3/17/2011 | Share this article:By Mriana ~
The idea of hell, heaven, and eternity are very much a human concept and I going to attempt to show just how they are. A word of warning for people now, concerning what I am about to “show” you: this article maybe difficult to stomach and not meant to be family oriented. However, if you read on, you will see “My Little Box”* that I live in when I have nightmares and waking flashbacks of a “torturous hell.”It is quite a different definition of the Christian hell and is in this life, right here on earth.
Towards the end of 2010, I came out to my mother as a humanist and explained to her why am I not a Christian. The main reason I am not a Christian is that I have studied Christianity, other religions, mythology, philosophy, and psychology. The study of religion and psychology were the big two that helped to deconvert me. My experiences as a Christian, especially as a child, are only minor reasons, but these experiences helped me to define my thoughts concerning heaven, hell, and eternity.
I did not have a choice concerning Christianity as a child. It was either profess to being a Christian or my elders would get very anger. Just expressing my thoughts, as a child, about various Christian concepts was enough to get them upset with me. Not to mention, I was the type of child who would easily break down in tears if I even thought an adult was angry with me. Thus, I went along to get along as not to get into trouble. I was a big people-pleaser, along with suffering from sexual, physical, and emotional by my biological father and spiritual abuse from my Evangelical Fundamentalist relatives. All of this contributed to an eating disorder also and one of the reasons for the Anorexia was because I had little control in my life.
When I was in elementary school, my great uncle could not understand why I would not go up to his altar and “be saved.” I tried to tell him that he scared me, but he denied it and said it was the devil scaring me. I still would not go up to his altar and in an effort to get the adults to stop; I told them I turned my life over to Jesus in private. They seemed to have bought it or at least had little reason to doubt it given that I would cry over things such as the Crucifixion and strived hard to be perfect.
I grew up in Wesleyan theology, so the doctrine of perfectionism was very important, but they had no idea why I did the things I did and even my mother called me “The Best Little Girl in the World,” especially after she saw the movie. Teachers called me “too good” according to my mother. Again, theological reasons were not the number one reason as to why I obeyed my elders. I feared what they would do to me and their enabling of my father’s abuse did not help to change this.
Even when speaking to the therapist, in my 20s, my mother insisted she had no choice about staying with my biological father as long as she did and spewed religious dogmatic ideology. Their divorce was final when I was fourteen, after the State threaten my mother that they would take me from her if she did not leave my father. It was after that my grandfather stated that they had me away from my abuser and that was enough, adding, “God would take care of him.” When I tried to say I wanted to prosecute my father for what he did to me, my grandfather told me anger was a sin and I could see his anger with me in his eyes. Therefore, I back down, in favour of obedience, so he would not get angrier with me. Mind you, this was not obedience to a god though, but obedience out of fear of my elders.
Thirty years later, after telling my mother that I am not a Christian, the current therapist that I am working with has been helping me with my “inner child”. For more on this subject, please see Dr. Marlene Winell’s book, “Leaving the Fold.” After a suggestion she made, I started having nightmares about dolls, both hard and soft ones. In one very vivid nightmare, I dreamed that this hard doll was forcing himself on me, while someone watched, without helping me and with a smile. I could not fight the doll off me and woke up in a cold sweat. I spent days fighting sleep because I did not want the dreams and consequently I cried about almost everything, especially things, both secular and religious, that reminded me of my experiences. What was worse was that I suddenly had this memory, from when I was around five years old, in which I took Ken and raped Barbie, scaring my friend away, never to see her again. Even then, despite the memories before I was seven years old being rare, I could not keep quiet, but no one listened to my cries for help. Either they refused to listen, attempting to silence me, or they disappeared from my life when I tried to say something.
