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1/22/08                                                                                       View Comments

Then it happened -- the hell-fire sermon

Sent in by Heather

In truth, I have already written a testimonial recently. "Look ma, I'm an agnostic!", but I wrote that out in pure blind anger. I thank all who replied to that, but now I'm a little less angry, and probably can write the whole story. Since I was born into a christian home, it is basically my LIFE story, I'm afraid, quite literally.

I was born in the later part of 1987, the first child and daughter to two doctors in a small town within Northern Ireland. My mother was of the Church of Ireland (Anglican), my father a Presbyterian and I was baptised within the faith my father belonged to as a baby. Just over a year later, my sister was also born, and went through the same motions.

Living and growing up in Northern Ireland is very different from the rest of the UK, and even down south in the rest of the Island. It can sometimes make you wonder if you've stepped back 50 years, if you ignore the Internet access and other conveniences of a modern world. Socially, it seems to be stuck in a time warp sometimes when you talk to the older generations.

The ISLAND of Ireland is in general more religious than its neighbour, Great Britain- by a long shot. 55% identify themselves as Protestants (in the religious sense, not just in the political form), and 35% are Catholic.

Think about it, that's NINETY PERCENT WHO ARE CHRISTIANS.

(I am sure American ex-Christian's minds just exploded, they have it bad enough with 75%)

A measly 0.5-1% (or similar) are Islamic, and the numbers for other religions are barely worth registering. I don't think, apart from Islam I have ever SEEN anyone in my home country who was anything other than a Christian, if any religion at all.

Before you rave and cry out in horror, I must add it is not ALL bad, and what you probably see or hear on the news is most probably an exaggeration. I do not, as of the Protestant community for instance want to, or ever have wanted to, shoot up the place when a Catholic enters the room. I am also not a 'Queen lover' (I don't hate her, just don't love her, she's just a person and I don't know her personally).

I also have friends who are 'catholic' (In the sense that there parents are anyway). I went to a 'mixed' school of both faiths in both Primary and Secondary school. As for the Ireland V Britain debate, I couldn't really give a damn. I didn't even as a christian give a damn about it. People who think it should continue being a 'big deal' are lunatics. It's gone on long enough. No one sane cares anymore. GET A LIFE! Stormont acts like a bloody circus, like children, sometimes I just want to slap them and put them in the corner.

Despite this, as I said, I never really had a 'bad' childhood. Even though I currently am in England for University, I can say it was hardly traumatic. Northern Ireland isn't as bad as the news makes it to be. Not great, a little dull even sometimes, but hardly a war zone like many think. It used to be, but not now.

I can walk down the streets without fear of getting blown up/shot at/beaten up to the same degree as my parents had to when they were my age in the 70s, for instance.

(They both went to Belfast for their medical degrees, which made the whole experience 'interesting' putting it mildly)

But I am getting away with myself, back on track now.

As I mentioned- I was brought up, with my sister, in a Presbyterian church. My first few years were uneventful.

Although I had when I was younger had enjoyed the novelty of going to church, I soon grew bored and tired of it, as did my sister. I was naturally a tomboy, and my sister wasn't exactly a girly-girl either. My mother would have to force us into our (in our minds) revolting Sunday best with threats of no television and sweets, so we'd eventually relent.

For an hour of boredom- complete and utter boredom. When you are five years old, that hour seems like forever, doesn't it? I attended Sunday school, then church, then CHILDREN'S church, which released us from the mind-numbingly-dull adult sermon.

For the most part I liked Sunday school and Children's church. It was just the church itself which bored me. That and Orange parades (even before I grew a disdain for them when I realised what they represented and caused, they bored me).

At least Church bored me at first.

Yes my first 7 years of my life were largely worry free and happy. My parents as moderate Christians, did not expect much other than for us to say a prayer before we went to bed each night, and perhaps reading a bible story to us once or twice a week on a day which wasn't Sunday. Other than my aunt, who was uber-religious and who had always struck me as a little odd even as a kid didn't scare me. I still loved her, I mean she was family after all.

No I was happy.

Then it happened.

I think we've all heard it.

The hell-fire sermon.

To be fair, it wasn't our regular minister who gave this sermon to me, it was an English visitor of a Baptist church who we had ties with, one which a few members decided to visit, and I tagged along, only mildly interested, and so bored even an evening service seemed tempting. Without my parents, but with friends of the family.

I don't have to go into details, but I was absolutely terrified. The man ranted and raved about the internal punishment that as time went on, I felt sure I would face. I wanted to cry, to run, DO ANYTHING, but I remained frozen to the little plastic seat as he glared at each member in turn.

I gave myself to Jesus that night, as I shook in my room, crying my eyes out.


But eventually as time wore on I realised I didn't know what it was to BE a christian. I was only a kid after all, I never really knew what that meant. No-one had ever explained it properly to me and my biblical knowledge wasn't exactly extensive, especially then.

So skip forward to the age of 12, still a 'True believer', but unknowing of what that really meant.

I was in for the shock of my life when I entered secondary school.

I had been sheltered all my life, apart from that one awful sermon, I did not know hardship, I knew nothing. I was one of the freaks, the oddball, for I had never even known SWEAR words let alone innuendo which seemed to enter the conversation every day. I was shy and timid before, and grew quieter even more so then.

