When I was about 59 years old I read a book, a memoir, about a girl who grew up as one of Jehovah’s Witnesses. It was not a happy book. Her story is not important for the point of this part of my story, except for the fact that as an adult she desperately wanted out of that organization.
I have often discussed spiritual issues with my son and still do. So, after having finish the aforementioned book, I was talking to my son about it and I said, “she really wanted to get out of the Jehovah’s Witnesses, but she was so scared to leave. What if they were right, she thought, and if I leave, I’m damned to hell.” I don’t know why she thought this, or maybe I made that part up, because my understanding is that the Jehovah’s Witnesses don’t believe in hell. Regardless, that is what I said to my son. And his response to me was something like this, “Isn’t that what Christianity says?”
I was flabbergasted, and had to admit, well, yes, this is what Evangelical Western Christianity says. That was my Christianity at the time. If you leave, if you get out, if you don’t believe the right thing the right way, you go to hell. More accurately, if you don’t have Jesus in you heart, you go to hell. If you haven’t said the sinners prayer, you go to hell. If you deny Christ, he will deny you.
This conversation gave me pause. That is it caused me to question deep held beliefs of my own. Even while reading the book, I could relate often with the negative religious aspect of her life experiences and felt the fear undergirding both her religion and mine. There were so many things the same about both and yet I knew that the Jehovah’s Witnesses were a “cult”, right? And I wasn’t in a cult, right? Why did it feel that way? That was scary. She felt trapped in her religion because of fear. Me too, a little bit. I realized I believed this way because I’m scared not to. I’m scared if I don’t, I’ll go to hell. My relationship with God at it’s most primal and basic level ultimately was based on fear. (And guilt, but that’s another chapter.) This was not my everyday mode of operation or what my head believed, but deep underneath everything else. So deep and buried for so long that it was barely recognized and rarely acknowledged by me, but none the less at the root.
My prayer of late, to know the love of God, is being answered, I hope, by unraveling this messy foundation upon which I have built a crumbling fortress of self protection against eternal rejection. I am discovering a more peaceful path in Eastern Christianity.