, I went to church regularly. Frankly, I was a good church-goer, and even talked my atheist mother into attending with me on one or two occasion. (She brought a book to read.) This churching was ladled thick upon me by my Baptist stepmother, and my illogically Baptist, yet Professor of Mathematics, father. I guess math is not a science where a lot of spiritual doubt is introduced. It's easy to believe in God while you're solving for X, maybe not as easy to believe when you're growing human ears on monkey bellies. I really don't know.
I received the requisite churching for a young southern girl. I heard many sermons about Jesus, and tithes, and sin, and hell, and tithes, and faith, and morals, and tithes. Seriously, there was a LOT about the money, which always irked me. I was like ten years old. I generally had no money. But, when I did, I knew I'd get glared at until I put a goodly portion in the plate as it passed. BUT, IT WAS MY MONEY. AND HE WAS GOD. SURELY HE HAD A BETTER SCHEME FOR MAKING MONEY THAN SKIMMING OFF OF MY ONE DOLLAR A WEEK ALLOWANCE?
(In the end, I guess He did need my money. Because that church moved from one of the biggest buildings downtown into this monstosity
that I pass every day on the way home from work. Seriously, the picture does not do justice to the opulence of what can only be described as a massive church-campus-complex. Thank goodness for my periodic ten cent contributions to the collection plate, or they might never have finished that thing!)
I can't say I disliked all of the sermons all of the time. Sometimes, we'd get a funny young pastor, or an older, wise gent who'd really give you something deep to think about. But, most of the time, despite trying to pay attention, I'd give up and begin to daydream. Let me tell you, if I learned anything from church, it is how to look extremely enthralled by whatever bullshit someone is spewing while actually thinking of something else. Often, I thought about treehouse plans. But, I also spent a great deal of time figuring out how to securely hide my money so I wouldn't be forced to put it in the collection plate.
(Aside: I ended up burying my money in a random neighbor's yard. A lot of it is probably still there. I hope someday a kid is digging and discovers the massive savings -- five dollars in coins, maybe? -- that I left behind.)
Anyway, I digress from my topic. And that is -- heaven and hell. You see, there's one good, juicy subject that can always keep a ten-year-old's attention in church. And that's hell. Besides the fact that these sermons involved the repeated use of the ache-ee-double-hockey-sticks word, hell sermons were scary to the extreme. To me, anyway. But then, I've never seen any Jason or Nightmare on Elm Street movies, because that sort of thing promoted devil worship. So hell sermons were sort of like horror-movie substitutes. They're designed to scare the crap out of you, on occasion, so that you want to hug Jesus just a little tighter when they're over.
The main thing about hell, if I recall correctly, is that there will be fire. A lake of fire. And all of the sinners will burn in the hottest fire ever conceived, forever and ever. And, of course, because of the fire, there will be screaming. Pathetic screaming, and moaning, and begging of God to forgive your sins and, I guess, take you away from hell.
And you'll be naked, of course. Though I am not sure why that has to be specified, since you're in a lake of fire and your clothes would have probably burnt off, anyway. I also remember that there were a lot of descriptions of how hell smelled -- like burning flesh. But, I'd never smelled burning flesh, only burning hair. So, I figured hell smelled like a cross between a barbecue and what happens when you burn your hair with a curling iron. Hell also smells like poop because everybody is too busy burning in the lake of fire to go find a bathroom.
I remember other things being involved with hell. Like maggots. Maggots would eat you all the time. I'm not sure if the maggots were on fire or not. I guess they'd have to be. Poor maggots. Seems a crap fate when they never really did anything all that bad. Or, maybe they did. Maybe maggots are sinners and make baby Jesus cry.
Also, in hell, you will be crushed as if you were in a black hole, with all of your bones breaking so many times that they become liquid. Your eyes will melt out of your head like in that Indiana Jones scene. Sulfuric acid will be forced down your throat. And you'll end up vomiting out your own innards, but you'll be so hungry, you'll eat them again.
I mean, this is some pretty terrific stuff if you're ten years old. I sure as heck wanted to be on the side of Jesus. Because if you backed Jesus, you got to go to heaven.
Except, nobody would ever tell you anything much about Real Heaven (as opposed to cartoon heaven, where you float on clouds, get fluffy white wings, and play a harp). The only thing they would say about Real Heaven was that you'd be forever basking in the glory of God, that you'd never feel separation from God, and that you'd praise Him eternally. It sounded like a real snooze-fest, but infinitely preferable to hell.
But, I always had some weird problems with Heaven. Like...what if a guy gets married, and then his wife dies, and he gets re-married... In heaven, does he get to be with his first wife, his second wife, or both of his wives? What if his wives each want him for themselves? Then I thought...well, it would be heaven, so there wouldn't be any jealousy or possessiveness. They'd be totally okay with sharing. So, it seemed that heaven would have to be okay with polyamory.
Otherwise, it would have to be that when you get to heaven, you don't actually get reunited with your family and friends. Jesus seems to support this, as he says, "For in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven." So, you get to heaven, no marriage. And, probably no races or sexes. Also, you're apparently given a new body and a new name, according to some sources. And you are completely incapable of committing sin. You can't even do it if you try. So, actually, I guess you don't have any free will in heaven. Not only do you not have any free will, but you have no contact with your loved ones, because Earthly relationships no longer concern you.
So, heaven is like...you get to a fabulous party, but you only know the host. And the host is God. And you will be at this party forever, and there will be a lot of people there, and you can talk to them, but only about God. And how cool God is for throwing this party. There is no drinking at this party, or swearing, or smoking, or streaking, or shagging in the corner, because you are incapable of sinning. And even if you fancied a shag, you have no gender or reproductive organs. You no longer care about anything you cared about as a person, not your family, not your friends, not going fishing at the lake with Fido. In fact, you might as well forget about the whole Earth thing altogether, as that was completely irrelevant to what you will be doing for the rest of eternity.
I am left wondering, are you really still you
So, here is the dilemma:
Do you attempt to go to heaven, where you get to pretty much be formatted into God's robot, without free will, without the knowledge of your earthly loves, without any memories of Earth, without anything that made you into who you are? But God will love you, and you'll love him forever (without the ability to stop loving him, since that would be a sin).
Or do you go to hell -- a place where you experience incredible pain, but you get to continue being yourself, continue knowing that you once, on Earth, had people that you loved, and who loved you? Do you brave the fires, naked, just to retain free will?
Based on this alone, I think I'd choose hell.
In the end, I like to think those of us who choose hell will eventually crawl out of the lake of fire, changed but still ourselves. Us, evolved. What new creatures will have been forged in such a hot and terrifying kiln? I don't know. Wet, slippery, fire-birthed gods, maybe. Or just tiny coals that contain the eternal ember of "soul", ready to be shoved in a body and reincarnated.
Or, maybe there isn't a heaven or hell at all, which is probably the most likely option. Unfortunately, it doesn't make a good enough sermon to scare spare change off a ten-year old on Sundays.