I found some solace in the Scripture Union of the school, but until eventually, half way through my school year, I made 'friends'.

But they were not all real friends, at least not at that point of time. Many of them took advantage of my naivety, and took delight in the fact my feelings were so easily hurt. The ages of 12-15 were quite literally hell for me, in many ways.

Then something happened again.

When I was 15. One of the 'friends' (In truth, one of those who was a little less than kind), was involved in an accident.

Despite her cruelty, I felt terrified, and scared. Had I subconsciously brought this on her? Had God done this?

Scared once more, I turned to 'God' once more. Crying again, I called for him, saying I was sorry for everything and for her to become better again. I said "I'll do anything if you can make her better again!"

I felt in a bizarre way almost responsible. I had thought in my head that I'd hated her upon on occasion, perhaps God had got the wrong end of the stick, perhaps he'd thought I'd wanted this!

I visited her regularly and helped her out when I could, though I couldn't do much.

After a few months of intensive care and physiotherapy, she survived, and has moved on from the accident.

And bizarrely we became better friends. In fact we're still friends. And when I go home for a visit, I see her too. I used to treat her like glass if I'm honest, but she now stands on her own.

In fact I became better friends with all of them, they didn't take advantage of me anymore, I didn't act such a baby about the littlest thing all the time.

I was convinced that her recovery was a miracle.

I immediately started spreading the 'word'.

When I look back I sometimes wonder why I never attributed her getting better to her will to live, or the hard work of the medical staff.

I mean my parents ARE DOCTORS. Why hadn't I ever considered that?

Eventually however I found my faith tested by my friends, many of which did not give a thought to a religion unless I asked. My friend got understandingly pissed off when I said her getting better was because of Jesus.

Like many people I mentally ran and cowered.

Testifying and converting was just not ME. I was shy, I still am, and I felt in danger of disbelieving.

So instead I found a new type of testifying which could apply to me.

The Internet.

I must add, I was 15, and if you ever met me at that time in the years 2002-5 I am so terribly and terrifically sorry. It almost became my calling, I set to spread the 'Good News'. Apart from fights with my aunt (I believed Catholics were 'saved' too, she didn't), I was the good little christian girl. My friends still stuck with me, despite their annoyance at me when I sometimes felt if briefly the urge to 'testify'.

Sometimes I got challenged on the net, and sometimes I didn't. If I was challenged, I'd mentally block myself from it. (Does this sound familiar?). I didn't preach face to face, I felt that was risky.

Eventually however, I went to University, and boy was I in for a surprise there.

My flatmates and I got on really well, though most of them were agnostic, they accepted me. Within the first week I found out that one of them was a lesbian.

That didn't shock me, what surprised me was that I realised I really didn't care. I didn't feel any differently toward her. I even encouraged her to not to try and force herself to be straight for her Grandparent's backward views.

Then within my course (Biology- I know, I was just ASKING to be de-converted), I met up with real science, I became fascinated with Evolution (which, I still am). The Creationist 'science' book I was given before I left by church members (I think they sensed the end before I did), was reopened, I suddenly found out most of it was completely and utterly bullshit, not to mention out of date! It seemed like it had come from the 70s, despite it giving a birth date of the year 2000. Their arguments were flawed and transparent, that even I with out even one year of university education, could plainly see through.

I found myself questioning my beliefs around that stage seriously and it all came to a head when I made friends with not just agnostics/atheists but also (GASP! HORROR!- My aunt would say). Members of the Islamic faith.

This bothered me.

I liked these people, they were good people, all of them, Islamic and of no faith, yet my own religion condemned them to eternal hell fire for eternity.

All because they picked the wrong religion (or none). This didn't rest well, and I decided, to sit down and actually READ the bible from cover to cover.

I was disgusted and questions flowed. How could a God condemn innocent children? How could he condone the rape and murder of countless people? Why were there so many contradictions? Why was Paul (putting it bluntly.), such an arrogant ass who seemed to go out of his way to destroy Jesus' own teachings rather than reinforce them?

Then I realised, I'd been taken in, duped and played for a fool. I did not believe in Allah as some of my friends did, so why did I believe in 'my' version? What made their system any less valid than the one I was currently in? I'd only had latched on to Christianity because it was convenient for me.

Why had I placed so much faith in a book over 2000 years old without any proof?

I still ask myself that question. It' s not even been a year since I've 'seen the light'

My parents still don't know. I don't think they'll stop loving me, but I wish I didn't have to disappoint them into thinking that their eldest child is going to hell.

They don't know either that I expect I may be bi-sexual. An odd version, which seems to be only sexually attracted to the male gender but still find females attractive in a kiss and hug sort of way.

I'm still really going through it. I'm at a fragile place right now. I need to sort my head out.

Someday, I will tell them. And someday they may be able to come to terms with it and be happy for me.

But a part of me is wondering if my aunt will poison her younger sister (my mother) against me somehow. The most religious member of the family, to a point where it scared me even when I thought myself a Christian.

We'll just have to wait and see.

I am now on a journey of discovery, and while some people (like my aunt) would say I'll end up in hell for taking this road, I'd rather say I'm on the road to finding out who I really am, after having my teen years taken from me. It is scary, yes, but at the same time exciting.

Life is an adventure. And its a gift, whether or not you believe in some big bloke in the sky.