Do You Believe in an Afterlife?

Bonus Episode
January 14, 2023
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Santiago, Ami, and Abby talk about death, heaven, hell, and Adventist eschatology. Abby and Ami ask their friends the vital question: Were you taught that animals go to heaven?

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Credits: Abby and Ami, creators of the Seventh-day Atheist Podcast • Music: Hall of the Mountain King Kevin MacLeod ( • Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 3.0 License

Episode Transcript

Haystacks & Hell Intro

[00:00:00] Santiago: Welcome to Haystacks and Hell, an ex-Adventist podcast where we tell stories about growing up Seventh-day Adventist, leaving faith behind, and building new, fulfilling lives.

Interview Previews

[00:00:16] Abby: Do animals go to heaven according to your upbringing?

[00:00:19] Guest 1: I was raised on the cinematic masterpiece All Dogs Go to Heaven, so I believed that yes, in fact, animals do go to heaven, dogs specifically.

[00:00:29] Abby: Follow up question: Do wild animals go to heaven?

[00:00:32] Guest 1: I mean, heaven would be really crowded. How big is this place?

[00:00:36] Guest 2: I was not taught that animals go to heaven, no, we were taught that animals didn't have souls, so they just died and were done.

[00:00:43] Guest 6: I definitively recall being told that, yes, that beloved pets will be there with you.

[00:00:47] Guest 5: No, animals don't go to heaven. My cat got hit by a car and I was like, 'Well, will I see my cat in heaven?' And my parents were like, 'Nope!'

Coming Up: Death and the Afterlife

[00:01:00] Santiago: Welcome back to the Haystacks and Hell podcast. I'm your host Santiago and if we haven't already met, I'm going to encourage you to go back to the first episode where I introduce myself, give some backstory for the podcast, and you'll also get to hear Abby and Ami's intros from their original podcast.

[00:01:19] Santiago: Last episode, we heard some of Abby and Ami's friends share their beliefs about God, and how in some cases, the death of family members or pets got them asking some pretty difficult questions. So today we're talking about death and the afterlife.

[00:01:35] Santiago: As I've said before, this podcast is not going to be all doom and gloom. We're going to explore this topic calmly and rationally. And my hope is that by the end, you'll be more comfortable with and confident about this subject. And if you've got some deep fear or anxiety around this topic, I'm going to encourage you to take some time to mentally prepare yourself before we continue.

[00:01:59] Santiago: To start, we're going to take a look at the Adventist teachings on the afterlife, compare that with some other beliefs, and then I'll share my own experiences dealing with these ideas and some of the resources that I've found helpful.

Adventist Beliefs on the Afterlife

[00:02:13] Santiago: So Adventists believe in heaven and hell like most Christians, but there are some important differences. Unlike most other Christian denominations, the SDA church says that you won't immediately go to heaven or hell. When you die on earth, you're just not going to be conscious anymore. I've always heard death compared to sleep. It's like a very deep sleep where you don't know anything.

[00:02:39] Santiago: And besides going to church on Saturday, this was one of the beliefs that I always noticed made me different from other Christians. I'd hear my extended family talk about how our relatives are looking down from heaven and I always thought that was kind of weird. I remember hearing sermons where pastors would say that that didn't make sense because there's no sadness in heaven and your relatives would probably be sad if they saw you suffering on earth.

[00:03:07] Santiago: Of course, I'm biased because I was raised believing this, but I still think this position makes more sense than the mainstream Christian belief. Anyway, I went to the Adventist church's official website to make sure I'm accurately describing their beliefs, so let's take a look at some of them.

[00:03:25] Santiago: First is the first resurrection, or the "good one." This is when people who are saved will have a physical resurrection and they'll physically go up to heaven with Jesus. And if you remember from the last episode, one of Abby and Ami's friends had a pretty funny story about explaining SDA beliefs to a Presbyterian minister. Reflecting on what he used to believe, he described it as "space traveling without a spaceship."

[00:03:54] Santiago: So, yeah, Adventists don't believe in the rapture, but they do believe that we can all be heavenly astronauts someday. Anyway, the church teaches that heaven is a literal place where God resides and heaven is supposed to be the most wonderful and perfect place in the universe but of course, not everyone gets to go there.

[00:04:15] Santiago: That takes us to the second resurrection or the "bad one." This is supposed to happen a thousand years after the first resurrection, and this is where all the people who didn't choose to follow Jesus are going to be lost. Notice how the blame is placed on humans and not the God who made us and created the whole system in the first place, but I digress.

[00:04:40] Santiago: Unlike many other denominations, Adventists don't believe that hell lasts forever. Quoting from the website, "The second death is the eternal consequence of being separated from God." And humans are quote "destroyed forever." They're not going to be burned and tortured forever according to Adventist belief.

WTF is Annihilationism?

[00:05:02] Santiago: This idea is called annihilationism and there are several reasons why Adventists hold this view. First is conditional immortality. People who believe in conditional immortality believe that humans do have souls, but that the human soul is naturally mortal. In other words, eternal life is something that is only given by God to those who are saved. It's not inherent and automatic in humans. So to believe that hell is going to be an eternal, conscious suffering, you also have to believe that people in hell will have immortal souls, even though God didn't give them the gift of eternal life.

[00:05:43] Santiago: Another reason Adventists believe in annihilationism has to do with Greek translation. Some people argue that the Greek words used to translate some of the Bible passages on hell had associations with Greek myths about the underworld and over time, the mainstream Christian concept of hell got tangled up with beliefs from Greek mythology.

[00:06:06] Santiago: You may be familiar with some of these stories, like Prometheus who was chained to a rock and then his liver gets eaten by an eagle, but then the liver regrows overnight. And the next day, the eagle comes back and eats it all over again. It's just this brutal, never ending cycle of torture.

[00:06:25] Santiago: And you may also be familiar with the story of Sisyphus. It's this king who gets sent to the underworld after cheating death multiple times. And as his punishment, he's forced to roll a huge boulder up a hill. And every time he gets near the top, it rolls down again and it just repeats endlessly. And this is his eternal punishment for going against the gods. There's a link in the show notes to a great animated version of this, which I definitely recommend watching.

[00:06:55] Santiago: Last but definitely not least, Adventists also point to the Bible to support annihilationism. Romans 6:23 says "The wages of sin is death." It's not described as eternal torture. And if you look at Second Timothy 1:10, it says that Jesus quote, "brought life and immortality to light through the gospel." So immortality is not something that is automatically given to all humans.

Small Gods vs. Big Gods

[00:07:24] Santiago: Now, if you ask me, the whole idea of hell is a scare tactic. And there's actually some fascinating research around something called the Big Gods Hypothesis that I would argue supports this idea. Throughout history, smaller scale societies have tended to have smaller, less powerful gods that are often more region-specific and mostly focused on nature. A great example of this is the Egyptian god Sobek who is associated with the Nile crocodile. Over time as Egypt grew, so did Sobek's perceived power and position among Egyptian deities.

