Hell is Living in the Bible Belt

Roadside Religion

Image by jcbwalsh via Flickr

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:

AVOID HELL! REPENT TODAY!

TRUST IN JESUS!

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.

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36 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Kisa Wander
    Jan 03, 2011 @ 11:15:55

    I wouldn’t say that Christianity is a play meant to surpress your questions or your brain or the way you feel about the world or about you challenging the undiscovered and unknown. I my eyes (as a Jesus-freak), I would say that for, me believing in him is a way to answer my questions, a place to take my wondering and my thoughts to, to go into a meditative prayer to where I get the answers to my questions, and I get more insight into the things I wonder and thought. I challenge the unknown by asking him. And I always get some sort of confirmation back.

    Some might say that what answers is my human reasoning and self, but it leads to happiness and away from pain, so i’m good with that. I can only say that what the sign is try to do, is not to upset you with doom, but to lead you to a happier life(a christian life, like they live) because thats what they know and experience. Its just very upfront, which is more of a cultural thing that one has to live with. I hope this helps shead light from the other side. Happy New year! -Kisa B

    Reply

  2. Nathan
    Jan 03, 2011 @ 11:21:00

    Amen!
    A great view of the midwest.

    Reply

  3. buttermilk80
    Jan 03, 2011 @ 11:23:25

    I tell you a truth, hell is a place reserved for those who have not accepted and received forgiveness of their sins. Come the day of judgment those people will stand before the Holy God of Eternity bare naked with no place to hide from the guilt they carry.

    I testify that the forgiveness Christ offers is something we can own today. When I pray to the Father I approach His Throne of Blazing Purity with all confidence. And I rest that come that day Jesus is able to make me stand before His Father. That is the Gospel (good news). And what is to come of those who refuse to believe and accept the Gift? They will be driven away to a place where they will never see the Holiness of God again. As they are driven away by their own guilt, they will witness the redemption of those who have trusted Jesus.

    You can believe what you will. No one is able to change your mind regarding Jesus. But be warned, Hell is real by the simple virtue of our guilt before God. All eternity is open before you. Chose as you will. The Living God is here right now, and watches for those who would drop their pride and humble themselves before Him.

    By His Grace.

    Reply

  4. Karen Webster
    Jan 03, 2011 @ 12:15:19

    Interesting perspective Lisa. Even as a Christian in the Bible Belt I feel that same need to censor myself. Only in Hawaii where Christianity is NOT the dominant culture did I feel respected because there is was a RELIGION and not cultural background noise that everybody thinks everyone else subscribes to. It was nice to be asked why I believe and what I believe.
    Please don’t assume that Jesus solves my problems because actually He causes me to grow often times through GIVING me problems. If you look at the lives (and gruesome deaths) of many early Christians you would see this ridiculous notion of “Friendly Uncle Jesus” is a modern construct designed to keep pain and depth at bay because “the god I know…..” doesn’t allow war/death/disease.
    I’m sorry you feel bad when you see that and hope you will find peace within. I heard someone recently say “the life of the Jew is one of ethical living in harmony with community” and “nobody is a Jew alone” and I thought that sounded pretty amazing.

    Reply

    • Lisa
      Jan 03, 2011 @ 12:30:56

      Karen, as usual, you are so wise. I appreciate this insight. I completely get it about Hawaii, maybe it is because there our dominant (negative-ish) trait was being haole, and nothing else mattered. I love that idea “ethical living in harmony with community” as that is exactly how I try to live, although worded much better. Thanks for reading and responding.

      Reply

  5. Alicia W
    Jan 06, 2011 @ 09:25:52

    Interesting points of view from everyone. Unfortunately, I don’t know much about religions. However, I am always eager to hear someone’s point of view and take it in openly. Not that I would believe the same, it would be just for the sake of obvious diversity in the world that we live in. In agreeing to the fact that we all have to make life what we can, while we can. There is a “confusion” about what is deemed SPIRITUALLY “right” by society. So, I have decided to not spend too much time on worrying about what other people believe (in disagreement to public “highway to hell” signs) and realize that we can find one common ground that connects everyone – we are all human. I understand that the Christians that make these advertisements mean well and are more than likely kind and caring people, but let bygones be bygones. I have never met anyone exactly like, and I don’t plan to. God created everyone to be different for a reason (Yes, I am Christian). So, in similarity to what Karen said about Jews, “ethical living in harmony with community” is, in my opinion, the best way to approach any situation about religion.

    Reply

    • Lisa
      Jan 06, 2011 @ 09:56:39

      Thank you. Very well put. That’s basically how I feel, but I couldn’t help getting my hackles raised on the drive home.

