“It was Saturday that Jesus Christ went to Hell.”
Most Westerners are at least vaguely familiar with the popular Christian version of Heaven: pearly gates, streets of gold, winged angels and the Righteous, with their bodies made perfect and immortal, singing the praises of God forever. What’s surprising is how few people have actually thought about what a nightmare this kind of existence would be.
I once punched a girl in the face for saying, "You're dirty like your lesbian moms," all because a boy she liked was interested in me. I didn't think about it; I just swung. Then I dared her to say it again. She didn't. She knew better.
Three years ago, my sister, who had long struggled with mental illness, hit her limit and jumped off a freeway bridge. She lived.
The following is an excerpt from Kathryn Gin Lum's new book, Damned Nation: Hell in America from the Revolution to Reconstruction (Oxford University Press, 2014). This excerpt was first published in Salon and is reprinted here with permission.
Last Friday evening, I was shopping for food at the packed Trader Joe’s on Sixth Avenue in New York. I like shopping there. The prices are pretty good, the employees friendly, the store inviting.
A homophobic “rap” video posted last year recently resurfaced to the glee and mockery of Internet users everywhere.
“I don’t know, what do you think,” was my mother’s standard reply for all of my metaphysical inquiries as a young child. Santa Claus? The Easter Bunny? God? “I don’t know, what do you think?” She is agnostic, and her answer expressed her connection to the unknowable. She believed it was important and encouraged me to engage the great mysteries of existence and to decide for myself what may or may not hold true.
One shelf of my bookcase is now groaning under the weight of its contents. It's the God slot, and in the years since the publication of Richard Dawkins's The God Delusion in 2006 and Christopher Hitchens's God Is Not Great in 2007, there has been an addition every few weeks from enraged philosophers, theologians, historians and journalists, all trying to convince readers of the shoddiness of the New Atheists. Peter Hitchens's Rage Against God was the latest arrival last week.