Sunday, March 13, 2011

Fear and Organized Religion

Fear is one of the most basic, primitive, and powerful human emotions. It comes in a variety of distinctive nuances, including anxiety, paranoia, dread, terror, phobias and panic. It can be rational or irrational. No matter what form it possesses, fear is frustrating, for it cannot be easily dismissed or ignored. We all experience fear at times, although most of us are not inclined to admit it. Some fears are universal: fear of death (either our own or of a loved one), fear of the future, and fear of punishment. Others are more individual. For example, before I became ill a year and a half ago, I was absolutely terrified of hypodermic needles. Anytime I saw one, even on TV, I had a panic attack. Just thinking about them could make me break out in a cold sweat. The fear was so intense that it became a danger to my health. The only vaccines I got were those required by law for school. Despite having asthma, I refused to get the annual influenza shot. The first times I had blood drawn and an IV inserted was when I began showing symptoms of leukemia, just after my 20th birthday.

When I reflect on these facts now, after hundreds of needle sticks in the past 18 months, I feel rather foolish. Of course needles are not pleasant, but they did not deserve the fear I had attached to them. Luckily, the object of my fear was a relatively insignificant part of my life and could usually be avoided. Unfortunately, that is not always the case. The universal fears I mentioned earlier are neither minor pieces of our lives, nor can they be circumvented. These profound fears leave us open to manipulation and abuse by organized religion.

Organized religion in its most conservative forms, such as fundamentalist Christianity and Islam is guilty what author and counselor Boyd Purcell calls "spiritual abuse" or, in extreme circumstances, "spiritual terrorism". Basically, spiritual abuse is the use of fear to control and manipulate members of a church. Since a majority of fundamentalist believers were raised within their sect or denomination, ideas are instilled at a young and impressionable age. This is where the fear originates. Children are instructed to believe certain doctrines and to comply with specific rules. They are then warned that questioning the doctrines or violating the rules will result in severe divine punishment.

Within fundamentalist religion, the fear results from the perceived negative characteristics of God. Although God is often attributed positive traits, such as being all-loving, fatherly, merciful, etc., fundamentalists tend to believe that God exhibits negative traits, such as being wrathful, judgmental, and cruel. Fundamentalist leaders describe in great detail the ever-lasting torment awaiting unbelievers in hell. Believers are threatened with a supposedly all-loving God's condemnation to hell eternally for even minuscule infractions. This fear stifles intellectual curiosity and spiritual growth. For the leaders, however, this fear ensures them constant power, with an army of loyal believers too scared to even consider challenging the status-quo. Depending on the individual's personality, this fear can cause immense damage. To honestly believe that God will send billions of people to hell and torture them eternally is horrifying. Although many are able to bury this teaching in the depths of their mind so they do not have to actually contemplate its true significance, some cannot. Of course, this leads to skepticism of their beliefs, a forbidden activity which ushers in even greater fear.

I have written before how I myself was caught in this perpetual cycle of fear and doubt and doubt and fear. Escape took years and I suspect the wound will never totally heal. I am left with one nagging question: Why has such fear of God been allowed to propagate?

Much of the fear can be traced to an aggressive thirst for power. During the late Roman Empire and the Middle Ages, Christian kings and emperors used Christianity to justify the conquest of vast territories in order to convert the pagan inhabitants to Christianity. Of course, there had to be an incentive for the pagans to convert. Fear of eternal damnation in hell coupled with the promise of eternal bliss of heaven persuaded conversions by the thousands. God was subverted from a redeemer of broken souls to a political tool.

That power grab continues to this day. Churches fight for members and political influence. Fear allows church leaders to control the rank and file. If any of them cease to toe the party line, a warning is conveyed, usually thinly disguised as concerned advice, that God is not pleased with their actions and that their soul is in jeopardy. This happened to me several times. Once, I asked a question in Sunday school class about how ancient cavemen fit into the story of Genesis. My Sunday school teacher later pulled me aside and in a “concerned” voice told me that God was upset and angry that I was reading such books because it showed that I lacked faith in Him. She admonished me to dedicate everything I did to Jesus or risk being left behind when the Rapture came (which we believed was imminent). It was all I could do not to burst into tears right then. I cried myself to sleep for weeks in terror.