Those experiences were a living hell for me and I have spent a lifetime dealing with flashbacks and nightmares over it, sometimes with the simplest thing triggering them, such as dolls. Until recent years, even some foods, such as a cookie, would trigger flashbacks, because he tried to use such things to entice me to sit on his lap and have his way with me. I was probably a rare child in that I rejected cookies, especially when my father offered one to me. If he was offering me one and I rejected it, he forced me to sit on his lap or be wherever he wanted me to be, just so he could get his own satisfaction.
What is worse, my mother recently admitted she walked in on those times, seeing my father “attack” me, more often than I realized. Her excuse for not doing anything was that she would get hurt and then she would be of little help to me. She was of little help as was, relying on religious ideology and dogma to solve the problem, which did not work. She even stated that she only had two choices- living with her parents or staying with my father. That is what women did, in her view, and she did not want to live with her parents.
When I told her what all that happened to me as a child is my definition of hell, hell on earth, created by humans, she replied, “That’s not hell. Hell is eternal. What happened to you ended, so it’s not hell.” Obviously, she has no comprehension of my definition of eternity either. Such haunting dreams and memories of the past, not just the abuse from my father, but the spiritual abuse of my relatives too, IS eternity and I will admit, during those times, I sometimes think that death is the only way out of that hell. Except for one thing, since I cannot end life myself, I have to wait for death to come to me, but it does not come, not even in my sleep. I wake up, during those episodes, only to face the same haunting memories and dreams again. For me, that is eternal torture and it did not end just because the actual sexual and physical abuse ended.
When I try to explain it all to my mother and that I do not have dreams of hell as she defines it, her response is, “Well, maybe you should be having dreams about hell.” This woman wants her grandsons and me to be Christians so badly, even if it is just words, because she fears not seeing us in her definition of heaven. Again, just as many other Christians, she has no idea that her concepts are only human concepts.
With all of these recent disputes happening between my mother and me, the suggestion from Marlene, concerning using a doll for therapy purposes, seemed to have tipped the scales just enough to trigger nightmares again, of what I define as hell, which lead to crying fits and lack of sleep for a good solid month. Do not get me wrong, I am not blaming Marlene. She did not know what would happen with such a suggestion and I am not sure I did either. All I knew is that the idea was impossible for me, no matter how hard I tried.
In the middle of the night, unable to sleep due to waking in a cold sweat from one of these nightmares about dolls, I sent off a quick email telling her about a couple of these dreams and the waking flashbacks, as well as what I felt was the connection. There was no blame in my email, or at least if she perceived that there was, that was not my intent. I wanted her help, but I was not about to admit, at the time, that I longed for death to come and end the nightmares and flashbacks. Her response was something like, “If it triggers something, then don’t do it.”
I occasionally looked at Muñeca, a doll I received from my aunt before I was born, for weeks, just trying to take Marlene’s suggestion. My aunt got the doll for me during a trip to Mexico just before I was born, thus the name. Occasionally I would pick up Muñeca and fiddle with her dress, only to put her back down again due to painful uneasiness. Memories would flood my mind, including the fact that I eventually gave up actually playing with dolls before I was seven. They would sit beside me as I played school by myself, but I did not actually play with them. Even so, I cannot tell anyone why I have a difficult time with such things, because most of my memories before I was seven are almost non-existent, only coming to me in bits and pieces during times of extreme emotional difficulty.
Not only that, my mother told me stories, when I was little, of a doll that she had growing up, which she prayed to God to make real. After telling me that, many times as a child, she insisted I was that doll, which God caused to come to life. Therefore, in that concept, I was nothing more than an object which others control, except I knew I was a person and people should not be forced into things nor should they be controlled by others either. Unfortunately, I was forced into many things as a child, with not even control over my own body, and try as I might, I could not get any of the adults in my life to listen to me as a child. The only control I had was over my own thoughts, which even those I had to keep to myself, unless I wanted to get in trouble with the adults in my life. I also had control of what I did not eat, thus why I developed anorexia by the time I was eleven.
