma in the next?

Over the ages people have attempted to reconcile a loving God with the God who created this “justice” system.  This doctrine has been twisted and turned in every angle to wrestle with it’s implications.  What about children?  What is the age of accountability?  What about people who have never heard the gospel?  What about those who were raise in other cultures and religions who, even upon hearing the gospel, reject it because it’s, well, unbelievable for them?

Rob Bell argues that “at the centre of the Christian tradition since the first church have been a number who insist that history is not tragic, hell is not forever, and love, in the end, wins.”[1] Universal salvation.  No hell, and if there is it’s educational, and not eternal.  Different ‘sects’ of Christianity have attempted, at different times, to get the hell out of their Bibles, only to the clanging cymbals of those who can’t imagine an eternity where there isn’t one.

Then there are those of us – like Zoe, myself, and countless others – who have rethought our position on the whole pursuit.  We said ‘to hell with hell and all the rest’.  Not before many sleepless nights, many nightmares, much anguish, wringing hands, much study and consideration did we come to our conclusions.

What I would plead with you all to know is; we are sorry.  We acted in good faith on what we knew to be true at the time.  And we are sorry.  We traumatized others with our version of truth and what we were just so damn sure was reality.  We literally tried to scare the hell out of our children and others.  We have wept over our actions.  And we are sorry.

There comes a time, though, when we’ve said we’re sorry enough.  When we must stop beating ourselves up over our past failures.  If we continue to wallow in the agony of what we did in the past what good have we accomplished?  We may be free of those inane beliefs, but we are still prisoners in our own minds.

We may have done some things we regret, but we are surely not the sum of those things.  It’s time to forgive ourselves.  It’s time to live free.

============================================================================================================

[1]Excerpt from Love Wins, Rob Bell

*Edited to add citation.

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30 thoughts on “[TW:hell, abuse] Still a Prisoner; in a hell of our own making

  1. Great Post, Ruth !

    I am right there with ya ! When you look back at the history of Judaism and Christianity it should have become quite apparent this was a fabrication to control people. But because of our “indoctrination” we weren’t permitted to question its existence.

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    • Thanks, Ken!

      When you take off the rose-colored God-glasses it does become very clear that it’s all a crock. I was told over and over again that looking at the world without them would give me a distorted, false view of the world. So it took me long time to take a peek without them. Now looking at the Bible without them is kind of like looking at a movie screen in 3-D without the goggles.

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  2. Excellent! Well said words about a vicious and inhumane doctrine. I think about my 8 year old daughter who seems to have a very similar personality to my own, and I think about all of her friends at school who believe this stuff and tell her about it. And I wonder – will she be scared into believing things like this in the same way that my high school and college friends influenced my own thoughts and fears which caused me to go on to influence others? I hope not. It’s one of many reasons why I continue to blog about these things. I am thankful that my wife and I will be there for both of our children to show them what love really is – how could I imagine ever wanting eternal sadness for either of them no matter what they ever decide to do to us and how could love ever include such a thing? (and I’m also thankful that my 6 year old son seems to have the personality of my wife that doesn’t let “fear pressure” phase them).

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    • Hey Howie!

      It’s all confusing for little kids. I don’t know what, or if, you’re teaching them about all of this, but kids usually believe adults more than other kids – although I can see peer pressure being involved. Hell, depending on how it’s presented – and as you point out the disposition of the child – is a sinister, dark, scary and very traumatic thing to a person’s psyche.

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  3. I accept your apology. You are forgiven. You may now proceed to stop wallowing in the agony of what you did in the past. Go forth, live long, and prosper.

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  4. Move on. You’ve earned it.

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  5. Ruth, although you may have done some things you regret – which is true for anyone – I’m sure there were many other things you did, that you don’t regret – and isn’t that the human condition?

    It’s time to live freely and freely LIVE!! I’m very happy to know you now and I bet I would have been happy to know you then. I think there’s someone famous who said something like, “Regrets are healthy, just don’t make yourself a prisoner over them”. . . no doubt a very poor paraphrase but good advice!

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    • Thanks, carmen!

      I really did this post for my dear blog buddy, Zoe and charity in response to comments here. I hope she can rid herself of the guilt of this and freely live her life. I certainly do feel a certain amount of guilt about it, but I’m walking right through that out to the other side.

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  6. Ruth asks:
    “What about children? What is the age of accountability? What about people who have never heard the gospel? What about those who were raise in other cultures and religions who, even upon hearing the gospel, reject it because it’s, well, unbelievable for them?”

    Gag – I cannot tell you how many Bible studies I attended in which we tortured ourselves with questions like these. “Gee, what if I am a Christian, and I get in an accident, get amnesia, and forget my Faith?” “Hmmm, what if I get Alzheimer’s or Turret’s and blaspheme the Holy Ghost without knowing it?” And the unspoken motive behind all these imagined scenarios was, ‘despite all my best efforts, is there still a chance that I could wind up in hell?’