As a universalist, I now discern what this fear genuinely is: toxic and soul-killing. I believe that the doctrine of hell has wreaked incalculable devastation on humanity. It has created a god who is astonishingly cruel and shallow. Is it not shocking that so many have rejected this god as an impossible monster? Regrettably, when this distorted version of God is rejected, many abandon hope for God at all. I did so myself for several years.

Universalism does not just reveal the love of God. It reveals that God is Love. Fear of God, fear of hell, fear of death, all are vanquished, for "perfect love drives out all fear" (1 John 4:18). God loves every human being He has ever created with an unimaginable intensity. To feel God's infinite love is beyond indescribable. It is as if all the fear and all pain are erased in an instant. But it's not just the love that is moving. It is the sorrow. The deepness of the sorrow God feels for His children's suffering. Every ounce of pain and every drop of misery His children endure is acutely felt by Him.

Fundamentalist religion is so caught up with doctrines, laws, and absolute perfection that they miss the point entirely. It should proclaim the love and closeness of God. Instead, it declares that we are separated from God by our own sin and weakness. It tells us God gives us but one chance to get it right while living on an Earth filled with hardship and pain. If we fail, God will throw us away like garbage. But this is a lie. God is always with us. Nothing could keep God away from us. He desires so intensely for us to see Him as He really is: our Creator and our Father whose strength more than makes up for our weakness and who will never abandon a single soul he has made. He aches for us to trust Him so He may heal the destruction fear has caused. Although the first step away from the organized religion which has ravaged us is scary, we have nothing to fear from the God who loves us.


  1. The eternal torment doctrine entered into Church during the Dark Ages, primarily through Augustine of Hippo. The Church brought people into bondage to this doctrine in order to keep them subservient to the Church. How awful is that. What is worse is that this terrible doctrine survived to the present day.

  2. I always thought it was odd that Augustine's writings became the foundation of much of the Christian church. At the time, most of the early church leaders believed in some form of universal reconciliation. Augustine was one of the few who advocated the existence of an everlasting hell and that a person's fate was sealed at the moment of death.

    Unfortunatly, these ideas played well into the hands of emperors and popes who wanted to increase their power over their people. Augustine's theology allowed them to utilize Christianity as a political tool for their own personal gain. This transformed Christianity from a religion of love and acceptance to a religion of conformity and oppression. The fact that those doctrines have survived to this day is a testament to how well this worked. Even the Protestant Reformation bought into it, allowing such terrible ideas about God to flourish today.

  3. No, that is incorrect about "beginning" with Augustine. People also say the Roman Catholic church invented eternal torment, but that isn't true either. Yes, they did organize it and officially promote it, but it was around before they got to doing that, and it came from Hellenist influence. All of this comes from an understanding of Hades, Tartarus, Gehenna and Sheol. Hades is NOT Sheol...they are not the same. Tartarus is also NOT Sheol. There were people promoting and believing eternal torment long before the Roman Catholic church. Some Jews also came under Hellenist influence...hence, the presence of Hades & Tartarus.

    I'm not arguing in favour of eternal torture. Personally, I find that "God" absolutely abhorrent, and I will not worship such a fiendish entity.

    At this point in my life, after the loss of my mother and dad to cancer, I honestly say I'm not sure of very much anymore. However, I can't imagine anyone having more "proof" of life after life than I do...and I say that very humbly, I might add.

    Maybe that's the NDE that happened to me, talking. But there are several other 3rd person verified personal experiences that have taken place for me as well, which is another story.

    I can tell you that when people write that they are "watching" from up at the ceiling, it IS definitely happening. And, I saw a lot more after that as well...nothing of which was any kind of eternal torture.

