“And they say it would be a waste of time to pray,
Seeing that I’m going to hell anyway…” Lyfe Jennings, ’26 Years 17 Days’
Of all the reasons that I’ve been given to accept organized religion again, the fear of eternal punishment in hell is paramount. This is completely understandable. When you think about it, fear is the emotion which faith is often founded upon. Sure, the religious will appeal to love of God, to Scripture, to nature itself and to ‘reason'(or rather their particular definition of the word). But the chief weapon in their arsenal is fear, and more specifically, the fear of hell. When Muslim associates were trying to keep me from leaving Islam, they always resorted to this tactic. ‘But what will you have to say to Allah in the afterlife’, one friend asked me(ironically enough this same person apostatized from Islam). In reply I asked her: how can you be so sure there is an afterlife and that Allah will be the one questioning me? Certainly there are other possibilities, such as
- Facing Jesus Christ and having Him ask me why I turned my back on His sacrifice and abandoned Christianity
- Facing Yahweh/Jehovah of the Old Testament and hearing Him say that both Jesus and Mohammed were false prophets
- Facing a completely different entity altogether
- Facing…nothing. I could take my last breath and that could be it
No one can know for sure. No one can give a sure testimony of what happens after we die. Yet that doesn’t stop religious individuals from speaking on the subject with a smug sense of authority. My Book is a right and if you do not acknowledge this, you will reap the horrible consequences for all eternity! Christianity and Islam both claim to be the authority. Yet neither one can tell me where my mother is right now.
My mom passed away in July 2005. It was very unexpected and sudden. On a Sunday I was talking to her about the weekend she’d spent with my sixteen-month old daughter. Three days later I received a frantic phone call from a cousin, telling me that my Mom had suffered a terrible asthma attack. She went into a coma that she would never awake from and passed away ten days later. Months after, when she was finally able to talk about it, my teenage sister recounted our Mom’s last moments of consciousness(my sister had been the only one at home at the time). My sister told me that she could see our Mom’s limbs begin to go stiff. As her organs began to shut down and the oxygen supply to her brain slowed down, she knew something serious was happening. I can only guess that it was fear and the feeling that she was about to die that prompted her last statement. According to my sister, our mother-in between gasps-told her that she loved her. She then quickly recited the Lords’ Prayer, asked Jesus Christ to forgive her for her sins and accept her into His kingdom. Those were her last words before she blacked out.
Now a Christian would hear this story and rejoice. When my Mom passed away, members of her church(my Mom reverted back to being a Baptist in her later years) did their best to solace me. They reminded me of my Mom’s good character and her dying words, assuring me that my mother was in heaven with Christ. I could hold onto this and assure myself that my mom is in a better place.
Or I could take the view of some Muslims I’ve encountered. I could believe that my Mom is condemned as a polytheist and will suffer brutal torture in hellfire because she joined partners with Allah and believed in Jesus Christ. A good friend of mine who we’ll call Mimi, also a convert to Islam, had someone say this to her face. Upon learning that Mimi was a convert, a sister asked her about her family background. Mimi told her that she’d been raised in a two parent household, but that her mother was deceased. The sister then asked Mimi what her family had believed. Mimi responded that her mother was a devout Christian. The sister’s face immediately darkened.”I’m so sorry that your mother died as a Christian!”
When Mimi shared this story with me, I was beyond myself with anger. How could someone say something so cruel? Yet this is what people who follow a literal translation of their Scriptures(Christian or Muslim) believe. An infinitely loving merciful God is going to throw you in eternal torment-not because of how you lived or treated others, but because of what you believed. I refuse to accept that. If I am to believe in a Higher Being and to believe that this Being is Just, how can I reconcile such an injustice with His/Her existence? It just does not add up. As hard as it is, as much as the idea of hellfire has been drilled into my head, I have made a conscious decision to let go of it.