[00:08:05] Santiago: And when you look at larger scale societies, they tend to have bigger, more powerful gods that are less focused on nature and more focused on morality and enforcing morals through the threat of punishment or the promise of a reward. And when you think about it, it makes sense.

[00:08:23] Santiago: The bigger the society, the harder it is to make sure that everyone follows the rules. So big gods play a big role in large societies. They give legitimacy to and help perpetuate widely accepted moral frameworks like the 10 commandments, they can see and know everything at all times like Santa Claus, and they'll punish you if you don't listen.

[00:08:48] Santiago: Research shows that historically, societies that grew bigger than around 1 million people transitioned from believing in small gods to big gods within about a hundred years. So you can actually map out these shifts over time. And when you look at gods through this lens, you can understand how big gods and their punishments have evolved over time to try and enforce social order as our societies get bigger, more complex, and less personal.

[00:09:21] Santiago: So the next time you hear someone say that morality or government authority can only come from God, they're just following this historical pattern. To read more about this, see the links in the show notes.

[00:09:33] Santiago: I have to say, though, I appreciate the fact that Adventists don't believe in an eternal hell. I've heard plenty of sermons and evangelistic series where they would say, 'How could a loving God allow eternal torture?' And I think that's a valid question to ask. But this is a minority view among Christians. Many, if not most Christians, believe that suffering in hell is forever. So let's compare the Adventist teaching to another denomination.

Other Takes on Hell and the Afterlife

[00:10:02] Santiago: The Southern Baptist Convention website says, quote, "The unrighteous will be consigned to hell, the place of everlasting punishment." And in 2011, they reaffirmed this belief by calling hell, quote, "eternal, conscious punishment." For context, the SBC is the world's largest Baptist denomination. It peaked in 2006 at 16 million members, and it's the second largest Christian denomination in the U.S.

[00:10:34] Santiago: And as a side note, it's called the Southern Baptist Convention because it was founded in the Southern U.S. by white supremacist Baptists in 1845, who fought to keep enslaving Black people. But don't worry, I'm not just pointing fingers at other denominations. In future episodes, we will take a hard look at the SDA church's history with anti-Black racism, segregation and more.

[00:11:01] Santiago: So to recap the Adventist belief, heaven and hell are real, and hell isn't an eternal punishment. You know, I think that people who preach about eternal hell either consciously or subconsciously recognize that the idea of hell being forever is a lot scarier and maybe more compelling than a temporary hell. And they're probably right.

[00:11:26] Santiago: Being taught that hell is temporary made my deconstruction and deconversion easier. When I told my parents that I left faith and religion behind, I tried to soften the blow for them by reminding them that even if hell is real, it's not forever according to the Adventist church. And I also quoted Revelation 21:4 to them, which says that God's going to wipe their tears away and there's not going to be any more sadness or crying, so they wouldn't have to grieve for me forever.

[00:11:55] Santiago: So we looked at Adventist and Southern Baptist beliefs, but there are so many other beliefs within Christianity and outside of Christianity. And whether you're a person of faith or left faith behind like I did, I hope that taking a look at other perspectives will help further inform your view of death and the afterlife, and if you're afraid of it, I hope this helps you become a little bit less afraid.

[00:12:21] Santiago: Christian Universalism says that all humans will ultimately be saved and restored to a right relationship with God. And in all honesty, it might've been easier for me to still believe that a loving God exists if I'd been taught this.

[00:12:36] Santiago: In Process Theology, some people believe that you won't experience personal immortality and you won't be an individually conscious person after you die. But in a way, you will have immortality because your experiences and memories will live on forever through God.

[00:12:55] Santiago: And that idea reminded me of a show called The Good Place. If you haven't seen it already, it's a beautiful comedy that tackles questions about the afterlife and does a great job of explaining concepts around ethics and morality. There's a link in the show notes and on our resources page.

[00:13:13] Santiago: In the very last episode of that show, two of the main characters, Eleanor and Chidi, are talking about death and not existing anymore. And Chidi gives this beautiful analogy that I'm going to play for you now:

[00:13:27] Chidi: Picture a wave... in the ocean. Yeah, you can see it, measure it, it's height, the way the... sunlight refracts when it passes through, and... it's there, and you can see it, you know what it is, it's a wave. And then it crashes on the shore... and it's gone.

[00:13:53] Chidi: But the water is still there. The wave was just a... a different way for the water to be for a little while. That's one conception of death for a Buddhist. The wave returns to the ocean... where it came from, and where it's supposed to be.

[00:14:28] Eleanor: Not bad, Buddhists.

[00:14:29] Chidi: Not bad. None of this is bad.

[00:14:37] Santiago: None of this is bad. That scene still gets me every time. It's a slow and sad scene, so don't let it fool you. The show overall is hilarious and full of twists and turns, and I highly recommend watching it.

Accepting Mortality

[00:14:54] Santiago: Honestly, accepting the fact that we're going to die can be a very difficult thing. Especially for those of us who don't believe in an afterlife. If you do or did believe in an afterlife, you've probably heard and even said something like 'they're in a better place now' when someone passes away. And even today, I think there is some truth to that saying, even if it can be an insensitive thing to say immediately after someone dies.

[00:15:24] Santiago: Now don't get me wrong. I like existing. I love the people in my life and I have a sense of purpose that doesn't depend on faith. I find joy in connecting with other people and joy in the creative process of working on things like this podcast. But I recognize that my time is limited and that limitation is part of what makes my time so special.

[00:15:48] Santiago: While I didn't grow up with traumatic experiences around death, I have witnessed the slow death of both of my grandmothers' minds. Unfortunately for me, I have a family history of Alzheimer's and dementia on both sides of my family. So I've seen both of my grandmothers struggle with this.

[00:16:07] Santiago: It's been especially difficult for my abuelita, as we say in Spanish. She was so used to being a strong, independent woman, a single mom to many kids, and the true matriarch of the family. But a number of years ago, we noticed that she was starting to forget things and she eventually got to the point where she could not live by herself anymore.

[00:16:32] Santiago: She eventually forgot words, and people, and how to properly and safely do basic things around the house. She even forgot who my mom is and kept thinking my mom was different people. Today, her mind is stuck in an endless loop. She often can't tell whether it's the morning, middle of the day, or nighttime, and she'll ask the same exact question multiple times in a row, even if you just answered it literally a minute or two ago.

[00:17:02] Santiago: I've also seen her hit herself in the head and shake her head in dismay and confusion. So sometimes, she can tell that something is wrong. But often, she'll do or say something wrong and think she's right and that everyone else is wrong. Even when she recognizes that she's made a mistake, she'll refuse to admit it.

[00:17:25] Santiago: She really lives in an alternate reality. And despite being a devout Adventist and still praying and reading her Bible, sometimes her mind would revert to her younger self. She's even become physically aggressive with us, she'll say that one of her babies is missing, and she's even accused us of kidnapping her child. Bottom line, this is a miserable existence.

