I am about to describe a problem I have been struggling with lately. We live in a multi-cultural world and just because someone is not an atheist like me I should not assume they are any less of a human being than anybody else. I have had discussions with Christians, Muslims, Jews, Hindus, Buddhists and Pagans and in all of these religions I have found people who’s company I have quite enjoyed.
I am aware that this problem does not include every one of these, just a few of the religions and even then not all of the subscribers to those faiths but it is quite a common theme in at least two of the big theologies.
I, like most native Europeans, have had the most experience in dealing with Christianity. The other day, when talking to a friend of mine who is a Christian, something struck me and it made me feel uneasy about being near this person and indeed, it made me feel uneasy about every Christian I have ever met.
There I was, chatting with a person who was smiling, laughing, being relaxed while in the back in his head he truly believes that when I die I will go to hell. I will be tortured forever. When I have endured suffering and torment beyond that of human comprehension for millions of years, I will still have an eternity to go and I will not even have death to look forward to. This will be my punishment for not boosting the ego of a supreme being.
This person, who is currently enjoying my company and calls me his friend, is perfectly fine with this. He thinks this is the way it should be. He can look at me and think “Yes, this is a nice guy, but he will be tortured forever and ever, and this is good.”
I am sorry, I am trying hard to accept people from all walks of life but this is a frightening way to look at the people around you. I mean, what a frigging A-hole.
And yes, I know that some Christians claim to find it tragic that some people go to hell, but they still worship the deity that put this system in place so no, you will not be spared the A-hole label just because you can shed crocodile tears.
I am a bit shaken up actually, to think that so many people are in favor of eternal torture for what is essentially a thought crime makes me fear for humanity. I don’t mean to be this hostile to any one religion but I am having a hard time letting this one go. Someone please help me figure this out, in my mind the world is suddenly full of monsters.
One last thing. If anyone wants a good definition of the word evil… this comes pretty close.
Right-o. It seems, in these early stages of my blogdom (did I just invent a new word?) that starting with a brief description of myself in context of the subject matter is appropriate.
My name is Peter and I am 30 years old. I was born, and grew up in the, for this day and age, relatively secular country of Sweden. Secular (or as my grandmother would put it, godless) as this country may be, it is still officially a Christian nation, Protestant to be exact. Swedes are a pretty easy going bunch, if it ain’t broken, don’t fix it kind of thing, which means that a lot of people here are christian, not because they believe in God or Jesus, but because they were raised with that label and it’s never been a problem, so why do anything about it? This meant that even though the majority of my family never really believed in it, no one saw a problem with my grandmother insisting in making sure I was indoctrinated into the faith. My mother does claim to believe in God, but her seemingly conscious sidestepping whenever the topic arises leads me to believe that she does her best to appear to be a believer in order to please her own mother, my… sensei in the culture that worships the symbol of torture and death of their savior.
So in my early years I believed. Why wouldn’t I? I was just a small child, and the people who were meant to teach me about the world, the adults, either told me there was a God or said nothing about it, and why would they lie? However, my doubts came very early. For better of for worse, I have always been an abstract thinker, a ponderer and a reveler and most of my earliest memories in life have to do with religious doubt. Simple things at first, it started with a fear of heaven. Yes, a fear of heaven, let me explain; Apparently there is this place called hell, and another place called heaven, one is for punishment and the other is for reward. Both these places have one thing in common. Eternity.
My fear of heaven was really fear of eternity, anything that lasts forever must sooner or later become a place of torment. My reasoning at the moment was something along the lines of “Sure, paradise has great games, great movies, lots of things that are fun.. but it’s eternal.. there will come a time when you’ve seen every possible movie a million times, heard every joke there is or ever will be and you’ve grown bored with everything in existence, and from that point on, eternity will go on as eternity does only now it will consist of one thing, apathy.” The only way this would not be the case would be if your scope of existence is still limited around the present and you forget things in the past but If that is true, a time will come when you will have no memory of your earthly life and so the entire experience we call life will be rendered completely pointless.
These thoughts kept me up many nights. And what followed? Guilt of course! How can I, a mere mortal have negative thoughts of heaven? God must be furious with me! I prayed and I prayed for forgiveness and tried to make sure God knew that I was sorry for my blasphemous thoughts but… I knew that my thoughts were valid, I wasn’t sorry for thinking them. Did I just lie to God? The one being in the universe that knows everything about me and I was lying through my teeth during a prayer? He will surely send me to hell for this! But.. how can that be fair? I am only thinking about the words that he gave me to guide me in life, using the brain and sense of logic he gave me, how can he sentence me to eternal torment for that? I thought God was supposed to love me? What kind of loving parent would want to force eternal torture upon his own child?
Yes, this was all before I turned 10.
There came a point where I couldn’t keep it up. I became a closet self hating christian, but tried my hardest to never ever think about it because thinking about it could only bring fear and frustration. Then came Confirmation.
I cannot remember my exact age but it was in the ballpark of 15, half my life ago, when, in christian tradition, I was to validate my baptism when of an age that would allow me to practice free will. Like everything else christian in Sweden, most people do it out of tradition rather than beliefs, and for the kids, it’s a great opportunity to score some presents. It was during confirmation that I was required to really look into my “faith” and study it in order to say “yes this is what I believe” and it was this process that made me realize that no! I do not believe this. So many things in the scripture I was asked to accept as fact were so unbelievably ridiculous that I felt stupid for ever having entertained the thought that they might be real! I won’t go into detail here but I was having a hard enough time swallowing the nonsense fed to me in my infancy, all these talking snakes, rain leaking in from space through holes in heaven, magic fairy tales and morally reprehensible acts by a loving God just pushed me over the edge. I was done with this faith. I still said the words and got the presents, what kind of fool would pass that up?
And so I drifted from Christianity. I toyed with the idea that the bible might work as metaphor, and maybe there is some kind of reincarnation, as I’ve said before, I enjoy speculation and abstract thinking. It would be at least another decade though before I started calling myself an Atheist. What took me so long? Come back later for the continuation.
How about you? Care to share stories like this with me? Comment, or contact me, I will be happy to include interesting questions or anecdotes from friendly commenters. Have you had a similar journey? Or a completely different one? Please let me know!
And also.. this was my second entry, how am I doing?