I always knew I would write this here, but I thought it would be much later. A dear friend said something, though, and I felt I should say something in response.
I can offer reason and hope, but I cannot take away fear. And in love, I cannot ask others to ignore it. Fear is very real, and the most powerful defense human ideas have evolved to protect themselves. Do not listen to that. Do not question that. Do not think that. Or. Else.
I cannot promise that Hell is not real. I cannot promise that you will not some day stand before Allah or Jehovah or Osiris. That you will not suffer Ammit or Tartarus or Niflhel. A hundred gods stand before us and say, Worship me or I will torture you. Follow me or I will abandon you. Only me or I will cast you out.
Forever. Let us be clear what is on the line if we’re wrong. Perhaps we will be lucky and we will only be reborn a toad. But perhaps we will eat from Zaqqum for all eternity, burning our guts like molten brass. I am quite certain more people today believe I will spend eternity in Jahannam than in Hell. On which square do I place Pascal’s Wager?
But this is not a rational question. You cannot have reason in the midst of fear. I won’t pretend I walked away from fear easily. Don’t think for a moment that it was reason that led me from fear. I left Christianity before I stopped believing in it. I left because I believed in it. I believed in the genocide of Joshua. I believed that God’s first law was “thou shalt not know.” I believed that the Father would torture his children for all eternity because they disobeyed even once. I believed in a God who could only be appeased by innocent blood.
And I hated Him. Because He was evil. Because I believed in the war I had been taught we were waging. Because I finally understood I was on the wrong side.
It took some time to let go of hate. I thought I could find some middle path, that I could ignore those things I found repugnant and embrace those things I admired. But I think Fundamentalism is right. You can’t pick and choose. I’m not saying you have to accept or reject every line of the Bible. I’m saying that it either is or is not the unique Word of God. If it was, then I knew where defiance would lead (and I was content in that with all the bravado of youth). But if it wasn’t, if it was a book we could consider as our heart leads, as we would consider any other book, then that raised a question, the most important question I had ever thought about.
If we can read at the Bible and know that “Love thy neighbor as thyself” is good, but be repulsed by “[Joshua] utterly destroyed all that breathed, as the LORD God of Israel commanded,” what is it that guides us? How do we know one is right and the other wrong? Pastors had told me that only the Bible tells us what is right and wrong, but here I was judging the Bible. How is that possible? Based on what standard? The standard was my own heart. My own heart could rightly judge the words and deeds of God. My heart had been slandered as unfit and evil, but that was only propaganda from the enemy. Propaganda and fear. Psychological warfare. We all know this. We may read the scriptures of our fathers’ faith, but when something troubles our hearts, we re-read, we re-interpret, maybe we ignore it. But we judge ultimately with our own hearts, no matter how unworthy we think we are or how devout. The least of us sits in judgement over Powers and Principalities and rules whether they are physical or phantasm, worthy of praise or scorn. We do not need scripture to know the truth. We carry the truth in our hearts. We need only be still and listen and then think and consider.
I’ve stumbled many times since those days. I’ve walked down some wrong paths, banged my shins, backtracked, started over. But I’ve never let go of my compass. It’s all I was given. Just a compass, and a brain to interpret it. It’s not much, but it’s everything I’ll ever need.