Imagine that you are growing up in a culture that believes it is fighting a war. From infancy you are taught the dangers of the enemy. You are taught what you must look out for and what you must say. You are taught what you must be aware of and from a child you are taught to be a good soldier. You are taught to be brave and to fight the good fight. You are taught that if need be you should even be willing to die for your cause. You are taught that all outsiders are against your cause. That those who don’t believe as you do would seek to overthrow all you hold dear and do great harm to all of you. Your culture must be defended at all costs.
Time goes on and you grow older. You prepare yourself for battle and you dream of your first encounter. Oh, how you will vanquish your foes when you finally meet in glorious combat! Oh, the acclaim you will win for the cause! And finally you venture forth shakily brandishing your rhetoric only to find that no army awaits. You try to convince yourself that a few encounters with strangers were skirmishes but as time goes on you realize that the most hostile participant was yourself. You are stymied. You expected to find an army in grand array but instead you found a civilization of people. People who loved and laughed and cried and lived freely.
And after sometime you begin to accept that this is real. And you begin to wonder and hope. Maybe you, too, can live this free life. Maybe you can lay down your weapons. Maybe you can live without fear of attack. Your spirits lift. You begin to feel joy. You want to rush home and tell your family and friends and community the wonderful news. There is no war. You don’t have to fight. You can be free. But if you tell them suddenly you become everything they have prepared all their lives to defend themselves from. You become the outsider who would tear them down and who seeks to destroy them.
You become the enemy.
But all you wanted for them was freedom and the peace of knowing that they don’t have to fight.
Can you imagine this? If you can then maybe you can understand a little bit of what it is like to convert to atheism (or simply relax your views a bit more than is “acceptable”) after growing up in a conservative religious environment. Maybe you can understand the nausea and pain and fear of those who leave their faiths but cannot retain relationships with those they love and care about. Some persons who leave behind a deeply religious faith face actual physical danger. Others face only the opposition of attitude and perception but don’t underestimate the power of attitude.
It hurts to realize that you are now the nightmare about which people tell their children.
It hurts to realize that suddenly your point of view has become invalid because you disagree on theology. Suddenly you are a non-entity. Everything you do or say has become suspect. Your actions will be judged based on the new perception that you are enemy and no longer based on who you are.
If there were a Hell this is what it would feel like.