You know, if you skip Sunday school, you are going to Hell

By Jamie Schwoerer, Patheos Contributor

I was around 12 years old when my cousin, just a month younger than me, told me I was going to hell because, for whatever reason, I was missing Sunday school that week. After my Dad and I dropped her off at home, I asked him if I was really going to go to hell for missing Sunday school. After all, it seemed to me that a loving, forgiving God who created the imperfect human race to begin with would be able to find it in his heart to forgive a child for missing Sunday school. My Dad looked me in the eye and told me that I would absolutely not be going to hell for missing one Sunday school class.

It was shortly after that conversation that I began questioning the Catholic faith. I never enjoyed going to church all that much to begin with, and I felt strongly that I wasn’t actually learning anything about what Catholicism was all about anyway. In fact, almost every sermon I heard, no matter how hard I tried, was way beyond anything I could understand. Why didn’t they try to teach us things that were applicable to life now, not life 2000 years ago? Why did I have to try so hard to understand what the priest was trying to tell me about how I should live my life according to God? And, most importantly, how on earth did singing silly songs and reading meaningless passages from a study guide tell me anything about what I was supposed to believe as a Catholic — other than, apparently, that if I missed Sunday school I would go to hell? That was clearly the only real substance my cousin got from going every week.

My parents, both raised Catholic as well, were very supportive of my decision not to get confirmed into the Catholic church. They expected me to go to the classes so I could make an educated decision, but they did not tell me what I should do. I felt that almost all of the other kids my age were simply getting confirmed because that was what was expected of them. I didn’t know a single other person who could honestly tell me he or she was being confirmed for any other reason besides, “that’s what my parents expect me to do.”

After I made the decision not to be confirmed into the Catholic church, I felt somewhat spiritually lost, but I found that I didn’t care all that much. I knew God loved me, whoever he was and in whatever form he took, and I also felt strongly that I didn’t actually need organized religion at all in order to have a conversation with him any time I wanted. For several years I prayed when I felt like it, mostly when I felt I needed God’s help with something. “Dear God, please help me pass this class,” “Dear God, please please please let that guy in the seat next to me ask me out,” and so on. Then one day I was having lunch with a woman who was especially religious, and, when someone else commented that God never answered their prayers anyway (that guy never did ask me out, come to think of it!) she said that you can’t just ask God for things all the time, you have to thank him too. Right then and there my prayers turned into thankful ones, because truthfully, I have a lot to be thankful for, and always have.

Meanwhile, I decided that, along with a Philosophy major and a Communication Arts major, I should also major in Religious Studies in college. I was fascinated with Buddhism and Hinduism, and Indian culture in general. Along with this new interest, I began to question faith and religion further. Mostly I came to believe that there was no way a loving God who created humans in his likeness, as I was brought up believing, would sent entire cultures to hell because they didn’t believe in the same Christian God that I did.

Unfortunately, I still struggle with religion and faith on a daily basis, and all of the studying has left me with little in the way of my own spiritual beliefs. I still pray occasionally, but I also feel that my life, values, personality, and core beliefs align much better with Buddhism than they do with Christianity or any other religion. I would convert to Buddhism in a heartbeat, but there is one thing holding me back — what about the God I’ve believed in for 26 years, the God I’ve prayed to, the God I would feel immensely guilty about turning my back on? I still do not have an answer to that question, that feeling of guilt, shame, and uncertainty that will not allow me, at least not yet, to fully embrace the Buddhist way of life.

Reclaiming an Instinctual Spirituality
From Atheism to Catholicism
Losing a Straw House Faith
Decentering Jesus: My Journey to Unitarian Universalism
  • Geoff Williamson

    ‘I still struggle’ seems to me is your way of saying you just find it difficult to say you’re scared. Perhaps you don’t care to admit you’re carrying fears that were drummed into you as a child and you simply haven’t got what it takes to dig your fears out and speak them aloud. Pull out the boogie man and stab the bastard through the heart. He ain’t real mate!

