All right then, I’ll go to Hell: Huck and me

One of the ironies of being told that I’m going to Hell (for being a lesbian) is that it takes away the threat of Hell for my other sins.

My irreligious friends:
Please bear with me over the next few posts.
You might find this interesting, too.

In The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Huck travels down the river with Jim, a runaway slave. Jim is captured. (He is held by a man named Phelps!)

Helping Jim escape would be a sin. Jim is property. Freeing him would be stealing. To prevent himself from that sin – to save his soul – Huck writes a letter to Jim’s owner, telling her where to find Jim.

I felt good and all washed clean of sin for the first time I had ever felt so in my life, and I knowed I could pray now.

Before Huck sends the letter, he thinks about all the things Jim has done for him. He starts to think of Jim not as property, but as a human being.

and then I happened to look around and see that paper.

It was a close place. I took it up, and held it in my hand. I was a-trembling, because I’d got to decide, forever, betwixt two things, and I knowed it. I studied a minute, sort of holding my breath, and then says to myself:

“All right, then, I’ll go to hell”—and tore it up.

It was awful thoughts and awful words, but they was said. And I let them stay said; and never thought no more about reforming. I shoved the whole thing out of my head, and said I would take up wickedness again, which was in my line, being brung up to it, and the other warn’t. And for a starter I would go to work and steal Jim out of slavery again; and if I could think up anything worse, I would do that, too; because as long as I was in, and in for good, I might as well go the whole hog.

I’ve not read much literature (that’s my Love’s department), but I’ve read Huck Finn a half-dozen times. Children of an impressionable age – say, younger than 30 years old – should not be permitted to read Huck Finn. Other than the Gospels, it may be the most subversive thing ever written.

We see the screaming irony here: Huck thinks he’s going to Hell for freeing a slave?

More to my point: Huck decides that, if he’s going to Hell anyway, he’d just as well “go the whole hog” of wickedness.

I, a gay Christian, am in Huck’s shoes.

If I’m going to Hell anyway, what incentive do I have to be good? Atheists (gay, straight or other) don’t have any religious incentive to be good, either, but Hell doesn’t frighten them (or Heaven tempt them). When they’re dead, they’re dead. For a Christian, it’s more fraught. There is a real consequence to sin: Hell.

Why should I be good at all? I’m going to Hell anyway. If I obey the civil law (or don’t get caught), what difference does it make how good or bad I am?

It’s bizarrely counterproductive to tell me I am going to Hell. My lesbianism hurts no one, but if I have no fear of Hell, I have no religious hesitation about hurting others.

In coming episodes, guest appearances by
Immanuel Kant, Martin Luther and Fred Phelps …

18 thoughts on “All right then, I’ll go to Hell: Huck and me

  1. Atheist here…

    I don’t know you very well yet so I’m not sure if you’ll appreciate this comment, but look…

    Christian morality is not set in stone (other than the Commandments, I guess). If it were, you wouldn’t be chuckling over the thought of Huck going to Hell for freeing a slave. If it were, we’d all be stoning adulterers.

    It’s easy for me to say, but the much harder and more meaningful morality to me is the one that you wrestle over and figure out for yourself — not the one that’s handed down to you by authority figures and pieces of ancient writing. If there’s a God, you know he speaks in more ways than by whispering in the ear of some Middle-Eastern dude two thousand years ago — he speaks in the words and actions of others that touch your soul, and in the ways he shapes the world, including the person he’s made you to be.

    Here’s one of my favorite quotes from a Christian astronomer, the first woman to be paid to do astronomy in the United States: “I know of no picture in the history of religion more weakly pitiable than that of the Holy Church trembling before Galileo, and denouncing him because he found in the Book of Nature truths not stated in their own Book of God — forgetting that the Book of Nature is also a Book of God. It seems to be difficult for any one to take in the idea that two truths cannot conflict.”

    I find it hard to imagine that your truth truly conflicts with God’s truth.

    Liked by 2 people

    • I definitely appreciate it. I suspect that we have a lot in common. I have a couple of more things I’m going to post along this line, which echo much of what you say.

      I don’t think my truth conflicts with His. That Middle Eastern dude said, “love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. … and … love thy neighbour as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.” I’m happy to live with that truth.

      My fiancee was an atheist until she started grad school in Math. Peter Gomes, the minister of the campus church at Harvard, was the person most responsible for bringing her into the fold. He wrote a book (“The Good Book”) along the lines of your argument.

      [I added some paragraph breaks for readability.]


