Tuesday, September 13, 2011

There Is No Hell

This is one of the many ideas that struck me during my couche (initiation). There is no Hell. I began rolling it around in my mind. It wouldn’t leave me. It seems to be the culmination of my philosophy that started back in college years ago.

Growing up Catholic, I was taught very early about sin and Hell: the place where I would go if I didn’t believe, if my sins were too bad, if they weren’t forgiven. It‘s a place of eternal torment: a place of fire, brimstone and suffering. It is a place that’s cold, a deep abyss. It has a ruler: the devil Lucifer, the bringer of light, the angel cast out of Heaven for challenging God. He goes by other names: Satan, the serpent. You may have heard of him.

There are the chosen people, the people of Israel. There are literal tribes of Judaism, and there are other religious people: the Christians, the people of Islam. They interpret themselves as chosen by God and with proper actions deemed worthy go to Heaven, others unworthy will go to Hell.

I remember sitting in philosophy after falling away from Born-Again Christianity. We were introduced to a theory called the malicious deceiver, a god who sets us up to fail. The more I rolled the Christian God around in my head, I concluded the majority of people in the world not being of the chosen, were destined to end in eternal damnation. To me that understanding of God was one I couldn’t ignore. The more I thought about it, the more I came to the conclusion that the God I did believe in wasn’t one that would judge and discard. That is setting people up to fail. That is malicious intent. That isn’t love.

The God I did believe in was one of love.

When I read excerpts of the life of Jesus that is what I saw. I didn’t read passage after passage of a man who preached how evil people were, but one who accepted the beggars, the whores, everyone for who they were, even if they weren’t of Israel, even if they didn’t follow him like that good Samaritan. The conclusions I came to were of good actions and love of everyone. This to me is where people go astray from his message. Most just claim to be part of the tribe.

What I’m Looking for with Religion

So I’m in the peristyle (temple) thinking there is no Hell and where most religions go wrong. Becoming a priest compels me to deal with my issues and every skeleton seems to jump out of my closet. This night the two in particular were abuse and shame.

In considering what I didn’t like about most of the religions I grew up with, I deemed them abusive, oppressive or overly cruel. We are told from an early age all the things that will lead us to eternal damnation: guilted, shamed, in some cases yelled at about how horrible we are. We’re left scarred and scared. We are fed so much negativity about who we are as a person, who we are as a people and how bad everything is.

Many religions have too much negativity.

For the religion I came from, it was built around this concept of original sin. Somehow, I am born damned because someone I’m supposedly descended from committed a crime of knowledge and free will. The human race is destined to eternal damnation for that crime, which they personally didn’t commit. This is the malicious God at its best.

I can’t buy it. I couldn’t buy that God is love, but will damn my neighbor because he’s a Sikh. I couldn’t buy that God will curse the person devoted to love spending time, energy, money and much of their will making the world a better place because they’re Wiccan. I can’t buy that the Buddhist who has tried to free themself of suffering giving love to the world is somehow damned by that same God.

I can conceive of the notions of reincarnation and Karma. I can see where we need to better ourselves to free us from our past, but I see that as a freeing of the scars we self-inflict. If we lie and cheat and run away from our own issues, our own problems, we have a long way to go to find our personal liberation.

To me Karma in this sense isn’t the paying back of a loan, a balancing of the scales as in I’ve been very bad, now I need to suffer and be very good to make up for it. Karma in this sense is the liberation of these past errors by coming to terms with the shitty way we’ve been and actually changing ourselves to be better. It’s owning our responsibility in cleaning up the damage we’ve done. This works on an individual level, a collective sense as a people, as a world and on a greater level a creation. We may right ourselves, but we still have a lot of negativity we’ve unleashed upon the world that also has to be righted. We need to fix ourselves so we can send out the positive energy to make the world a better place.

So here’s how I see it: some limited ground rules laying out good religious attributes v. bad ones.

Good Attributes


Bad Attributes

Love Hate
Healing Hurting
Liberation & Empowerment Oppression
Self Improvement Sin
Inclusiveness Exclusiveness
An After life or  Reincarnation Damnation
Positivity Negativity
Protection Fear
Education Suppression of Knowledge

If only it was this clean and easy.

The topics of oppression and liberation are important here. In India, there are some fleeing Hinduism to Christianity to avoid an oppression they feel in the way they’re treated. In the west there are those fleeing Christianity for Hinduism to avoid an oppression they feel in the way they’re treated. The religion isn’t the problem: both Hinduism and Christianity are wonderful. When the religions become the norm and entrenched in society, when the politics of people enter into application of the way it’s practiced, oppression as a means of control seem to infuse itself. We are constantly striving to free ourselves of oppression that entered whatever our religion may be by turning to something else.

