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  • Writer's pictureJanice Selbie


Halloween was such a problem when I was religious: I wasn't comfortable letting my kids celebrate anything about death or ghosts, but I didn't want to deny them the fun of dressing up and scoring heaps of candy treasure. What's a Christian parent to do? Enter "Harvest Festival" at practically every Evangelical church, where kids can dress up as animals or Bible characters (within reason, of course. I don't recall too many Jezebels or Salomes) & celebrate God's bounty! Come to think of it, that does sound an awful lot like any number of Pagan festivals celebrating the change of seasons, but I digress.

Looking back as an atheist, it is weird to me that I had any fear around Halloween. Wasn't my God an awesome god, powerful enough to protect my offspring from any demons that might try to enter them through unholy Halloween costumes or ghost stories?

Here is what the fear was really about:


There are many branches of Christianity, all with slightly different takes on salvation. Some are of the "Once saved, always saved" variety, while others believe it is possible to lose one's salvation. As you can imagine, the latter keeps Believers on the edge of their seat, hypervigilant lest one wrong move (or thought or word) should undo all of their righteous living and result in them being cast into The Pit. In addition, there is also the very real possibility that God might withhold His favor for some reason, allowing said Believer to die unexpectedly. To die without being in a proper state of repentance guarantees a one-way trip to that Lake of Unquenchable Fire.

In my practice as a religious recovery consultant, I interact with many intelligent people who have rejected religion entirely but remain plagued by the fear of Hell that was instilled in them during childhood. There is some good news on this front, however. Just as we have reached outer space and not found any evidence of a literal heaven, there has been pretty significant research done related to what lies beneath our feet - and no Hell has been discovered!

From whence cometh the stories of eternal damnation, fire, and brimstone? One need look no farther than the great Wikipedia to learn the history of Hell's origins.

The problem is, phobias are not rational - and this includes stigiophobia or hadephobia (fear of Hell). Simply reading that Hell is mythological rather than literal will not undo decades of being taught otherwise. Additionally, when we learn something and the lesson is encompassed by fear, those beliefs become extremely tenacious. Indeed, my simply assuring clients that "There is no such thing as Hell" provides little-to-no comfort. The hard work truly must be done by the one recovering from such despicable teachings.

I feared Hell for a time after losing my own faith, but my greater fear was that I could potentially be condemning my precious daughters to Hell if they caught my unbelief. This was a particularly agonizing fear to wrestle with. What worked for me was to read and watch as much as I could about the origins of Hell mythology, including videos from other former Christians who had overcome their own fear.

Deconstructing long-held and terrifying beliefs takes courage and tenacity. You are on a safari, of sorts, exploring what you've been taught and deciding what (if any) souvenirs to take with you on the journey ahead. Here is an article I found helpful

as well as some videos I found helpful in deconstructing my fear of Hell:

You might also want to read these books:

Trusting Doubt, by Valerie Tarico

The God Virus, by Darrel Ray

Jesus Interrupted, by Bart Ehrman,

and of course, Leaving the Fold, by Marlene Winell.

I know that nothing I say can actually convince you that there is no Hell to fear, but I hope I've at least been able to provide you with some resources to help you confront this fear. Mine has completely disappeared such that it no longer occupies any space in my life. If you need someone to talk to as you work through this issue, please reach out via my website. I'd love to hear from you.

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