Dealing with lingering fears of Theism, Hell

Conn_in_Brooklyn
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Dealing with lingering fears of Theism, Hell

I blogged on this today, at work, because its been on my mind and, actually, really affecting me:

[15 Dec 2006 | Friday]

Jill Mytton and KK

"... Dawkins meets the psychologist Jill Mytton who suffered an abusive religious upbringing – she now helps to rehabilitate similarly affected children. Mytton explains how, for a child, images of hell fire are in no sense metaphorical, but instead inspire real terror. She portrays her own childhood as one "dominated by fear." When pressed by Dawkins to describe the realities of Hell, Mytton hesitates, explaining that the images of eternal damnation which she absorbed as a child still have the power to affect her now ..."

I once told a friend that one of the chief reasons I believed in God after all was based on fear of hell. She explained to me (this very sophisticated, mystical woman) that this was terrible reason to believe in anything - based on fear of eternal retribution and distance from love and warmth. Then she recounted a story of an old friend who was dying of AIDS back in the 80s and rather then suffer the peripheral sicknesses that would prove his demise, he decided to end his life. She told me she was in bed, cozy in her apartment on Riverside Drive when, across the island, he jumped, headlong, into the east river. She said she felt his pain run through her, like the L roaring underneath the cold chill of the same river - but that she felt his peace too, later, and was comforted by that. I don't know how to store and process her account, nor my own accounts which are difficult to explain. I no longer feel the pressure to assign these events to sky-gods, nor do I claim to know how or why they occurred. I'm not satisfied with a "god of the gaps" who could be recognized as having agency over such small, unclear and questionable feelings. I can't name the mental or emotional firings of my brain that occur when I'm in bed, alone at night, afraid of what might be under my bed, outside my window, in my closet ... and I won't pretend to be sure anymore.

... And this is why atheism is so natural and positive to me, because it is the most open and the most rigorous. I am open to any posibilty, so long as it passes the rational and reasonable test that trust merits (I say trust as opposed to belief) ...

But (and there is always a but) I still fear hell. I know it doesn't exist, I know that I am an atheist in reference to the Christian God - the one that would not forgive me and thus damn me to hell - but I still fear it, and the eternal loneliness that goes with complete separation- in other words, it still affects me.

I am seeing now how dangerous and abusive this notion of hell is, because, like many, I was raised in a religion that used guilt and fear - developed, theologically, through a fundamental misunderstanding and ignorance of how our bodies work - to control us. What we learn as children stay with us becuase they are implanted at an age when we are supposed to take what others say to heart. It is actually an evolutionary trait - young offspring (whether theyre gazelles or naked apes) are programmed to listen and obey their elders ... A gazelle should not test the notion that if it stays at the watering hole too long, it might get eaten by a crocodile - We retain this trait as human children and it is something that is abused by church elders when instilling children with the social and theological teachings of prophetic religion.

Thoughts of hell are very real to me because when I was young, wide-eyed and full of acceptence for all I was told, I was made to believe that hell was a real - that all the bronze-age or dark-age imagery was to come to pass for me should I, for lack of a more modest word, think. Like Jacob, this fear of a place that doesn't is something I'm going to have to wrestle with to leave behind - probably for the rest of my life.

Do any of you'all ever feel this way? What tools have you used to counter this? Oh, and I know I'm suing a lot of Dawkins up there, but he's been a real help in confronting the irrationality of my "demons" ... Oh and feel free to move this if this isn't the place for it.

Thanks,
G
[myspace.com/conn_in_brooklyn]


melchisedec
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This is in short Pascal's

This is in short Pascal's Wager. If you are to take this into account, then you would also need to factor the other religions with a hell as a punishment. Because if you decide to believe in God for fear of going to hell, what if you believed in the wrong God? Then you still end up in hell. But atleast in many other religions, hell is only temporary. In christianity, its an eternity of tortue.


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When I was a believer I

When I was a believer I actually used to have nightmares about going to hell all the time. Now that I know it is fiction, I am not at all afraid.

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Conn_in_Brooklyn
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Yeah - but the thing is, I

Yeah - but the thing is, I don't believe in God. And I know my fear is irrational - but it is something that still stalks me in a way ... I feel immune to my fear of other religion's hells because I wasn't exposed to them in the same way as I was with Catholicism's inferno ... I undertsand the rationality of your comment - but maybe what I'm dealing with is more psycholgical?

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MattShizzle
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Damn, it's hard to believe.

Damn, it's hard to believe. Non belief is a big part of rationality. Please, just refrain from believing in irrationality and it will help.

Matt Shizzle has been banned from the Rational Response Squad website. This event shall provide an atmosphere more conducive to social growth. - Majority of the mod team


todangst
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Very nice post.

Very nice post.


Conn_in_Brooklyn
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thanks

thanks


Yellow_Number_Five
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Conn, I was where you are

Conn, I was where you are now for several years. Indoctrination and religion is not an easy thing to get over. It's something you have to take a day or two at a time, at first at least.

For me, and at the time I honestly did NOT care where I ended up philosphically, I simply asked myself a handful of questions I thought were important every day or so. Now, I'm not going to tell you what you should ask yourself, I think you already know. My questions spanned my concepts of justice and science - I will share that much.

I am against religion because it teaches us to be satisfied with not understanding the world. - Richard Dawkins

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Zhwazi
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Next time you think of hell,

Next time you think of hell, say to yourself "Haha, I'm being afraid of a fairy tale." I think it really helps to laugh at it. Takes the fear out of it and lets you deal a bit more rationally with it. At least that works for me.


Alex14
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i understand where you're

i understand where you're coming from. I was afraid of hell. Although I no longer believed I was still afraid. What helped me was saying to myself "ok, how much sense does it make to not believe in god but be afarid of hell or the devil, if you don't believe in them then why be afraid." It was almost like I was a hypocrite. Also, I agree with what Zhwazi said, laughing at the whole notion of hell, devil etc helps.


Conn_in_Brooklyn
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I really appreciate all the

I really appreciate all the kind words and what not. I think one of the most important roles we have to play as former-theists is to be there for eachother when we deal with such difficult issues (like deprogramming, etc.) and that was part of the reason why I was drawn to RRS. You know, one of the other things I think about is, if it were real, how many people I have loved would be there - I think thats the plot of the song "I am the pope" by Propagandhi ... anyways, thanks for the help, I truly appreciate it!

G

I'm off myspace.com so you can only find me here: http://geoffreymgolia.blogspot.com


FundamentallyFlawed
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I think I was pretty

I think I was pretty lucky... my mother was certainly Christian, but she didn't really drag us to church. She more or less instilled in us the philosophy that hell was only for really bad people. We were never told that every little sinful action, thought, or feeling would lead to damnation.

I realize now how fortunate I was. Although I did have a theist upbringing, my mother taught me to think critically and value science and reason. She was fascinated by evolution. When I pointed out to her that evolutionary theory contradicted the bible, she told me that we can't trust everything the bible says, especially when modern science shows us the opposite.

Essentially, she taught me to place the values above the mythology. I never really had to "let go" of fear to leave theism... it was a painless and natural progression.


alr
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I can't relate as I was not

I can't relate as I was not a convert but a never-theist.
However, I hope I can help by just confirming to you that, one like myself, who was never programmed to fear hell, truly has no fear of it - instead having this incredulous feeling that anyone could believe in such a cartoonish notion.

I'm sure it was programmed into you early which is kinda sad to me. It's a shame this harm was done to you in the name of a faith.