I grew up in a Baptist church. A true to tale hellfire and brimstone Baptist church. I remember sitting under the pews chewing gum and playing with my gum wrapper; folding it, crumpling it up, straightening it out, making shapes with it. It took my mind off the preacher yelling about, well, everything. He loved to yell about how much God loved us and even more he loved to yell about how many sins there were and how much punishment there was for committing any of those sins. It was terrifying. The other day I heard somebody say something that I have heard a thousand times but this time it caught me off guard and it got me thinking and led to this blog post. It was one of those catch phrases you hear often but don’t really think about. Someone said that something had, “Scared the hell out of them.” As many times as I have heard that said, it’s never occurred to me how wrong it is. Having the hell scared out of me would be a welcome thing because that baptist minister screaming about what would happen if I sinned and my parents reconfirming every time I asked if it was true, literally ‘scared the hell into me’. I spent years trying to recover from the damage that had been done to me. I was a sensitive, trusting, good little girl. Being told that hell was like touching a hot stove and I would feel the burn over my entire body for all eternity and then being told that if I sinned that’s where I would spend eternity, was mortifying. I grew up thinking every little thing I did that wasn’t perfect would send me to the flaming hell that haunted me in my waking and sleeping hours. Years of research, learning, and growing emotionally, and here I am 45 years old, and no longer in fear of hell. Not in the same sense. I still believe in hell. It’s around us every day. Children with illnesses, loved ones leaving us, people committing horrific acts of violence… It’s hell. Right here on earth. It doesn’t get worse. And, I no longer fear God. The God I know is loving, good, kind, and the source of everything that is right in this world.
My spiritual beliefs are my own and I would never push them on anyone. I do struggle with people being so confined to the religious box. Many people need rules and guidelines to do what is right but I wish it didn’t take fear to bring the good about. We all know what is good and right and have everything we need inside of us to do those things. As I said, God is the source of everything good and we are full of God’s light and love. Or Buddha’s light and love. Or the light and love we get from each other. Or from ancient spirits. It really doesn’t matter what we call it. Love is love and at the beginning, in the middle, and at the end of the day, it’s the love that brings about everything that is right and good. It’s love that makes us beautiful, kind people. It’s love that makes everything that is wrong with this world right. It’s love that fills us and love is what we will take with us when we go. Love is not cruel or punishing or angry. Love will not send me to a fiery eternal hell. And that’s what God is. By whatever name you want to call him, her, or it. God is love. And there’s nothing scary about that. I guess you could say I have had the hell scared out of me. And I couldn’t be more grateful.