8/11/2013 | Share this article: View CommentsBy Emmy ~
There are millions of people going to hell because they don’t know Jesus.” I was sitting on a pew at the back of the church, listening to the same type of message that I had heard innumerable times in my life. There was nothing new, different, or spectacular in the pastor’s words. I’m sure, on that particular morning, hundreds of other church-attenders were sitting in similar pews, listening to the same sort of message. But, as I sat there, heart racing, a numb feeling rising from within, I quietly said to myself “I just cannot do this anymore.”
I left the building that morning and have not gone back since. It was, however, relatively easy to leave the building. It was not so easy to make peace with it all in my mind. I had no idea that my faith was about to be challenged, even more so, I would never have been able to imagine, at that particular moment, where it would lead me to. In the years leading up to that particular church service, my struggles with Christianity had been long and, at times, very difficult. What others around me all seemed to be able to accept, with ease, caused me to have confusion and a sense that something was not right.
The same faith that had comforted me was the same faith that had made live in fear of a god who, apparently, would have sent us all to hell if it weren’t for Jesus. The same faith that motivated me to read my bible, memorize verses, and pray to a Jesus who I thought loved me, was the same faith that I gave me a feeling deep inside that I may be going to hell because I was just not good enough. As a child, my mind would play tricks on me; I was fearful my “sinner’s prayer” was not good enough, not sincere enough, or something just not right. After all, it was of absolute importance to get this correct as it was the only way to save myself from an eternity of burning and torture. I had a very unnatural fear of fire from an early age on. I now realize this was connected to the fear of burning in hell, or, to my deep despair, many others burning there right in this very moment!!
In the months following my former church service, I was determined to find a more peaceful path. I spent every spare moment pursuing theology, history, mythology, science, and various religions. What began to unfold before me was captivating. I learned of other religions, with supernatural events, so similar to my own. I read the fascinating discovery of the Nag Hammadi library, the Roman Emperor Constantine and the Council of Nicea. I learned about Greek mythology, paganism, and how much of this is actually intertwined into the Jesus written about in the gospels. I met some fascinating people online and in real life, atheists, Gnostic Christians, Buddhists, mystics, Universalists, Mormons, Catholics, all who openly talked to me about their beliefs. I slowly began to realize that I could no longer worship, or even believe in a god that would send all these people to hell. Instead of following the life of a humble Jewish carpenter, I started to view this as nothing more than partaking in violence—something that deep down inside, I had known for years, but was far too afraid to ever challenge.
Losing my belief in Christianity was like losing a huge chunk of me. I had to take a close look at who I really was. I was horrified and became full of grief when I read numerous accounts of what Christians had been responsible for throughout history. Everything from the Inquisition to the slaying of countless Native Americans became very real. I had heard of these things before, always from the Christian perspective, with the emphasis that we were the victims; we had always been the persecuted because the “last days” were upon us. This opened up my eyes to an entire different philosophical outlook; my connection to humanity was growing, a human race that I felt I had isolated myself from, and I now wanted to be a part of. However, there was one problem—I was losing my Christian beliefs, and that literally scared the hell out of me.
With all this new information and the years of struggling with Christianity, I was angry. The place where religion-induced fear and guilt had lingered was now replaced with anger. Anger towards the intolerance I encountered from Christians, pastors, and other people in my life. Unfortunately, my new insights came at a cost, the loss of relationships with disapproving friends and family. Likewise, I experienced anger and self-hatred towards myself for having given so much of my life over to this belief system, yet never really learning how to live. Underneath all of this was a fear that if I tried to carve a path of my own, instead of following orthodox religion, I would somehow end up in hell—what if they are right, what if I there really is a hell. I was plagued by these thoughts, yet underneath all of this a strange, new love and softness was growing, but at this point in my life, I often chose to ignore it.
Losing my belief in Christianity was like losing a huge chunk of me. I had to take a close look at who I really was. If an anthropomorphic god existed, which one was the right one? At times this was the utmost importance in my thoughts, yet at other times it just didn’t seem to matter anymore. I suddenly had to take responsibility for my own morality, my own internal convictions, and my own life. This was a bit like learning how to walk on my own two feet, so scary, yet exhilarating all at the same time.
I had been told, somewhere along my way, that I needed to become my own best friend. Once my mind was calmed, my heart started to listen and that is exactly what I started to do. I silenced my disquieting thoughts and tiresome pursuit of a monotheistic god by turning to the philosophy of Buddhism. This helped me find peace, not just within myself, but with all things, just as they are. I also came to the realization that I have agnostic views about god, something that had quietly been there for a long time.
Today, I cannot disregard the increasing passion that life was meant to be lived now, or the connection I feel to humanity and this planet that we all share. I am more concerned about finding a way to see people beyond the labels, and doing what I can to erase this “us vs. them” mentality that we all seem to get caught up in. I am also so happy to finally be free from the struggles I had with religion.
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