My name's Ben, I'm 24 years old and I've lived in Kansas City all my life. I won't go into the details of my story because I'm sure it's similar to thousands of others to be found on this site: raised fundamentalist Christian, started having doubts around high school, had lost all faith by the end of college.
When I was a kid I was completely horrified by the idea of Hell, and even though I'd been assured that my salvation would keep me from that awful place, I obsessed over it. Years later I would be diagnosed as manic depressive with tendencies toward desperately dark depressive episodes, and I now believe that it was during one or two of these episodes that the thought of Hell pervaded my mind.
Well, I'm going through another dark time. Whether this is chemical or born of guilt toward my family or just the vestigial limbs of an abandoned mythology, I don't know. The idea of Christianity still makes no sense to me. I still can't reconcile it with reality and thus couldn't really return to the flock even if I wanted to. But for the last few weeks, I just haven't been able to wash the hellfire from my mind.
The idea is so traumatically and deeply ingrained I fear I may never be able to fully shake it off. But as for the moment, I just want to regain my usual level of peace of mind.
I don't really have anyone to turn to in my personal relationships. My family is loving and supportive but very religious. Many of my close friends are Christian, and most others simply aren't comfortable talking about any of it. So I sought out a supportive community and found myself here.
Please, please, anything you can tell me or point me towards would be very helpful. I'm so tied up in knots about this I fear I may actually be a danger to myself right now.
For there to be a hell there would have to be a god. No god, no hell. Even in the bible the word "hell" as we know it today had many meanings. One form of hell was simply the grave. Eventually we all go there. Another form where fire was always burning, was the garbage dump outside of the city. If we didn't do right, we would be about as useful to god as that garbage. Earlier times also had Hades, the underworld, and lots of fire there. Eventually hell became fire and brimstone with all the trimmings. Ideas of hell over the years has been used to keep christians and others in line and even extort money from them.
I don't know how much this is going to help, but I'm going to take a try here:
Where is the evidence for hell? Sure, the Abrahamic faiths talk about hell, just like the Greeks talked about Hades and other cultures and religions have their own traditions ... but where is the EVIDENCE? Pretty much the same as the evidence for heaven - NONE. Oh, there's talk about near-death experiences and people who see fantastic things in that borderline state ... but those experiences have basis in their own upbringing and religious instruction. I'd be dubious of a Hindu reporting visions of heaven, as surely as I'd doubt a Jew reporting seeing Valhalla. Interesting, too, that we don't hear about anyone's NDE of hell. Why do you suppose THAT is?
The fact is that heaven and hell were invented to serve different purposes: heaven to salve the average human's fear of death, and hell to provide some sense of justice in a reality where natural justice is a contradiction in terms. Hell serves the further function of being a forcible goad to following someone's teaching; in other words, a threat, and about as subtle as a sneeze.
Granted that, once exposed to such indoctrination, it can be mightily hard to shake. About all I can say is to remind you that someone was trying to run a game on you, sell you a bill of goods, with the goal of Gaining Control Over You. Personally, I don't take kindly to such people or to such threats ... because I Own Me, not someone else or something else or some misbegotten Iron Age idea. They can prate on about their beliefs, their heaven and their hell, but they can't demonstrate a whit of it, not so much as an iota ... which brings me to one of my favorite quotes:
If you've got the truth, you can demonstrate it. Talking doesn't prove it. Show people.
-- Robert A. Heinlein
And the fact is, they CAN'T.
I hope this helps, Ben.
Hi Ben, and kudos for not letting this scare you back into submission!
Obsessive dark thoughts are merely a symptom of the depression. I get them too (having suffered depression on/off throughout my life) though not nearly as bad anymore. If you feel you're a danger to yourself, by all means look into some medicine.
I even tried St. John's Wort capsules for a while, and they worked, just do a little research to find which brand is best (I forget which one I tried.) It takes a few days or a couple of weeks for the effects to be felt, but I remember waking up one morning thinking about how I could get up and do stuff, rather than wanting to stay in bed and brood.
As for hell, if there's no magical god or heaven, there ain't no hell. It's a great tool for scaring people into belief, though, that's all. Maybe you can check YouTube for the South Park episode where Satan decides to throw himself a "Sweet 16" party just like the spoiled girls on the TV show. Turns out there a lot of celebrities in hell.
