This is my first post on Atheist nexus.  I think that it's great that Brother Richard started both this site and this particular group.  Naturally, as someone who was raised in the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod (one of the most fundamentalist, anti-science branches of Lutheran Christianity, which is YEC, and which professed geocentrism well into the twentieth century), I joined this group a few minutes after my profile was approved. 

 

I would like to read of your experiences with the lingering fear of hell.  For me, this fear has asymptotically declined since I abandoned theism in my teenage years.  Reading and talking with others has helped tremendously, in that the sheer might of the mental side of being human can go a long way towards reducing fear.  However, the emotional side of being human competes with the mental side of being human.  Even when I remind myself that I have absolutely zero fear of Muslim hell, or of being reincarnated as an ant for not following Hinduism, and therefore, logically, I should also have zero fear of Christian hell, there is still a small bit of discomfort when thinking about Christian hell (such as when I am reminded of it when Christians talk about it). 

 

From the standpoint of the most up-to-date information in psychology, neuroscience, and other relevant fields, as well as from your own experiences, is it possible for an individual who was raised in a fundamentalist context to completely eradicate fear of the threats made my that particular belief system?  So far, the only remedies that I am aware of are knowledge and time.  The former strengthens one's mental fortitude, and the latter enables one's emotional wounds to heal (or so the saying goes).  I would certainly like to think that a 90 year old atheist who left Christian fundamentalism at a young age would be able to die peacefully, free of fear, after that much time to go stronger mentally and emotionally.  Instead of an asymptotic decline in fear, I would prefer complete eradication of that fear.

 

What are your thoughts?

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Replies to This Discussion

I struggle with some of the lingering effects of fundamentalism as well, and Christianity in general. For example, though neither my husband nor I were ever baptised, I still for a time considered getting my infant son baptised - I really have no idea why. I was only able to get over it by remembering (1) that I don't believe in the Judeo-Christian creation story; (2) if I don't believe in the Judeo-Christian creation story, I therefore do not believe in the fall of humanity; (3) if I don't believe in the fall of humanity, I don't believe in original sin; (4) if I don't believe in original sin, what is the point of infant baptism? Problem solved.

Where I am at regarding hell sometimes varies. I recognize this as entirely psychological, and has nothing to do with my real belief in it, since I actively believe that there is no devil, or demons, etc. and clearly hell is not a physical place, so no one could be physically tormented there. Sometimes I waffle with the thought, What if Christianity is true? When I start in on that, I go through the logic: Do I believe the Bible to be the inspired word of god? No. Do I believe that Jesus was resurrected from the dead and ascended into heaven bodily? No. Do I believe there will ever be a rapture, and an "end of the world" apocalypse? No. Do I believe there is evidence that Christianity is more true than Islam, or Hinduism, or Vodou? No. Ok - if I don't believe any of that, then how can I wonder if Christianity is true? And if Christianity isn't true, then what is this Hell that I am afraid of?

I have found it difficult to completely shed what Nietzsche called the "shadows" of god, despite the fact that I have been a nonbeliever of one sort or another for 12 years. When you come from a seriously religious family, and all of this stuff is practically engrained in you (and your forming brain) from a very young age, I don't know...it's also difficult to say this to anyone because if you say it to a believer, they see you as open to conversion; if you say it to other nonbelievers, you can get a lot of flack about it. I definately believe that there is a genetic component (of some sort) or brain-hardwiring that lends itself to religious belief, and I think I have it, though I lack the "gift" of faith - but had that when I was a kid. Not sure if this answers any of your questions, but perhaps just lets you know that you're not the only one out there with lingering issues.
Kristin, you did answer my questions. I can relate to much of what you wrote. If I may ask, are you relatively young? I am 32. Do you feel as though the sheer weight of time will make the thought of Christian hell as utterly non-threatening to you as thoughts of Muslim hell, et al., are? For me, my extensive, ongoing reading and viewing have gone a long way to ridding me of the ingrained fear, and I hope that time will take care of the rest.