[00:17:50] Santiago: Her behavior is a direct result of memory loss and mental disorder, but she does have moments where she seems lucid and totally alert. So when I was still in the church, it got me thinking, 'Is she sinning, or is she not a hundred percent accountable for her actions anymore?'

[00:18:09] Santiago: Overall, it's been so heartbreaking to see, especially when for Friday night worship each week, she would always pray to God for healing. She would say, 'Please take this away from me or take me away now. I don't want to keep living like this.'

[00:18:27] Santiago: A few years ago, I took my abuela to her Sabbath school class and they were talking about death and how you can only go when God says it's your time. And that anything other than that would be suicide and sinful. And I've thought a lot about that since leaving the church. I ultimately decided that I don't want to go through what either of my grandmas went through.

Death With Dignity

[00:18:52] Santiago: When you have a condition like Alzheimer's or dementia, you have no agency. You're no longer your own person. You don't even have the same mind. And you can't decide where you'll live, what you'll eat, or what you'll do. If and when I reach the same point as my abuela, or maybe get some terminal illness, I would rather have the option to die with dignity on my own terms than suffer slowly and needlessly. This way, my loved ones can gather together, share some final moments in peace, and say goodbye on our own terms.

[00:19:29] Santiago: This idea is called euthanasia or medical aid in dying and some of the countries where it's been legalized include Canada, Australia, and New Zealand, Switzerland, Netherlands, Spain. And in 2015, Columbia became the first Latin American country to legalize it.

[00:19:49] Santiago: It's also been legalized in parts of the U.S. like Washington, Oregon, California, New Mexico, and Vermont. And if you're interested in learning more about this idea, there's a link in the show notes to a nonprofit called Death with Dignity that is doing some important work to give people choice.

[00:20:09] Santiago: Of course, this brings up all sorts of ethical questions and considerations, and informed consent is really important here. This is a personal decision that only you should make for yourself. And bottom line, I personally believe that people should be able to have that choice if they want it. We can't control when or where we enter this world, but we should be able to choose how we leave it.

[00:20:36] Santiago: If you can't tell, I'm not really afraid of death. Don't get me wrong, it's a very normal thing to fear. But I think I've become less afraid of it over time, especially because I no longer believe in any sort of afterlife. But let's assume there is one.

[00:20:55] Santiago: If a loving and accepting higher power or system happens to exist, maybe I'll end up in a good afterlife. I treat others as I want to be treated, not because I believe there's a reward or punishment waiting, but because I have empathy for the people and the other living things around me. And as a side note, there is scientific research that explains the evolutionary origins of empathy and cooperation. You don't have to believe in a higher power to explain empathy.

[00:21:26] Santiago: Now let's assume there's a cruel or exclusive higher power or system that requires strict adherence. I probably wouldn't end up in a good afterlife under that system. I'd probably end up in a bad afterlife assuming there is one. Either way, there are no clearly established and universally agreed upon rules or criteria to ensure that I end up in a good afterlife.

[00:21:52] Santiago: Even within Christianity, there are endless debates on whether you're saved by grace through faith alone, and how much your own inaction or actions matter. If you ask a Christian Universalist, we'll all be redeemed, but if you ask a Southern Baptist, literally every person who doesn't happen to believe in Jesus will suffer consciously forever.

[00:22:18] Santiago: I don't think either of those are right, but of course, I prefer the Universalist view. Those Christians are way more kind and loving than many of the ones who believe in eternal hell. I was told the other day on Twitter that I deserve to burn by a self-described Confessional Lutheran and Christian Nationalist and I'm actually kind of glad he told me that, because I see it as a rite of passage now that I've left Christianity.

Christian Fatalism

[00:22:47] Santiago: Anyway, coming up, Abby and Ami are going to talk about a really important idea, this idea where some Adventists and Christians will put things off or accept things the way they are, because they think a better life is coming. And I would argue that that's a really dangerous idea.

[00:23:06] Santiago: In 2020, I was chatting with an Adventist friend and I expressed sadness and anger at police brutality, anti-Black racism, and racism in general, and how we should be doing more about it. And she told me something along the lines of, you know, 'This is all because of sin and there's not much we can do. And the world's not going to be renewed until Jesus comes back.' This whole attitude is basically, you know, 'What's the point? Why bother?'

[00:23:38] Santiago: Not all Adventists or Christians think this way, of course. But enough of them do, and they're totally willing to accept the status quo on issues they don't really care about or aren't affected by, because they think a better future is coming. And unfortunately for the rest of us, they take the same approach with climate change. They either believe it's fake news or that it's not their responsibility.

[00:24:06] Santiago: Look, I recognize that we're all going to die someday and this planet is not going to last forever. But we should work to make it as livable and as pleasant as possible for our fellow human beings, for the generations that follow us, and for the animal life that didn't ask for any of this. So on that note, we'll go ahead and play Abby and Ami's episode on the afterlife.

[00:24:31] Santiago: And I hope you'll listen all the way through because at the end, they ask their friends what they were taught about animals going to heaven. I don't know about you, but I was definitely not taught that pets or any kind of animal would go to heaven. If you've got a story you want to share around this or any story at all, you can find instructions on our website and in the show notes.

Abby and Ami on the Afterlife

[00:24:58] Abby: Hello, this is Abby,

[00:25:00] Ami: this is Ami,

[00:25:01] Abby: and you are listening to the SDAP, the Adventist Atheist Podcast. It is April 7th, 2014, and we are going to talk about death.

[00:25:12] Ami: Yay...

[00:25:13] Abby and Ami: [Laughing]

[00:25:15] Abby: Whoo... I haven't decided whether I'll put sound effects in, I could, like have little kids cheering.

[00:25:20] Abby and Ami: Yay!

[00:25:22] Ami: [Groan]

[00:25:24] Abby: So this is a really big topic and we will probably return to it. It came up several times in our friends' responses to when they stopped believing in God.

[00:25:36] Ami: I think that death is one of those things that... for some people is maybe a catalyst for giving up their belief. I think that for other people, it's a reason why they cling their belief. Because the idea, if you've been taught all of your life that there is an afterlife, and that when you lose a loved one, or you know, when you even think about your own death, that there's some continuation after that, that there's some hope of being reunited, is a great comfort to a lot of people. And of course it is. I certainly don't mean to diminish that at all.

[00:26:18] Abby: Ami had death and human death as part of her very early life. I don't know if you want to, like you dealt with death in a way that I never had to as a young...

[00:26:27] Ami: Yeah...

[00:26:27] Abby: I mean, I, I loved my pets. I love, love, love animals and I certainly dealt with death in that sense, but I did not have to...

[00:26:34] Ami: Well, you and I both grew up with animals as a part of our life in a really real and immediate way. Not just like, you know, you have a pet dog or cat or something, but you know, you raised rabbits or rats and stuff. Death in that sense is very much part of it. I grew up on a farm, so the fact of animal death was something that... I don't even remember the first time that I...

[00:27:00] Abby: That an animal died.

