Archive for Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Reader asks what kids learn from threat of a Hell

December 23, 2008


Dear Dr. Wes & Kelly: I am a retired teacher and social worker, also past CASA advocate. I’ve spent a half-century evolving my spiritual beliefs after studying most of them to some extent. I was raised Protestant. It is my strong belief that teaching children that there is a Hell and that they might go to it is emotionally abusive and intellectually irresponsible. This is not a popular view here in the Bible Belt — north of the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex. What are your views on this subject?

Wes: I got my start working with kids in United Methodist youth ministry, where my father had served for more than 40 years. I was tagging along on high school youth camps while still in grade school. Many of those groovy teens were dead center in the good, bad and ugly of the late ’60s and early ’70s. Even as a child I noticed my father meeting them as they were and accepting them with an unconditional love that forms the foundation of the New Testament. At no point do I recall him mentioning Hell as a central theme in his outreach to teenagers.

Your question is for me less about theology than it is about methods of successfully engaging and communicating with teenagers. Kids are pretty savvy consumers of information, quite capable of turning off good messages presented in a way they consider demeaning or derogatory. Whether the threat of Hell is abusive or irresponsible I’m not here to judge, but I can tell you it’s is not a particularly effective method of conveying the richness of several thousand years of religious thought and tradition.

I think your question comes at a particularly interesting moment. Some believe that religious extremism (I’ll let you decide exactly what that term means) has reached its worldwide zenith and is creating a wave of backlash arguing there is really NOTHING good about religion. Faith is at the root of all problems of humanity. I find that a sad and daunting perspective largely because I grew up seeing firsthand the value of the spiritual journey you describe. I understand the critics, but I personally hope that the best aspects of religion, spirituality and theology will win out in the end. For my money, an emphasis on Hell won’t draw many young people in that direction and will instead simply feed the backlash.

In 1990 over 400 people came to my dad’s funeral, a high percentage former members and families of those youth groups. Some had themselves gone into ministry. Eulogizing my father before a standing-room only congregation, I realized just how successful he’d been in reaching out to young people with a message of grace.

Kelly: Although I am agnostic, I find all religion particularly interesting. I don’t believe that in my 18 years of living that I’m ready to choose and follow a religion. I haven’t experienced enough for that to be determined. Perhaps when I grow older I will be able to decide. Also, I find that a lot of the religions I have looked into are very male-dominated, which I strongly dislike. But that’s for another discussion.

I do see some very positive points in having a religious faith. Religion gives people a strong identity and sense of being. It gives them guidance and teaches them values and morals, a sense of right versus wrong. Religion provides a security blanket for those who want to know what is beyond this world. Yet, it depends on one’s perspective. Some may look at one religion with delight, while others are shocked at what they see and hear of it.

Fortunately, we are all entitled to our opinions and to worship freely. These rights have been embedded within our Constitution and echoed throughout our history. Once you take away someone’s right to worship however or whomever they please, you’re taking away something so powerful and strong that people may lose their foundation and sense of being.

There are religions that tend to go against the grain of what we may perceive is right. When is it OK to put a foot down and oppose these beliefs? What gives us the power to choose for others what they can and cannot believe? You may not agree with what is being preached, but neither can you stop it. It is their faith and they can choose what to teach to their congregation. Unless the religious group physically threatens or harms someone, there isn’t much you can do. You may not respect what is being taught, but you do have to tolerate it.

In a perfect world we would be able to live peacefully with no conflicts. But that will likely never happen. Instead, we must try to do our best to resolve conflict to keep peace between each other.

— Dr. Wes Crenshaw is a board-certified family psychologist and director of the Family Therapy Institute Midwest. Kelly Kelin is a senior at Free State High School. Opinions and advice given here are not meant as a substitute for psychological evaluation or therapy services. Send your questions about adolescent issues (limited to 200 words) to All correspondence is strictly confidential.


BrianR 9 years, 6 months ago

There is no hell. There is only France.- Frank Zappa

yellowhouse 9 years, 6 months ago

By the age of 12 Jesus was already teaching in the temple. People can be held accountable at an early age. They should be taught about Gods love at an early age. Anybody who has accepted Gods love does not need to worry about hell. Hell can be right here on earth.Especially for people who are wrongly accused and persecuted for years on end!

