Sunday, March 21, 2010

What is all this about, really?

I've wondered lately whether it's possible that I no longer really fear hell, but that my mind is clinging to the fear for some unconscious reason. I woke up this morning no longer able to access that feeling of fear. At the same time, I didn't rush to hang myself, which I thought I would do if I could ever possibly get past the fear. Now I'm confused. I know that just a few days ago I had a very real and terrifying vision of dying, thinking that peace is finally here, and then waking up to flames. Now I can't retrieve that vision or the fear that went with it.

I know that I did spend at least ten years utterly terrified of going to hell. I remember working at the barbecue restaurant, putting extra wood into the fire pit, looking at the flames and feeling sick at the thought of being in there but unable to die. But what about now, after all these years of studying evolution, cosmology, biology, even studying Christianity from a skeptical point of view? Do I still really worry about it? What have I been doing these past two months? Looking for permission--from believers--to stop believing? Yes, that, but is that all?

Why did I leave the church in the first place? I was about 25, I think, and I had always been ashamed to be a Christian. I had always felt that God's requirement on me was that I publicly and frequently humiliate myself by doing things like wearing religious T-shirts to work, taking my bible with me to work, making sure that everyone knew that I was a Christian. I was always quite ashamed of it, and the only time my shame was reduced was when I knew that everyone around me was also a Christian.

In 1991 I had a job that I liked, and I liked the people I worked with. They seemed like "cool" people, and I wanted them to accept me. I didn't feel like they accepted me as a Christian. That's really what it all came down to: I left the church because I wanted my co-workers to accept me. Their approval seemed more valuable to me than the approval of my brethren, and even more valuable than the approval of God. Why would I do that, knowing that hell would be my reward? Actually, now that I think about it, I'm pretty sure that I was never confident that I'd avoid hell. If my memory serves me at all, I was simply hoping that God would save me, but never sure of it. I was a Christian based only on a very shaky hope; I had convinced myself at age 13 that I would go to hell, and I spent my entire career as a Christian trying vainly to convince myself otherwise.

After I left the church, I started dating Diana. I worried a lot about God's opinion on our sex life, given that we weren't married. I remember trying to talk myself out of worrying about it, trying to justify it somehow, telling myself that surely God wouldn't mind me having sex with my girlfriend. But I was never convinced. While we were still dating, out on a camping trip once, some Mormon missionaries approached us, and before they could say much, I said, "There is no god." I didn't believe it. I just wanted to say it. I wonder how much of my railing against God is simply me rebelling against Edd, against the time that he spanked me because I had told my older sister that I didn't care what Edd's rules were.

Since then I've read so many scientific and skeptical books, and they all ring quite true to me, yet somehow the arguments against the existence of God and the veracity of the bible just don't seem to work. I'm sitting here reading "The God Delusion" again, and finding that while the arguments make logical sense, they don't settle anything for me. For some reason, I have a Murphy's Law attitude about it all. I can remember in gym class once, when we were supposed to jump on a trampoline. I opted out of the activity because my mother had always told us kids not to jump on trampolines due to them being very dangerous. I argued with myself briefly, saying that she would never know, but then I had a vision of her showing up at school by coincidence, or just finding out through the grapevine (or directly from me, due to my own guilty conscience) that I had done it. That feeling is very similar to the hellfire vision I had a couple of days ago.

Is it possible that my fear of hell is totally a manifestation of childhood fears concerning getting into trouble? The fear that I'm screwed no matter what, because in the house run by Edd I was always screwed no matter what?

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