If you were to die tonight, are you sure that you’d go to heaven?
I heard these words so often growing up. Ever concerned with our eternal salvation, pastors and speakers would pose this question to its captive audience in an effort to jolt us with a dose of reality. Time was running out! What if we did die in a car crash on the way home? What if the rapture happened before the morning dawn broke through the dark, night sky? After all, it could happen at any time, so you should always be prepared and vigilant! Inevitably, someone would be scared into an alter call or raising their hand while everyone else’s eyes were closed in prayer. The speaker wanted to know who had made “the decision”.
I was in constant turmoil over that state of my soul. I was usually one to “re-dedicate” my life to Christ, just to make sure my bases were covered. You see, we were always told that once we accepted Jesus into our hearts, we no longer needed to have fear because we knew we were heaven-bound. The problem was, I never felt that “peace that passes all understanding”. Clearly, I was doing something wrong, otherwise I would have felt this esoteric peace. I spent my childhood in fear because of my faith. With a framework of what I would call “hellfire and brimstone-light”, it’s pretty easy to see how that could be.
-There were puppet shows with a Satan puppet, dancing around/fighting with the good guys to “Sinbusters”. Yes. They defiled Ghostbusters. It’s probably also why puppets freak me the fuck out.
-We sang songs with lyrics like,
Now, Satan is an evil charmer,
He’s hungry for a soul to hurt.
And without your Holy armor,
He will eat you for dessert.
-We were told stories of demon possession and exorcisms.
-I remember a specific story about a biker in Hell’s Angels or something who claimed Satan grabbed him while he was in bed. (I think he was also tripping when it happened, so…)
-I read books like Josh McDowell’s “Love Killer”, where demons actively try to get a good Christian girl and her atheist boyfriend to bang. No…seriously. Spoiler alert: They don’t bang, but he does get AIDS.
-Then there’s this gem; the ultimate showdown between Jesus and Satan. It was performed by a pantomime group, all in costume, at a youth convention. For some reason, it scared the shit out of me. I think because of the voices. I was brainwashed. Shut up!
-Then there was the spiritual warfare. Vans before trips would break down because Satan was throwing up road blocks.
Yeah. Mike, who grew up Lutheran and did not have any do this stuff shoved down his throat, once exclaimed after hearing one of these stories, No wonder you were so fucked up.
And fucked up I was.
I seriously had my plan for what I needed to do if Satan ever appeared to me as an angel of light so I could make sure I wasn’t being tricked. I had trouble going to sleep at night because I was terrified that demons were torturing me. They circled my room in the shadows, plotting and scheming. I prayed with every fiber of my being and sang praise songs in my head, pleading with God to protect me and my mind. But, of course, the more one clings to God, the more Satan tortures a person dontchaknow.
I used to have recurring dreams where I was being chased by demons and Satan. There was also the one where I die. I stand before an elevator which will shuttle me to heaven or hell. But I don’t know where I’m going until the elevator opens. If the color inside is blue, I’m going to heaven. If it’s red, hell. Most of the time, it was red.
It wasn’t until just a few years ago, when I stopped believing that there were any such things as a devil, demons, or physical hell, that my fear of such things disappeared completely. Before, no matter how hard I prayed or begged for help, I never received peace or comfort.
While my belief in all things demonic no longer exists, the scars of a lifetime of fear remain. It was actually my therapist who pointed this out to me. I told her that I want to work on managing my anxiety and panic attacks. In the course of conversation, my evangelical upbringing came up. My therapist mentioned that it seemed that there was a lot there that would cause my constant fear and anxiety. I had never connected the dots before. Perhaps so much of the anxiety that I experience today is an offshoot of seeds that were sown so many years ago. Perhaps I would have been an anxious person anyway. In fact, I’m sure I would have been. I’ve honestly wondered if evangelical culture could be a cause for my fibromyalgia. Enduring the actual torture that was all that evangelical nonsense certainly did not help.