Ok, I have a question for any ex-thologians, current theologians, recently de-converted Christians or anyone else with thoughts on the matter.  It comes from an interesting situation.


On the weekend, my 60 year old mum went skydiving.  Pretty proud of her courage, but she was a bit anxious leading up to it and in her typical fashion, took it to the melodramatic length of writing us all notesd to read in case she died.  We all said "thanks for the lovely thoughts but don't be silly" and of course the jump went fine and she loved it.


However it did get me to thinking.


In her note to me she said some very nice things about being proud of me, and her love for both me and my wife,  but also that her biggest hope in life was that I come back to faith, and "return to believing that god is love and welcomes you with open arms"...  or something like that.


Of course, one cannot believe that which oine knows to be false, even if one wanted to.  It goes against the nature of the human mind.  And even if i could, I would consider it the biggest tragedy in my life if I suffered a brain injury that caused me to believe such dangerous and silly nonsense again.  I am free of that (and have been these last 10 years) and can and will never return to such an infantile world view.


So I am certainly going to dissapoint mum in that regard, although I do not want her, when it is eventually her time, to leave this one life we have feeling anxious about my eternal soul.  Like I said, the simple thing would be to, when she is getting closer to the end of her life, pretend that I have become a Christian again, but this would go against everything I value and hold to be important.  However, neither do I want to be calous and just say "Mum, I'm never going to believe and that's it" which will leave her with an ongoing anxiety up till the end f her life that her son will be in hell for eternity.


So I have come up with a plan.


I need to cure my mother of her fear of hell.


I have no desire to try to de-convert her, to destroy her faith, or convince her that I am right about the non-existence of god.  her faith works for her and as long as it's not hurting anyone else, that's fine.  It gives her comfort, but part of it also causes her pain as it has convinced her that my not sharing her belief has eternal consequences.  So I do need to tear down that part of the belief, so that she can be at peace about my atheism.


The fear of hell is one of the most ingrained and damaging components of Christianity.  It has been used to control people for centuries and has caused many otherwise intelligent people to relinquish their intellectual honesty and, white knuckled, hold onto unjustified beliefs for der life - beliefs that they really do know deep down have no basis.


It also causes huge distress in those who believ it about their loved ones who do not.  In all these ways and many more as well, the teaching and belief in hell is one of the most insidious and nasty elements of Christianity, not to mention something that would make god, if he did exist, a sadistic, childish, petulant and nasty dictator.


But many many committed Christians, people who have faith that does provide them comfort and eace, do not believe in the now somewhat medieval view of hell.  Unfortunately, my mother's brand of evangelical fundamentalism does believe in a literal hell as a place of eternal torture and suffering.


So I would like to talk to my mother about her belief in hell, encourage her that for her own peace of mind she would be well served to read soem books by trusted Christian authors who challenge the notion of hell, and come to an understanding that the doctrine of hell is not needed for her faith, and is indeed the antithesis of the loving god in whom she professes belief.


Of course, I could outline to her that facts that a belief in hell was not something that has been existent from the start in the Judeo-Christian tradition, and in fact developed slowly and crystalised quite late in the history of monotheism.  I could point out that Jesus almost certainly did not have a belief in hell in the same way that she does, but she would dismiss that as the scepticism of a non-believer, and shut her ears to the facts the same way that she chooses to remain ignorant of the basics of evolutionary biology or the development of the documents that now constitute the bible.


So I need to be able to direct her to thinking about hell, that comprehensively destroys the notion of eternal suffering and torture, from inside her own sphere of belief.


If people have suggestions of Christian authors who write well on this topic, or have their own ideas about arguments that can cure Christians of hell fear, I would be most appreciative.

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Try to substitute the fear of wasting this life worrying about the fantasies con men use to control us.  Use anger to get them to see that religions are giant con games and they have been taken in.  Religion thrives on pride; use pride to destroy it.
When discussing the fate of my 'immortal soul' with Christians, I propose the notion of Universal Salvation. If Jesus was sent to earth to pay the price for sin, then he did so. To suggest anything less than the ultimate sacrifice paying the ultimate price in full is blasphemy. So, I'm not worried. That red herring is usually sufficient to end me as the topic of conversation.

Should 'faith' be brought into the discussion, I will ask if I had to have 'faith' in Adam to have fallen? An act for an act; let's not muddy the waters with gnostic ideals and mind games.
My idea of hell would be living eternity with Christian fundamentalists and Pentecostals. Give me the fire and brimstone, please!
Curing people of a fear of hell is not only useful for Christians, but also people of other religions, and even ex-Christians, who might still have that fear in the back of their mind.
Really great ideas there - thanks everyone.

Jason - yes, the notion of universal salvation is one that is actually proposed by some evangelical writers as well, so may be a way to lead with mum.

And I do know of people who's parents have adopted that thinking in order to be able to live with their kids' atheism. In fact, one of my wife's friends is an atheist, and his dad was a seventh day adventist minister (as is my wife's dad). Anyway, this guy's mum adopted a universalist approach to salvation, which then lead her on a path of questioning why belief in the right thing was necessary at all. She is now an atheist.

And Prog Rock Girl - yes, it can take a while for some folk to shake that last vestigal fear of hell once they have moved on from religious belief - it is a powerful fear - which is why the church has been so successful for so long. Personally, i used to still get twangs of that fear, but am glad to report that over the last 5 years, that fear has become completely extinct in me. I hope that it can for others that feel it too - it's a really nasty little last kick in the guts from religion!! (and one of the nastiest doctrines of Christianity in general).

If anyone is interested, I did find an evangelical writer who is known for being rather unorthodox, who has a book out shortly that deals with this very topic. His name is Rob Bell, and the book is called Love Wins... it might be interesting - I'm sure it will still be full of ridiculous myth, but if it at least challenges the fear of hell from within the Christian tradition, then taht's a start.
I would definitely recommend Rob bell. He's pretty popular in Christian circles although his newest book, though not even out yet, has gotten a lot of flack for its supposed heresy of universalism. Heres his youtube video promoting the book: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WrWUWGE45Ds.
Fred Clark is a blogger/writer with both feet planted in Christianity. But somehow he has managed to keep his brain intact. He recently had a series of articles related to Rob Bell's video on youtube re: hell, which went in all sorts of interesting directions. He's easy to read, provides links to other articles, and doesn't make your head want to explode.


You could also point out to your lovely, caring mother that there are plenty of scary beliefs out there that some people believe in and other people don't. For example, a friend and I were talking about ghosts and she said something to indicate that they were scary and I said I didn't believe in them, therefore-not scary. She looked at me with that blank look and then a light went on. Same thing with hell. If you don't believe in it, it doesn't scare you. So perhaps finding something that other people think is scary (bats, spiders, zombies, Sarah Palin) that she _doesn't_ think is scary might help her relate to how you feel.

Also, I wonder if bringing up your not buying into Pascal's Wager would do you some benefit? Would your mother rather that you lie, and god see through your lie and send you to hell anyway for lying the Big Lie? I don't know. Just a thought.




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