/ ask / How do I ease other people’s fear that I am going to Hell?

Dr. Darrel Ray is an atheist, humanist, and psychologist. He is the author of The God Virus, and specializes in issues relating to religious deconversion. [ more ]
If you have an issue relating to religion but no one to talk to, ask Dr. Ray. He doesn’t promise that he has all the answers, but hopefully he will be able to provide insight and experience that will be beneficial for both you and for the many other young people in similar situations.
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Dear Darrel,

Someone I love very much, and who loves me very much, is extremely unhappy because she is sure that I will go to Hell when I die, and that we will be separated because she will go to Heaven and have to watch me suffer. I do not believe in any of that, but it pains me to see her so unhappy. I know she prays for me, and gets her Church to pray for me, but it’s not like I’m going to become religious again. How do I make her feel better without compromising my beliefs?

From Dr. Ray

Most of us in the Freethought community have someone like that in our lives. I appreciate how much you want to make her feel better. Unfortunately her fear and unhappiness stem from her religious beliefs, and it is very difficult to assuage those fears without also being able to address the religious beliefs those fears stem from.

Here is my suggestion for how you can try and make your loved one feel better while still being true to your own rational way of thinking.

You can try telling her “I haven’t seen any evidence that convinces me of the existence of God; but if I did, the God I would want to believe in cares more about how we treat each other and how we work to make the world a better place than in which religion, if any, we choose to follow. If God lets bad Christians into Heaven and sends good atheists to Hell, then he is neither loving nor just, and is not worthy of being worshiped. If, on the other hand, God is infinite in his love and wisdom, then you have nothing to worry about because he will welcome all good people into his kingdom regardless of what they believe.”

She may tell you that the Bible specifically says that you must believe in Jesus to get into Heaven. If so, you can remind her “Heaven is supposed to be a place of perfect happiness; but how could someone be happy if they knew their loved one was suffering in Hell? That’s an impossible contradiction. That means that either: Heaven isn’t real; Heaven isn’t perfect; or everyone you love gets to go to Heaven with you.

I believe Heaven is not real. Most Christians believe that everyone you love will be there with you in Heaven, and that God ultimately judges you on your character rather than your religion. If your minister tells you that Heaven is a place where you get to watch the people you love being tortured for all eternity, then maybe the solution is for you to find a church that doesn’t portray Jesus as someone who would allow that to happen.

If there is a God, then he gave me a brain to think for myself. I am thinking for myself and that makes me happy. If believing in a God makes you happy, then do it. I prefer to follow what Thomas Jefferson said, ‘Question with boldness even the existence of a God; because, if there be one, he must more approve of the homage of reason, than that of blindfolded fear.’

I am sorry that you are unhappy, but my beliefs are not your responsibility any more than your beliefs are my responsibility. I don’t need a belief in God to love you, and I hope you don’t need a belief in God to love me. I want to enjoy your company now in what I believe is the only life we get.”

Beyond this kind of discussion, just remember that while you should always be kind and considerate to others, and strive to improve the lives of those around you, you are ultimately not responsible for anyone’s happiness but your own.

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