The pen is mightier than the sword, they say. Words certainly do have power. And that power has to be wielded carefully. I discovered that when my original version of this post (and to some extent the whole direction of my blog over the past few months) cost me the friendship of someone I’ve been close to for about fifteen years. With that in mind, let me attempt a more personal and respectful rewrite of some of what I was trying to convey …
When you’re in a situation like I’ve been in for the past few months, where you sense your Christian faith changing into something else, there’s a certain degree of nervousness about the experience, because part of you is wondering if you’re damning your soul to hell. The Christian message is pretty clear. Entrance to heaven requires faith in Jesus. Ultimately, though, I feel I need to take a deep breath and remember that fear is not a particularly healthy motivator. When I first became a Christian, aged seventeen, there was a certain amount of fear that spurred me into the necessity of taking action, but in fairness my decision to become a Christian was really grounded in the idea that God is all wise and his way is therefore the right way, regardless of what I might want to do with my life. I have to say, to the credit of my Christian friends who are debating with me out of great concern at the moment, none of them have tried to scare me back into believing with a “big stick.” Instead, they have sought to reason with me. Jesus, too, when he was on earth, did not use a kind of all-encompassing fear-mongering; if you read the Gospels carefully, you will see a great variety of actions that Jesus used, depending on whom he was talking to.
So, taking all this into account, I think it’s important for me not to give into fear. If I should return to Christianity in time, it should be because I have become convinced of its validity, and for that reason alone. So, my reaction to my current situation is: take a deep breath, don’t be scared, be wary of those who would control by fear, and above all keep thinking.
One reason why it’s very difficult for me to believe in hell is because my parents aren’t/weren’t Christians. I lost my mother to cancer three years ago. She made no claim to being a Christian during her life, and I only worked up the courage to talk to her about it when she was on her death-bed, drifting in and out of consciousness on morphine. I only got a couple of minutes of lucidity from her while I was talking and she gave me a vaguely positive reaction, but nothing that I could hang my hat on and say, “My mother is saved.” You would think this uncertainty would have played on my mind. It didn’t – at all. The bottom line in all this is that I am psychologically incapable of believing my mother is in hell. That is evidenced by how easily I can talk about it. The idea of hell just doesn’t compute – that this precious person who loved me so completely throughout her life is now suffering in eternal torment. We are connected to people we love in ways that make facing a reality like this so utterly horrible that it becomes simply unreal. And I will face the same thing again with my dad in the not too distant future.
I have to admit to feeling a certain amount of relief that, with my current mindset, I don’t feel I need to warn my dad about that he is (hypothetically) facing fire and brimstone. I’ve always been uncomfortable, as a Christian, with the idea that I should impose the way I see life upon others, with warnings of a dire future, when I’ve never really been one hundred percent certain that Christianity is the true way and that any such grim reality truly insists. I have memories of taking part in missionary activities and feeling uncomfortable about what I was doing in a way that I think goes beyond mere nerves.
Let me be clear about what I’m not saying. I haven’t stepped back from Christianity because I don’t like the idea of hell. I’ve stepped back from it because I see major problems with it. Letting go of the belief in hell is just a major plus for me emotionally, as a result.
In the absense of Christianity, I’ve been looking to a different view of life; considering evil not as a thing to be punished but as an imbalance to be balanced; seeing forgiveness not as something which we should withhold until certain conditions are met, but something which can be given freely by just letting go of any requirement to make the offender pay, whether that requirement is as simple as “Say you’re sorry!” or as drastic as “You should be made the pay for what you did! They should lock you up and throw away the key!” It’s a breath of fresh air for me to realise that I don’t have to embrace the vengeful negativity that I’ve been conditioned to think is normal.
I believe we are all aspects of infinite consciousness. We are all connected to each other, part of the whole that is Creation or God. And the only motivation that makes any sense at all in this view of life is love.
Let’s use a radical example. Someone murders your brother. You feel that he should pay. The police catch him and he is convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment. You’re satisfied that he got what he deserved. This is the view that is typical of us when we see ourselves as disconnected from each other. But if you can believe that we’re not disconnected from each other, that we are all unique parts of the same whole, the situation looks radically different. When you understand that from a wider perspective he is you and you are him, the only reaction that makes any sense is love.
Am I saying that all criminals should be let out of the prisons to run amok? Of course not. What I’m saying is that it’s one thing to incarcerate a person for the protection of society and it’s another thing to do it to punish him. Ideas like punishment and retribution make no sense when you are motivated by the desire to help everybody. Yes, even the scum of the earth. The Christian ideal also agrees with the sentiment I’m proposing: “Love your enemies. Do good to those who hate you.” But what I’m suggesting is that I’ve found an underlying understanding that makes this kind of love possible.
I don’t believe I need to find salvation. I don’t think there is anything to be saved from. I believe the answer is to transform our understanding, then we’ll start realising our potential for goodness and love. For instance, the person who understands that he is infinite consciousness won’t be trapped in materialism, will not be greedy for wealth, and is very unlikely to end up a thief. This life is just a tiny little ride on the vast plain of eternity. When you understand that, so many negative motivations lose their hold over you. On the flipside, a person who lives with the understanding that death is the end is so much more susceptible to this negativity. I don’t think evil is caused by a sinful nature; I think how we choose behave is a direct reflection of our view of life. And I’ve found that the answer to my own personal evil inclinations and urges is the transformation of my understanding.
Too simple? Too idealistic? But I see evidence of it all the time in the school where I work. The kids who struggle the most with bad behaviour are those who have the hardest things to put up with at home. They grow up in a destructive home environment, imbibe an imbalanced outlook on life where they see a bleak future for themselves, and they become “bad.” The answer to these kids is not punishment for bad behaviour; it’s love and compassion. They are no more outside “the grace of God” than more fortunate kids who grow up in a loving Christian home and to whom becoming a Christian is as easy and expected as putting on your seatbelt. The idea of evil coming from a sinful nature is too simplistic to me, and is not a true reflection of what you see in the world.
This alternative view is there for the taking or leaving. If you ask me to prove it, I can’t. All I can say is I am a more loving person for having embraced it. It is simply the intuitive knowledge that everything is consciousness and you and I are aspects of that consciousness. And we are all one.