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Death is often something that humans fear because of the unknown that follows it. Throughout history, we have answered that unknown as best we could with the resources and technology that we had at the time. Explaining what happens after death has been coupled with superstition and power hungry authorities needing to control others. The belief of an afterlife is something that should not be forced on others, although that is just what humans have done with the aid of religion.
I feel that I have spent countless, harmful hours on the idea of an afterlife. I say harmful because of the mental abuse that I as a child (and as a young adult) experienced thinking about heaven and hell. Most who disagree with me would say that heaven is not a damaging thought. Unfortunately it is damaging to believe that you will be in paradise while others are not. That pious mindset has caused much of the world’s wars and crusades against other religions, not to mention mental disorders on those abused by the doctrine.
I remember sitting around the kitchen table discussing if my grandpa (who died before I was born) would be in heaven or not. My father’s father (and any non-Christian who was not baptized) would burn in hell forever. Just the idea of that was horrific and spawned from the past manipulation and power play by the church.
As a member in my middle-school church youth group, we would take field trips in the fall to an interactive drama, “Heaven’s Gates and Hell’s Flames”. Numerous churches from around the area would bring their youth to participate in this activity. The hidden premise of the event was to scare kids into behaving although in some of the actor’s defense, they were only doing what they thought was for the good of the viewers.
Toward the end of the drama, hell scene was unforgettable, including smoke machine, red lights, and a gothic looking satan. He would yell while demons and the damned grabbed and confronted you as you passed through the scene. Once the “show” was over, you had to decide which door you would choose: heaven or hell. If you chose heaven, you could mingle around a bonfire with your friends but if you chose hell, you were “counseled” by church leaders. David L Rattigan (from “Leaving Fundamentalism.org“) commented on the same drama:
If sitting through an hour-and-a-half of what I described above doesn’t provoke some sort of emotional reaction in you, there is a deficiency somewhere. If the constant sea of dazzling lights, infra-red flashes, reverberating cackles, screaming, yelling, weeping, whooping, cheering and sudden, high-volume bursts of symphonic drama leaves you totally unaffected, you were probably in a deep sleep. I am comfortable thinking that when I die, it is as it was before I was born instead of the idea of an afterlife (and all the rapture, judgment, and tribulation nonsense). These kinds of methods — and I accept the bizarre sincerity of the participants — are the perfect recipe for creating an atmosphere conducive to emotional, psychological and spiritual manipulation. They belong in Hollywood blockbusters, where at the end of the night you can leave the theatre and get over the experience because, after all, it’s just a movie.
Now let me break down the real life drama for a moment. Not only are we to believe that the unsaved are not in heaven, but they are being tortured for years upon years, centuries upon centuries, ages upon ages, until forever and ever! They aren’t just annihilated into oblivion, but are made to pay for their supposed earthly mistakes in unimaginable, unending pain. If Christians believe theirs is a loving god, who tortures most of humanity in a hell fire forever, then they have a different definition of love than I do.
Robert Ingersoll in 1896 wrote against the hell doctrine:
All that the human race has suffered in war and want, in pestilence and famine, in fire and flood, — all the pangs and pains of every disease and every death — all this is as nothing compared with the agonies to be endured by one lost soul.
A Christian’s defense on the matter is the concept of free will. It would be too obvious to say that their god creates doubtful minds and has the power to punish that “flaw”. To compensate for this degree of cruelty, they state that we can choose to love god back or choose to go to hell. Their god will not force anyone to believe in him and he will not intercede on that choice. The American Heritage College Dictionary defines free will as “2. The power of making free choices that are unconstrained by external circumstances or by and agency such as fate or divine will.” If theirs is a sovereign god, then this approach doesn’t work. Man’s will to choose his fate would be by definition, god-defying!
Throwing around the term, “free will” may seem to defend god, but humanity cannot make choices or decisions without an internal or external cause. For example, people cannot choose what race they will be, where they are born, or how they will die (naturally). Even beyond that, it is unlikely that they are able to control hearing the “saving” words of Christianity and then choose a heavenly end. If I had this superior free will to choose my fate, I would will myself to be god and end the controversy! Others also argue that as a “father” god, he must be just and punish those who disobey. My counter argument to them is to look at a human parent. Would they punish their child by sending them to time-out forever? No. It would just be for a set time for the child to learn from the mistake. Even in that instance, there should be no mental or physical abuse! There is no logical benefit from an everlasting punishment beyond god’s seemingly, sadistic enjoyment.
After many years of research and investigation I am mostly released from religion’s clutches! Although still damaged by its unsolicited domination, I feel much more peace without it. Relaxation settles in, knowing that I don’t have to measure up to the church’s unattainable expectations or those of god’s. I am able to learn as I go without the anxiety of having some godly purpose to fulfill. Death becomes more a part of living and less of a preparation.
As Mark Twain noted, I was dead for billions of years before I was born, but I don’t recall it being of the slightest inconvenience. Similarly, I am utterly convinced that I will never experience my death as an inconvenience.
Kind of ironic, isn’t it? It seems that billions of people through the ages have accepted religion, and tenaciously clung to religion, for fear of something that they will not even be aware of once it happens.
On Death - ExChristian.Net - Articles, Mar 2009
I am comfortable thinking that when I die, it is as it was before I was born instead of the idea of an afterlife (and all the rapture, judgment, and tribulation nonsense). What happens in this life is beyond my present knowledge so I will not waste my time on guessing. I plan to live my life as best that I can in the present and focus on the happiness of others and myself. With this mindset, I do not fear the unknown as I did before. Unfortunately, there are so many people trapped in a religious web because of the fear of excommunication and worse, their death and the lie of damnation.