Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Heaven and Hell, Organized Religion and Personal Evolution

 I am a 36 year old disabled woman who has been variously labeled "fat", "crazy", and "a hippie weirdo." I now try to embrace labels that others use in an attempt to "shame" me into being someone more "acceptable". I am passionate about issues of race/racism, criminal (in)justice, fat acceptance, and mental health advocacy. I blog at My Name Is JuJuBe and I am on the team at The Intersection of Madness and Reality

I was raised in the Catholic Church. From birth to age 16, I attended church every Sunday with one or both of my parents. When I was 12 or 13, I sang and played trumpet in the church choir. I received all of he "sacraments". I remember tears in my eyes during my confirmation in 8th grade, because I was awed by the seriousness of  the ceremony. I remember praying that God would not punish me in elementary school when I scribbled in my religious instruction book. For MONTHS, I was CONVINCED I was going to go to Hell for defacing "sacred" materials.

I have read so many books about the afterlife, and frankly, I do not know what to believe. I have heard that there is no "Heaven" or "Hell", that there are simply higher and lower planes of existence. I kind of like that idea, because I know I have done some things in my life that others say will land me in the fiery pit, and that is somewhere I DO NOT want to be!

I am kind of grateful to my Catholic upbringing for one thing though. All of the times I have  thought that I should just end it all, I have stopped because of my fear of burning in Hell. I was taught growing up that suicide was the one sin that was unforgivable, because you could not confess your transgression and receive a "pardon".
Other days though, I think that THIS life is actually Hell. That I committed some horrendous crime in a past life that is causing me to suffer each and every day I am on this Earth. When we die, are we AWARE that we are dead, or do you go onto another plane of existence believing we are very much alive?

Over the years, my perception of organized religion has changed. When I was younger, I believed what I was told to believe by my parents, by the priests, and by the religious instructors. I had questions about why people who followed other faiths were doomed for all eternity, it did not seem fair to me. I wondered how it was possible to believe the biblical story of creation when the scientific evidence clearly proved it wrong.

I stopped going to church when I was 16 and had to work on Sundays. Then, when I went to college, I suffered from a severe depression. I was looking for a place to fit in. So, I attended Campus Crusade for Christ meetings. I tried the local Catholic church. I even joined a bible study group and participated in the services at a local evangelical Christian church for a while (until some of the church members proved to me how biased and ignorant they really were, but that is a story for another time!)

I used to read the words of Mother Teresa. She said on many occasions that there is a God who watches over all of us, but that the people of the world developed different religions to worship the same God simply because of cultural variations. That seemed pretty smart to me, and flew in the face of the "you must be Catholic or you are going to Hell" doctrine I had heard growing up.

For the past few years I have been trying to figure out what I really believe. I DO believe there is a higher power out there, a "God". I believe that Jesus Christ was a good guy, and a social activist, but I DO NOT believe that he was the Son of God. I DO NOT believe the Bible is the "Word of God", particularly because it contains so many contradictory (and hateful) elements. I do not THINK there is actually a Heaven and a Hell, but I am not sure. I DO believe that we live on in some form after our deaths, and that we are eventually reunited with the spirits of our ancestors.

I think the best label to describe me at this point is deist. I believe in a higher being, a "God" but I do not believe in organized religion. In fact, I tend to believe that 90% of the madness in this world throughout history has been caused by warped interpretations of what and who "God" is.

Every day, I wonder if I am a "good enough" person. I wonder if I am wrong, if there really are such hard and fast rules for salvation as some people believe there are. I wonder what WILL happen to me after I die. But right now, I am not willing to take the chance of finding out any time soon.