  • paralaxvu

    I know there are probably a lot of other things you beieved in as a child and well into your 20s that you’ve let go. Why? Same reason for this one. Of course, this one comes with the drilled-into-your-brain guilt that you will not go to heaven if you let it go, and that can be a tough one. Ubt you know darned well there have been people in your life who did not believe and yet were the best people you could imagine and you know they certainly won’t go to hell when they die, don’t you? And if they do, wouldn’t you rather be with them in whatever place it is they do go to? Yeah, me too;-)

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    • CG

      It’s a little amusing to see some of atheists trying a hand at “conversion”

      I cannot tell how to live your life, but I can perhaps suggest you take another look at Christianity or take another look at Jesus Christ (and why not since the religion is named after him lol)

      In fact on this very site you will likely find some food for thought in the progressive Christianity section or even the spiritual but not religious. Rejecting Catholicism (or likely rejecting the God of fear projected upon you at childhood) does not necessarily have to equate to rejecting God altogether. Nothing is a black and white, there’s always context or something more to consider, so I feel that one should dig a little deeper, look a little further, before unconditionally accepting or rejecting anything.

  • PhilAtheist

    Just like your argument that no God would send entire cultures to hell, you can also argue that God does not care if we talk to him or not. After all, he doesn’t make it clear that he even exists and his characteristics vary from religion to religion. He could change all that by appearing frequently and letting us know his wishes. You could argue that he is hiding because this is all a test, but then you get back to the idea of what happens when one fails the test? So if God does exist, he is either a bastard and does not deserve prayer or worship, or he does not care if we know about him. So feel free to choose what you want. I have decided that the most probable likelihood is that there is no God and if he does exist, then he should just appear and let us know.

  • Rob

    A year ago I decided to leave Christianity and become Atheist. I did this because I don’t believe in God for scientific reasons but when Christians say why not convert just in case I’m wrong, I usually tell them something like the following. I know that in Romans 10:9 it says that you must believe and confess Jesus to be saved. However, in Matthew 7:21 it says that not everyone who says ‘Lord, Lord’ will enter heaven but who does the will of God. Now if you take the common approach and say the will of God is living a righteous life; then being ‘Christ like’ is the way to heaven. You can’t get to heaven by your works but “by their fruits you shall know them” Matthew 7:16. So it seems to me whatever path you take doesn’t really matter as long as you emulate Christ because of a renewing in your heart, even if said renewing didn’t come from confessing your sins to Christ. Its round-about and kinda paradoxical I know, but if God is love and you find your way to love everyone through Buddhism, then did you really reject God?

  • Kimberley Langley

    i enjoyed your article,and have also been exploring and practicing Buddhist philosophies and meditation-and then recently, after about ten years of lay study -an everyday experience changed my life ..I was in the middle of a group repeating the “Green Tara Mantra”,( a traditional healing chant)-when i had a profoundly unnerving experience-that this chanting, felt just just like church when i was a kid-and it hit me all at once- `You shouldn’t be participating in idolizing imaginary gods“…I was like, what is going on with here? Then i wondered if this thought was just my sub continuous that had been programmed in my Anglican childhood. That perhapps this experience was just my mind bubbling up some superstitious warnings about not to worshiping outside of Christianity.Still it was convincing-Up until that moment i hadn’t taken Christianity seriously since i was about 7.Still here i was seeing that i was,a believer deep down.I did not take this Christian conversion experience as extraordinary good news..If it were not for the Buddha,i would never have known that Jesus taught many of The same truths in his own culture,This intellectual realization has sent me back to exploring my Christian roots with renewed curiosity and interest in the historical Jesus.The faith part just got turned on like a light bulb through that experience of just knowing myself to be a subject of God..As for reading the bible-There are a lot of misunderstandings to be had either through poor translation and deliberate additions-as well as the modern misguided notion that parables are meant literally-something i hope gets culturally resolved soon,Stil- if one has ears to hear… for my inner budhist, the Dali Lama himself has been heard advising us all to go deeper into our own traditions