Exploring Spirituality: “All right then. I’ll go to hell.”


I was successful in stopping the questions for quite a long time. They would enter my mind and I would convince myself that even entertaining them would be wrong, so they would fall away before they had the chance to offer any real criticism of my ‘hanging by a thread’ belief system. If people offered an alternative understanding of the universe, theology, doctrine, or philosophy, I desperately looked for the “silver bullet” that I could use to silence them. “She’s a liberal.” “He’s a recovering alcoholic.” “He’s a universalist.” I was searching for anything to give me permission to dismiss them without feeling the need to engage with what they were saying. This method kept my fragile belief system safe…until it didn’t.

Much of my belief system came crumbling down like a house of cards. I had an experience that can best be described as a revelation. It was in my shower. I realized that my shower tile was more real to me than this idea of God I had in my head. I was sick and tired of pledging my total allegiance to a God, and a theological system, that couldn’t handle the questions. I felt like I spent 90% of my time making sure no challenges would find their way into the space that my beliefs occupied. This is what it meant to “defend my faith”.

I realize now that something is wrong if I am spending more energy defending my beliefs than practicing them. 

When everything came crashing down I quickly learned what my belief system didn’t make any room for; what I was being drawn to embrace–Mystery.

In the realms of science, psychology, even mathematics, we have no problem acknowledging the presence of a mystery greater than ourselves. But when it comes to God that idea scares the hell out of us. The idea that we are immersed in that big a Mystery doesn’t offer us as much comfort as ‘knowing’ that we have the Truth. But I am convinced that failing to embrace that Mystery will always lead to a life of running from window to window ensuring that your house of cards is safe from the drafts of questions, doubts, and differing opinions. I am also convinced that failing to embrace that Mystery will only serve to further isolate us from our neighbors who don’t fit into our rigid box of being “Right”.

What we as human beings long for is connection–connection to God, Self, and our Neighbor. Letting go of our need to de-mystify the Creator of the Universe creates a plane that is theologically spacious. A plane were there is truly room for all. A plane where our (and God’s) longing for connection can be realized.

I believe that it is this plane that Mark Twain is pointing to when he writes the words, “All right then. I’ll go to hell.” Huck has felt a deep need for connection be met through is friendship with Jim. The only problem is that Jim was a slave. He was the ‘rightful property’ of someone else. Twain correctly portrays the societal pressure placed on Huck to ‘do the right thing’. He risked not only societal outrage, but according to the belief system that was so prevalent in that day, he risked damnation to hell if he dared not return Jim to his owner.

Huck is faced with the challenging of the house of cards belief system by the draft of the true human connection he had made with his friend Jim. This connection made no sense within the framework of his theological, philosophical, and moral understanding–yet it proved to be real. It is at this moment that Huck chooses to embrace the Mystery of his connection with Jim, a decision that he believed was ‘wrong’. Throwing the knowledge of the Truth to the wind, Huck resigns himself to his fate with that powerful sentence, “All right then. I’ll go to hell.”

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