So I wrote some blog posts a year ago that were intended to be part of a series where I break down how I realized the entire effort of Evangelicalism* crumbles without the concept of Hell. You can read those here: “Hell, Yes? Oh, Fuck” and Hell No Part 1.
*I realize other major religions adhere to a Hell of sorts and this is not exclusive to Evangelicalism.
I’m not sure why I never got around to releasing Part 2 of this series. Could have been because I was busy writing my book and trying to survive Covid Winter aka THE WORST SEASON EVER. Anyway, turns out I actually wrote the part 2 a really long time ago and never released it. Oops. So I’m doing that now. Happy Monday!
Among the many mindfucks of growing up my brand of Evangelical is the message that God is the ultimate love that we humans are craving. That we have a God shaped hole only God can fill in our hearts. God is love and true love casts out all fear, damnit!
I totally get this inclination of defining moral choices by what will get you into the God club. In life, the hardest thing to do is decide what is right and what is wrong for ourselves
And yet, this all-loving God will punish you violently and eternally if you don’t believe he sent himself to earth to die and zombify himself for your sins. When you break it down, this belief system is pretty strange. But somehow, many people base their entire life and build a moral compass on this story being 100% factually true.
I used to do the same. For much of my life, my moral compass decider was “will doing this send me to Hell or no?” To quote my last blog “I don’t think I know how to make decisions in my current life that don’t (essentially) boil down to my fear of experiencing damnation instead of celebration in my afterlife....I realized my entire faith life was not actually founded on the ultimate love. It was founded on crippling fear.”
For example, I didn’t have sex and/or go past first (okay, second) base with dudes for a long time because the Bible says we shant lust over boyfriends or something like that. Because lust leads to passion/pleasure --things that make humans absolutely mindless-- which leads to sin. Sin leads to separation from God, which gets me closer to Hell. Therefore, I just won’t do underwear zone stuff IT'S FINE.
Instead of learning how to not become a mindless imbecile while horny/enjoying pleasure, and navigate my sexual experiences with responsibility and mindfulness, my subconscious approach was just “Don’t even think about it, MJ (Promise? Okay now everybody take some rubbers).”
And look, I totally get this inclination of defining moral choices by what will get you into the God club. In life, the hardest thing to do is decide what is right and what is wrong for ourselves. Humans back in the day were probably very tired after tilling the land and raising oxen and trying to have enough offspring to till the land and raise the oxen. Maybe they had little mental energy for deciding their own personal moral high ground. So they just kind of let a bunch of dudes decide what they think God found moral -- within their cultural understanding and limited worldview-- and let that become “The Gospel."
Well, now we don’t have tp till the land or raise our own livestock, so if your ass is buying frozen meat in bulk at Costco, you probably have time to discern your own moral compass. Let me give you some tips.
Once I stopped believing in this entire system of sin, forgiveness, have-to-be-a-Christian-to-get -into-the-all-inclusive-Christian-cruise-of-eternity I had to come up with a new moral compass for myself. I began a little moral vetting system of sorts.
I started asking myself “If Hell isn’t real, what do I actually believe is the right thing to do? Without scare tactics, are there any parts of my Evangelical upbringing that are important to still believe and live by?”
Would I commit my entire life to subtly attempting conversion to Christianity with every person I encounter? Prolly not, no. If I’m not afraid they’ll go to Hell for not hearing the story of Jesus and I’m not afraid of going to Hell for not telling them, we can just like talk about Fleabag Season 2 or whatever (#HOTPRIEST).
I found that most of the Evangelical teachings I adhered to for so much of my life totally crumble without the prospect of Hell. And I was kinda pissed like, “Do the people know????"
What about helping the poor, marginalized, and helpless of society like Jesus did? Absolutely. I live in New York City. I have an overwhelming amount of opportunities to do this every time I leave my apartment.
Would I save sex until marriage if I wasn’t afraid God would hate me and I’d burn in Hell if I didn’t? Clearly not, no.
What about applying the Golden rule to every part of my life, especially sex? Yes...YEs...YES (okay I’ll stop).
Would I hold signs that say “God hates fags” and/or try to convert my gay friends out of being gay if I didn’t think they were going to Hell for not being straight? Nope.
Would I tell them that God thinks they’re a perfect creation because He created all of us with specific quirks and wouldn’t life be SO BLAND if there were only straight men on the planet? YAS QUEEN.
What about modesty? Would I dress like a kindergarten teacher 100% of the time and spend every May searching for the perfect one-piece bathing suit cuz BELLY BUTTONS OF SIN if I wasn’t afraid God would send me to Hell for “making men stumble?” Nerrrrp. Crop tops and two-pieces for days, I say! If my abdomen causes a man to lust and that has no affect on my eternal place of residency, Imma wear whatever the Hell I want (see what I did there) and leave a man to take care of his own damn self.
I found that most of the Evangelical teachings I adhered to for so much of my life totally crumble without the prospect of Hell. And I was kinda pissed like, “Do the people know???? I mean, come on! No one would give two shits about purity rings, 'Biblically based marriage,' or converting Muslims if they weren’t afraid not doing so would put them in bad standing with God for eternity, right??”
Asking myself what principles I’d believe in/abide by if Hell isn’t real left me with things like service, community, connection, charity, encouragement, celebrating individuality, and generally not being an asshat (also known as being considerate). I call it “The List of Shit that Actually Matters in the Bible.”
Why is this the “shit that matters?” Because across this great big Earth, these things prove to have positive outcomes in humanity. I mean, seriously. Think about how much good the Christian church as a whole is doing compared to like, The Fab 5. Amazing shit happens when people release the need to be right and just do what actually works.
As mentioned before, I love the show Fleabag. Especially Season 2 when she falls in love with a priest because have you met Franciscan Friars? So lovable.
Anyway, there’s this great monologue in a confessional:
I’m ashamed of not knowing what I...No I know what I want. I know exactly what I want right now. I want someone to tell me what to wear in the morning. I want someone to tell me what to wear every morning. I want someone to tell me what to eat. What to like, what to hate, what to rage about. What to listen to, what band to like. What to buy tickets for....how to live my life, Father, because so far I think I’ve been getting it wrong. But I know that’s why people want people like you in their lives...You just tell them what to do, and what they’ll get out at the end of it, even though I don’t believe your bullshit...Just fucking tell me what to do, Father.
Cuz, yeah. Don’t we all want to just be told what to do? Isn’t that easier than dealing with the fact that nothing in life is certain and no matter how hard we try to color in the lines, we are probably going to make a fucking mess of it because that’s what humans are? Just a smattering of complicated, messy, somewhat annoying scribbles?
I understand why there’s such a draw to all of the specific rules of Evangelical Christian culture. These rules made me feel safe. They made me feel like I was “getting it right” without having to think too deeply about myself, my intentions, or the life I actually wanted. Most importantly, they seemingly cured my two greatest fears: Fucking up my current life which would fuck up my afterlife.
But maybe the best I can do isn’t hope and live for a better afterlife but rather, change how I experience my current life. I don’t want to experience my current life through fear. I want to apply, to the best of my ability, the “shit that actually matters.” And despite it being a constantly exhausting game of trial and error, questioning and challenging, I want to stay curious and think for myself.
And ultimately if I’m totally wrong, Hell is real and I needed to be a Christian to avoid going there, it’s fine. Think of all the people who will be in Hell by Christian standards. Jonathan Van Ness, The Dalai Lama, Malala Yousafzai?? Sign me the fuck up and see y’all there!