Wednesday, April 24, 2013
Hell. That was a terrible lie.
Last night I was reading with my oldest. He's been really into poetry lately so we've been working through a book of children's poetry. Toward the back of the book there are poems for older children. He's only 6 1/2 but he was intrigued by the drawings and wanted me to read them. Many of these poems have Christian themes, not all, and not always overt, but they are definitely there. For example, prayer will be mentioned, or God, or, as was the case last night, Hell. Now, my son is always inquisitive to the meaning of words he's never heard before and as luck should have it, he's never heard of the word Hell before. So he asked. And I told him. And I flashed back to age 7, maybe 8 when I really fully realized what Hell was and I was scared to death. I remember understanding that a demonic place with fire and pain and torture and screaming existed "under" the world. And that we would go there if we were "bad" enough. This would have been right around the time that I also realized that it's considered sinful to be "proud." Which I totally didn't get because my parents were always proud of me and telling me to be proud of myself. So, if I was proud, would I go to Hell? I was literally scared out of my mind. I have a very vivid memory of the imaginary place in my head that I created during that time. I can go there easily and see the red fire and the devil sitting there with his pitchfork all horned out. I can hear people screaming. Oh my god. That is so horrible. Poor 7 year old me.
So when my son asked me so innocently, "what is Hell?" I had to tell him about it, I'm definitely not going to distort it for him, I sure don't want anyone else to clue him in. As these talks frequently go, when we started the discussion I had no expectations and as I usually am, I was pleasantly surprised with what he had to say. Kids who have never been indoctrinated with themes of belief or rules with how to frame reality really have stunning insight. Here's the parts I can remember:
"You know about Heaven, right? The place some people believe exists where you go after you die if you believe in God and Jesus or maybe if you are just really really good?" Yeah.
"Well, Hell is like the opposite of Heaven. Hell is a place some people believe exists where if you are really really bad, you go there after you die. And it has a man called the Devil there. And there is fire and monsters and bad things."
So, you mean, it's a trick to get people to do the right thing because it scares them with stories of monsters and bad things into being good all the time?
"Yes, that is what I think."
That's what I don't like the most about these stories other people believe, it's like they are trying to trick everyone to do things they want them to do by scaring them or telling them they get to go to a really good place. That's not true though.
"Well, what is true, then?"
When you die, you just die, your body melts back into the Earth but it takes a really long time."
"Yeah, that's right, and that's called decaying. And people are really sad when people they love die and that's why some people believe in Heaven, because it makes them feel less sad."
That deer we saw in the woods that day we were hiking was decaying.
I think Hell is a mean trick.
We talked on some more about how life has meaning and the meaning of our lives is something each of us gets to decide. I suggested that finding hobbies and pursuing passions and interests is one way of prescribing meaning to our lives. I suggested being kind to others and doing the right thing just because it's right prescribes meaning. And my son was inspired by those ideas. So much so he decided he would infuse meaning into his summer vacation by writing a book of poetry. I'm pretty stoked about that little nugget, we'll see if he still wants to do that in a month when school is out.
So all of this absorbed into my soul and after bedtime kisses were given and the kids were all tucked in my mind was spinning. I am CONSTANTLY reminded that MY baggage is MY OWN and my son does not have the same fears/hurts/damage that I do. I want to reiterate I was not harmed by religion, per say, but I grew up inside a box that framed my interpretation of reality. I understood EVERYTHING, either directly or indirectly within the parameters of Heaven and Hell. I went to Church every single Sunday and I sat at a children's table underneath a picture of Jesus and I walked up the stairs and saw him in a painting 6 feet tall and I was scared to death. Because I knew that everything was not adding up. And I was scared that if I could not get the "rules" down right, I would go to Hell. Luckily, my sons do not have these indoctrinated beliefs. We talk. A Lot. And we explain. A Lot.
They are natural skeptics and they are free thinkers and they are philosophical and they have meaning and purpose and they are happy and joyful and they are naughty and nice and they are imperfect and perfect to me and they are little miracles of evolution's birth and they are free from the lies and I am freer through them then I have ever been.