If the writers of South Park aren't afraid, you sure as hell shouldn't be!!
Hi Ben! I'm glad you've found AN. It is a very supportive place to be. Stay on here and make friends, and discuss whatever you need to! People here will help!
As for "hell", I was never raised with religion, so I never believed in any such a thing. It is pretend. There is no such thing, PERIOD. You don't have to worry about it, because it does not exist!
If you need to, go to counseling. There is no shame in it! You were brainwashed, and if you need help, you need help! Do it for yourself!
I hope you find peace in the New Year, Mindy
Hi Ben-As someone who grew up with fire and brimstone, I can definitely relate to what you're going through. I've been an atheist for 15+ years and I STILL have moments when I feel myself getting sucked in old thought patterns. So believe me when I say, it does take a while for you to get out of that sort of thinking. It's a bit like being an ex-smoker (something I've also put in my past 15+ years ago)-sometimes those old addictions make themselves known. I've also been through some depression, so I would really advise you to seek some professional help. If you have a doctor that you trust, talk to them and tell them what you've been going through, and if you don't, please please try and find one. I was on an antidepressant for a couple years and it really helped me through a rough period in my life. There is absolutely NOTHING wrong with seeking help.
I used to have nightmares in my teens of armageddon happening-me looking out the window of my house and seeing the world going up in flames. I used to look at the full moon and check to see if had gone red with blood (even when I was driving-checking over my shoulder). I used to fear death and hell. I used to believe that I was a horrible person. I used to agonize over what god intended for me-this thing or that thing? I can honestly say that I am a much more relaxed person without all the worry. I know I'm a good, moral, strong, nice person and I don't need no religious anything to tell me otherwise.
You've found a good place to be at a/n. Everyone here is quite friendly and non-judgemental (that I've found, anyway). I haven't checked, but there's a good chance you might find a local atheist group through meetup.com. Finding some like-minded individuals to be with face to face can also make a difference. Hope you find some peace of mind! Reg
Hell is a fairy tale.
Even as a young minister to be, hell was the one thing in the Buybull that made the least sense to me. I know it scares the crap out of people for a longtime, but it never seemed real to me.
GOD: I see you made it.
ME: Yes, I had to. Hell really scared me.
GOD: There is nothing like getting a person to worship you out of fear. (he chuckles.)
I can't recall myself ever being scared of religion, even as a small child. But I have never really believed in any religion either so I guess that is probably why.
I appreciate all the support, guys.
I'm in a really desperate place right now. I think I'm just massively depressed. I've been trying to find a therapist who is specifically not religious but it's been harder than I thought.
I don't know what to do. I've actually tried praying. Twice. Didn't help of course because I don't really believe I'm talking to anyone, or if I am he hates me and I don't particularly like him.
I'm sorry, I know this is heavy and there are probably a few who scoff at this intellectual inconsistency, or weakness. But this has become perhaps the hardest period of my entire life. I would honestly kill myself, except for the first time in years I actually fear death.
I almost never feel ok anymore. I can't face my family. I feel like I'm hurting them too much.
I've found a Recovering from Religion meeting this week in my area. I'm going to attend and hope to find something there. Just something.
Thanks for listening.
Benjamin, keep looking for a good therapist. There is also nothing wrong with anti-depressants. Talk to your doctor. They work for a lot of people, whatever their reason for being depressed is. A good doctor will keep trying until they find one that works for you.
Stay on Atheist Nexus also! The "Recovering from Religion" meeting sounds great!
What booklover said. Keep taking small steps, eventually you'll get somewhere. I would encourage you to do something to get out of your head, like taking a short walk (if weather allows) or I've found that yoga/relaxation practice helps me to slow my brain down when I get those whirling thoughts.
I hope the Recovering from Religion meeting is helpful!
The bible is crap written by ancient people who didn't know and understand science. The supernatural does not exist. There is no afterlife. It is clear and irrefutable that when you are dead you are dead. Gods, heaven, devils and hell simply don't exist. You poor cunt, you are afflicted by religious superstition and if you don't pull yourself out of it you will end up needing medical help, if you don't already.