    I do think that possibly some people are lying about some of those stories that they have written, but others are definitely not. It is absolutely happening. My eyes opened slowly and I was up at the ceiling, and was able to look around the room from up there, and was consciously thinking the entire time. I was pulled into darkness and saw an oval light, came to it and saw people, and talked at length with one of them. It's a much longer story.

  4. I never meant to say that the idea of eternal torment "began" with Augustine, or the Catholic Church. I just meant that the Catholic Church based many of it's beliefs about hell from Augustine's writings. Much of what Augustine believed about hell was itself taken from Hellenistic traditions, as you noted. I have spent the last 7 years studying Latin, so I am well versed in Greek and Roman mythology. Many elements of Augustine's hell mirror details of Tartarus as described by Virgil. I know Augustine was sent to a Roman school as a child, so he would have been familiar with classical authors, including Virgil.

    I am sorry about your mother and father. I cannot imagine how difficult losing them both to cancer would be. I'm currently battling leukemia myself, so I know how emotionally draining cancer can be on a family.

    I've always been fascinated by NDE's. I had a similar experience myself about 2 years ago. I had the flu (at the time, I was too scared of needles to get the vaccine) and my fever was very high. I kept taking medicine to try and get it down, but nothing was working. At this point, my fever was 105 degrees. I got out of bed to get something to drink and immediately collapsed on the floor. I was very very tired. I knew that if I went to sleep, I wouldn't wake up. I knew I would die. You'd think that would terrify me, but it didn't. Quite the opposite. I felt a sense of calm and peace like I never had before or since. I just somehow knew that everything would be ok. I kinda had this feeling I was going home. I started to give in too. I could feel myself slowly sinking down. But at the last second, I remembered my boyfriend and how devastated he would be. I loved him too much to do that to him. I forced myself into a sitting position, crawled over to my desk, grabbed my phone, and called 911. The next thing I remember is waking up at the hospital.

    That experience has stuck with me. Some people might say I'm either crazy or a liar. I don't know what to call it, but I won't just dismiss anyone who claims to have had a similar experience as a liar.

  5. I'm terribly sorry to hear about your leukemia. After what happened to mother and dad, I'm not even going to pretend to know what to say to you because I now know that I couldn't possibly know what to say. It's been 48 months and every day since then has been a struggle just to survive. In fact, I don't know how I've survived.

    My dad had cancer in his liver, and I don't know how he was able to withstand the things that happened to him. My mother...she had cancer in her bones, breast, liver, lungs and stomach. But she's not afraid at all...not even a bit. She never stopped smiling, talking, laughing, as if nothing was wrong. She is not afraid to face that at all, and she has no doubt that she will still live.

    I didn't write what I did, to imply that someone like you would be lyying about an experience. What I meant by that was that I think a few of the people might possibly be lying about things that they write...I'm particularly suspicious of certain stories I have seen, and if I were to point them out to you, I'm sure you would see what I mean. The other thing to keep in mind with those stories that people write, is that they all start to proselytize at one other words, they start to put their own spin on what happened to them and squeeze it into a box of a pre-existing belief system, and then sell it to others.

    When it comes to NDE stories, I don't pay much attention to anyone who doesn't describe what was happening around them and there is some kind of confirmation of that from someone else. It's just a way of sorting them out, that I use.

    As for me, I know for a fact that it is a fact that people are watching from above themselvs. It happened to me, and when it did, I knew nothing about these things and never thought such a thing could even be possible. At first I didn't understand what was happening or how it could be happening and it was confusing. I looked around the room, and at myself, etc., trying to figure out how this could be happening.

    I was pulled into utter darkness and I looked around in that darkness, trying to figure THAT out. After I had looked to my right, in this darkness, there was a light up ahead of me. I came to it and stopped. I was astounded at the darkness, and astounded at the brilliance of this "place" which that light was the entrance to. It was dazzling yet not difficult to behold. The illumination of this "place" came from everywhere, not from any one source. I noticed how well I could see. I realized I felt quite good...not weighted down. There were people there, and one of them was my dad. I have no idea who the others were but he seemed to know them. He didn't look sick anymore either...none of the signs of cancer were there anymore.

