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"Am I Going to Hell?"-Fantastic Advice on Salon


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My answer would be different.

There is a need in some of us for religion. That need doesn't mean that there is a deity. It does mean that our training as children is difficult for some of us to overcome. Buddhism is atheist friendly. You can have no believe in god and view Buddhism as a philosophy. I've read about atheistic pagans also. That seems a bit more difficult though.

I've finally come to the conclusion that I don't logically believe in a higher power but emotionally I want their to be something else. That makes it hard to know what to call myself, a hopeful atheist? I am not agnostic because my rational side sees no evidence for god. Because I've been conditioned from childhood to want their to be a higher power, I've been reading a lot of paganism books. It makes me feel good but I don't really believe in anything. Weird? Yeah. Contradictory? Yeah. But it is my way of making peace with childhood conditioning.

I could not go back to being a Christian because I find some of the beliefs to be troublesome I do NOT think that most Christians are bad and I do NOT think that Christianity as a whole is bad. Let me explain before anyone beats me up.

The Christian god is supposed to be all powerful, all loving, all knowing etc. However, he has created a world in which he plays a twisted game with humans. Most Christians, even those who don't take Genesis literally, believe in a fall. The fall is how Christians explain death, decay, and evil in the world. At some point, humans made a decision that contradicted what god wanted so the deity punished all humans. Punishing future children, animals and even the earth for what the ancestors of one species did is not the action of a loving, completely just being.

Hell makes no sense to me. To torture a person eternally for a crime that is finite makes no sense to me. It contradicts the existence of an all loving being. Using hell as an excuse to be Christian is disrespectful to the religion though. Their god wants to be accepted from love alone which makes the existence of hell seems even odder.

I would advise the person to look into Buddhism or explore other religions beyond Christianity. He does not have to join or believe any of them. Seeing how other religions answer the big questions can be rewarding and interesting. It can also be eye opening to realize that the followers of other religion are every bit as happy and moral as Christians. I'd advise him to read the bible from cover to cover. Reading the bible is the best way to remain an atheist.

Please note that I tried to use modifiers in my statements. I realize that Christians have a wide variety of beliefs that make it difficult to make claims about what they all believe. Not all Christians believe in hell, for instance.

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I think basically Cary was saying to the guy "go and find out". One way or another, act. Which is basically what you are saying. You are just suggesting specific ways to act.

Curiously, when I was a young person, struggling with being a single mother of two, and poverty, one of the ways I assuaged my anxiety was to act. I wrote this down everywhere: anxiety=action. To remind me that it didn't matter what I did, so long as it was useful in some way. I'm happy to see my mantra affirmed in Cary's post. At least that's what I got from it.

(I love me some Cary Tennis.)

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I think it’s a matter of choice, and that the choice is very important and very simple. You don’t need to have all the facts. You don’t need to be able to prove anything. You just need to decide. Either you believe what they’re saying or you don’t. If you believe it is possible to end up in hell after death, then by all means go and get baptized in a Christian church. Say the words. Do your best to believe. What harm could it do?

I thought that I was saying the opposite. The questioner doesn't have to choose. He can take his time, read about other faiths, explore his options. He might never know the answers or be comfortable with ambiguity but that's fine.

That is where I am at. It isn't a bad place to be.

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I wasn't really a huge fan of the advice either, especially this part:

My main recommendation is that you stop wasting time and make a choice today. It’s an either-or question. Either you’re in danger of going to hell or not. If you believe you are, then take the threat seriously and inoculate yourself by professing to believe in Jesus Christ. If you don’t believe it, if you believe that it’s a psychological symptom, then go to a therapist to deal with your anxiety and fear.

You can do either one. You might end up doing both — that is, one choice may exhaust itself and lead to the other choice. The main thing is to stop dithering and pick one. For, as we all know and do not seem to tire of pointing out to each other, life is short and death is certain.

Way to make the poor guy feel even more pressure! He doesn't have to choose. He doesn't have to "pick a side" if he doesn't want to. However, if it is genuinely causing him great distress, then I think the idea of therapy isn't a bad suggestion.

I'm personally more fascinated by the original letter:

My parents were raised different religions, and so partly because of this, and also because neither is particularly religious despite their upbringings, they decided to raise me with no religion at all.

I grew up in a predominantly Christian town, and I occasionally attended church with friends. I even went to church camp a few summers, but I always felt like an outsider. Even when I was a kid, organized religion just seemed like a hoax to me — a way to guilt the masses into being nice to one another. I remember asking an adult I respected at church camp how she could just have faith in something she had no proof about. She responded, “What if I don’t believe and God does exist? Then I go to hell.†The fact that fear was her primary motivation was enough to turn me off of religion for another decade.

But now I find myself thinking the same thought she expressed to me. I feel haunted by the issue of religion. I’m agnostic but much closer to atheist than believer. Probably 95 percent of me believes that religion is a big joke on people not smart enough to think rationally. I realize how snobbish this sounds, but it’s how I feel. I’ve met smart people who are religious, but the majority of smart people I know are not. I really hope I’m wrong about organized religion being a hoax, because the idea that this life is all there is terrifies me. The other 5 percent of me believes that maybe there is some higher power, but that part of me is terrified too, because by not accepting this higher power, am I dooming myself to an eternity of misery and punishment? I’d like to think that God cares more about who’s a good person than who believes in him, but what if that’s not the case?

How does this happen to someone? He wasn't indoctrinated as a small child. Is growing up in a "predominantly Christian town" enough to do it? How old was he when he went to church with friends and attended these camps? It sounds like those religious people got their hooks in him emotionally, even though he wasn't exposed to it on a regular basis.

This is why I'm so leery of letting children into those types of environments, especially with the hell-based religions. It seems like indoctrination can happen even if the family isn't religious, and emotional and fear-based appeals can have detrimental effects decades down the road.

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