    When I was little, I cannot tell you how many hellfire sermons were preached at me by ranting tent revivalists. “Imagine, if you will, holding a flame to your finger. Imagine the pain! And just that touch of flame on the tip of your finger, held for just a moment before it is blown away, causes such pain! – Just imagine the tortures of eternal hellfire!” There was no doctrine of God’s justice that needed to be rationalized. All I knew was I had to get right with God or there would be hell to pay.

    There is no nice way to say it. Inflicting the boogy-man of hell on children is psychological abuse that has life-long detrimental effects on the brain. I am convinced of that.

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    • All of this hell stuff is tortured logic, for sure!

      ” I cannot tell you how many hellfire sermons were preached at me by ranting tent revivalists. “Imagine, if you will, holding a flame to your finger. Imagine the pain! And just that touch of flame on the tip of your finger, held for just a moment before it is blown away, causes such pain! – Just imagine the tortures of eternal hellfire!” There was no doctrine of God’s justice that needed to be rationalized. All I knew was I had to get right with God or there would be hell to pay.”

      Absolutely! Emotional and psychological blackmail. It’s an effective strategy.

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  7. By the way Ruth, we have all done those things that we later regret. Purge your life of what you did. You nobody to repent to. No atonement is necessary. You are clear to live guilt free.

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  8. Ark directed me here through Nate’s blog, Ruth. This topic seriously scoops my guts out. It’s hard for me to still not feel some sort of tinge that this is my world once I die. I know that’s fucked up, but it’s a bit of a struggle for me once in a while. For instance, I went to another blog and commented on her video about hell just this morning. I had no issue, but seeing something about hell for the second time today, well, it’s too much. Please understand that I am not wronging you for it. This is a topic that needs to be discussed. This time, the mention of hell hurts. I once told Mak that I still struggle with hell and death. I told Victoria yesterday that I’m currently grieving the loss of my grandmother. She died in the 1990s.

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    • Oh, Charity, I’m sorry for that. This was supposed to be a good post, a post about letting go of the past. But trust me when I say I understand your fear. We all want some kind of certainty and when there isn’t any it’s frightening. I also used to get full-on panic attacks about hell when I was in my doubt phase.

      It is fucked up. The fear of hell, it’s emotional abuse. I do hope you can dis-abuse yourself of the notion of it. *hugs* Big ones.

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      • NO, no, no apologies necessary, Ruth. Seriously, there’s something bigger going on than what I had thought. Sometimes, hell doesn’t phase me, but at other times I can feel my face heat up and tears welling up in my eyes. You are a phenomenal person and I appreciate your desire to bring all the fears and concerns of deconverts out into the open. Most of us live in really conservative areas throughout the world where Christianity and or Islam are common place. Who are we going to talk to about such things? Thank you for your concern. Thank you for this forum.

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        • That is exactly why this blog exists. So that people who have doubts, who are frightened beyond belief, who have no where else to turn, have a soft place to land.

          There were others who were that place for me. I suggest HeIsSailing’s blog. He has a very good post about how he dispensed with the notion of hell. And Thoughts From a Sandwich. And, of course, Zoe’s blog at Secular Wings. There are many others, but these were very instrumental to me and provided me with my soft place to land and question.

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    • And this, this right here, is why we’ve got to quit pussy-footing around about this horrible, horrible doctrine! Because, dammit, it does this to people and it needs to stop. There is nothing, nothing, just or righteous, merciful, or loving in the thought of hell.

      I want to help you disabuse yourself of the notion that this awaits you. With every ounce of my being I don’t believe that it does. Have you read Love Wins?

      I’ve done a fair bit of looking into Universal Salvation. It has a lot of merit. Eastern Orthodox Christianity – which predates western Christianity – teaches it. This whole notion of a literal hell is designed to torment and scare the hell out of people in the here and now.

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    • {{{{{Zoe}}}}} ❤

      If I could look into your eyes and tell you how much you've helped me get past so many things I would. I'd also tell you that you've been through enough hell. I can't tell you how you should feel, but what I can tell you is that you're not teaching this to people(your children/grandchildren included) anymore. You've given Zoe more than enough black eyes.

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      • I know I’m not saying much right now, some unexpected personal stuff going on, but you cannot imagine how timely your comment is. You know how someone can tell you something positive but it bounces right off of you because of other stuff? Well this did not bounce. This stuck. I’m really glad I’ve helped you.

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  9. Fantastic post, Ruth.
    We have already been to hell, and survived.
    I see lots of beautiful, pink, rejuvenating skin. 🙂

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  10. We said ‘to hell with hell and all the rest’. Not before many sleepless nights, many nightmares, much anguish, wringing hands, much study and consideration did we come to our conclusions.

    Amen:)

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    • It is so easily dismissed, as if we just woke up one day and went..”meh”. Unless they experience this excruciating doubt they will never understand. Sound familiar?

      Like

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