Why I left the faith: hell is a lie

Part 5   (part 1 here)   (part 6 here)

Despite my misgivings, I continued to search for answers.  The more questions I asked, the more flimsy god became.  One after another, doctrines that I had once believed crumbled away under the weight of serious scrutiny.  Hell was one of the first to go, and it’s the one that dealt the fatal blow to my faith.

Losing my belief in hell was as simple as reading a 1-sentence argument online.  “Infinite punishment for finite sins is not justice.”  That was it.  I am certain that it could not have been my first time hearing some form of this argument but it was the first time I actually let myself consider it.  I realized how cheap and petty the idea of hell was.  In fact, god’s entire reward/punishment system started to look pretty asinine.  God loves us, and yet is willing to let us be tortured for eternity rather than giving us a second chance?  God has to send us to hell because he is holy and cannot exist with sin, and yet he has existed with us in our sinful state for the past thousands of years without any sort of spontaneous combustion?  God is just and merciful, and yet thinks that our actions in a 100-year-or-less lifespan are enough to determine our eternal fate?  How did any of this make any sense whatsoever?

Deciding that hell was a bunch of hogwash didn’t cause me to stop being a Christian.  After all, Christianity and hell need not go together; it was easy to find expressions of my faith that did not include it.  But all the same, it was a pivotal moment for me to realize that taking things on faith had allowed me to be so thoroughly duped by this lie.  Hell, it wasn’t even a good lie.  It was a lie riddled with glaring inconsistencies and with a pathetically obvious motive to manipulate and control church-goers.  It was about as realistic of a threat as putting a dollar-store ghost costume on and wiggling my fingers while saying “woooo.”  And yet I had swallowed it 100% and allowed myself to be fucked by it just as it was intended.  I had let it so deep into my mind that, even once I realized how silly it was, it still could wake me up in the night, scared shitless.  It made no sense.  None!  What had I been thinking?

If taking things on faith had caused me to abandon good sense this badly, what other obvious lies might I have accepted?  What other inconsistencies might I have papered over with the pretty but flimsy excuse called “faith”?

I decided that simply saying “I believe it” was no excuse to fail to prove my doctrine beyond reasonable doubt.  If something was true, there ought to be clear, impartial evidence for it.  I was not going to be duped again.  My rational mind was finally turned on full-throttle and it couldn’t be stopped.  Unfortunately for god, he was no match for it.  No matter where I turned for proof, he failed to deliver.  Proof of Jesus’ divinity?  Nope.  Proof that the Christian god is the right one?  Nope.  Proof of god’s interference in the doings of men?  Nope.  Proof of miracles?  Nope.  Proof of god’s existence?  Nope.  Sure, I could squint and tilt my head and say “if you look at this from just the right angle and say the right things and believe it really, really hard, you can see god there.”  But if I looked at it face-on with both eyes open, god vanished into the patterns and complexities of reality.

At my work, I was often the lone skeptic.  I don’t mean to say I was the lone non-Christian.  No, the school I taught at was full of astrology-following, Reiki-practicing, modern-medicine-eschewing, conspiracy-theory-believing instructors, both Christian and non (and I loved them, despite my occasional frustration with their strange theories).  I once found myself pitted, almost completely alone, against the entire Massage Therapy department in a debate on the existence of auras.  But I digress.  The topic at hand, one day, was whether or not Reiki was an effective healing tool.  After I presented studies and they presented anecdotes, they asked me if I would be open to changing my mind if I tried it and found it to be successful.  “Sure, I’d consider,” I said.  “But I would go into it skeptically since I don’t have any reason to think it would work.”

“Well, if you don’t believe it will work, then it won’t work for you,” they said.

“You know, the number one sign of a scam is when you’re told you have to believe something is real before you’re allowed to see the evidence,” I said.

I might as well have been reprimanding myself.  If god was real, why could I not verify his existence independently?  Why did the evidence only appear if I already accepted the premise?  The sunset only looked like god made it if I already believed god made it.  The bible only appeared to be perfect if I already believed that it was perfect.  God only worked miracles if I already believed he would work miracles.  God only seemed real when I believed he was real.  I was required to trust in the conclusion before I could see the evidence.  It was a scam.

Somewhere around that time, despite desperately wanting him to be real, I stopped believing in god.

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13 responses

  1. I say it all the time, but one of the greatest ironies is when Christians claim that without God there can be no justice. The doctrine of Hell shows that with God, there is definitely no justice.

    1. Yep, the doctrine of hell is pretty much the exact opposite of justice. No amount of “his ways are not our ways” can erase that. No amount of “he created you, he saved your life, he died for you, he gives you free will” can erase the injustice of “so he can allow you to be tortured for all eternity.”

      The “free will” argument especially pisses me off. Can we really consider it free will, when we’re basically forced into a cosmic-sized game of cake-or-death? “Yes, you can choose to love me or burn for all eternity… your choice. It’s free will.” I mean, that’s just sadistic. That’s the shit that batman villains do. I like to illustrate it with a story.

      I am a wonderful, heroic person. I find some little puppies nearly drowning in a sewer and I rescue them at risk to my own life. I feed them by hand, raise them with care, and treat them like they mean the world to me. I teach them to follow me and listen to my commands and I reward them and love them. I genuinely have their best interest at heart, so I want them to always obey me, so that I can protect them from dangers. I get concerned, though, that they might feel trapped by me. I say “I want my puppies to be able to choose to leave me if they want, and to have free will do refuse to obey me so they won’t feel that they are enslaved.” So I design a box for them and put them in it one by one. When I call them, if they turn around and come straight out of the box, I will know that they want to be with me and I will love them forever. But if they make any other move, the box will slam shut, light on fire, and they will burn to death in agony while I watch sadly.