      • Oh, funny… I also went to grad school at Harvard, and I remember Peter Gomes from before he died. I suspect you and I and your fiancee have a lot in common, indeed. :-) (Like, friends…)

        Liked by 1 person

        • I suspect we do have a lot in common, although sometimes I despair at my fiancee’s ignorance of basic Physics and Chemistry. On the other hand, she calls me a heathen because I think of Math as a tool.

          If Gomes could reach someone as hyper-rational and tough-minded as my fiancee, he must have been a hell of a preacher.

          Liked by 1 person

  2. It must hurt to be judged like that.

    I’m no Christian, so I don’t believe hell exists. But I was brought up going to church and as far as I remember there es only one person supposed to be doing the judging.

    If you can square it firstly in your own head, and secondly with your God – whoever or whatever you believe that to be – then you should have no fear of anything.

    Those people are not Christians- a religion, supposedly, of love.

    Liked by 2 people

    • I’m not hurt if somebody tells me I’m ugly. There’s only one person whose judgment I care about, and she thinks I’m beautiful.

      I’m not hurt if somebody tells me I’m going to Hell. There’s only one being whose judgment I care about – and, you are right, He has reserved that judgment to Himself.


  3. I was raised Lutheran and started studying Korean Buddhism in high school. I am therefore atheist and don’t believe in one or multiple gods.

    But, that doesn’t leave me without a moral compass or reason to be good. There are reasons bigger than myself to be a consciously good person… ya know, everyone else!

    I feel like the concept of heaven and hell in relation to our behavior makes our decisions selfish. Should I be good so I can go to heaven? Buddhism also has some of that with the idea of reincarnation and improving yourself but ultimately the self work we do benefits every living thing.

    Same goes for praying vs meditating. Many people pray in a “help me” way while meditating helps the individual it also helps everyone we come in contact with. I could probably go on and on and around and around with this.

    I like the scene you shared from Huck Finn, it has been a long time since I read it. It shows how he listened to his own moral compass and went against what he was being told because he knew in his heart what was right. Being a lesbian is not a sin. It hurts no one.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Stay tuned: I have a couple of more posts to follow up on this.

      I agree 100% with you. Each of us does have a moral compass. If your ethic is based on the promise of Heaven or Hell, it’s selfishness, not morality. Although a lot of Lutherans may not know it, it’s a fundamental tenet of Lutheran theology that being good won’t get you into heaven.

      One of Luther’s most radical ideas was salvation by grace: You aren’t going to Heaven because you’re good. You aren’t necessarily going to Hell because you’re bad. You’re going one way or the other because God extends his grace (or not).

      If that’s the case (and I believe it is), then heaven and hell aren’t selfish incentives to be good. The only incentive to be good is in itself, not in a heavenly reward.

      It’s why the Westboro Baptist Church is full of manure.


  4. When I read this, I thought of an episode of “through the wormhole” with Morgan Freeman. It talks about religion and moral compass and this invisible entity that helps to dictate whether we are “good” or “bad”. He takes a group of 10 children, splits them in half. He takes them into a room a group at a time and gives them the same instructions. “There is a basket on the opposite side of the room. You are to turn around with your back to the basket, take a ball, and without looking or cheating, throw the ball over your shoulder and hope to make the basket. Whoever gets the most basket wins!” But one group has an empty chair in the corner of the room. He tells that group, “But don’t cheat! Because you see that chair there in the corner?! In that chair is Princess So and So, and if you cheat or turn around, she’ll tell me, and you’ll be disqualified.” The first group, without the chair?’ EVERY.SINGLE.KID turned around. The second group?! Not a one… Something to think about….

    Liked by 1 person

    • “Character is what you are when no one’s looking.” My Dad drilled that into us.

      On a job site, with tens of millions of dollars of equipment and materials, everything is illuminated, security cameras cover every inch and security guards roam with dogs. As Ronald Reagan liked to say, “Trust, but cut the cards.”

      We are born with a moral compass, but we have to be taught to use it. I’m in awe of you and the other parents I follow here. You have undertaken a tremendous responsibility.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Pingback: The Supreme Court and conflicted me | Family Values Lesbian

  6. I’m often astounded but more recently amused by the concept that without religion one is going to hell. One says, without God what’s to keep a man from raping over and over again. Without God what’s to keep him from killing. One’s own conscience is what keeps that man from raping and killing. He doesn’t do it because he knows it isn’t right. In fact, he has no desire to do it. That’s his moral compass. We all have one. Some have to be trained. Some simply manifest as a part of living. I may believe in God, but I equate God with all nature, all space, all everything. I do not believe in someone looking over my shoulder telling me what is right or wrong.

    Liked by 1 person

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