      Reply

  6. buttermilk80
    Jan 06, 2011 @ 10:05:49

    If what we’re looking for is to blend into the world and have peace while we live in this “place of testing”, we’re welcome to it. Sure, that’s an option.

    But let’s not forget what happened to God in this place. He spoke truth and lived for God. What was wrong with that? Look how we treated Him. Look how we try to blend in now. Didn’t Jesus say something about “Where I am, so my servant will be also.”?

    You can do as you desire. The door swings both ways. Personally, I chose to side hard with Jesus and become as He was, hated for loving His Father. What He has promised will be; both promises of good and bad. God cannot lie.

    There is a war afoot. The wise chose to side with Him. And those who side with Him will not find this a good “Blending Place”.

    By His Grace.

    Reply

  7. Trackback: An All Powerful Being Wouldn’t Sweat the Small Stuff « Woman Wielding Words
  8. Tori Nelson
    Jan 07, 2011 @ 19:25:51

    I passed the laptop around the room so my dad and fiance could read this post. The overwhelming response was, “EX-ACTLY!”. I was born and raised in Nashville (considered a Southern city by most), but the harsh religious commands were never prevalent there. It wasn’t until we moved to a smaller town in West Tennessee that I noticed these scary billboard declarations. I don’t often know how to define my religious beliefs, but I live with the virtue “Be kind & do the next right thing”. I’d hate to think my goal to live a morally decent life was not deemed “good enough” by the establishments who post these signs along a country backroad. Thanks for this insightful post,
    From one confused girl in the South to another!

    Reply

    • Lisa
      Jan 08, 2011 @ 06:53:39

      Thank you for sharing that. Since I’m new to the South, or technically the Midwest, I sometimes think the problem is my New England mentality. In other words, the problem is me. But, as this post has reached more people and the discussion has grown to larger concerns about religion and belief, I recognize that so many of us are simply trying to live good lives without judging or being judged. Maybe that is a religion, or maybe we need new terms to define an attitude towards life that allows for simply being a morally decent person.

      Welcome to the club of confusion! Thanks for subscribing.

      Reply

  9. Trackback: Humbled by Language « Woman Wielding Words
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  11. Lyn
    Apr 12, 2011 @ 15:00:08

    A wonderful post, Lisa, and through your responses to the varied comments, it seems that you are doing a fine job of balancing your beliefs and those of other faiths around you.

    All I can offer is my personal experience…that those who display the most certainty in their beliefs and have the keenest desire to spread their truth are those that are or have been in the most need of the answers they have found within their belief. At the base is often a well meaning intention to provide you with the peace that they themselves have found.

    I think you are right and it is only natural to push back when we are pushed, but in these circumstances it may be better to take the pushes and show that it is possible to remain true to your own beliefs without prejudice to any other. I think that is what you are trying to do. Hat’s off to you. It is not an easy job but if you were not there then the place may be the poorer for it.

    Reply

    • Lisa
      Apr 12, 2011 @ 17:44:09

      Thank you for reading and understanding. I welcome and respect the well meaning intentions. I only get frustrated when they cross a line and get pushy. But, I simply smile, nod, and back away usually. Or simply say “Thank you!” take the pamphlet and walk away. LOL.

      Reply

  12. nrhatch
    Apr 12, 2011 @ 19:36:41

    Lisa ~ I expect that you would enjoy this post and video:

    http://nrhatch.wordpress.com/2010/07/04/god-is-not-a-christian-jew-or-moslem/

    An excellent reasoned discussion by a retired Episcopal Bishop, John Shelby Spong, on how the church has used religion:

    * to control the masses
    * to create fear and guilt about a hell that doesn’t exist
    * to keep us from growing up
    * to encourage us to be ”born again” and remain “children”

    Reply

  13. Trackback: But they’re guests in our home . . . « Spirit Lights The Way
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  15. Paul Sunstone
    Jul 19, 2011 @ 21:14:11

    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.

    Looks like we share the same attitude towards this issue, Lisa.

    Reply

  16. Arlee Bird
    Jul 20, 2011 @ 00:57:47

    The wonderful thing about our current state of affairs in the USA is that we have a right to make a choice unlike many countries where that right does not exist or is infringed upon. Most Christian believers would probably agree that this right of choice is as God has intended it to be. Perhaps hell is an eternity of burning with the regret that we have made the wrong choice and heaven is living in the presence of that which is so beautiful and wondrous that it can never be diminished by infinite time and space.

    Lee
    Tossing It Out

    Reply

    • Lisa (Woman Wielding Words)
      Jul 20, 2011 @ 07:54:08

      Sometimes, though, at least lately with so much religious opinion forcing its way into the public sector, it does not really feel like we have that right to choose. There are too many people saying you must believe exactly what I believe or you are wrong, evil, pick the derogatory word.

