Heat radiating from an unknown source; thirst so intense it pinpricks every organ; faces so contorted in agony that their pain cannot even take a voice to scream out against the eternity that binds them.
Imagery that striking (along with a pleasant version for Heaven) are why I was baptized when I was 8 years old, because even an 8-yr-old can recognize that that is no place to end up, and for my church and family that was the only way to escape.
As far as Hell imagery goes, I suppose the one I used to hold was intense, but not as demonstrative as some project. It is a credit to my evangelistic family that I did not view Hell as a place of literal fire and brimstone, Satan and demons walking around prodding suffering people, or flames engulfing people for forever (all though someone at church camp tried to give me that image one time, I didn’t buy it). If your going to actually believe in eternal torture, please don’t characterize it.
I stopped believing in Hell when I stopped believing in God, naturally. Through the healing of some old religious scars and some good conversations with people who don’t use their beliefs to attack, convince, or control others, I began to slowly realize and form my own view of God. Through processing out my view on deity, eternity, and the afterworld, Hell just simply never came up; I never felt compelled to work through my views on that.
I’m still not exactly sure what I believe on the matter of justice, but I know my stance on eternal torture. I can no longer believe in a God that tortures people eternally, without recompense. Especially when I believe that most of our knowledge within Christian culture about Hell stems from people in previous times who enlarged images, themes, and characters to make Hell seem like a more dramatic place. Humanity tends to lend itself to the snowballing of ideas. I think that today’s image of Hell is just a giant snowball that began centuries ago, and it’s unfortunate that people today will defend it’s truth like it is the most important thing in their world.
I simply forgot that people believed that people are actively going to Hell, it’s like it just left my consciousness. As a child, I remember thinking that my friends of other religious and faith traditions were going to Hell. It was uncomfortable, but I felt that it couldn’t really be altered, so I could enjoy them now and hope for the best on the other side. It was sad to think some of my closet friends would be eternally tortured, but I grew up with the idea, so I learned to cope.
It dawned on me the other day that where I stand now, many of my closets, oldest friends would believe that I was going to be eternally damned. It’s what I assume a sucker punch feels like. When I chose not to process my views on Hell, I didn’t have to deal with the fact that in some eyes I should be eternally tortured. When I believed in Hell, I never thought about how my beliefs would impact the ‘lost’, I only dealt with my own feelings about loosing family and friends to damnation.
Processing through the pain and anger I felt at the realization that people I love would rather send me into eternal flames than process and take a closer, less dogmatic look at Hell (because most condemn then analyze), I realized how much it hurts for people to think that about you. It’s not even their beliefs that bother me, except the toxicity of such beliefs concerns me a touch, it’s their opinion of me.
People who do not believe in Hell do not view Christian condemnation as a statement on the lives they’ve chosen to live, but as a personal, quantifying statement. More than anything, I wish Christians could experience this feeling before they being spouting off beliefs and judgments that have deeper implications than even they realize.