Well, I hadn't planned to go to hell quite yet with this blog, but since several of the readers from the last one seem to really want me there, let's talk about it.
As I said in my last blog, I don't "recognize" hell. That means I do not give it the same reality, the same concrete literal existence, as those readers do who are sure I will burn there for eternity. I have my conjectures about what happens after we die, but that's not what this blog is about. So, here are three things I'll say now:
First of all, I have been getting damned to hell for more than 50 years, since I was born basically, long before I came out as a lesbian. As a Unitarian Universalist in Charleston, West Virginia, you can believe me when I say that the fires of hell showed up regularly in daily life with the kids in my neighborhood, tiny carriers of fundamentalism that they pretty uniformly were. My family was damned for our beliefs about the civil rights movement, about women's equality, about God and Jesus and the Bible. So the homophobia piece, when it came later, was just one more thing. Unlike many glbt people growing up, I had parents to comfort and coach me when I was attacked by people who justified their attacks with Bible verses. For that I am forever grateful!
Second, whatever happens for all eternity after we die, we are sharing a few years on this tiny fragile planet right now. Spending our time damning others for eternity is just one choice we can make about how to best spend our precious moments here. While sometimes it is very tempting to me too, ultimately it is not the way that I choose to spend my limited hours. To me, while we're here, the point is to be caring and kind and real with one another. I think every religion pretty much says that. So let me be real with you, folks who tell me I am going to hell. The truth of the matter is, I pray for your soul just as fervently as you have been praying for mine. But I suspect our prayers resemble each other no more than anything else about our faith does.
I mean this genuinely: I really am praying for your souls. The prison of judgment that you are locked in, from my perspective, is keeping you afraid and disconnected from much of the joy of life. If your God is really going to punish me so severely, and you believe that, why don't you just relax for now and let God do that later? Why is your own life so tied up with being the creator and deliverer of bad news?
I suspect it's because you're afraid God will punish you, too, if you don't try hard enough to change people like me. And while I don't recognize hell, you do. So you may be much more afraid that you're going to end up in hell than I am.
I realized this with shock some years ago. I was on the board of The Interfaith Alliance. A few of us were answering the question, "Why are you committed to interfaith work?" I said, "I grew up Unitarian Universalist in Charleston, West Virginia, and I was always told I was going to hell. So I seek out relationships with people of faith who embody values of love and care and mutual respect."
And then Amber Kahn, who's now chair of the board, said, "I grew up Muslim in Tennessee, so I was always told I was going to hell, too." And then came Rev. Dr. Welton Gaddy, the Executive Director of the organization, who said, "I grew up Southern Baptist in Louisiana and I was always told I was going to hell, too."
That moment changed me. It had never occurred to me that folks on the inside -- those kids in my neighborhood who taunted me -- were probably terrified of their own eternal damnation. I had never considered that they were being taught that God loves them conditionally, only if they behave just the way God wants them to behave, with standards they were never 100 percent confident they achieved.
So, since then, I have prayed that all people know God's love, (or universal love, if you're not comfortable with the word God). An ocean of limitless, nonjudgmental, welcoming, abundant, unconditional love. For everyone. I pray especially for those who have been taught that they are not lovable, for any reason.
My third point. As I mentioned, I've been at this work a long time. Back in 1992, when I was director of the Unitarian Univeralist Association's national office on glbt concerns, I got deeply perplexed about just why Christian fundamentalists were so focussed on attacking the rights and very existence of gay and lesbian people. I truly didn't understand it. That was when the term "religious right" was new, and much of the agenda was still stealth.
Trying to understand why people I didn't even know seemed to hate me, I spent many weeks at a place called Political Research Associates, reading all of the anti-gay literature in their library of right wing materials. I dug as deeply as I could into just why this emphasis on homophobia was so intense. In my next blog, I'll share what I ultimately came to believe.