      Reply

      • Arlee Bird
        Jul 20, 2011 @ 08:10:05

        Religious opinion has always been a part of the public sector–when people are influenced by their religions that influence has a tendency to filter into their actions that are seen in public. That this is a new thing and that it somehow “oppresses” us is primarily an illusion created by certain groups of people and media organizations. Whether a person believes they are “wrong, evil” or going to hell based on what other people are saying is not as much of a problem of what has been said as it is a problem concerning the reaction to what has been said. If you have doubts or concerns about whether or not you are “wrong or evil” after hearing somebody else say things, then maybe you need to re-evaluate your own beliefs and consider why the words of another would upset you. No one can make you feel in any way–you choose the way you feel. So far, at least not under normal circumstances, no one in the US has been hung, stoned to death, or been decapitated because their beliefs.

        Lee
        Tossing It Out

        Reply

        • Lisa (Woman Wielding Words)
          Jul 20, 2011 @ 08:35:11

          I don’t feel wrong or evil and have no problems with my beliefs. The words of others upset me when those words try to dictate how ALL PEOPLE must live, including who has rights over a woman’s body or over who people should marry. You may be right that religious opinion has always been part of the public sector, but it has also always been a problem when it becomes extreme. Perhaps there are not recent examples in the US of abuse or death because of religious beliefs or difference, but examples do exist and probably always will. What makes me fearful is the potential of history repeating itself in ugly ways, as there is a fine line between making laws to protect one system of belief and outright persecution of any group that believes differently.

          Reply

  17. Rose
    Sep 30, 2011 @ 18:45:37

    I’m here via Kathy’s reinventingtheeventhorizon. I just wanted to say thank you for writing about this and opening yourself up to the onslaught. I could not agree more with your final comment especially.It’s a dangerous road when we talk about all people doing or believing anything, with the possible exception of kindness.

    Reply

    • Lisa (Woman Wielding Words)
      Sep 30, 2011 @ 19:08:27

      Luckily I didn’t really have enough readers at the time to promote too much of a negative onslaught. Thank you for visiting and for your kind words. I’ll have to thank Kathy as well.

      Reply

  18. Lorinda J. Taylor
    Oct 05, 2012 @ 16:10:48

    I was interested in this particular post for two reasons. First, I’m a spiritual humanist (not an atheistic humanist) and I’m beginning to present my views in the four posts on the Mythmakers (http://termitewriter.blogspot.com/search/label/Mythmakers). They should be read from the oldest forward (bottom to top in the sequence) and I have plans to make it an ongoing series, although I’ve been neglecting it lately. I had expected to get all kinds of responses condemning me to Hell, but strangely I never got any response at all. My conclusion was that fundamentalists of any faith simply don’t read science fiction blogs!
    Second, I wrote a piece in a WIP a few years back that required a Jewish wedding (I was exploring what became of Judaism by the 28th century) and I got fascinated by Judaism. I spent about 3 months reading everything I could find on the web and even learned a little bit of Hebrew, which has unfortunately now all evaporated. I gained a huge respect for the Jewish religion. I think it’s a case of actually learning from experience – the Jews have been persecuted for so long that they really have bought into the liberal ideal of tolerance for all. I realize that there are fundamentalist Jewish sects that are not so tolerant, but on the whole Judaism seems far superior to me to most other established religions.

    Reply

    • Lisa Wields Words
      Oct 05, 2012 @ 16:42:06

      I will definitely have to check out all of your posts when I have some time to focus (I’m trying to get some other writing done at the moment). While I am not longer really a practicing Jew, there are some elements of Judaism which really speak to me–like the idea of doing good (doing mitzvahs) simply because it is good to do, not for any reward on the other side. Hebrew is beautiful and I still get carried away when I hear it said in prayer.

      Reply

  19. A Gripping Life
    Jan 14, 2013 @ 11:18:29

    Great post. I’m Mormon and grew up in New York. My father is Jewish on his father’s side and Irish Catholic on his mother’s side. I grew up with a great mix of people around me. I share your feelings that religion and spirituality is a personal journey. Having fanatical groups of zealots hound the rest of us is a big turn-off, and very counter-productive to their cause, I think. :) The funny thing is, I believe they actually think they’re doing something “good?” And by “good,” I mean saving people. I guess they didn’t get the memo that this method doesn’t work. Fear as a motivator is always going to fail.

    I think in those rural bible belt places you just have to turn a blind eye and deaf ear to it — just go about your business being the best possible person you can be and setting an example of love, compassion, and acceptance.

    Great post!
    Lisa

    Reply

  20. Trackback: Wishing for Internal Harmony | Woman Wielding Words

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