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.
I am so glad your wrote this! I have a similar situation. I so want to be open about my beliefs, but my parents are fundamentalists as well, and I just don't want to ruin what is left of their retired lives. They have just entered in to that time when they are supposed to relax and enjoy life. I don't have the heart to bog them down with the ever-present fear that I will be tormented in hell forever!
I have thought about talking with them, and using the bible to my advantage. There is a verse somewhere about if you raise a child in the way they should go (meaning religion of course) then when they are old they will not depart from it. I want to tell them that if they really believe the Bible, they should not worry because I am already set to return back to religion - it may not be in their lifetime, but according to the Bible I will do it. They should, "have faith".
I also want to somehow ask them how they could support a god that would give me the intelligence to question and yet be willing to torment me forever when I see the lack of religion as the more intelligent choice. I want to ask them to look at me, closely, at what kind of a person I am. How much they love me, and then think about the type of god that would put me into everlasting hell. Then, try to get them to think maybe that "hell" they think of is not quite what it was described as. I want them to question the existence of hell itself, maybe then they can accept my beliefs without worrying that I will be cast into a lake of fire.
I say this knowing that I don't believe any of it, that I would just be using "their" logic to try to convince them that the hell they think of doesn't exist. I, like you, don't want to take their faith away from them, just tweak it a bit.
If you do find any good information, please pass it along to me. I'll add you in my circle so I can keep up with the progress. It's nice to meet another atheist who is respectful of the beliefs of family, even when those beliefs are contradictory to your own. So many atheists give me a hard time for trying to find a way to make peace with others as I make peace with myself.
Thanks for sharing!
Unfortunately, there is no explanation which would satisfy a fundamentalist. There are specific references, even by Jesus as to the fiery torments e.g. it is better to enter life maimed than to have both hands and enter hell "WHERE THEIR WORM DOES NOT DIE, AND THE FIRE IS NOT QUENCHED MK 9:43-44. And there's the story of the rich man and Lazarus LK 16:23-25.
Now of course, more sophisticated christians see this as allegory with as you say imagery supplied by the medieval church and the superstitions of the masses but you will have a hard time convincing her.
In my opinion, tell her with heartfelt honestly that you are a person who loves the truth and that it was your love of truth that led you down this path.
Tell her that while you understand how she feels, that you do not agree but that you love her and want her to be happy for you.
Remind her that she has raised you to be a strong and independant person of character and that she should be proud and comforted in that.
That's probably the best you can hope for.
I'm working on the same issue myself, from the opposite perspective. I left christianity early in life, but when I later went through a difficult period I had fundies praying/preying on me and it re-ingnited all those fears I had growing up. No matter how many times I find information telling me that hell is not real, that it was made up later in the church, that there were rewritings in the bible, it doesn't seem to stick in my brain for long enough to "take." I have to keep re-finding and re-reading arguments against it whenever I feel "triggered."
It's bad enough to think you go there when you die, but I could deal with that. What makes it even more scary is when people say that hell is on earth. It feels like the devil or any demon could approach and hurt me at any time. And according to literalists there are angels, devils, demons etc. all around us. So that really freaks me out, especially coupled with the fact that many other religions and spiritual paths also believe in psychic attacks and demons, too. So I don't have to just stop believing in christianity to feel better, I have to stop believing in all the other stuff, too, and that's taking a long time to do all that research.
Anyway, what has helped me with the hell part of it is this site that I found from ex-christian.net
If Hell Is Real: http://tentmaker.org/ifhellisreal.htm It's a Christian site, so your mom will hopefully feel comfortable with it since they are serious believers. At the bottom of the page there is a scholar's corner with links to even more information. One of which: http://www.what-the-hell-is-hell.com/HellStudy/HellChart.html says that new Bibles are being printed *without the word hell!!*
This http://www.tentmaker.org/books/Prevailing.html talks about how universal salvation was the way of the early church.
http://www.tentmaker.org/articles/how_hell_became_eternal_vincent.htm How Hell became eternal
I hope this helps!!