[00:27:00] Ami: That an animal died when I was a kid. So that was something that was just very matter of fact. And it was sad, but it was also just, you know, circle of life and all that.

[00:27:12] Abby: I was telling Ami earlier, I actually... I hadn't thought about it a lot, but I had an atheist model for death quite early. We're gonna ask some interview questions about this. I don't know about you guys, but I was taught the animals probably don't go to heaven. My parents were very unwilling to come down 100% on that, but I definitely, I definitely got the idea that maybe...

[00:27:37] Abby: Okay this is kind of weird, uh this is kind of an idea out of CS Lewis that I think was adopt... this is not an Adventist, specifically, idea, that your pets somehow, that if you loved them enough, they somehow attained souls.

[00:27:49] Ami: Like The Velveteen Rabbit.

[00:27:51] Abby: Exactly, exactly like The Velveteen Rabbit. I never got the idea that wild animals went to heaven. Like heaven wasn't full of all the animals that ever died. Maybe your pets would be there because you were special to God and they were special to you or something, which is really kind of unfair if you think about it.

[00:28:06] Ami: It's a little messed up. But yeah, that's kind of the idea that I was given as well.

[00:28:10] Abby: Yeah, I mean, you didn't get the idea that like, a squirrel that died on the road, you know, was, was gonna be... And yet I empathized... It didn't take much for me as a kid to empathize with an animal, a wild animal, any animal. I did have a, a model in my mind early on, although I didn't think about that, of sympathetic creatures that didn't deserve to suffer, who nevertheless suffered and died and didn't go to any kind of reward or, whatever they got in this life was all they got.

[00:28:37] Abby: I, uh, read fiction about animals that also included no idea of an afterlife. And I wrote fiction when I was, even, even when I was young, about animals that included no concept of an afterlife. So I actually did have a kind of little atheist model of death really early on that I didn't really think about that way, but I did.

[00:28:57] Ami: My younger sister died when I was about 10 years old. And I can remember one of my aunt's husbands who had become an Adventist as an adult and he had been a Catholic when he was younger... I remember him saying 'I really wish that I still believed that you died and you immediately went to heaven. Because it would be so much more comforting to me to think that she was in heaven now with all of our past loved ones'.

[00:29:27] Ami: And I thought that that was insane. To me, the concept of her existing somewhere else, apart from us, was not comforting at all, it was appalling. And now, as an atheist, I hear a lot of people who believe in some form of afterlife, and they can't imagine what it must be like not to, and that, you know, it must be very tragic not to believe in an afterlife. And I'm not going to pretend that it doesn't sting sometimes, but... I don't know, I guess I feel the same way now that I did then...

[00:30:06] Abby: About your previous belief.

[00:30:07] Ami: About my previous belief that I don't... I see why it was comforting at the time, but I also, I don't long for it now. So I had that early on and the explanation of course, if you're an Adventist, you do not immediately go to heaven or purgatory or hell or any afterlife after you die. When you are dead, it is as though you were asleep. And that's how it was always described to me. Then eventually when you know, Jesus returns and the second coming and all of that, the righteous dead will be raised and you know...

[00:30:47] Abby: They'll all go to heaven together.

[00:30:48] Ami: Go to heaven together. Everyone who is still alive, as well as everyone who had died.

[00:30:53] Abby: And everyone who had died, it will be like they just closed their eyes, like there'll be no sense of time passing. It'll just be like they, they were dead and then the next thing they know, Jesus is coming.

[00:31:02] Ami: I had this very beautiful mental image of God sort of tucking you in. That you were, you know, tucked into sleep and then he was gonna come and wake you up someday. And that, and that to me is a very comforting image. It's a very beautiful metaphor, I guess. But like my other sister, she was terrified to fall asleep because, you know, she was younger when our sister died.

[00:31:27] Ami: And in her mind it was like, 'No, it's like she's sleeping.' And so she was like, 'Oh God, I'm gonna fall asleep and I'm gonna be dead.' You know, that, that sleep equals death. And she became really kind of terrified of this idea of, I don't know... We all had sleep issues as children after our sister died. And I wonder how much of it was because of that metaphor.

[00:31:50] Abby: She is also freaked out by that song, Angels are Watching Over You. 'All night, all day...'

[00:31:59] Ami: The song that my mom used to sing to us a lot was Angels by Your Bed Tonight Shine Where no one Sees. And it's like a, it's like a bedtime song. I think it was like a Seventies sort of popular Christian song.

[00:32:11] Abby: This was appropriated, this was not an Adventist specific song?

[00:32:14] Ami: No, I don't think so, anyway. It's just one that my mom sang to us, I never heard anyone else sing it.

[00:32:19] Abby: Anyway, but your sister found it incredibly creepy.

[00:32:21] Ami: She was terrified and she always imagined these angels looming over her, watching her sleep. Which kind of creeped her out as it might.

[00:32:29] Abby: At some point we should talk about angels, but that's probably not...

[00:32:32] Ami: We should definitely talk about angels sometime.

[00:32:35] Abby: Gosh, I could probably still walk through the biblical proof for why you don't go to heaven when you die, but I never had strong feelings about what was more comforting one way or the other. I love the idea of heaven. I've always loved the idea of heaven, I still love the idea of heaven.

[00:32:49] Abby: I put it in my fiction, just like, I love the idea of talking animals, and being able to fly and having a tail, but I don't think it's real and it, it makes me sad that it's not real. But I do think I'm better off believing a true thing rather than a fake thing. I, I'm not I'm not ashamed to say I think the idea of heaven is delightful.

[00:33:07] Abby: I've, I realized when I left the church I felt ashamed to say that the thing I missed most was not Jesus, who try as I might, I never managed to have a personal relationship with this silent, invisible person. But the thing that I missed was simply the idea of heaven. That was the thing that I just really didn't wanna let go of.

[00:33:27] Ami: I can remember having conversations with friends where we would try to imagine heaven and try to imagine... you know, it's not sitting on clouds playing harps all day.

[00:33:35] Abby: It's CS Lewis that my idea of heaven, it was not, it was not Ellen White. It was CS Lewis that painted my picture of heaven.

[00:33:41] Ami: Well, and we would try to imagine it and it was always this like trying to almost outdo each other with the wonder of our imagination of heaven, and we were all a bunch of nerds who grew up to be writers. So no wonder we loved this idea of creating this imaginary world.

[00:33:56] Abby: Uhhuh, I got to make a world, I was gonna live there.

[00:34:00] Ami: One of our friends in answering the question that we asked everyone about, when did you know that God wasn't real, one of the things that she said was that even though she doesn't believe in God, she still loves this idea of heaven.

[00:34:14] Ami: And she says she loves the idea of being somewhere with all of these amazing people who have lived before you, and getting to speak to them and ask them questions about their lives. And if you know our friend, of course, that's what heaven would be to her. Heaven would be, you know, talking to all of these interesting people and finding out what they know. Because that's what she loves to do in real life on Earth.

