If You Don’t Go to Church, Is Your Final Destination an Eternal Layover in Hell?
When it comes to religion, some of us are doing the best we can — without going to church!
Religion . . .
Mine came from a little two-story church with gray brick walls, a high-pitched roof, and an imposing flight of wide concrete entry stairs that provided each parishioner with a mini-workout before they entered the building.
Inside, a polished wood floor sloped toward the front of the building where a small podium — elevated two steps from the auditorium floor — provided the minister with a comfortable perch from which to chastise, rebuke, and encourage as he sprinkled the congregation with verses of scripture from both the old and new testaments.
I sat in that church every Sunday morning and evening — both services. On Wednesday night, there was bible study.
From my earliest memories to age twenty, if the doors were open for services, my parents made sure I was present, sitting inside that little two story-church with the gray brick walls.
Most of the lessons were simple and straightforward — and always delivered with a little fire and brimstone.
Serious stuff for a youngster — and very confusing. On the one hand, God was good — a bit unapproachable, but a good guy, and wanting the best for his people. On the other, he wasn’t at all flexible about the program. You did it his way, or you went straight to hell.
And that was a problem for me. As hard as I tried, I couldn’t perceive how anyone could possibly be good enough — with all that entailed — to make the A-list into heaven.
I took it personally. I couldn’t imagine how I could live the kind of life required to avoid being dashed into hell-fire at the moment of death.
“But you have to try,” the preacher said. “Because if you don’t try, you have no hope. At least if you try, there’s hope.”
But the more I learned, the less hope I had.
Not only did I have to save myself, but I was also expected to convert as many other people to Christianity as possible. My life had to stand as an example and, in practical terms, that meant avoiding the obvious evils — cursing, alcohol, pre-marital sex, smoking, over-eating, drugs, lying, cheating, stealing, and a basket-load of other, equally damning vices.
Worse, just thinking about any of those things could be the virtual equivalent to committing the act, resulting in an eternal dose of brimstone.
I was screwed.
I could not figure out how to make it work. And I couldn’t cheat, because, well, you know.
So I decided not to decide — not to commit
Even though I knew there was something to believing in the Almighty — especially when I tried to imagine how long eternity was — I couldn’t bring myself to join the local group of sanctified souls because, quite simply, I wasn’t good enough.
It was a tough decision. Especially since I inherently knew — from all those lessons the good pastor had delivered — there were advantages in cultivating a relationship with God. And some of those advantages — purpose, peace of mind, and living with principle — could be received in the here and now.
I was conflicted, to say the least.
Maybe bewildered is the better word. Determined to find evidence that God wasn’t just creator, judge, and executioner, I decided to do some studying on my own. Because I wanted more than hope.
I wanted to learn what I needed to believe and practice, so I would know conclusively that I would end up in heaven after I died.
“Not possible,” my mother told me. “Only God knows that.”
Knowing the extent of her fanatical bias for a literal interpretation of the scriptures, I could only nod and offer an accepting smile. But beneath my placating veneer, I wanted to tell her there was something wrong with that.
Because without discernible assurance, without a stable and enduring sense of belief, our spiritual motivation would be subject to the ebb and flow of life — our actions influenced by the world around us, and not just from the assured promise of everlasting life in the hereafter.
I decided I was looking at the situation too closely — too-many-trees-to-see-the-forest kind of thing. My strict upbringing in a fundamentalist environment had drastically limited my view of what I was sure had to be a much larger picture.
So I read books. Lots of them.
I learned what secular history had recorded about God. I read about His influence on culture, science, education, and the evolution of our society. I read about the millions of people who’d been killed by those whose beliefs dictated the only acceptable non-believer was a dead one. I read about the charlatans and self-professed apostles who used trickery and deceit to coax money from those in desperate need of a miracle.
Did I find what I was looking for? Did all that secular reading make a difference in what I believe and how I feel about my relationship with the Almighty?
I didn’t find THE answer. Nor did I walk away with an irrefutable sense of clarity. But I did gain some perspective and a sense of spiritual purpose, both of which were often lacking in the thousands of Sunday morning sermons I listened to.
As a result, I stopped being a “member” of any specific congregation. I stopped attending regular services, and I routinely challenge those who use the cloak of religion to live a life of luxury by selling virtual redemption in exchange for a “love offering.”
But I still believe.
And I’m still looking for a church that will have me — one that recognizes its premise and purpose must be based on scriptural authority and biblical examples, rather than the egos, arrogance, and hypocrisy of self-righteous authoritarians.
