I'm going to hell.
You read that right.
When I die, I'm going straight there. Maybe it'll be in a hand basket, maybe it'll be through some other sassy idiomatic means but regardless, that's where I'll be when I bite the dust. And to tell you the truth I'd absolutely love to see you there. I think it'll be wonderful. There'll be a whole group of us sinners down there, most the population of the entire world in fact, just sipping mint juleps I'm sure, playing pinochle or gin rummy, wearing our Sunday best just looking out upon the lakes of fire from our porches in our rocking chairs, fanning ourselves with old newspapers and commenting in our Foghorn Leghorn accents, "I say, I say it is mighty hot down here. Lord almighty!"
Why I've decided to depict all us future sufferers as old Southern Belles and Gents I don't know. It sounded funny. Mostly because it helps me make light of something so preposterous that I find it hard anyone could possibly believe. And that's "HELL!" You've heard of it. Fire and brimstone and eternal damnation and suffering. All your worst fears and nightmares come to life, played out before you like a never ending snuff film. Sounds like a terrible place. But mostly because it sounds so terrible, the older I get, the more I feel confident in knowing it doesn't exist. And if it does, I'm sure that's where I'm going. We all are. Because it's impossible for one Religion's rules or dogma to be exactly right over another's. There are so many Religions in this world it's astounding. And most all of them believe different things. And even if they're rooted in similarities, like Christianity, they make sure to distance themselves enough from other denominations to ensure they are the, "One, true Religion."
Growing up Christian and raised in a Church with its own set of rules I believed a lot of the imagery for a long time. Basically if you do good and believe Jesus is God's son then you get to party it up in this beautiful puffy cloud room called Heaven and drink wine and gorge on the fatted calf with the other people who believed the same thing. And if you do bad then you go to hell where Satan tortures you and you get to burn forever and ever because God hates people who don't believe what he tells them to.
That's most Church dogmas in a nutshell. "Do this or else fire." Thankfully, the older I get the sillier it all sounds. The more time I spend living in an array of diversity the more I realize shades of grey are the color palette of life. But despite this seemingly bleak hue of coexistence, life is rather colorful. It is precisely those different shades of grey that make it that way.
For the uninitiated, I've always been open with the fact that I am a Christian. But not as you might think. I don't believe most of the things other "Christians" do because I think they're man made, not divinely inspired. I believe in "love and treat others the way you would desire to be loved and treated", and that about sums it up. For me, all other traits of what should dictate how to live as a "good" person come from that golden rule, and the acceptance of others for being different is an inherent part of that because I want them to love and treat me with the same respect in return. Though when I simply say, "I'm Christian" I'm immediately placing a label on myself. When I say it I'm acknowledging the immediate subconscious judgment I'll be met with by the person I'm talking to, whether it be positive or negative. Because life itself, all its meanings and all its purposes, is far too abstract to convey in comprehensible terms without labels. Labels are words that help us classify complex notions, ideas, and things. Like the names of colors. What "color" truly is, is a spectrum of light in its many different forms. But we call each color by its own specific name in order to put a label on what we see so we can understand what it is without digging down into the abstract. Conversations would be awfully long if we spoke in literal terms one hundred percent of the time. So rather than say all that we simplify it with red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, violet, and their variations thereafter. The English words for colors.
Now say I use the Japanese words for those same colors. Aka, daidaiiro, kiiro, midori, ao, aiiro, murasaki.
When you think of simple labeling words such as terms that represent the, technically, abstract concept of color you don't consider their representations in any other language but English to be false simply because they are not English. That's called ignorance. We accept that other languages can be translated into all other languages because at the end of the day we all communicate the same way, with labels, or, our own words. Though they are unique to a certain people they are simultaneously the same as every other language, just different. One of life's beautifully sensible contradictions. They are the same but not the same and it makes sense. And that's all language is; different "labels" used to identify the same abstruse concepts. Like color.