    I spoke to him about several things and got answers that still astound me. I know the conversation that we had, word for word, all by memory only. After that, I said that I didn't want to go back and that I wanted to stay. This was a bit startling to him, and twice he said that I cannot stay and I have to go back. I came back the same way...through that darkness, and back into the room where my body was, through some kind of a "mottled" opening in the darkness.

  6. Came right down on top of my body. This was all before my mother got sick. My dad also talked quite differently than when he was here...he was a decorated WW2 veteran, and he just never talked the way he did in that experience. He was certainly still dad, but he had a somewhat different outlook on certain things now.

    Throughout all of this, I was in a state of shock, to say the least. I had never considered the possibility of this before and I was stunned throughout the entire thing.

    But then other things started happening after that. I started knowing things before they would happen. Most of the time I kept my mouth shut, but whenever I did open it and confront people with what they were going to do, I discovered that it indeed was correct.

    I started seeing "departed" people. Most of whom I did not even know. Again, most of the time I kept my mouth shut. One time I did open my mouth to fundamentalist minister who thought his dad was in hell because he didn't make a commitment to Jesus. I proceeded to describe his dad to him, which he confirmed to me as I did it.

    I have to admit that in a somewhat sarcastic way (because I was disgusted with his hell "god"), I just said "I have good news, I don't think your dad is in hell, because I've seen him". I don't think he took that very well for some strange reason.

    I've also seen (yes, SEEN) my mother three times she passed on. And, yes, this was confirmed by an independant third person who never even knew me or my mother.

    If it were not for all of these things I doubt that I would have survived this long, with what happened to mother and dad.

  7. One more thing Samantha...when I wrote that people often start to proselytize regarding these other words they make assumptions and jump to conclusions.

    One example...some Christians (the ones who wouldn't be threatened by my story) would immediately conclude that this darkness I wrote about was "outer darkness"...or that it was some particular "part" of hell. New agers would call it "the void". See what I mean?

    There is nothing in my story that indicates a Biblical "outer darkness" and I hate the term "void" because of all the spins new agers put on that term. It was darkness, plain and simple. Nothing else implied other than just what happened. I was not even afraid in that darkness, it was just darker than anything I have ever known.

    If Catholics were to hear my story (including the conversation) they would probably try and put the "purgatory" spin on it. But it was not purgatory and nothing implied that it was. In fact, what happened to me probably supports spiritualism more than it does anything else...but it doesn't even totally support that.

    Fundamentalists, of course, would either say I'm crazy or that it was the devil, and that satan is a light. For me, that one doesn't even warrant a response.

    Perhaps the most interesting thing is that, this "place" is not far away somewhere. Some Christians seem to think there is an actual city floating in the sky somewhere. It was more like another dimension, and it "begins" right here among everyone.

  8. I'm actually doing quite well. The leukemia I have is very rare, but it's also easily treatable. Actually, the diagnosis was a relief. I was sick for over a year before the doctors figured it out.

    Don't worry, I didn't think you were implying I was lying. I knew what you meant. I've seen the same phenomena, especially with conservative and fundamentalist Christians. They have to make the experience fit into their narrow theology, or else it is threatening. They honestly cannot imagine they might be wrong.

    As a universalist, I'm quite used to those kinds of Christians being threatened by me and my beliefs. Their entire faith is built on the few, including themselves, being saved and the many being damned. That exclusion creates and us versus them mentality, and they derive a sense of specialness and superiority from being in the "saved" minority.

    The idea that God won't rest until everyone is "saved" terrifies them because it takes away their specialness, their superiority. They preach a god who is all-loving and forgiving, but then they claim that god will eternally torture everyone outside of their group. It's funny how that god always hates the same people his worshiper's hate, isn't it?

    There aren't many things I'm sure of either, but I do know that God is love, and He will not abandon any person He has created.

    Thank you for sharing your experience with me. I know that can be difficult.