[00:34:38] Ami: She's someone who is infinitely curious and always wants to ask people questions, always wants to find out what they know about and what they're interested in. And so of course that's her idea of heaven. My idea of heaven is the Library of Congress.

[00:34:54] Abby: [Laughing] My mental picture of heaven is somewhere between Bok Tower and Cypress Gardens.

[00:35:02] Ami: Yeah, and inside the tower is the Library of Congress.

[00:35:05] Abby: Yes, yes, exactly, exactly. Open fields full of tame squirrels and... [Laughing]

[00:35:10] Ami: It's all the squirrels that were hit by cars and stuff become like the great cosmic squirrel that exists.

[00:35:18] Abby: [Laughing]

[00:35:18] Ami: The idea of a squirrel that exists.

[00:35:22] Abby: The Platonic Squirrel?

[00:35:23] Ami: Exactly!

[00:35:24] Abby: And like mazes of beautiful shrubbery and like people, all the interesting people you've ever heard of wandering around in this beautiful, idyllic place. And I, again, I relate a lot of this to my... to when I stopped... 'Cause I stopped believing in religion when I was 30.

[00:35:44] Abby: And it was very traumatic and it was not a gradual thing. It was, it was just, it just broke one day. I mean, it was gradual, but it didn't break gradually, it broke, like falling off a branch. One of the things that I mourned was this idea that I would know the end of the story because I'm a writer and I make stories out of everything, I can't help it.

[00:36:02] Abby: It's the way human minds work, but it's particularly the way my mind works. And so Adventism has this story for history, like this great controversy story arc for human history, and I believed that, you know, no matter when I died, I would in heaven, I would get to possibly read all the books that were ever written unless they were super evil, I would have access to all the human art and literature and history that was ever created, and I would know the scope, like I would get to find out what happened to various wars and like...

[00:36:33] Abby: The idea that I would be reading a book when I died and wouldn't get to read the ending has always plagued me. That's, I always wondered like, what am I gonna be reading when I like, what book am I not gonna...

[00:36:42] Ami: Quick, finish it!

[00:36:43] Abby: Quick, finish it, I know, I know! I thought I was gonna see the end of the story and having your life, believing that your knowledge of the story of history was gonna include the whole scope of history and then realizing that it's only gonna include the scope of your life, that is a very limiting, that, that's depressing.

[00:37:00] Ami: It's a, it's a specific sort of intellectual depression though, I think, you know?

[00:37:05] Abby: I found it crushing for at least a brief period of time. Like it was, it was so depressing.

[00:37:12] Ami: The idea that you're gonna miss out on something is part of what is troubling about death to me. The idea of... I mean, of course I...

[00:37:20] Abby: It's not dying, it's not existing that I object to. I'm not afraid of like, the pain of dying, I very much like existing.

[00:37:29] Ami: Well, and the idea of everything going on without you is a little bit sad, but of course it is what...

[00:37:35] Abby: Never getting to find out how everything ended up.

[00:37:38] Ami: But on the other hand, I think now I feel a lot more comfort in the idea that I will not go on, but humanity will go on. And even when I think of it in a more cosmic sense, and I think like, we have an extinction level event coming. Like, there's going to... humanity will not survive for eternity which is sad and scary, but something will.

[00:38:04] Ami: I find a lot more comfort in the idea of the grander scope, I guess. I know that my life is finite and even that humanity's existence is finite. You know, if you look at the whole cosmic calendar thing where they say humanity as we know it has only existed...

[00:38:22] Abby: This narrow little window.

[00:38:24] Ami: A few seconds at the end of the year of the cosmic calendar or whatever. The idea then, that something continues, is more comforting than...

[00:38:37] Abby: I don't find that more comforting at all, but I think it's true.

[00:38:40] Ami: I don't know if it's more comforting, but I, when I think about the idea that I'm going to die, I'm sad that I won't get to see what happens but I'm glad that something will happen. I'm glad to think that the story's gonna keep going even after my part of the story is over.

[00:38:55] Abby: Yes, and I write books and I take great comfort in the idea that my stories will outlive me. I don't have kids and I don't expect to have kids, and so I want ideas to infect other people's kids.

[00:39:08] Abby and Ami: [Laughing]

[00:39:11] Abby: But atheism for me was not something I found more comforting, it was something that I found more real. I will say that when I was in religion, especially for probably the last three to five years of it, I thought about death almost every day and basically, although I found ideas of heaven much more comforting, I could not convince myself they were real.

[00:39:34] Abby: Somewhere in the, you know, in my subconscious, that was just driving me crazy. Once I accepted the fact that I will die and that it seems very unlikely to me that I will continue to exist in any form, although I would love to be proved wrong, once I accepted that idea, I stopped thinking about death all the time, which I think is very interesting.

[00:39:55] Abby: I mean, once I accepted that I will die, it took a while, but I no longer feel plagued by it in the way that I was when I was trying to convince myself it wasn't real.

[00:40:05] Ami: I think that there is an awful lot of... Many of the things that we are given as a comfort and that we're told that they're supposed to be comforting to us, ultimately to me, were not particularly comforting when push came to shove. And so...

[00:40:23] Abby: To a lot of people, fiction is not comforting, especially when you're smart enough to know that it's fiction.

[00:40:28] Ami: Well, the idea...

[00:40:30] Abby: At least for me it isn't, that may just be me.

[00:40:31] Ami: The idea that death is unnatural, that death was not supposed to be part of the plan, and now we have this horrible imposition and this unnatural thing that we have to face because of sin and all of this, made death harder to deal with. I think that that's part of what you're talking about. It was very hard and it was constantly on your mind, and when you eventually sort of understand it as something else, a natural thing, it's not as upsetting.

[00:40:58] Ami: I can remember being a kid and, my husband talks about this, and I think feels it more strongly than I do because like I said, I grew up on a farm, animals die and it was sad, but it was a fact of life. For him of course, you know, growing up in sort of the typical American suburb, that wasn't so much a present fact of everyday life.

[00:41:18] Ami: So he talks about like watching nature videos and getting so upset when like, the baby antelope is killed by the lions. And he's like, 'I was beside myself because that's wrong. The lion's supposed to lie down with the lamb. This is evil. This is an expression of sin and the horror of the world. And it's my fault somehow, that baby antelopes get eaten by lions every day.'

[00:41:44] Ami: Because of sin is why this happens. So he was really troubled by that as a kid and it was like a horror movie to him, you know, that these things that happened naturally. Our daughter has never believed, you know, she hasn't been taught this dogma.

[00:42:03] Abby: Which is just fascinating to me, like watching Alice grow up free of religion... Can I say her name? I don't know if I can say...

[00:42:08] Ami: I guess so.

[00:42:09] Abby: I mean, I can bleep it out.

[00:42:11] Ami: This is not gonna, anonymity will not last.

[00:42:14] Abby: Some part of my mind doesn't know how to bridge that divide. Like, I don't even know what that would be like.

[00:42:18] Ami: I don't either.