Now consider Religion, or more broadly belief and or faith, the same way. I define faith the same way the dictionary does, "confidence or trust in a person or thing." That's it. And in that definition I don't see the words God, Jesus, Buddha, Krishna, Shiva, Zeus, Muhammad, etc. They're not there. Faith, simply, is the confidence or trust that what you believe to be the truth of your life is truth. It may not be a Universal truth but it is "truth" nonetheless because it is yours and it is how you define your life. And everyone is, or should be, entitled to their own truth because your life is your own and no one else's.
But seeking to simplify the abstract or make comprehensible the incomprehensible is not something everyone is interested in doing. As I mature I find that not all are like me. We all do. When we were young it was okay to assume everyone was the same because, at that age, grasping the complexity of individualism was too difficult, so assumption provided the simplest answer; that everyone else should be like us because we make sense to ourselves. And that rational was fine when we were children. But we're adults now. And being an adult comes with a lot of responsibilities, one of those primarily being the acceptance of others for being different than ourselves the same way we don't dispute that difference in language exists as it is just a natural part of existence. Just like not everyone has brown hair and brown eyes, not all skin colors are the same, not all sexual preferences are the same, not all beliefs will or should be the same. They will be independent to us and us alone because they are ours, because we must rationalize and make sense of our individualism in how it makes sense to us independently from all others on Earth.
Though, again, as I get older the more I find that not all people are like me. Not everyone is as interested in pursuing their individualism as I am. I'm a left handed, right brained person. I think logically in my day to day tasks but more often than not few things interest me as much as abstraction, spirituality, and art. That's who I am. And whenever I urge others to get in touch with their spirituality, to think of life more abstractly, the more I realize not everyone is interested in doing that. And I have to be okay with that because I'm not a child anymore, I can't expect everyone to want exactly what I want. Some people are more logical than me, more scientific, and certainly more mathematically inclined. Some people just like living in the day to day without considering the big picture because it scares them. Some people like accepting the "Universal truth" or an organization because it relieves the pressure of having to solve those problems on their own. And so we have Religion. And we have to be okay with that. It's inevitable.
However, unlike genetic differences, religion is a man made label developed to put reason to something we all have in common; our desire to understand our meaning in this life. In itself Religion is not something or any one thing. It's meant to classify the broad strokes of belief that many of us share. If everyone said they were an individualist, no one would understand what that meant, what their basic principles are, and how they, broadly, define life and their place in it. Saying you are Christian, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, Taoist, etc. provides a label to the rest of the world and to yourself so we can classify what our basic belief system is and then categorize others away into a compartment inside our brain reserved for someone else and the rest who are "like" them in order to understand them the way we all understand colors; simply. Most often, people need to make things more simple in order to understand them, not more complex. But of course no two people are the same, however this kind of classification is needed in order to prevent our heads from exploding.
Because Religion is man made it also provides a set of rules or laws that have been created by human beings, mostly men, and oddly enough all of them were created thousands of years ago. Modern Religions can spring up from time to time like Scientology, but even then most of them, like Mormonism, draw from a greater labeled Religion like Christianity, which in itself is a broad Religion with many denominations. In a simple way of putting it, Religion is terribly convoluted.
People need rules. Not everyone but most, because complete self actualization is often too difficult and too scary since it usually leads to the knowledge that you are alone in the universe. This isn't implying that you aren't in the company of others, but that because you are truly one of a kind then technically no rules apply to you the way they apply to anyone else and no one will completely understand you or the universe the way you understand yourself and your universe. Because the universe truly is yours. But it's also hers, his, and ours. It exists completely as itself but its true meaning will, and must, be different to each and every one of us. Because all of the answers to all the questions of "why?" will never be found. Some of them may be, some of them have been and we can share them amongst ourselves, but the ultimate "why" always exists, and the answers you find to your "why's" will always be different from anyone else's answers because you and everyone else is unique.