Don't pay any attention to nonbelievers who would give you flack over something that has been ingrained in you. Anyone who would do such a thing is ignorant of the basic principles of human psychology. As Dawkins and many others have discussed, one can have absolutely no belief in any gods, and still have negative emotional baggage from his/her childhood that is difficult to eliminate. Such nonbelievers fail to understand that one's intellect cannot completely control one's emotions.
I was a fundamentalist Christian for many years when I was younger. I began de-programming in my late twenties. I'd already left the Church, but hadn't considered NOT believing. Out of intellectual curiosity I began reading everything I could find about the history of Christianity as well as about other religions both present and past. The overwhelming incongruities of Christian doctrine, whether one reads the New Testament literally or not, simply began to glare at me. A loving god who is perfect, but so jealous that he'd torture creatures he created for eternity simply for not believing in him? It was ridiculous.

@MWG, you are on the track I took, lots of reading. And yes the hell thing was scary at first. I wasn't sure I could ever get over it. That was twenty years ago and your question took me aback a bit because I realized that I must have stopped worrying about hell at least ten years ago. Now I'm a complete materialist and feel no remnant of concern at all.

@Kristin, having studied human nature, evolution, and religion for many years now, I have to agree that at some point evolution gave us a need for purpose, meaning, maybe a desire for something greater than ourselves. I'm still searching for why, but regardless of the reason, humans have a drive for religion and it appears to be as universal for humans as humor and anger. Many consciously and intellectually over-ride this desire, but that doesn't necessarily make it go away. I meditate and practice mindfulness. Even though I'm a strong atheist, I find the secular messages in Buddhism to be in line with my own personal standard of morality. It comforts me without compromising my belief that there is nothing mystical/supernatural/metaphysical out there.

We all have to find the path that brings us peace. Good luck on both of yours.

Sherrie
@mwg - I'm 28, so I guess that's "relatively" young!

When I was writing what I did yesterday, I kept thinking - no there is something else other than hell that I'm afraid of, and I couldn't remember what it was, but this morning I remembered. This is mostly due to my upbringing, but I have always moreso been afraid of God punishing me in this life, not in the afterlife. It's a very Zeus-ian way of belief (or Job-ian). Perhaps the fact that I forgot that this was what I was afraid of means I have been making progress in this area ;-)

Reading, and being around like-minded people always does help me, and I hope that over time a lot of these after-effects will lesson. I also think that my son will help. Watching him grow and learn thus far has definately reiterated my beliefs. At some point in time, we may start attendning a UU church. My local one has a great youth program which is my main motivation.

@hikinthru - I like how you worded it - deprogramming. I also agree about Buddhism. Buddhism really stands out - in it's striving towards Nirvana, which is the cessation of "afterlives", not an afterlife in itself (a common misconception). I also liked Buddha's teaching: examine what I'm telling you. If you find it to be true - great, follow me. If you don't, that's ok too - find your own path. None of this "If you don't follow me, you will burn for all eternity."
My thought is that what you are experiencing is a symptom that indicates just how successfully pernicious, how crippling, how mind-numbing the thought control abilities of Christianity in particular are. I can't think of another example where non-believers are "punished" so harshly.
I've been coming precisely to this realization myself -- thank you for stating it so well. I trace my own on-going battle with panic disorder to the damage that a belief in hell did to me.

I've only recently come out of the atheist closet (to myself as well as to others), and since then I've really been taking stock of the damage fundamentalism and the fear of hell in particular have caused me. It's been extremely sobering and, frankly, heartbreaking to realize how I'd been kept in a mental and emotional prison for so many years.

It sounds paradoxical, but I think my biggest fear right now isn't so much a "what if I'm wrong" kind of fear, but a fear that the what-if-I'm-wrong fear will come up and eventually force me back into a similar prison.
Hi all, great to find this site. I had about 5 years of fear of hell from about the age of 13... something that helped me was the incongruity of it all... that unbaptised babies, thru no fault of their own, would spend eternity in purgatory... that my lovely mother should "look up to" my abusive father... that using my "God-given" brain would damn me... that someone as good (if I do say so myself) as me would be hell bound for doubting... I went on years later, in relation to my equity in education career, to study religion as a university major. This was after my first encounters with Buddhism... now there's an athiest "religion" that makes sense and has a compassionate message. Being a feminist also helps... once you realise how much history is written from a male perspective and how dismissive and controlling that agenda is ... I wish I could send THEM to hell : )

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