[00:42:19] Abby: Guilt and fear were such huge parts of my childhood that I don't know what childhood would be like without... and I realize you still have guilt and fear about other things, but I don't think it's the same.

[00:42:28] Ami: Well, I don't know how many of the differences, that I see marked differences between... She's very like me in a lot of ways. Her personality is very similar to mine, but her responses to things are incredibly different from what mine were, and I think that some of it is just that she's a different person with a different set of experiences, but one of the set of experiences that she has that is different is she doesn't believe in a god and an afterlife, and she's never been given that false comfort.

[00:42:59] Ami: And so when Alice was very small, Planet Earth came out, that nature show, and we watched it together. She has been an animal lover for her entire life. And you know, when we read stories, we read Little House on the Prairie. We read through that whole book: her sister goes blind, all these people get killed, all this stuff. They have to leave their home, all these things happen, and she's just taking it in stride. And then the dog dies, and she was devastated. You know, shoot the people out of a cannon, she doesn't care, but the animal dying really upset her.

[00:43:35] Abby: That was me too, as a kid.

[00:43:37] Ami: So when we watched Planet Earth, I didn't know how she would react. I mean, that's a pretty straightforward program when it comes to, like you've got the little arctic foxes just like killing baby geese left and right. And so I was really afraid of how she would react...

[00:43:52] Abby: Violence to children to it is a huge part of nature.

[00:43:55] Ami: It is, because you're little and weak, you're easy to attack.

[00:43:58] Abby: And delicious.

[00:43:59] Ami: And delicious. So we were sort of watching her react to it and Alex turns to her and says, when this is happening, we'd watched Finding Nemo and he quotes the line about, you know, "Fish gotta swim, bird's gotta eat." And he's like, you know, 'The fox has gotta eat' and she's like, 'Yeah I know, they eat other animals, it sucks.' but you know, she accepted it because this was a fact of nature.

[00:44:26] Ami: It wasn't not the way things are supposed to be, it wasn't an expression of the terrible fallen nature of the world. It's a fact of life that, you know, these creatures eat these other creatures, so she was able to accept it and not be traumatized by it because she was being told the truth.

[00:44:44] Ami: And I feel very much that that is important, even when it hurts, I think it's ultimately... To me, the truth is more comforting than a lie. I never found it comforting to think that God had a plan, that was never an acceptable thing to me that made it all okay.

[00:45:03] Abby: But again, your sister died when you were 10, and I think that alters...

[00:45:08] Ami: It did alter my way of thinking about it a lot because I could not...

[00:45:12] Abby: The idea that God has a plan for that is just obscene.

[00:45:14] Ami: A situation in which... I can't help it, I always turn back to literature, but Robert Frost's Design: "What but design of darkness to appall?-- If design govern in a thing so small." And that's always been my feeling. If God has a say in whether or not your cat dies, or if God is going to, you know...

[00:45:35] Abby: Why is such a dick about it?

[00:45:36] Ami: Why is he such a dick about it? So it wasn't my sister dying that broke my faith.

[00:45:42] Abby: Oh, no, I didn't mean...

[00:45:43] Ami: That was certainly a part of it, and my perspective was definitely different than the average because of that experience. But the idea of a plan was not comforting to me. And I find now, I know that a lot of people feel differently about this.

[00:45:58] Ami: I have heard a lot of people say that they are comforted by the idea that there is an already known end to the story. That isn't a comfort to me. It is more pleasing to me to think that shit happens because shit happens.

[00:46:15] Ami: You know, the universe is chaos and sometimes that works in your favor and sometimes it makes you get kicked in the teeth. I find that much more comforting and appealing than the idea of being harmed by a plan.

[00:46:29] Abby: [Laughing] There were definitely times in my life of great uncertainty where I found it comforting to think that it was going to ultimately be alright. There again, it's not so much what I find more comforting, as what I find more true, and that ultimately it's very hard to hold conflicting ideas in your head at the same time, which is what I end up having to do to believe in religion.

[00:46:53] Abby: The idea of a plan is much easier to find comforting when things are working out for you. When they don't work out for you, yeah, it feels like God just kicked you in the face. And why did he do that?

[00:47:04] Ami: Well, we'll have to ask him when we get to heaven.

[00:47:07] Abby: [Laughing] Have to ask him when we...

[00:47:09] Ami: So many of my questions were answered that way!

[00:47:11] Abby: Oh my goodness.

[00:47:12] Ami: Still makes me mad.

[00:47:13] Abby: And here's, here's the thing that I do think is positively harmful about those ideas. I know friends and family who are very busy, who have complicated lives and are very busy, and who will lose touch with loved ones and with friends and will say things like, 'Well, we'll meet again around the tree of life.' And will literally let friendships and relationships slip through their fingers because, 'We'll just see each other all in heaven.'

[00:47:42] Abby: That is a horrible concept if you don't believe heaven exists. You know, it's just like saying, well, you know, it's not important to maintain your relationships because we'll have... I mean, I guess that would be okay if it was really like, you're just trying to think of a nice way to say you didn't want to be friends anymore. But this is legitimately people who think that part of managing their time is planning that they will finish certain things in the afterlife. And if this is all the life you've got, then that's...

[00:48:07] Ami: You gotta make it count.

[00:48:08] Abby: That's tragic, you know?

[00:48:10] Ami: Well, there's also the idea, 'Well, we'll ask Jesus when we get to heaven' was always the response instead of, 'We don't know' or, 'Why don't you go find out?' The idea that you could just, 'Eh, there are things that we don't know and it's just acceptable that we don't know' and... Well, if it matters, and if the meaning of our existence matters, then we don't wait to ask about it in the afterlife. And so I appreciate the concept that we can find answers to our questions.

[00:48:39] Abby: 'You should just accept your ignorance' is a terrible answer.

[00:48:43] Ami: It's really not great.

[00:48:45] Abby: I did want to touch on the fact that the Adventist view of death in some ways, I think makes it particularly difficult to come to terms with atheism. If you didn't grow up in Adventist, this might be a hard concept for you. But like most religions believe that hell is eternally burning torture.

[00:49:04] Abby: And Adventism is in some ways gentler because it doesn't teach that. We teach that hell is oblivion. However, this means that what I was taught was the worst thing that could happen to you, which is the second death, which is not existing anymore, oblivion, hell, what will be done to the worst people... That's what's going to happen to everyone.

[00:49:24] Abby: And that was really, really horrifying to me when I first left religion, like not existing permanently was hell. That was the ultimate punishment. Permanent non-existence was what God was going to do with all the people that were just irredeemable.

[00:49:39] Abby: And my conclusion was that we were all going to hell, like the worst thing that could happen to you, that was what was gonna happen to everyone. That was really, really hard. That was one of those ideas that I struggled with during that first year after I left that I was so upset about that I couldn't talk to anyone.

[00:49:55] Abby: If you were raised with the idea of hellfire, you probably find that really silly because your idea of damnation was particularly awful, but I never believed in that. I never believed in an eternally burning hell, but that was never sold to me, I never thought it held water biblically. That was never on the table, but not existing, that was hell.

