Sent in by Andrew
I was raised by my mother and very religious grandmother. My grandmother forced me to go to church from age 4 - 15. Neither of them would attend.
I belonged to a very strict branch of Pentecostal faith called Apostolic. They believed that there was only one god (Jesus WAS the father) and that you had to speak in tongues to be saved, baptized in name of Jesus (if they said father, son, holy ghost you were doomed). If we owned a TV, went to a movie, read most any book other then the bible, we were threatened with hell.
In all the commentaries of ex-Christians, I have yet to see a more vivid, and horrible description of the Hell that I was threatened with 4 times a week. The preachers had very vivid ways of saying how the fire would get inside your lungs. He said imagine holding your breath, never being able to breathe and never dieing. He spent entire sermons on how your skin would boil producing severe sores which would only make the burning more painful. I guess regular fire was not good enough either. He said the fire of hell was seven times hotter then the hottest fire on earth. I am not sure where he got that one. Of course, fire was only the beginning. Apparently there would be stabbings, mauling by demon dogs and repeated falling from great heights to be bashed on stones.
Then there was the eternity part. I am sure others have heard this. He told us to imagine a lead ball the size of the Universe. Imagine a dove who would fly around this ball and on each rotation, tap one of his wings on the ball. When the dove had completely eroded this ball, and I am quoting, "Your suffering in hell has not even begun."
Every service, I would join the other members of the dammed to the altar and can vividly remember screaming and begging god to save me. My voice would often break and my throat get so sore that I could only mumble. I knew that if I got up before I spoke in tongues, I could go to hell that very night and begin burning. In addition to telling us how the unsaved are in serious danger of the devil killing us, they believed that the 'rapture' was eminent.
This rapture tormented me for years. Every time I would hear a loud noise I would jump. Was this the "trumpet sound" that started it? I can not tell you how many times I would be started by a loud sound and then run into my grandmothers room to see if she was still there. What I thought was, if it WAS the rapture, she would be gone. There would be times when I would be in little league when some sound or event made me think that was it. I would run home... to check.
Well, at age 15 I was too big for them to force me to this church. I stayed out of all churches till college where I met the campus youth minister. I told him of my religious upbringing and he said I had been deceived. He presented me with a god that was the complete opposite of the one I came to fear. We would meet weekly and he would try to show me god was not an evil tyrant and how I simply need make an intellectual choice and all would be well for eternity. While in college, I was taking a lot of Philosophy classes and was learning reasoning skills and began to read the bible for myself to see what it really said.
What I found, was that while a few choice verses can be used to prove the doting god of my campus minister, the overwhelming vast majority confirmed the tyrant of my upbringing. The new testament god is hardly better and the teachings of Jesus actually made it HARDER to be saved. For example, under Old Testament law, I would need to fornicate to be guilty of adultery. But Jesus comes along and says I can be convicted without leaving my chair. I took a topics class in Philosophy on the existence of god, which added such things as the argument from evil to the mix.
This brings me to the current time.
About a year ago, I stumbled upon the writings of "The Four Horsemen" -- Dawkings, Harris, Hitchens, Dennet -- and for the first time, saw a possible light at the end of the tunnel. It is not possible to describe the effect on my life being in constant fear of a vengeful god. But now, perhaps, there can be peace. I can not say I have yet found the peace, but it is in reach.
To all those out there living in fear, please believe that there is hope of escaping the tyranny and bondage you were placed in.