One or another of my kids comes home every month talking about hell. Their friends or classmates patiently explain to them that I am going to be going to hell, and that they will, too, if they don’t get it together and believe in x, y, z.
I tried to explain to my kids that this doesn’t work, that you cannot force belief. I asked them to imagine I was full of magic beans instead of blood and bones and etc. The older children got it but the baby couldn’t figure it out. Already the concept of hell is too familiar to her. She can believe that but not magic.
I asked her if it was fair to be in control of a person, their food, their destiny, their every material comfort, and to send them to some horrible place? Like would it be okay if I sent her to her room and told her she could only eat bread? She burst out crying. I have to undo this when she is older. Right now she can’t fathom how ridiculous it is to punish a person for a belief.
Belief is involuntary. Changeable, but involuntary.
I sat the older kids down and explained to them the origins and evolution of the concept of hell in Abrahamic traditions, how it was a valley outside of Jerusalem and etc. Gehennem to Jahannam. I left out the human sacrifice bits, not sure how sound those reports are, anyway. I did impress the smell and the sight of trash burning 24/7 on them, and they understood.
Next week in the city is the Monthly Atheist Picnic, with a playground and etc. I am going to take them just so I can point to the crowd and explain that none of these people believe mommy is going to hell. I hope it comforts them a bit.
I don’t care in what religion they end up, so long as the faith they choose is respectful and empathetic to others, and not just their own.