Yes, I’m one of those who are doing the best they know how –without going to church.
If you’re curious about what I learned from my independent study — the conclusions I came to that drove me away from organized worship while leading me closer to God — I’ve put together a summary of what works for me. So I encourage you to take what follows with a grain of salt — or take it to heart. It’s your life, and your choice.
God is difficult to describe in tangible terms.
He is, for many folks, the supreme force and intelligence in the universe. And that’s the problem.
How do we, as simple mortals, relate to something that is so different than ourselves? We don’t really know if we should pray to a He, She, or It. Yes, I know gender-specific designations don’t really apply to God, and yet it’s how we relate to each other, so it’s only natural to think of God in the same way.
God is going to be a little different for you than for me. Some visualize Him (see, I’m doing it, aren’t I?) as the bearded, kind-faced giver of eternal life depicted in traditional and historical artwork. At the opposite end of the spectrum, others reject God as a distinct, sentient entity, but acknowledge His spirit as a higher power, a presence in nature, a force that is evidenced by creation.
We don’t know it all.
We won’t ever know it all. At least not in this lifetime. But there’s plenty to learn and plenty to put into practice without worrying about questions that have no answers. That’s just the way it is.
I realize we naturally look for strength in numbers. We want confirmation of having made the right choice by virtue of having plenty of company. But our choice of religion still comes down to a personal adoption of faith, practices, and authority — keeping in mind that no one individual gets it right all the time.
We’re better off — happier, more content, and satisfied — if we believe.
Those who have spent time in captivity often credit their belief in God for their survival. So do those who perform outstanding feats of endurance, or achieve great success in athletics or entertainment, or overcome a life-threatening illness.
Faith is a very powerful motivator. It keeps us chugging along day after day, knowing that deep down inside, things will ultimately be okay, and better days lie ahead. It is more than optimism, more than a positive attitude, although both of these characteristics are born from faith.
You can’t beat others over the head with your beliefs and expect them to thank you for it.
You’ll convert others to your way of thinking by living an honest, moral, and ethical life. You’ll influence others by being considerate and respectful — in short, by walking your talk and by being an example of the mandates to which you subscribe.
Despite all the arrogant, egotistical “evangelists” spewing dogmatic condemnation — telling others they’re going straight to hell if they don’t see it their way — attempting to force your beliefs on others is the quickest way to close doors, attitudes, and minds.
How you treat others is far more important than how much education, experience, or money you have.
If you’re going to make a difference in other’s lives — and allow them to make a difference in yours — they must believe that you mean them no harm, that you are basically a good person, you tell the truth, and you care about them.
Your beliefs are going to take you somewhere, so make sure it’s a destination of your own choosing.
One of the lesser-known sayings of Werner Erhard (founder of est) was “Sell it by Zealot.”
Make no mistake, religion is big business. Before you buy, make sure you shop around. Compare the quality, features, benefits — and the price. You’ll get what you pay for.
I’ll leave you with this . . .
God is more than a cultural argument. For some, He provides a sense of purpose, of promised longevity beyond the grave, and the assurance of life beyond the limitations of flesh and bone. Conversely, others view a belief in God as a sign of weakness — of needing an imaginary super-being to lean on when times get tough.
Because of that, I know not everything I’ve said is going to resonate with everyone. Your particular beliefs, heritage, or magnitude of faith will determine what you accept or reject.
That being said, I believe we need a guide for living.
The rules of life are not programmed into us at birth. And unless you’re fortunate enough to have grown up in a family of perfect examples, you’re not going to pick them up naturally. We need instruction — so we don’t stumble around doing it wrong.
The Bible provides lots of advice, guidance, and direction. It’s full of stories and parables, written to teach the reader about all sorts of things — things like tolerance, patience, fairness, charity, forgiveness, and serving the greater good.
That’s a lot of insight — and if put to use, a lot of value.
Ironically, you can buy a bible — both testaments– for a couple of dollars. The Kindle version will set you back three bucks.
Who knows? It might be the best investment you’ll ever make.
Thanks for reading,
Roger Reid | Success Point 360
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Roger A. Reid, Ph.D. is a certified NLP trainer with degrees in engineering and business. Roger is the author of Better Mondays and Speak Up, and host of Success Point 360 Podcast, offering tips and strategies for achieving higher levels of career success and personal fulfillment in the real world.
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