[00:50:15] Ami: It's also a really hard thing intellectually, because you can imagine being tortured, which is awful of course, the idea of being tortured forever is terrible. But you can't imagine not existing.

[00:50:28] Abby: It's sleep, that's the closest we can come.

[00:50:29] Ami: I get why that would've been...

[00:50:32] Abby: It was just really hard for me and part of it was, you know, this Adventist teaching, that the second death is, that's the worst thing that can happen to you, and, I was really hoping to avoid that. [Laughing]

[00:50:45] Ami: Yeah.

[00:50:45] Abby: As it turns out, we all go to hell.

[00:50:48] Ami: Turns out that's what we all have in store for us.

[00:50:52] Abby: You started to talk about Alice, I know you told me one time that she didn't sleep for like a week because she had just figured out that she was going to die, and I think children... I feel like it is normal when someone is between, I don't know, five and eight, like most children come to terms with their own death at that point, and I'm sure that it's really, as a parent, that's gotta be really hard to watch your child struggling with that.

[00:51:20] Abby: That's the right age to get chickenpox, that's the right age to realize you're gonna die. I didn't realize I was gonna die until I was 30 and that's like getting chicken pox when you're 30. I think it's much worse, I think it's much harder. I think it's better to have that tooth out when you are little, but it's also fascinating to me to see kids 'cause when I was that age, I was dealing with fear of being damned, not fear of death. I was never, I was not afraid of death.

[00:51:43] Ami: I've seen two completely different children go through this. One is my daughter and the other my niece. My niece is a very practical person, and from day one she is. She's extremely funny, she's four years younger than my daughter.

[00:51:59] Ami: And when she discovered at about, you know, maybe age four or so, this concept of death, she just, she wanted the facts about it. The thing that ultimately was comforting to her, was looking at anatomy books. At like four years old, she wanted to see the organs of the body, she wanted to understand these things.

[00:52:23] Abby: What keeps you living.

[00:52:24] Ami: Yeah, like I said, she is an extremely practical person, she wants the facts. And so when she found out about death, we went out to dinner and she goes, 'Did you know that everything that's alive now will eventually be dead?'

[00:52:38] Abby: [Laughing]

[00:52:38] Ami: And I said, 'Yes, I've heard that, I know that.' And she goes, 'So you're going to die, and my mom's going to die, and I'm going to die, and that guy over there is going to die.' And she just starts like, pointing around the restaurant, going, 'And you're dead, and you're dead.' [Laughing]

[00:52:59] Ami: But it was knowing the facts about it...

[00:53:02] Abby: In the same way that at an earlier age, she was like, 'Did you know everything poops?' I mean, he poops and you poop, the cat poops.

[00:53:09] Ami: It was, everything was... But it was learning the facts of the universe that are going to affect her, and she had a lot of incredibly practical questions about like, well, what happens to your body when you die? Well, if you're buried, you know, it decomposes in the ground. Or some people, their body is burnt up and they, you know.

[00:53:30] Ami: So she had these very practical concerns and questions like, 'Who's going to cook us dinner if dad dies?' Because he's the one who does the cooking in their household. So she was really, her approach was like, she's the scientist, she has the practical questions.

[00:53:47] Ami: My daughter on the other hand, if my niece is the scientist, Alice is the poet because she, it was like an existential dilemma to her where it was just really upsetting. She had this, like, the boogeyman to her, was the specter of her own death. You know, and she, so she would ask us, you know, she says, 'I'm afraid of dying,' which she started to call "the feeling," which was the feeling of being afraid that she would die.

[00:54:21] Abby: I remember that feeling!

[00:54:22] Ami: So she would come out and she would say, 'I can't fall asleep' and I would say, 'What's wrong?' And she would say, 'I have the feeling.' And it was thinking about death and being afraid of it. Which she went through this for, you know, maybe six months or something, where this was on her mind.

[00:54:38] Ami: And she thought about it a lot, and it was her own death, it wasn't this idea that everything dies, it was her dying. And it was very personal and this fear of non-existence. And I couldn't really, I mean, it was hard that I didn't know what to tell her. I didn't have a comforting story to tell her except to say, we all have this feeling, we all are afraid of that sometimes.

[00:55:04] Ami: We read The Golden Compass and in the end when they finally release all the dead from the afterlife, all their atoms disperse throughout the universe and they become part of everything. That was probably the most comforting concept to both of us, was the idea, like I said before, the idea of life going on. Not my life, but the life of the universe. Anyway, she will say now, she will sort of make reference to that and the idea of, you know, your atoms becoming part of everything else.

[00:55:36] Ami: One of the things that is difficult, and a lot of people who have sort of casually just stopped going to church because they can't obey the rules anymore or it doesn't interest them, go back when they have kids and I had the exact opposite experience. I broke with religion completely after my daughter was born and she was definitely the breaking point for me.

[00:55:58] Ami: I couldn't, I couldn't tell her a lie. I couldn't be a hypocrite to her. But I understand why people have that experience because having a child is this huge responsibility and this huge thing that you don't really know how to handle it. And if your only experience is the way you were raised, then I can see why you fall back on the things that you were told, the way your parents taught you these lessons.

[00:56:27] Ami: So we kind of had to make our own way. And part of it was that 'What do we tell you about death?' I didn't have something comforting to tell her when a pet died, not that you necessarily do anyway if they don't go to heaven. Instead it was that, 'Well, we will remember them, we loved them,' and you know...

[00:56:49] Abby: Here are all the good times with them.

[00:56:50] Ami: Here are the good times and that's what we will do with each other as well.

[00:56:57] Abby: [Laughing] I have said before that I think, and I know not everybody agrees with this, but I, I really do think that the fear of death is a big reason why religion exists. I think it's a big reason why religion continues. I can't imagine religion, no matter how damaging it is, completely disappearing from the human psyche until science can offer us the possibility of immortality. And I don't know if that will ever happen.

[00:57:24] Abby: I don't think it will happen in our lifetimes. I know sci-fi geeks, you know, are... I work in medicine, it's not that advanced. It's not even advanced as you, as you think it is on the news. Like, your best bet is to stay healthy, so stay healthy. Things like joint replacements have definitely come a long way, like that definitely improves your quality of life in old age, but we're not gonna live forever.

[00:57:43] Abby: Neither will our children, or children's children. I don't think it's impossible that science could eventually offer some people the possibility of immortality. I don't think that science has to offer the certainty of immortality, religion doesn't offer the certainty of immortality either. In fact, it often says, you know, only these elect few.

[00:58:02] Abby: But just the possibility, I think, that would break people permanently from religion. Nothing in science can cure what for some people is an overwhelming fear of death. The fear of death and the fear of permanent separation from loved ones, I think are, are two things that is, is why religion exists, is why that we keep reinventing it as a species over and over again. Do you think, I mean, you're afraid to disagree with me.