In my own personal experience, I turn to Vodou to free myself of that oppression. I’m sure there have been those in Haiti that have found that very religion politically oppressive at times. It seems that organization and politicization leads to unwanted results. For me in this time and place, it is an empowering and liberating religion as befits its roots.

In this way I have a respect for some born-again Christians, a system I myself turned away from. Many of them seem to be trying to free themselves from that same negativity many Christian religions suffer and return to those core principles of self-empowerment and love. Many practicing “Spirituality”, yoga and meditation, systems that I still practice today, also seem to be trying to shed the cloak of religion for the same reasons. Some people turn to other alternative religions. Maybe this is why they’ve found that permaglow I wrote about. They’ve liberated their lives from their past confines and found great joy in it.

Religion should inspire people to be better, not through fear but through positive example. Not only should it empower, it should also be inclusive of everyone: race, gender, sexual orientation, whatever the next big division is. It should pick you up, carry you along and then let you stand on your own (or dance). There should be guides to help you advance in stages once you have the capability to handle the next step.

Good religion needs to be as positive as possible. The world is in need of some healing. It’s polluted, it’s choking. Every day were faced with great negativity: murder, corruption, poverty and suffering. We can choose to make our world more beautiful.

The Reality We Create

The only Hell that exists is the one we create.

I don’t believe in the Devil, you might. To me it’s a deflection of the responsibility of our own actions, an external force to blame. The Devil made me do it. The only devils in the world are through our own individual actions, but it doesn’t have to be that way. We can heal: as a person, as a people and as a planet.

We have the capability to make this world we live in Hell, or we can beautify it, make it better, more livable, less polluted. We can improve; respect all forms of life: plants, animals and ecosystems. If we treat each other better we won’t live in Hell, we’ll be creating Heaven on Earth. We have this power within ourselves: individually, as a people and as a planet. Religions need to cultivate this kind of energy, this kind of philosophy.

This is the true meaning buried at the heart of most religions. To me it was the meaning behind Jesus’s words, those of the Buddha and many others. Many systems have these teachings at their core. Life is a wonderful, joyous experience. I hope the religion you prescribe to supports that endeavor. If it doesn’t, strive to change it. Many religions often get bogged down with too much organization then they try to control: politics, information and people. We should all embrace the positive aspects more, help to empower and lift up those who need it most. We can heal the negativity we’ve created. It will take a lot of work: a lot of energy, time and caring.

Where to Begin

For me, I’m starting with myself. I need to heal myself from my own negativity. I need to not run away from my problems, procrastinating them to another day. I need to help those around me: initially leading by example, then by lending a hand. I need to work at making the world a better place. I’m not preaching; I’m starting with myself.

Working on myself is the hardest path. My soapbox is internal. The war rages within.

Oungan François Ashe (Me) struck by the permaglow after becoming an Oungan Asogwe.
Photo by Saumya Haas

I found myself laughing at God’s wonderful sense of humor. That Permaglow Spirituality I spoke about, I found myself struck by it during couche. It has since faded with the reality that there are major issues in my life I have yet to face. But honestly, for a few days, I was laughing and smiling – uncontrollably. It was genuinely real.

I have my own liberation from Karma I’m working on. As I free myself, I feel like I’m going around a curve in the road, one curve gone I can now see more of the topography and how much farther I have yet to go. The more I free myself; I am able to see how much more there is to be freed. I try to remember, it’s not winning but playing that makes life worth it. Each milestone is an accomplishment. The important thing is forward momentum, as opposed to stagnation or sliding backwards. Like Leela, there are snakes and arrows along the path. Even if I did get to the end, won the prize, reached enlightenment or whatever sits at the end of the road – I’d probably play the game again. It’s life! It’s fun to be amongst the living.

Once again, I find myself at the crossroads. I have finished Sur Pwenn and become an Oungan Asogwe. Now I get to turn this corner and discover what Asogwe means. The chase begins anew. This will be a long road, but I have many friends to join me along the way. I also have the Lwa. Come and join me, no matter what your religion. We’ll throw a great party – and we’ll dance along the way.

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  1. Great post, and I can identify with so much that you describe, coming from a Christian background and into a pagan (of-sorts) faith. Congrats on your initiation and may your work prosper.

  2. Yes great post ~ I found it on SeededBuzz and will write my own bit on it at the weekend.
    Congratulations to your initiation ~ it seems to me that you are on the right path to bring some more light and heaven onto this planet. We definitely need it. Thanks!

  3. Hi found your blogpost via SeededBuzz and Lis21 ~ you speak my mind :-) (here is what I wrote