      Whoa whoa whoa, this story suddenly got dark, didn’t it? Any compassionate human being would realize that what I’m doing is wrong. Any compassionate human being would see the disconnect between my apparent loving actions towards the puppies and my sudden willingness to let them die a horrible death just to test their trust in me. These are less intelligent and powerful beings that have no choice in the situation that I am placing them in. They didn’t ask to be put in the death-trap box, so their decisions after they are placed there is NOT “free will” decisions. Besides that, my kind treatment of the puppies does not give me the right to destroy them at will. Even the fact that I saved them from drowning does not give me that right. Do we really think that saving a creature’s life gives us complete and utter control over their lives and deaths from then on? I should hope not.

      So what’s god’s excuse? If he created us, then we owe our lives to him. Maybe he has treated us wonderfully. Maybe he has given his life for us, loved us, and honestly wants the best for us. But then he put us in a death-trap box and demanded us to choose him or a fiery death. That’s not free will. That’s not justice. That’s not mercy. That’s the actions of a deranged psychopath. If we as humans can grasp that, what’s his excuse?

      1. You’re forgetting one very important thing… God is the potter and we are the vessel. He has every right to create us all warped and lopsided and then smash us against the wall because we are not the Ming vase he expected. We, the shards of poorly formed pottery, have no right to complain.

        I built a treehouse when I was a kid. Unfortunately, as 7-year old wannabe architect, my masterpiece looked like the mutant love child of Frank Gehry and MC Escher and it had the stability of a pop bottle of nitro. Hence, I did what any perfect creator would do… I made 10 gallons of homemade napalm and set the damn thing on fire. The treehouse got what it had coming.

  2. Hi Evan,

    I’ve just gotta say that I really appreciate you for articulating your journey here. As I have read your different entries, they have challenged me to consider my own journey of faith and the events that have occurred that have solidified my faith rather than destroyed it.

    I know that hell is a huge conundrum. It can be a sticking point and it can also be something that people just don’t want to think about.

    I honestly don’t have a lot of time to respond right now. 😦 Since arriving in the States four weeks ago, we’ve been in four different places and I don’t have much of a routine at the moment.

    We are headed to Colorado tomorrow for 2 weeks of missionary stuff and unfortunately I don’t have an idea what our itinerary is…(our mission organization hasn’t sent us this info and we won’t know our schedule til we are there) so connecting with you there is really up in the air. I am sorry about that, Really, I am.

    So, all that to say, when things calm down in 2 1/2 weeks, I plan to write you back. Can’t tell you all that I might say, because honestly, I’m not sure what to say yet…I know I just want to. Please keep writing though. I am glad you are.

    Take care,
    heather

    1. Hey, no worries about the schedule. If you happen to find you have time, just let me know, and if not, I understand. There’s no pressure. I’ll be in Boulder the 12th-24th, so if you happen to be there and feel up to it, my email is galacticexplorer314@yahoo.com for quick getting in touch. But as I said, no pressure… I imagine your plate will be pretty full and you might be worn out, so if you don’t want to or can’t, I totally understand.

      Take care of yourself and thanks for still reading. I’ll be looking forward to hearing your thoughts whenever/if ever you have the time, but don’t worry about if you can’t get to it. It is good to know that you are listening and considering, even if your conclusions and mine are and always will be different. 🙂 At least we are hearing each other.

  3. I remember realizing that the Bible is not without error, is not the literal, and without error, word of God. That was rather a shock to me. The whole concept of original sin and an eternity in hell made no sense either. So I started doing some research. I still believe that Jesus’ words on hell are misunderstood. I don’t believe hell exists. I think Jesus wants us to get rid of the hell within us, which causes hell for those around us. There are many followers of Jesus who think like this. Not every Christian believes in an eternal conscious torment called hell when we die. I certainly understand your reason for turning away from such a depiction of god. After all, your own family put you in hell when they tried to change you. Loved your story!

    1. Thank you! I agree, hell does not need to be a part of Christian doctrine. I for one am very happy to see more and more Christians rejecting it, since it’s such a harmful doctrine. I, of course, am no longer Christian, but I strongly support Christians who openly deny the existence of hell and are willing to say as much. Hell-fire Christians have way too loud of a voice.

  4. oops, put the concept of without error two times in one sentence. sorry about that. you can’t edit here.

  5. […] it was not because I was mistreated by Christians, and it was not because I disagreed on a specific doctrine or denomination. Thirdly, I wanted to drive home that why I did leave the faith: because I found […]

  6. I understand that your questions led you to reject Christianity and God and the Bible. Thank you for sharing how you came to those conclusions. I still take much comfort in my faith in God, though I question many things that have been taught about the Bible, amongst them hell, morality, the condemnation of gays. And I don’t go to church any more, though I would very much like to. As you have so rightly pointed out, there are so many interpretations and denominations all vying with one another and actually creating a huge confusing mess of beliefs. It’s one of the things I so love about John Pavlovitz: his openness and non-judgemental love of people. I’m rambling a bit. I do apologize, but hope you can make some sense of it. These days I live by the rule of love as far as is possible for me to do so, and try to let that guide me to do what is right. I think that was how Jesus lived.

    1. It sounds like you are a Christian who lives by your own conscience. As such, I really see little difference between you and I in terms of the way we glean our morality. I find it endlessly encouraging to meet people from diverse faiths that nonetheless are unified in this way.

      1. Yes, I think you are so right about us being similar in our thinking. I do feel that we have a common base for discussion even though we have taken different paths. I love your honesty and your independence and your stand on morality. And, as I said before, I deeply admire your strength and resilience. I think you are an amazing person and I’m very happy to have read your story. It is so inspiring.

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