My mother insisted, in our recent conversations, that was the way it was back then and of course, religious dogma had a lot to do with it. Even my minister great uncle and my grandfather would spew religious dogma and verses at me about obeying my elders, stating I still had to obey my father no matter what. I could not fathom, as a child, why I had to obey a monster or even why a raven would pluck out my eyes and feed them to her young (Proverbs 30:17) or why the days of my life would be short (Deut. 5:16), if I did not. Again, with various verses about obeying one’s elders, I was forced into silence and submission.
My mother also recently admitted that she never once used the word incest when trying to speak to the patriarch about what was happening to us and even she did not think I knew what the word was when I was young. I told her, maybe not, but by the time I was twelve, I knew what a concubine was, because it is in the Bible, and I felt like one as a child. Her response was, “Then you should have used that word when talking to your great uncle and grandfather. That might have gotten their attention.” Somehow, I doubt that it would have.
That is my definition of hell and eternity in painful details. What is my definition of heaven? To me, it too is right here on earth, because this life is what people make it, even for the helpless child that they are suppose to take care of and protect. For me, when I meet another human being who is compassionate, attempts to understand, and tries to help when needed, then that is a taste of heaven here on earth. Such individuals are metaphorically angels, but I do not believe in actual angels as portrayed in the Bible. Thus, Marlene Winell and Valerie Tarico, for example, are angels because they are compassionate people, who try to help others when needed. Thus, I have great respect and appreciation for them or as some would say, “love for them”, but the word “love” is difficult for me say, except to my own children or maybe a lover. I do not easily apply it to others.
When we honestly help others, then we are attempting to create heaven here on earth. This is not some metaphorical external heaven, only experienced after death, but rather one in the here and now. Humans make earth either heaven, hell, or both and their actions can cause an “eternity” of memories, both good and bad. None of my concepts about heaven, hell, or eternity can be applied to any afterlife. They are all in the here and now, created only by humans. Thus, the Christian concepts verses my own concepts are good examples as to how these ideas are nothing more than human concepts. My mother or any other Christian can deny my concepts all they want, but the fact remains that they are all human concepts, right down to the definition of what angels are.
My nightmares about what I consider hell are really no different from those of people who have nightmares about a religious hell. The only differences are that my dreams of “hell” and theirs are a matter of reality, as well as what we define as eternity. Eternity for me is a lifetime and like the nightmares others have of a fictional hell, I am tortured and haunted unmercifully, but from past real life experiences. The other difference is how we are tortured and haunted in our concepts of hell. However, my concept of heaven, it totally different than the Christian view and it is one only humans can create here on earth, with a little effort towards being compassionate towards others and giving mercy, as well as peace, to others who need it.
Until such Christians get into the minds of those who have been abused spiritually, psychologically, emotionally, sexually, and physically, they will never have a clue as to what a real hell actually is. They will also never admit and face the reality that they contribute and enable the abuse themselves, creating a living hell, right here on earth, for others. When they choose to see and examine my Little Box, then they will see the horrors of hell that I live with due to such abuse.
Therefore, dear Christian, do not tell me what hell is. I know what hell is, because I have lived it, and it is not some fictional place, but right here on earth. I also know what eternity is and again, it is not what you conceive it to be. I have also had a taste of what heaven on earth could be, if more human beings would just try to create it with love, compassion, and empathy. For me, such a concept of heaven is very much numinous, but that brings us to another human created concept concerning transcendence, which I might discuss another time, but again, such a concept is very much centered and focused on the human, not something outside ourselves. The same goes for the concept of heaven too. Until the religious face reality, they can have no concept of what I describe, much less what I am referring to when I speak of heaven being here on earth, much less my concept of hell and eternity.
*Note: Reference to Gabriel Mann’s song “My Little Box,” and even a clip of the movie “Ghost Ship,” of which I have not seen, is incidental when I speak of my concept of hell, but a good song that just happens to relate very well. Then again Tracy Chapman’s “Heaven’s Here on Earth” also fits when I talk about my concept of heaven, but it too is incidental and not complete intentional. However, both songs relate very well to what I am conveying.