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← Effect of the concept of hell on children

mirandaceleste's Avatar Jump to comment 46 by mirandaceleste

I understand what you're going through. It's difficult, confusing, and scary. And you're very brave for taking the first step, which is the scariest step of all: beginning to question your faith and beginning to doubt something that has been a part of you for so long that it seems completely inextricable.

The primary lesson of Catholic childhood indoctrination is that you must never, ever question or doubt the veracity of what you've been taught. Skepticism, you're told, is a sin. And, from the outside, the reason for that is clear: those who indoctrinate children understand that a child who never questions is a child who will remain a Catholic for life and who will perpetuate the cycle by indoctrinating their own children. Reason, intellect, and rationality are the enemies of effective indoctrination. Accordingly, the indoctrinators teach you that skepticism is a sin. And you've been told for as long as you remember that sinners go to Hell. Any outside observer can see why the fear of a literal Hell is Catholic childhood indoctrination's most effective tool: teach children that doubters will spend eternity in a literal Hell, and most children will squash even the tiniest of doubts. Their intellect may be strong, but they'll never apply it to their faith. The indoctrinators understand that faith will crumble under intellectual scrutiny.

And it will. You can (and probably will) reason your way out of your faith. But you can't reason your way out of the fear of Hell, at least not completely, despite what some of the commenters in this thread have claimed. I haven't any doubt that these commenters are empathetic, kind, and have the best of intentions, but they're oversimplifying this issue, and aren't grasping the nuance, complexity, and intensity of what you're experiencing. The fear of Hell cannot be reasoned with. It resides in a part of you that cannot be touched by rational thought. That part of you may be tiny, or it may be massive, but it is there, and your intellect cannot destroy it.

You're experiencing something that is simultaneously liberating, exciting, and terrifying. Reason, rationality, and skepticism are wonderful and thrilling things, and nourishing your intellectual curiosity will improve your life in so many ways. It will also almost certainly lead you away from your Catholic faith, and that's something to look forward to. But I have to be honest: you can liberate yourself from Catholicism, but you'll never completely rid yourself of the fear of a literal Hell. It will get better. It will never go away, but it will get better. It will get easier. But you'll never be completely free from it. It will never be easy, but it won't always be this hard. Your fear will abate, but it will never dissipate, and the severity of that fear will depend upon the intensity of and the duration of the indoctrination you've experienced.

You might relate to an essay that I wrote about my experiences (from 2010), which was excerpted on this site (this link goes to richarddawkins.net/articles/521390-a-dirty-little-girl-her-head-hanging-in-shame): "A dirty little girl, her head hanging in shame". Honestly, I sometimes wish that I hadn't written it, not because I don't like it, but because it makes me feel very vulnerable. I've almost deleted the original on a few different occasions, but I leave it up because people still write me to tell me that they can relate, and that it encouraged them to share their own stories.

Best of luck in this process. It's scary, I know. It will get better, though. I promise. Remember that.

Wed, 25 Jul 2012 17:50:59 UTC | #950065