Getting over the fear of hell can be a big struggle for those of us raised in a fundamentalist evangelical environment.
My first memories in life are of being afraid of hell, and of being possessed by a demon. I was 4 years old. Those are bug big fears for someone so young. I know I am not alone in that. I know many of you too felt that type of fear so young. It is abusive to tell a child they deserve to be tortured in hell forever.
There are several things I specifically needed to get over my fear of hell.
There was the unpacking of the actual facts/history/the bible.
I personally needed the myth of hell dispelled from a biblical perspective because at the time of my deconstruction I was still involved in the christian faith. I did this by studying books, like “the bible for normal people” “love wins” and listening to podcasts like the literugists, interviews with Richard Rhohr, The Robcast, The life after podcast, specifically the one on hell, and the episode that interviewed Derek Webb. Also, the more people I knew who were leaving and overcoming this fear the more I felt some safety within myself to be. (I will be adding a resource page to my website soon)
Secondly I needed space.
We are trained within fundamentalism to continually place ourselves in environments where we are shamed and/or indoctrinated. There needs to be space for our minds to think and breathe so we can hear what our bodies, minds, hearts are wanting/needing/feeling.
I created distance from people who were believing in a literal hell, because that type of energy was too much for me to be around at the time.
This could look so different for each of you as you go through this process. Sometimes creating space just means having one person you can talk to in confidence about not believing what you used to. It can mean talking to a coach or a therapist who understands what you are going through, and can encourage you that you are capable of finding your own way, and to give you resources, ideas and skills along the way.
Third was I needed skills.
I needed to practice reframing my thoughts. Beliefs have deep deep roots, especially ones that are attached to frightening experiences, or painful experiences for us. When we are wanting to let go of a belief that is no longer serving us, we need to find what we would like to believe instead. We need to find something that rings true for us, deeply, and serves us.
The belief in a literal hell is a harmful belief, not only for us, but for our relationships and those we come into contact with. It creates an atmosphere of fear around our relationships, even if that fear is just that we are responsible for saving everyone around us. And we really do not have any control over those around us, no matter how persuasive we may actually be.
So what do you replace the belief of hell with? For me it translated to something like this.
I choose to no longer believe in a literal hell. Instead I choose to believe:
People are mostly good, and that god (i at the time still believed in god) loves me too much to ever let me go to hell. God is far too good to let anyone go to a literal hell.
I then reinforced those new beliefs with that study of Love wins, and the other resources I mentioned and anytime I felt the fear of hell (which was for awhile after, trauma resides in the body), I would take a deep breathe, place myself (see below for exercise) and then would remind myself of my new belief. I do not believe in a literal hell any more.
I understand there is a bit of a leap here. For me that leap was a little bit of trust. It was actually a trust in myself. A trust that my mind was smart enough to figure out and know something for myself that maybe others disagree with, and that was okay.
This practice in itself is healing because in a lot of ways you are choosing yourself. You are choosing to validate and value your own experience of something. Surrounding yourself with support from people who also have made this leap, and even people who have no fear of hell and have never can be incredibly enlightening as well.
I was raised in a bubble. I was raised evangelical Christian, and homeschooled until 9th grade, when I went to a tiny private Nazarene high school. Then I went to bible college. Then I worked at bible college. I had literally been surrounded by all of this type of thinking for my entire life until 7 years ago. It was incredibly enlightening when I started meeting people who had never met an evangelical christian before, and yet had an incredibly fulfilling life. I began talking with and meeting people who were nothing like me, who knew of no hell, and who thought the idea was comical even.
My point here is that our worlds can be very small, and one of the most incredible bubble breakers is to actually leave the bubble. To meet and talk with and follow on social people who are completely not involved in this, or have moved through and past this.
This may not seem related to moving past the fear of hell at first, but trust me on this. The bigger you realize the world is, and the incredible amount of diversity in beliefs, lives, thinking, the idea of sending all of these incredible people to hell feels more and more absurd.
I started to see that God was either good, and loving and did not have all the power, or he was a petty little bitch god (again not with all the power, because if he had all the power and really wanted to save everyone he could have done a much better job of it, a fifth grader could have done a much better job of it all), or there is no god, not in the way we were taught.
There is no wrong place to land.
Remember loves, if you dig a plant up from the ground and discover it was a weed, then you lose nothing. If you pull it up, and it turns out to be an important plant, you’ll be able to put it back just fine (loosely from the Derek Webb Interview).
The Placing Exercise:
Start by planting your feet on the ground, placing your weight evenly on each foot.
Place your hands somewhere comfortable. If you are scared I suggest placing one hand on your heart, or wrap yourself up in a hug with both of your arms.
Next name where you are:
I am in my house, on my bed,
I am on X street, in South Kansas City, Missouri, in the United states.
Name when you are:
It is April 28th, and it is Spring time.
Name what you hear:
I can hear birds outside of my window.
I can hear my cat purring, and a door being closed somewhere else in the house.
Name the energy or presences around you and observe them:
I am in my house with my cat, and my partner is working in the other room.
If they are not there yet place your hands over your heart and take three deep breaths, as slow as you can manage and say to yourself with each exhale, “I am here.”
You are here, love. There is no literal hell. Even in the actual bible.
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