From the depths of the endless thread, Owlmirror asks an interesting and provocative question, so I thought I’d toss it up top for everyone to take a stab at it.
At what age were you taught about Hell? Was it described as a place of eternal torture, or just being apart from God? Was it taught in a way that you thought was serious, or might there have been some skepticism in the teacher? Were you specifically told that you yourself were in danger of going there unless you met the exacting standards of your religion? Were you told that everyone who did not believe as you were taught was doomed to hell?
Richard Dawkins describes a young girl who was traumatized by the thought that all her friends who were not of the same religion as herself were doomed to hell. I was just wondering about the sequence of when young children are taught about the “stick” of Hell, to go with the corresponding “carrot” of Heaven, in different religions and religious subcultures, and in what contexts.
I’ve known people who had Hell drilled into their heads from an early age, and I know of many sects that preach hellfire, and I know the concept has deep historical resonance (Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God, and all that), but it was never brought up that I recall in the church I attended, and definitely never threatened by anyone in my family. It was a generic cussword, and I had the general idea from popular culture of what it was all supposed to be about — flames, pitchforks, devils — but really, my image of it was mostly the product of Hot Stuff the Little Devil and such frivolities.
The first time I learned anyone took it seriously was probably in my early teens, when I vividly recall being accosted by a wild-haired screechy old lady who intercepted me as I was walking down the street and ranted at me about the Lake of Fire and an eternity of torment unless I got down on my knees and accepted Jesus into my heart right now. It was scary, all right, but it wasn’t the idea of hell that had me worried — it was that this deranged woman was unbalanced enough to be threatening kids with it.
So no, I never in my life took the threat of hell at all seriously. How about you?