Has this ever happened to you? You are driving along at a decent clip on a long distance trip, reading the occasional billboard as a distraction from the monotony of sun glinting off of cars and white lines moving into the distance. Then larger than life you see in big block letters:
Signs like these appear out of nowhere offering redemption for those who accept Jesus into their hearts. But it is also signs like these that make me feel like I’m already living in hell.
I don’t know what I believe happens after death. Maybe I will go to hell, burning for eternity in a torturous world of flame and agony. (I’m sure many people reading this are nodding their head envisioning me engulfed in flame). Maybe I will float around with wings listening to angelic music. Maybe, given my fascination for the paranormal, I will return as a ghost to haunt the location of my death or the memorable places of my life. Maybe I will be reincarnated into a better being, with more knowledge and understanding than I have now. Maybe I’ll come back as a slug. Or maybe I will simply crumble to dust after having an epiphany on my death-bed (as I’ve written about before).
I really don’t care what happens. I am concerned with living the best life I can while I have this life; living in joy, day by day, and doing no harm.
But then I pass signs like this dotting the highway through Indiana and Missouri. These signs and symbols announce in gigantic glory that I am going to hell. But no, I realize, I am already there.
T o me hell would not be a place of torture and heat, but rather a place where I am not free to question and think, to challenge ideas and form my own beliefs and understanding of the world. My idea of heaven would be a place where the basic tenets of belief were: “I believe what I believe. You believe what you believe. As long as our beliefs don’t hurt each other, then all is good.”
But sadly, I am now living in a place where I feel the need to censor myself. Now, don’t get me wrong, there are warm and wonderful people here. Yet, I am always conscious of being different somehow. I think differently. I was raised differently. I have different beliefs. That difference is subtly glaring, like I have horns growing out of my head that true believers can see.
I admit, when surrounded by people who embrace certain beliefs as passionately as people here do, I cling even harder to my difference. I’m not really a religious Jew, but when confronted by a wall of Christianity my Judaism shines like a menorah in the window. It is a defensive act. I know I cannot win against the unspoken judgments that surround me, so I hold tighter to my own understanding of the world.
I would call myself more spiritual than religious, incorporating into my own personal religion the ideas and attitudes that are welcoming and comforting. I cannot condone any element of religion (in any religion) that says one group is better than another, or one sex is superior, or only one lifestyle is correct. That is where religion fails.
I don’t know the true answers. I do believe
“There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio,
Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.” (Shakespeare, Hamlet I.5)
In many ways I envy people who are true believers; who can live life with blind faith and trust that Jesus (or whatever god) will solve their problems and bring them safely home. If heaven is home.
But I can’t.
So, while I respect the right of each individual to believe whatever he or she wants and I recognize the importance of free speech, I would really appreciate it if I didn’t have to be reminded that I am doomed as I innocently drive down the highway. That makes for an uncomfortable ride.