The last leg of my journey is where I discover some of the answers I had been seeking for the better
half of my life. The people that knew me best, knew that I have always been hard on myself when it comes to my moral shortcommings. Whenever I would express my grief and utter disappointment in myself, they would always say to me "you're only human." Out of a sense of deep moral conviction, and much out of a fear of going to Hell for being an immoral douche, I would always say "well, I want to be better than human."
For a long time I felt like that was what God required of us--that life is nothing more than a test to see who can rise above their own humanity.
I didn't really care much about going to church at all, and nothing I did could ever recapture that magic that I had felt in boot camp. My wife (at the time) and I had actually made a concerted effort to go to church while we lived in Norfolk, but once we moved back to Columbus that desire had all but disappeared.
It wouldn't be until the middle of college that I would finally find the solution to my crushing guilt and hopelessness. It was a dark time in my life up to that point, and that partly contributed to the downfall of my marriage. It's not easy to live with someone who truly grieves at the sad state of the world. For some time, I actually felt guilty for having a child. How could I bring this poor, innocent child into a world of such misery and horror? How could I create another life that is doomed to die and to likely spend eternity in Hell with the rest of us?
But a professor of mine introduced me to a concept that wasn't necessarily new to me, but given that this professor is profoundly Catholic, it was almost shocking to hear it from his mouth.
What if Hell doesn't exist?
Now, this professor wasn't saying this as a way to challenge morality or ethics, but rather posing a question of psychology. How would modern Christians be if the concept of Hell itself never existed? That begs the more important question of why are some Christians so "faithful?" Why was my dad always so concerned about my eternal soul? How could he never bring himself to question his own faith? One word blew the whole damn thing wide open for me.
This is not an indictment on all Christians. Most Catholics don't even really think about the concept of Hell and eternal punishment. But what I've noticed is that, historically, there has been an awful lot of fire and brimstone talk. Look at the Great Awakenings in American History: all spawned from an overwhelming fear that the nation's people were doomed to damnation.
I asked myself "if God wants us to truly love him, then why would he threaten us with an eternity of pain and suffering lest we shower him with worship?" That sounds awfully stupid, because a love born out of fear of the alternative is not love at all. Just as well, why would an all-powerful being really care that we love him anyway? Sure, I want my children to love me: they're my creation. But I won't punish them if they don't love me. I won't beat them until they're too afraid to hate me.
Maybe life is not all about making sure we go to heaven. Maybe life is just about . . . wait for it . . . being good for the sake of being good. It's difficult to be altruistic, but to love God because the alternative is being flayed and anally raped by demons for eternity seems a bit selfish to me.
And so I planted firm and I made my determination. The world is a terrible place, and I can't always be completely good. But I'm going to do my best to do what I think is right. I will try to be just, compassionate, and empathetic. If I fail, then I fail. What I will not do, however, is allow fear to be my moral compass. I will do what I believe is the right thing, and if for that reason God wants to send me to Hell, then so be it. That would not be a God I want to party with anyway.
I don't believe in a God that is so petty that he required a human sacrifice. I don't believe in a God who is so narrowminded that he sends 90% of every human who ever lived straight to Hell simply because they didn't buy into the whole Jesus thing. And I don't believe that a book written 2,000 years ago by humans who barely understood the world around them should be taken literally.
I'm going to do my best to be the best as I can given the world around me. If that makes me a bad person, then "God" can kiss my ass.