Recently I was asked how I lost my fear of hell; how I came to be ambivalent about the topic. Obviously there is no one-size-fits-all solution to this problem—I can only relate what happened to me. Repetition. Repeated inability to maintain belief in the supernatural consequently causing me to apply the same method to the afterlife and realizing there isn’t one.
I was raised Calvinist where the oft-heard phrase was “Once saved; always saved.” Once you became a Christian, no matter what you did, no matter what happened—your salvation was assured. BUT (and this was a huge asterisk to the whole doctrine) there were people who seemed to have converted, but subsequently did not live like Christians. We wrote those people off to “not being saved in the first place.”
Meaning you are assured of your salvation, unless you aren’t. Real helpful, right? Since one was never quite certain the original salvation took hold. (Worse, there were testimonies from people who claimed they made a salvation prayer as a child, but later realized it was insufficient, and became Christians later in life. Here was irrefutable proof, just because you said the right thing, you may not have made it in yet!)
Having now deconverted--I hear the same accusation made by Calvinists acquaintances; informing me I wasn’t saved in the first place. Looks like my childhood worry was well-placed, eh?!
Further, we believed in the Rapture, so a great test of one’s salvation would be the day where 100’s of millions of people (including everyone I knew) disappeared. If you were left standing here…well…there you go! Not-saved. I can still recall moments in stores, being separated from my mother for longer than expected, and thinking, “The Rapture happened, and I was Left Behind*”
*Yes, those where the exact words we thought, and yes, they were always capitalized. There was always a doctrinal question whether a person who thought they were saved could get another chance after the Rapture…it was heavily intoned one could not. One would live (at best) another 7 years and be doomed to hell, knowing all 7 years that hell was coming.
Or I would come home from school, and unexpectedly no one was home. I remember calling friends and their parents, figuring if no one answered, I was Left Behind.
How do you talk someone out of fear? You can tell me all day long about the safety of parachutes and sky diving and statistics regarding incidents, and procedures and anything you want. I would be scared and staining my shorts jumping from a plane. You don’t “talk” someone out of fear.
I recall my first jury trial. I was nervous, sweating, scared. How do I present my case to a jury? How do I object? What do I wear; where do I stand; how loud do I speak? Now, I look forward to jury trials.
Why? What is the difference? Simple—repetition. After doing them over and over, I have learned the answers to those questions. I know what to expect. Are there still surprises and new experiences? Sure…but having had other surprises and new experiences, one learns how to adapt.
I imagine if I jumped out of a plane a coupla hundred times, I won’t have the fear. Maybe…
But how does one “repeat” the opposite of an in-grained belief? I was raised in a Christian home, I said the right prayer, I lived a Christian life. And each Sunday I was assured I was saved…”BUT”…and each Sunday it was reiterated there were those who were not. And while debates may rage as to who was in heaven; Hell’s citizenship was certain: Hitler, Nietzsche, Darwin and atheists.
Upon initial deconversion, I was still fearful of Hell. Actually, that is not quite accurate. I was more fearful I had lost Heaven. We had been taught there was this sublime place where one can eat and not get fat. More importantly, one can see those who had passed on before—grandparents, parents, siblings, children and friends. Even more importantly, justice would be dispensed—wrongs righted; rewards delivered. And most important of all (to me) knowledge would be provided. We would finally get theology correct.
And now Heaven…didn’t…….exist. The more I lost belief in Heaven (it really is a fantasy if you think about it), the same I lost belief in Hell. One does not exist without the other.
I enjoy life just as much—even more—without the worry about getting the afterlife correct. I have my hands full getting this one right. Sure there are moments where I find a twinge of regret we only have a few years. The idea of Heaven is a fun fantasy. But then I shake my head and deal with the reality we have. A world desperately in need of human compassion without the easy relinquishing of responsibility by claiming some god will swoop in and solve all our problems.