Letting Go of Hell…

“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.

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A native Seattleite and recent East Coast transplant, I have been interested in politics, religion, and race from the day I saw “The Autobiography of Malcolm X” on the bookshelf belonging to my BFF’s mom back in 1991. While my zealotry has thankfully diminished with maturity, I remain the deep thinking, passionate, and humble woman I have always been. I reside in the suburbs of NYC with my husband, daughter, and our two feisty but deeply loved cats.

7 thoughts on “Letting Go of Hell…

  1. “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. ”

    Agreed! There could be a hell but if there is then a lot of people (non-believers AND BELIEVERS) might be surprised at the rules for ending up there

    1. “Agreed! There could be a hell but if there is then a lot of people (non-believers AND BELIEVERS) might be surprised at the rules for ending up there.”

      Soyini, that would be something else indeed!

  2. Hello DD, I caught your post on CEMB a while back and followed you to your blog and have been enjoying it; I really like to read more than comment but once in a while topics come up that I kinda like responding to.

    I think you’re right; fear of Hell is a manipulation and an injustice. I’m what I’d call a “spirit-filled” Christian, however I hold very unconventional beliefs of some long-held doctrines based on what I learn in my own research (and what I believe I’m guided to understand), NOT what is taught by tradition. An eternally suffering unbelieving soul is one of those beliefs I outright reject.

    This isn’t to try to get you “interested” in any religion but as a Bible-believing Christian I’m confident saying that I don’t see any teaching in the NT, OT, or any early church fathers prior to the western church that describe the “hell” we’ve come to be taught. I don’t base my belief on moralistic grounds (ie, the injustice of eternal Hell for simply “not believing”, although it is a small component), but on textual and traditional ones. If you’d be interested in some of the research I’ve done and the debates involved from close to the beginning of Christianity, I’d be happy to provide you with that.

    If not, don’t think that you have to believe in eternal suffering in order to be a Christian, if you’re considering it at all. If you’re not considering it, then you can take what I say here with a grain of salt, and I truly wish you the very best in your life moving forward. 🙂

    1. Hi Black Sheep,

      Thanks for taking the time to read and share your thoughts. I really appreciate the way that you make your points without necessarily pressuring anyone to accept them. We could certainly use more of this kind of discourse when it comes to religion.

      In discussing the concept of hell with some Christians. I have been told that the picture we have of hell is inaccurate. Some scholars have stated that the concept didn’t even exist in Judaism originally and is actually borrowed from Zoroastrianism, which influenced the Jews while they were in Persia. I’d definitely be interested in checking out your information regarding the subject of hell. It’s great that you’ve taken the time to research the subject yourself, I truly respect that.

  3. I’ve been thinking about the idea of an afterlife and the considerable hold it has on us. I’ve even got a post in the works but haven’t been able to finish it. Either way, it was interesting to me to see you posted this because hell is a subject which has been on the forefront of my mind as well.

    In Islam the descriptions of hell are quite terrifying and the Quran speaks of hell in practically every other verse. For me, even when i was practicing, I had a very difficult time reading the Quran because of all the threats. The Quranic God is a very vengeful and hateful entity. And isn’t that just another form of anthropomorphism? Surely if there is a God he isn’t as petty and hateful as us humans.

    1. “In Islam the descriptions of hell are quite terrifying and the Quran speaks of hell in practically every other verse. For me, even when i was practicing, I had a very difficult time reading the Quran because of all the threats. The Quranic God is a very vengeful and hateful entity.”

      Stephanie, I completely feel you! As a Christian I had certainly been taught the idea of hell, but it wasn’t nearly as detailed as it is in Islam. Those verses are incredibly scary. Part of me believes that one reason why some Muslims are so keen on taking everything so literally and not questioning their faith is that they are terrified of the eternal consequences of unbelief. It seems like a great way of keeping people in line, you know?

      The picture of God painted in the Quran is interesting as well. It was odd to me to constantly say Bismillah ir-Rahman ir-Raheem when it seemed like this entity wasn’t really that beneficent or merciful…

  4. Hi again DD,

    “I really appreciate the way that you make your points without necessarily pressuring anyone to accept them. We could certainly use more of this kind of discourse when it comes to religion.”

    I agree! I think many forget (or never consider) that for a lot of people, faith or a choice of religion comes after sometimes a lifetime of disbelief. It was that way in my case, and for most of my life I was at best a Deist. Circumstances and some personal experiences as I was nearing 30 radically changed me, but I still identify with how I felt when I didn’t really believe. I could take it or leave it until I was basically left with no other choice but to believe. But that’s another story!

    Anyway, I’m going to give you a couple articles which started me on the path to research Hell and whether it’s a valid doctrine, Biblically speaking. I followed up by doing some research using a Greek and Hebrew concordance, and cross-referenced the Bible verses which are often taught to support the Hell doctrine. I also read through a lot of the early church fathers’ writings and tried (unsuccessfully) to find extra-biblical teachings to support traditional doctrine. If you’d like to talk about it more, you can always email me (catnapr@msn.com).

    As a side note, I don’t know why but I was surprised to read where you’re from; I’m actually pretty close to you when you consider the internet contacts people make. I live in the Portland area!

    Anyway, here are those links:

    http://www.blogster.com/drjohn/doctrine-immortality-early
    http://www.afterlife.co.nz/a-brief-history-of-conditional-immortality-and-answers-to-critics-part-one-by-david-green-fdtl-iss-6/
    http://specialtyinterests.net/champions_of_conditional_immortality.html

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