Don't Go to Hell for Others, Queerly Dear
Content note: This post is about what we are taught about Hell, religiously, metaphorically, and otherwise. It includes my memories of Christian Science, from when I was young, and looks at why religious beliefs like Hell attempt to erase us.
When I was a kid, I was taught there was no Hell. Christian Science, the religion I was raised in, preaches that God alone exists and that everything else is an illusion. If you take medicine, rather than trusting in God, or if you drink alcohol, or curse, or take other "immoral" paths, the religion says you are "unscientific" and therefore "sinful." Nothing, in Christian Science, is worse than being "unscientific," which keeps you sick, keeps you immoral, keeps you addicted, keeps you from the path. You don't go to Hell, if you're a "sinful" Christian Scientist. You just don't go to God.
So, I was surprised when, at the age of 25, my therapist challenged me on this: "It seems you do believe in Hell," she said. "You think that if you do what your mother says is evil and wrong, you will go to a dark place and be eternally punished. And you believe you deserve to go there. Is that right?"
I thought about this for a few moments, before I said, "Oh shit. I do believe in Hell. I actually think that if I do something that goes against my mother's beliefs, I'll end up there, after I die, or even before."
My therapist leaned forward. "You know," she said, "you can always decide to be defiant and say, 'I choose Hell because it's better than this!'"
Beautiful. That had a huge effect on me.
These days, I don't believe in Hell. Where Christian Science commits to the "good and bad" binary, not to mention the "moral and sinful" binary, I believe in love. Love isn't a binary. It has many antonyms, including pain, loneliness, suffering, hatred, anger, bigotry, hopelessness, fear. We do believe some messed up things about love, however. Religion often teaches us that you can love wrongly—an attempt to erase what we feel. For most of my life, I actually thought love was sacrifice. I'd been told to visit a living hell that dictated I save others, so they could avoid the flames themselves. I had also been taught that love is conditional, that there was no such thing as unconditional.
If you, queerly dearest, like me, were taught that love is conditional, you might find Andrea Gibson's poetry helpful. I'm currently reading Take Me With You, which is a truly phenomenal collection. Take a look at the poem I took a pic of at the top of this page. It says what I'm trying to say with brilliance and beauty. And when I first read it, I could hardly believe I'd never seen the words before.
Don't go to Hell, queerly dear. Don't go to Hell for anyone. Or, if Hell is filled with all that you love, perhaps consider choosing it. Love flows in all directions, so if you don't practice self-love, you erase your own needs and send yourself to the fiery place. It's not okay to send anyone there, especially yourself. Instead, if you grant yourself everything you need, you can start to create paradise. Others can create it with you, if they choose love over fear.
One day, while I was still in a fuller relationship with my mother, I said to her, "I don't believe in good and bad, anymore. I believe in love. And the absence of love is pain—in all its terrible forms."
She stared at me, wide-eyed, like I'd told her something dreadful. Then, she turned away.
No Heaven there.
Love yourself, queerly dear,
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