It's been a long, strange and incredible journey for me over the past year or so on the spiritual path. I guess it started when I began working on the fellowshipping.org website. I wanted to make it easier for Christians to connect with each other, but I also wanted to get the message of the gospel out to as many people as I could. I still believed in Hell at the time, and I couldn't bear the thought of anyone going there (not just friends and family, but anyone).
Around that time, I started a blog and in one of my blog entries I challenged myself to pray for 2 hours a day for a week. I accepted the challenge. During all of that praying, the topic of Hell kept coming up and one morning I woke up with a feeling that I should do some research on the topic. I googled Hell and a bunch of links jumped out at me claiming that Hell was not real or didn't exist. I thought that was too good to be true, until I actually started reading some of the websites.
I ended up reading almost non-stop for three weeks. I barely left the house and I didn't do any work on my websites. I just read everything I could find about this teaching called Christian Universalism.
Finally after three weeks I decided I was convinced. I came to believe that there was no Hell. This wasn't a decision I made lightly. I didn't believe it just because I wanted it to be true. I did the research and I concluded that there was no way that Hell could exist. (The main site that I researched was tentmaker.org for those that are interested.)
I felt like a giant weight had been lifted off my entire being. For most of my life I had been afraid of Hell. I knew that I had been "saved", but whenever I read certain passages in the Bible, I started to doubt my "salvation" and wondered if I might end up in Hell. I never really felt secure. But even in those moments when I trusted that I really was safe from eternal damnation, I "knew" that a lot of my friends and family were going to Hell along with a huge percentage of the rest of the population (unless they got "saved").
I used to walk around depressed, thinking about every person or group I saw, and that no matter how much fun they were having, or how kind and loving they were, there was a good chance they were destined to spend eternity in Hell, because they weren't "saved". That is what fundamentalist Christianity did to me.
So once I came to realize that Hell doesn't exist, a lot of things happened. The most immediate change was how I felt when I saw other people. I didn't have that sad feeling gnawing away at me any more. For the first time in my life I felt like everything was alright with the world. I didn't have all the answers yet (and still don't), but I felt such an incredible feeling of love toward everyone. And I finally came to realize that a God who is truly loving and forgiving would never send his creations to Hell to suffer for eternity.
So now I still believe in God, but I no longer call myself a Christian. I believe there is a lot of truth in the Bible, but also lots of half-truths, lies, misinterpretations and blatant mistranslations.
I struggled for years trying to figure out how God could be the embodiment of love and the model for forgiveness, yet also punish people by sending them to Hell for eternity for simply failing to accept Christ as their savior. That never felt right to me. But, I accepted that belief for so long, because I didn't see another alternative. For some reason I thought that the only two options were Christianity and atheism. It had never dawned on me that God could still be real but that the Christian story could be false, or at least misleading or misinterpreted.
Once I was finally able to consider that as an option, a lot of things changed for me. I started to realize how many great spiritual books and teachers are out there. I realized how much I was limiting myself by viewing the Bible as the only spiritual text.
As crazy as it might sound to some, I believe that Christianity was severely hampering my spiritual growth. Any time I would read something that conflicted with my belief system, I would be quick to dismiss it. Each time I did that, I would become more entrenched in my close-minded belief system. Why did I do that? Why was I so quick to defend my "faith" and dismiss anything that conflicted with my beliefs? Because I was scared. Scared that I might be wrong. Scared that maybe God didn't exist and that we were all alone on this earth. And so I had to keep my belief system intact, because it was too depressing to think that we might be alone here with no divine protector, and again, because I wasn't aware of any other alternative.
Looking back on how I first came to be a Christian, it was the same emotion that came into play. Fear. Fear of going to Hell and burning in eternal flames.
I can still vividly remember going to an all-night youth group event when I was about 11 years old. After a hockey game, a speaker came out on the ice and talked about Heaven and Hell. He said that I could make a decision that night to choose Heaven and therefore be safe from Hell. I prayed a prayer to accept Jesus into my heart that night. Then, the next year at the same event, I prayed it again just to be safe.
Looking back at it all now, it is easy for me to realize that it wasn't the speaker's logic or scientific facts that convinced me as an impressionable 11-year-old. It was a simple fear-based transaction. I was afraid of Hell, and so I did what I thought I had to do to avoid it.
Then I started to read the Bible. I read things like "Love your neighbor" and "Thou shalt not steal/lie/murder" and I knew in my heart that these were spiritual truths. Then I read that the Bible was the word of God and it was inerrant. I figured that since there were so many spiritual truths, it must really be God's inspired word.
This was, of course, before I considered all the questions that brought up such as: Where did the Bible come from? Who wrote the books? Who translated them? Who decided which books were the inspired word of God? And how did we know that the Bible was never changed, mistranslated or misinterpreted?
Each of these questions weighed on me as I delved more deeply into Christianity. I really wanted to believe that Christianity was true, because I wanted to know for sure that I was eternally safe, that I was going to Heaven when I died. But the more I thought about it, the more "plot holes" I discovered in the Christian story that I could not resolve.
There were so many fundamental questions that I could never answer, such as: Why would God create us knowing that so many of us would never be "saved"? What would happen to people that never heard the gospel in their lifetime? What about kids who died too young to make a decision to "get saved"? Wouldn't it be better not to have kids at all than to have a child if there was a chance that he or she would have to spend eternity in Hell?
Nothing in my life has terrorized me more than the concept of Hell. So when I was finally able to prove to myself that Hell wasn't real, it made a huge difference in my life. I no longer had to worry about whether I was "really saved". I also started to trust more in God, knowing that there was no chance he was going to send me or anyone else to Hell.
Since that time, I have been reading and studying lots of spiritual teachings, and continuously reshaping my beliefs. I have come to see Christianity as one step in my spiritual evolution. I've tried to keep all of the spiritual concepts that I believe are true and beneficial, and I've discarded the limiting beliefs and concepts that never felt right in the first place.
I believe that God is love and that it is not quite accurate to call ourselves children of God, but more accurate to call ourselves God incarnate. The more we act in love toward one another, the more we are acting as our true selves, uniting in love, and teaching each other to remember who we really are. But if we continue to spread messages of fear and eternal damnation, we only separate ourselves - from each other and also from our true Divine selves.
We are God. We are Love. Let's unite in love and live up to our true Divine nature!