Flap Doodle 9 years, 6 months ago

It gets them ready for the fear-mongering global warming nutbars.

tangential_reasoners_anonymous 9 years, 6 months ago

"There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio,Than are dreamed of in your philosophy".

tangential_reasoners_anonymous 9 years, 6 months ago

“...There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio,Than are dreamed of in your philosophy...."( Py is nearBy )

geniusmannumber1 9 years, 6 months ago

Which comment is more inane -- yellowhouse thinking he/she's Jesus, or demonfury thinking he/she's disproved the existence of God?

cthulhu_4_president 9 years, 6 months ago

A logical argument against the existance of a Christian Heaven:Premise: No suffering occurs in HeavenPremise: Humans retain their "selves" (memories, emotions) in Heaven.So if I die tomorrow and go to heaven, or the rapture comes or whatever, I will no doubt know of a human bieng (or more than one!) whose sins will be so great that he/she will not be joining me in heaven. It could be a best-friend, or a model that I thought was (sinfully) attractive when I was alive. I then use my God-given free will to feel sadness and pity when thinking about those who will be in Purgatory or Hell. So now I am suffering, in Heaven....where nobody suffers.Not trying to be confrontational here, just an interesting philosophical mind-bender. Of course, I could be missing out on some new avant-garde interpretation of Heaven where certain types of suffering are allowed or something. I'm not giving enough credit to the church in thinking that they haven't closed this loophole in the faith yet.

pancho_villa 9 years, 6 months ago

Dr. Wes and Kelly,Wow. Just wow. I can't imagine a more compelling argument for putting this column out of business. Totally unqualified columnists dispensing advice on the existence of spiritual things 2 days before Christmas.Wow. Just wow. Only in Lawrence.

tangential_reasoners_anonymous 9 years, 6 months ago

cthulhu: "... credit to the church in thinking that they haven't closed this loophole in the faith yet."What is religion but the assemblage of unclosed loopholes?What less would be required for... faith?

cthulhu_4_president 9 years, 6 months ago

Or rather, Tan, loopholes that science hasn't closed yet?

wawiz 9 years, 6 months ago

I practice Dudeism... where there is no heaven, and there is no hell. We only have abiding, White Russians, and bowling.

Luxor 9 years, 6 months ago

They learn to swallow the crap they learn in church without questioning it because they're scared to death.

miniflavors 9 years, 6 months ago

WOW... There are alot of nut balls on here...I agree with geniusmannumber1and demonfury...>> well is just a demon...And sounds like alot of people need to stock up on ice cubs..Ouch.......... Hey if it is not won't have to worry about ice cubs...But if it is true........You better get a life jacket..Fire retardent......because there will be alot of water from melting ice cubs... where yall are goin..ouch:)No worries.......

Ken Miller 9 years, 6 months ago

Q: What are you likely to see at Wrigley Field on Opening Day?A: Ice Cubs

cthulhu_4_president 9 years, 6 months ago

75x55: You have a good point, and I said in my post that I may be working under theologically incorrect premises, but you are also presuming that humanity is not preserved upon ascension to the holy gates, something that could be equally untrue. With no proof either way, neither of our points can truly walk the walk. I am just operating under what seem to be popularly accepted ideals of Paradise in this Christian society. I am open to interpretations though. As such, I dont' think my premise is "fatally flawed" but only "possibly flawed", as much as yours is.

Leslie Swearingen 9 years, 6 months ago

People can be educated into being totally stupid. It's amazing when you think about it. I believe in the existence of Heaven and Hell. My parish priest said in reply to that question that he has no idea who is going to be going to hell, but as soon as God notifies him he will pass the information along. I do believe the questioner was hoping to hear a specific person was hell bound, and they were very disappointed. But then Catholics don't have a problem reconciling evolution and faith as some of the most prominent scientists are Catholic.

tangential_reasoners_anonymous 9 years, 6 months ago

Hey Cleo,I saw your protest about the commentary of others the other day, and I started to reply, but... well, that Ronda has been monopolizing my time, lately (keeping me on the short leash, so to speak) .You'll find in these largely anonymous forums that folks will post just about anything, often with the sole intent of provoking dialog. I'm sure that many depart dramatically from their online personae when offline. For instance, although Mother Teresa is one of my few personal heroes in life, if you were to explore my comment history, you would find that I've had some pretty disparaging things to say about organized religion and about Catholicism in particular.Maybe you've already gleaned much, as I see you're still around. Make no mistake... whatever comes your way, you are a valued addition to this Isle of Misfit Toys.

PatKirk 9 years, 6 months ago

I read that the kids who went in and shot up Columbine thought that after their suicides they would go to a better place. Heaven and Hell are both real and Heaven and Hell should be taught. There's no way of knowing if it would have saved some lives if those two boys knew that you don't go to Heaven after creating the carnage they did.

magonamon_16 9 years, 5 months ago

I think that its important to start at an early age and teach your kids about the love of God and the miricle of Jesus dying for your sins.As they get older, you can gradually work up to explaining heaven and hell to them. Though you don't want to just say, "If you don't accept Jesus as your personal savior, you'll burn in Hell for all eternity." Talk to them in a way that they understand it.

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