I have an ambivalent relationship with Christianity. I find liberal/progressive Christianity to be quite agreeable. In fact, I rather like progressive Christians and I even find myself seeing beauty in their theology. I can’t bring myself to believe in the supernatural aspects of their theology, but I generally find their values and moral codes to be quite sensible. As for the rest of Christianity… not so much. To be quite honest, there are many aspects of moderate and conservative Christianity that I simply detest.
A belief in hell is one of the aspects of Christianity that I find to be completely abhorrent. Not all versions of Christianity emphasize or discuss the existence of hell, but you can be sure that the further to the right Christian theology leans, the more integral hell becomes.
As a child, hell was a concept that I lived in constant fear of. You see, I was a gender variant, LGBT child. I realized that I was different from other children sometime in the first or second grade. I kept this realization to myself, knowing that my difference was a sign of a “sick” and “defective” character. I realized that god hated who I was, but in spite of this knowledge, my best efforts failed to change my defective character. I suspected that god would most likely punish me for my corrupt nature and consequently, I lived in constant fear of his wrath.
Let me tell you, living under this kind of fear is really destructive to a child’s emotional well-being. I lived in fear that I would suffer in hell for all eternity. I remember spending my idle moments during summer vacation obsessing about death. The thought that I would die someday would enter into my young mind unbidden and would grip me with a single notion: when I leave this earthly plane, god will cast his judgment upon me and banish me into eternal torment. I will be alone, suffering unspeakable, unending torture. My future held only darkness… unending, torturous darkness.
I was just a little kid. I had no emotional defenses against this horror. I lived in terror of my future and I hadn’t even left elementary school. I obsessed over every little fault in my character and mistake in my actions. I confessed any possible wrong doing to my parents in the hope that I could compensate for my incurable “sickness.” Hopefully, if I was an extra good child, god would overlook my corrupt nature and allow me into heaven. I was wracked by guilt and obsessed with walking the straight and narrow. My parents were annoyed by my constant confessions and they had no idea why I was behaving this way. Eventually, the magnitude of their annoyance won out and I ceased my odd behavior.
Just before adolescence, I stopped attending church and Sunday school. Thankfully, as time passed, my fear of hell began to subside. My obsession with death faded into a bad memory. I made the decision to reject Christianity when I was 17. It took a good twenty years before I could walk into a Christian church and not feel sick to my stomach.
I am going to be blunt: the concept of hell is an abusive, sick belief to teach to a little kid. My childhood experience with the fear of hell is the primary reason I grew to hate all religion with a burning passion, and this hatred lasted for many years. This generalized hatred for religion eventually subsided, but on some level, I still feel a sense of animosity toward more traditional variations of Christianity. The damage that Christianity did to me as a child was simply barbaric. There is no better word to describe the cruelty of a spiritual philosophy that emotionally tortures young children and in the process, damages their psyches. I make no apologies for the bitterness I feel toward traditional Christianity, for that bitterness is well deserved.
When I think of the hell-believing Christians in the world, there’s something that I just don’t understand about these people: why do they even trust their god? Let’s think about the moment of creation. Here we have an entity that is about to create the world and all of the living things on it. This entity, being all knowing, is aware that some of the people it will create are going to do things that will eventually displease it. Nevertheless, it creates the world and its inhabitants anyway, it finds that it is displeased with some of the inhabitants (surprise, surprise), and it then decides to torture those humans for all eternity. And the real clincher is that it knew from the start, that it was creating feeling, aware beings who it would eventually subjected to an eternity of pain and suffering. Oddly, it uses the excuse of, “I’m not the one doing this to you. Because of the flaws I created within you, you ‘freely’ choose to engage in actions that displease me. Hence, you are responsible for the never-ending suffering and pain you will experience in hell.” God also created Satan, fully knowing Satan’s future role in tormenting human souls. Since god created everything that exists, this also means that god created hell. Hence, hell is a god-created torture chamber and Satan was created to serve as the master of those environs.
Hell-believing Christians can try to portray their god with all the loving, flowery imagery they want. Their god created living, feeling creatures knowing that it would condemn some of them to eternal pain and suffering. Being all powerful, it could choose to create a universe where its inhabitants are not subject to the grisly horror of eternal torment. Rather than unending torture, it could extinguish an offending soul’s existence or it could even choose to correct the flaw that offended it in the first place. However, this entity chooses not to do so. Instead, god chooses torture over viable alternatives.
There is no way to avoid the fact that their god is a sadistic, evil entity. Knowing that their deity behaves in a sadistic, evil way, why trust it? So what if god claims it will put people in heaven if they follow its rules. Really? Given the sadistic nature of their god, how do they know it won’t change its mind and toss them onto a bed of sharp stakes repeatedly, for all eternity, simply because it is amused by their pain? Just remember, according to the bible, god drowned most of humanity in a world-wide flood. In the story of Job, god and Satan conspired to make god’s most favored follower suffer through countless torments while he was still alive, just to test Job’s faith. If torture and suffering is what god imposes upon its least favored, the world at large, and its most faithful, can you really trust god? At the very least, god doesn’t seem to play nicely with its toys.
If this is the entity that runs the universe, we are all severely and thoroughly fucked: faithful follower and non-believer alike.
The sad thing is, this teaches children and adults that violence, brutal retaliation, and revenge are divine. The highest authority in all creation condones unending pain and suffering as just retribution for anything from incorrect theological beliefs to falling in love with the wrong person.
I know that many traditional Christians see their religion and their god as “loving”, but lying deep within traditional Christianity’s beliefs is a terrible cruelty and violence. Traditional Christians are expected to love, with all their heart, a figure that will hurt and torture them if they do not obey its wishes. They are taught to see brutality as acceptable behavior in a figure who is portrayed as having a loving, caring nature. They are taught to see this relationship as healthy and affirming and they are socialized into this kind of thinking from childhood onward.
Anyone who has survived an abusive relationship with an adult family member or a romantic partner should realize that this kind of theology models the psychology of an abusive relationship and essentially places a stamp of divine morality upon it. Put another way, this theological model teaches children that an abusive relationship is healthy and affirming. This model teaches children to normalize an association between brutality, love, and authority.
As I implied earlier, I know that there are Christians out there who do not buy into the notion of hell. I don’t have a problem with those particular believers. As for the rest of you: you are teaching barbaric, emotionally damaging beliefs to defenseless young children. You are teaching your kids to love an irrational, sadistic, abusive entity. You are teaching children to associate justice and authority with cruelty and abuse. You are teaching children that this is good and wholesome. Have you really thought this through? You are maiming their psyches. You are defiling their innocence. How can you do this and look yourself in the mirror each morning?
This is as disgusting as it is disturbing and it needs to stop. Not tomorrow and not next year… It needs to stop now.