Southern gentlewomen once wore undergarments called “unmentionables.” Eventually we Southerners became either more enlightened or more libidinous (depending on one’s personal interpretation) and today skimpy bathing suits worn openly in public are far more revealing than the corsets, bloomers and petticoats of yore. But I believe we Southerners still have an embarrassing secret that we refuse to discuss or even mention in public: the systematic emotional, psychological and spiritual abuse of millions of children under the guise of adults’ “religious freedom.” This abuse, which I hope to help bring to light and end, is the Christian dogma of “hell.”
It comes in the form of the seemingly innocent phrase “Jesus saves,” which is the basis of the Christian religion. But Jesus obviously doesn’t save Christians from suffering in this life, or from death. So what does he save them from? The only thing he saves them from, as far as I can tell, is eternal damnation, or hell. Therefore, in order for anyone to be “saved” according to orthodox Christianity, they must first be condemned to hell.
This creates a terrifying predicament for young, highly impressionable children who are told that a schizophrenic God loves them unconditionally, but will either cause or allow them to suffer for all eternity if they don’t “believe” in him.
What would a judge or jury do, if a human father built a torture chamber next to his children’s bedrooms and threatened to punish them unrelentingly if they “messed up”? Well, that’s what popes, priests, pastors and Sunday school teachers do, in a spiritual sense, when they threaten children with hell.
In a previous article, I made the rather obvious point that religious organizations like the Roman Catholic Church and quasi-religious organizations like the Boy Scouts of America should not be allowed to keep child abusers from justice in the quest to protect their images and generate revenues. But there are other forms of child abuse.
What about the psychological, emotional and spiritual abuse of children? What about the many churches that teach children that Jesus saves only the “chosen few,” and that anyone who thinks independently and considers the “good news” to be irrational or immoral is bound for an “eternal hell”? How can this be allowed in a nation whose creed is equal rights and justice for everyone? What about the rights of children not to be abused by adults?
Having grown up in evangelical Christian churches, I have great empathy for children who live under the shadow of hell and it disturbs me greatly that our “free press” and government refuse to lift a finger to help them, and that most Southerners fail to say a word in their defense.
Hell is child abuse, pure and simple. The religious freedom of adults should not allow them to abuse children.
Michael R. Burch is a Nashville-based editor and publisher of Holocaust poetry and other “things literary” at www.thehypertexts.com.