Christianity is a religion that is littered with the idea of death. The Old Testament is filled with murder, war and even a little genocide. The New Testament is martyrs, death upon the cross, and the Day of Atonement. As a child, the good book would leave me awake at nights, thinking of the enormity of what death meant and I would call out to my mother for comfort. This was often triggered by my fear of Hell. There was nothing more frightening to me as a little boy then the concept of Hell. Hell was a place where you would be tormented forever if the life you chose to live on earth did not meet the celestial requirements. Hell was forever and forever was a long time and the torture that awaited me there, if I made the wrong choices, hung over me like an unfathomable weight. Each day in church and school our elders would remind us that when we died we would be held accountable for our actions. Others may have ignored this or grown desensitized to their warnings but I focused on it like a tic burrowing through my skin. Why should a child be faced with his own mortality on a daily basis? How is this way to make someone believe?
I recently had a conversation with my father where I told him this. He told me that he always raised us to believe that God is love and that he wants us to go to heaven. I can hear him say, "Christianity is a religion of eternal life through Jesus not death". This is fine because I heard these same words before and after each discussion of hell and our immortal soul. However, that was not what my little brain focused on. Death was a scary word. My faith was built upon fear and not upon love no matter how many people told me I was going to heaven and no matter how many told me God loved me. For a child, love is an easy concept to receive and to dismiss. Our parents love us unquestioning and we love them back. We love our homes and all we have. But love is always there and so we take it for granted when it is given and received. Fear, on the other hand, rears its ugly head and leaves a lasting mark; once burned by the boiling pot you never grab hold again. Fear is a strong motivation for a child. I loved God as a child because not loving him meant that I was damned and the fear of that was unimaginable. My father would say that if I believed in God I should have nothing to fear, but when doubt filled my mind fear was always standing right behind it.
As I have grown older I realize this is not the belief of most Christians and most will and do say that I had a miss guided view or feel sad I thought this way, but as a child this was my reality and not a far stretch for Christians to understand. I believe that all ways of life, be it religion, philosophy or lifestyle, are a personal adventure and that no one knows 100% what will come. Being afraid of things we have no control over (like the afterlife if it exists) is crippling and does not lead to a productive life. However, we do have the power to make these lives we live as joyous as possible. I agree with Christians that we should focus on love and not fear. Fear is often thrust upon from outside ideas or events but love is something that we must give. Love is an action where fear is a response. But here is where we may part ways: I think that we must try to make a world where love is an action only used to affect the world we live in. Love should be used to abolish stereotypes, racism and bigotry. Love should be used to bring people together, to heal wounds and to give comfort to those who live in fear. Love should be used to change the world we live in and not to save our immortal souls for one that may follow.