hen you grow up in Christianity, one thing is made very clear to you over and over: you are a horrible sinner and deserve to burn in Hell forever. This sentiment rears its head pretty early on, as soon as you’re able to understand and repeat the name “Jesus.” The adults begin to prime you for the doctrine of salvation through grace. In order to do this, you must first accept that you are undeserving of anything but the worst punishment imaginable. Just to clarify, this punishment can be presented in a number of ways. My family subscribed to the “lake of unquenchable fire, eternal torment and darkness with weeping and gnashing of teeth” doctrine. Other sects of Christianity view Hell as simply the complete lack of the presence of god. Still others view Hell as obliteration (which, Heaven aside, aligns quite nicely with the atheistic view that once you die you simply cease to exist).
Regardless of how you define Hell, you’re destined to end up there just because you’re a human being — not that you had any choice. Your only chance to escape eternal damnation is to accept the gift of salvation through Jesus’ blood sacrifice. Here’s where they get you. Having put a very fine point on the fact that you’re worthless, they come at you with a present. It’s a gift! It’s like it’s your birthday every single day of the week for the rest of your natural life! How could you not accept that? You’d have to be crazy to reject something like that.
This is how I grew up and, as previously stated, I swallowed the whole thing by the time I was four years old. I was frightened half to death with stories of burning flesh, unquenchable thirst, and crying like you had never heard before. I was told that, for no other reason than I was born, that’s exactly what I deserved. All of this was revealed to me as truth by the people I loved and trusted the most — my parents. Why would I doubt or mistrust my parents? And why would my parents ever lie to me about something so important? I never even entertained the thought, of course my parents were telling me the truth! So I did the right thing — I admitted to god that I was a worthless sinner, that I was unable to stop sinning, that I needed to be delivered from my human nature, and I asked Jesus to come into my heart.
You might think that something as important as this would have a sort of transforming effect. I can say from experience that once I repeated the canned sinner’s prayer I certainly felt like a weight had been lifted from my shoulders and at that point, in the heat of the moment, I might have told you that what I was feeling was the Holy Spirit filling a void in my soul. If you asked me now I’d tell you that the feeling of relief was short-lived and was merely my mistaken assumption that once I had accepted Jesus into my heart I would no longer be a worthless sinner and on the fast track to Heaven.
I say, “short-lived and mistaken” because not long after accepting Jesus it was made known that I was still a vile sinner and that I needed to regularly ask god’s forgiveness for every little thing I did day in and day out. So now I was a Christian but I was still undeserving of Jesus’ gift! How does this happen? I have a theory. Once a person becomes “saved” they might get the impression that they’re good to go and at that point would no longer need church. You simply cannot have this happen if your church is funded by attendees and your attendance numbers drive your church’s status in the religious community. In order to make sure you don’t have a mass exodus by newly saved converts, you have to maintain that these people — while filled with the Holy Spirit — still need the church’s help in combating the sinful nature of their humanity. In short, you tell them that they’ll always be worthless no matter how good they are and god will be disappointed with them if they don’t keep polishing that Armor of God™ on Sundays, Wednesdays and every major holiday.
I can’t tell you how wonderful it feels now that I’ve ended my personal relationship with Jesus and pursued more fully my personal relationship with reality. Humans aren’t inherently flawed, we’re just humans. We all have intrinsic value. The Bible doesn’t contain this bit of “Good News:” You’re worthwhile! Enjoy your life!