2/4/07                                                                                       View Comments

If I'm wrong ... I’m off to hell when I die

Sent in by Mandy

First, let me say I hope there is no word limit to this. Secondly, that my testimony is a bit different from others I have read on this website. I don’t come from a fundamentalist or evangelical background and no life shattering tragedy tested my faith and found it wanting.

I grew up in rural Australia- while church was a focus of much of the charity work and social life of my home town, it was never hard-line: we were taught evolution in my tiny school, and all the local men, even the most “pious”, drank too much at the pub on a Friday night. My family were members of the Anglican Church. My mother was head of the Young Women’s Association, my father was heavily involved with working with the “at risk” teenagers. I went to church and Sunday school, knelt when told to, sang the boring hymns that were easy for the elderly women to sing along to with their shrill voices. I said grace at dinner, prayed before going to bed that god would keep my soul.

If I’m honest, I didn’t much understand it all. I believed because I was told I did. My memories of Sunday school were of colouring in pictures of a handsome, long haired man walking in the desert. I remember someone once asking me, aged seven, what my favorite bible story was, and replying I liked "the one where the donkey road on all those palm leaves".

My parents suddenly ceased attending church when I was about 12- I was never told why, although later I heard it had something to do with the secretary of Young Women’s Association skimming off the top of the donation account, and the subsequent decision of the church not to act. Prayers at bedtime and grace at dinner continued for a few years, but eventually dried up. My sister, slightly wilder than I, was sent to a catholic high school, I went to a government one. Too this day my sister holds on to the catholic doctrine, although her naturally scientific mind makes her mock her own beliefs at times.

I went on to university, studying to become a teacher, and although I never considered myself a "practicing" Christian, it was still there, I said prayers for those in 9/11 and the Bali bombings, and outright pleaded to god when a family member became seriously ill. Although witnessing a friend become "born again" by being baptized in a bright pink rent-a-spa in a suburban church did make me begin to raise an eyebrow at the Christian faith, It wasn't until I started traveling that I really began to examine the label "Christian" which I had always given myself.

In Britain, I began to feel shame when I saw the local father of the Anglican church that my school was affiliated with drive up in his Jag, leather jacket clad, to preach to families who were, by and large, struggling on or below the poverty line. In Budapest, I sat in a catholic church and felt both revulsion and fascination at the solid gold and marble pillars of St Stephens, after stepping over dozens of beggars laid prostrate on the ground, blue hands cupped in a silent plea for money. In Borneo I talked to an Iban warrior who had been converted by missionaries, and wondered why my god of blue stone churches and starched cassocks had more right to inhabit his lush green world than the ancient gods of the forest.

Finally, in Qatar, I met a person who became one of my greatest friends -- an Evangelical Pentecostal Christian, also from Australia. Far from home and church, I went with her as a kind of moral support to a new Christian church, the only one of its kind in the country and squeezed between two mosques. I sat in absolute confusion as flags were waved, people cried and sung and shook, and heard all about the sin that was inside me.

My friend allowed me to debate the Christian ideals that were firmly embedded in her and slowly seeping out of me, without judging. I came to a few conclusions. 1. I was not convinced that Jesus was the son of god, and absolutely did not believe that he was resurrected from the dead. 2. If some of the bible was completely against my own morals -- i.e., hating homosexuals, beating women, racism etc., -- than how could I justify believing any section of it? Either it was all true or not. I had no choice but to believe it was not.

So that leaves me here. If I'm wrong, and god is fire, brimstone and vengeance, than I guess it means I’m off to hell when I die. Many good people have gone there before me, most notably my grandfather, a man dedicated to his family, his country, hardworking, tough and loving and, technically, the least Christian man you could ever meet. I am not atheist. I believe in this world there is something that defies definition or classification, that can’t be put into commandments, or written in a book, be it Bible or Qur'an, and which cannot be effected by prayers or chants or sacrifice. Last time I was in Australia the national census was on, and I was asked to write what religion I followed. I put "TBA".