As a child my fascination with hell grew out of proportion. The idea of bad people being damned for eternity was terrifying! Not to mention that their souls were to be tortured forever in the lake of fire.
I believe it was out of politeness that my mother received a book from the Jehovah Witnesses which ended up on the living room shelf. This little hardcover book was filled with pictures of beautiful scenes, as in people living happily forever on a paradise earth. But it also contained an image of a man thrown into a pit of fire by the Devil! This vivid image wormed itself deep into my subconscious and created its own little nest made of fiery neurons, cut off from the light of consciousness. Thus marked the beginning of my inquiry as to whether or not my soul would end up in such a dreadful place.
At the elfish age of eleven the logic became apparent to me. I was bad to the bone and because bad people burn in hell, I was also destined for such a horrible place. My preoccupation with hell became somewhat of a living nightmare and this Jesus guy who had the magic to take the badness away was completely fed up with me because of my endless sinning, which I really enjoyed doing by the way. All in all it was like sinking my teeth into the forbidden fruit and the bitter sweet taste was one of duplicity.
My teachers at school were sympathetic to my crises and assured me that it was only a metaphor; that the devil was a mythical creature to help convey a moral lesson. But during mass the priest spoke of hell as though it were a real place. The kids in my class had mixed feelings about it and my mother was indifferent to the idea, except for when it was useful to control my behaviour. On the whole it was up to me to work this dilemma out for myself; so I did my best to forget about it, regardless of the fact that this idea nestled into the dark reaches of my mind gave life to vipers of a diabolical kind. Stated in psychological terms we might say that my newly complex took on a life of its own and over the years my neurosis grew to take on the mask of addiction.
So based on my own experience I am not entirely sure that teaching children that they will burn in hell forever if they misbehave is a responsible way to foster them into caring individuals. But it’s not my intention here to make an argument for proper education but to draw upon my misunderstanding for the sake of attaining clarity.
The irony of this situation is that the Watchtower publication was trying to debunk the Christian Hell doctrine. How did my immature self misinterpret the contents of the book? In my case the symbols spoke to me, rather than the actual text which was outside my reading level at that time. But how can pictures have that kind of affect on a child’s mind? It would be silly to recite the old English idiom that ‘a picture is worth a thousand words’ and expect my reader to be contented. To isolate my encounter with the image of hell itself as the sole cause of my disturbance also narrows the play field. So how about we take a rest to reflect on this matter and pick it up later; it would also be great to receive your thoughts in the comment section below.
Love & light,