Of course we have "laws" that must be obeyed to ensure things are kept in order and to prevent chaos and anarchy from breaking out, but truth be told, when you first find self realization most people hold themselves in a higher position than the rest of the world because things that seem petty, like laws, rules, and Religion, no longer apply to them and it is extremely liberating. They have seen their "God" or whatever it is they'd like to label the answer to their question "why", and then they sit on a throne of "understanding" because they see that no one else can truly understand them. It's what I like the call the "Enlightenment Fallacy". That once you've achieved self actualization, or enlightenment, you're finished. Not that your life is over, but that you no longer have to seek the greater truths because you have found them, as they apply to you personally at least, and you get to watch the rest of the world scramble around trying to do the same thing and laugh at how silly their struggle seems.
But self actualization should more so be considered as Prometheus' fire, something that is "taken from the Gods" and given to humanity in order to assist in progress and civilization. Enlightenment is viewed by the public too often as a selfish act when what it truly should be is the most selfless thing you could ever hope to accomplish. You have had your consciousness dipped into the white hot heat of understanding the abstract and rather than letting it consume you, you allow it to fuel you and let that fuel propel you into helping others do the same. But, to make a complex situation even more complex, you must also understand that the fire of self actualization that fuels individuals isn't always the same as what fuels you. Your savior may be Jesus Christ and someone else's Muhammad and you have to be okay with that. Now most people won't be because Religion has a great way of indoctrinating people into following the rules they've created in order to control individuals and extract money from them. I don't mean this in an entirely negative way, churches and groups need contributions in order to keep those organizations running. Many of them do good work throughout the community and offer help for those who are seeking the answers to their lives, and those monetary contributions from members justify the means and allow the good works to continue.
Though it's unfortunate that despite most Religions having seemingly good intentions, several of them push the perspective that individualism is more dangerous than sameness. Because imagine having a bunch of think for yourselfers running around, tearing down the fabric of how the world has worked since its beginning. That's bad for business. And believe me, it is a business. Self actualization seems dangerous to most because it is the understanding that you are who you choose to be and you need no one else's acceptance or approval to be that person. You are allowed to reject all other forms of Religion and belief because they are not your own, and the belief that you have found is the most substantial to yourself and, truly, all you need. Though it never entitles you to rejecting others for being different since, in a way, it is exactly the same thing you're asking of others. It should always be, so long as no one gets hurt or discriminated against, we are free to believe what we choose. And I mention the avoidance of discrimination but I believe it is the fundamental building block of ignorance, which only limits your own ability to achieving great self actualization. But of course true enlightenment is free of conditions, meaning when it is achieved there is an automatic understanding that hurt and discrimination have no place in this world.
Because of all these things and the knowledge that many religions and beliefs have existed since the dawn of man, and since you are capable of creating your own faith, it is impossible to say that heaven and hell exist specifically the way you say they are and even more impossible to prove. But you might be thinking, "Aha! Proof isn't necessary because I have faith and truly that is all you need!" Of course that argument, which you hear almost daily, is saying that the faith or beliefs of others different than yours is wrong because how you define an indefinable abstract is "correct", and since others define the same indefinable abstract differently they are wrong. Therefore wrongness is ultimately decided arbitrarily and lines are drawn and people argue and it's a shame. How easy and pleasant it would be to find interest in our differences and explore them and personally grow from what we find rather than shut down individuality in favor of conformity because we are afraid of our personal infinite potential.
Since there are so many different walks of life and so many different versions of hell, it makes me certain I'm bound to end up in at least nineteen or twenty of them. On the flip side I guess it could mean I'd accidentally end up in some version of heaven as well since, at the end of the day, it's all arbitrary.
So hey, if it turns out there really was one specific set of rules we were supposed to follow, then great, good for the few who found them. But chances are, considering how different we all are and how differently we interpret the meaning of life and our place in it, none of us will have found it or ever will. Because Universal truth does not exist, but individual truth universally does. That's why I know I'm going to hell. And it's likely you'll be there too. And so will the rest of the world. And if all of us end up there together because we were all wrong, what's the difference between that existence and this? Between "wrong" and "right"? I guess that means, technically, we're all living in hell at this very moment. Strange. From where I'm sitting, when I look out at it all, it's quite nice actually. There's a lot of good, beautiful people here in hell. Honestly, I couldn't think of a place I'd rather be.