[00:58:29] Ami: No, I think you're probably right. I think that it is definitely, it's such a common thing and it's such a common final thread that people can't cut.

[00:58:40] Abby: Yeah. We haven't talked about the fear of hell, we could maybe do that in a completely separate episode.

[00:58:46] Ami: We have to bring somebody else in to talk about that. Somebody who had that like fire and brimstone kind of preaching cause we didn't...

[00:58:52] Abby: I didn't have that. I was afraid of being lost, but I was afraid of not existing anymore. So now I've already faced that fear.

[00:58:58] Ami: I was afraid of being lost, I was afraid of my loved ones being lost. I was threatened with being lost an awful lot.

[00:59:06] Abby: Yeah, see that's awful.

[00:59:07] Ami: Like, directly threatened with it a lot. And anytime I did anything wrong, this is a separate episode...

[00:59:13] Abby: The old ladies at our church were dicks.

[00:59:15] Ami: Oh they were horrible, not just the old ladies, either. Any time I did something wrong, I would get some variation of 'You're heading for damnation, just like your father' which only made me more defiant and like, 'Well, fine, I'll be giving you the bird from hell, I guess.' I don't know.

[00:59:34] Abby: Okay, so we didn't completely flesh out the Adventist idea of death, so we mentioned that hell is oblivion... Adventism has this very complex eschatology and even people who are raised in the church, if you were not a scholar of The Great Controversy, you may not remember the sequence of events, if not, it's okay. This is supposed...

[00:59:53] Ami: Strap in guys, it's gonna get weird!

[00:59:55] Abby: Yeah, yeah, it's gonna get weird. All the good people are resurrected when Jesus comes again and they're taken up alive in the clouds with the few people that still remain on earth, that are righteous, and they all go to heaven for a millennium, okay, lots of churches have this millennium thing, that's what happens.

[01:00:08] Abby: So they all go to heaven for a millennium, and the devil is roaming the earth, being miserable with nobody to tempt and being bored, and being punished by boredom. So we all go to heaven and when we're in heaven for the millennium, we get to look at all the books of the people that were damned, and God convinces us that it was a good idea to damn them.

[01:00:27] Ami: That it was right that they were lost. And the fact that you get to live for the rest of eternity without them, is just and fair.

[01:00:36] Abby: He will wipe away all the tears from your eyes, including the tears of missing your father who is damned to hell, and who is now sleeping on Earth waiting for oblivion.

[01:00:45] Ami: Until he is sent into oblivion to not exist any longer.

[01:00:48] Abby: So after we all, uh, read everybody's complex list of sins, you know, every time your father has m@sturb@ted or... If you're lost, see this is another thing I was afraid of if I was lost.

[01:00:58] Ami: You would be humiliated by everyone knowing all your sins.

[01:01:01] Abby: Every little bad thing you did, every bad thought, every embarrassing thing you ever...

[01:01:04] Ami: Interestingly, we're not gonna weigh the books of the people who are saved.

[01:01:07] Abby: Nope, those people's books, their sins are forgiven and washed clean by the blood lamb.

[01:01:11] Ami: Those sins are gone and we don't get to say, 'Are you sure that this dude should be here, 'cause...'

[01:01:20] Abby: [Laughing] And then at the end of the thousand years when God has brainwashed us, and we've stopped missing our loved ones who are lost, we come back to Earth and the heavenly city, and the Earth is all dark and sad, and I was always concerned about the animals that were gonna be left behind with the devil who had nothing to do but torture animals.

[01:01:39] Ami: Were the animals alive in your version of this?

[01:01:41] Abby: I didn't know, this was a question...

[01:01:44] Ami: I've never thought about that before,

[01:01:45] Abby: It was not addressed...

[01:01:46] Ami: But of course, you had thought of it.

[01:01:48] Abby: It was not addressed by Ellen White. I was concerned as to whether they were gonna have to burn in the fire as well, it seemed very unfair to me. So this heavenly city comes back down and the walls are made of glass and God resurrects all of the bad people that have ever lived. And there's like, more of them than the good people, there's lots and lots of them.

[01:02:06] Abby: And the devil goes through and organizes them into this vast army and all the evil angels are there and they're happy cause they have someone to tempt again. And they all march on the Holy City and then, all the good people are watching from the, from the city, and that's when God rains down fire on all the bad people and they're all burned up.

[01:02:24] Abby: But, Mrs. White is careful to tell us that they suffer in the fire according to their sin. So some of them are, quote, destroyed in an instant, and some of them suffer for a long time and uh, you know, Hitler is probably gonna be towards the end there.

[01:02:40] Abby: And then like the last person to finally die will be Satan 'cause he's the worst one, but when they're burned up, when they're finally done suffering according to their sins, then they're, they're gone and there's oblivion and they're, uh, they don't keep suffering.

[01:02:52] Ami: Hell isn't this other place where they continue to suffer forever.

[01:02:54] Abby: It's just the earth, which is, which is now scoured by fire, then it becomes a beautiful garden and it's the earth made new and all this crap. But, you are watching your relatives burn up in the lake of fire from the walls of the city.

[01:03:08] Abby: Not that this makes a lot of sense, because the Earth is round, and I'm not really sure how all the people end up in one place where you can watch them.

[01:03:15] Ami: It's magic.

[01:03:15] Abby: It's magic. Anyhow, that is the full Adventist eschatology, and so this is what Ami was being threatened with, was watching her father...

[01:03:24] Ami: That I'm either inside the city... I think this is definitely, we'll talk about this more in another episode, but this is part of my worldview, is this fact that there was no winning in this scenario for me because I never, I never believed that there was the possibility of it being okay.

[01:03:47] Ami: So if I made it heaven, I'm fucked because somebody I love is on the other side of that wall. And the way it was actually described to me, was not just, 'You'll see that it's okay and you will accept it,' but that God will remove their memory so that you won't have to be sad for them.

[01:04:08] Abby: That's horrible.

[01:04:09] Ami: And so it felt to me like, 'You know that you couldn't ever convince me that it was okay, you have to wipe away all my tears in order to make it okay.' And so that is an appalling thought to me, still. So one way or another, because obviously my sister would be in heaven, so I either don't go to heaven, and I've lost her and all my other loved ones for eternity, or I do go to heaven and I've lost my dad and my uncles and all of, you know, these other people that I love for all eternity.

[01:04:44] Ami: So, yeah, that comfort was always sort of tempered by something not so comforting. So maybe I have a different point of view than most did.

[01:04:57] Abby: Definitely.

[01:04:58] Ami: It's a weird, weird story guys, it's very...

[01:05:02] Abby: It is, we'll talk about hell, we'll ask our friends questions about hell, that'll be fun. I'm sure we'll touch on death again. And Angels, I wrote that down...

[01:05:11] Ami: Angels, that's a good topic.

[01:05:14] Abby: There is creepy for you.

[01:05:17] Ami: Will they go to the movies with you, or won't they? [Laughing]

[01:05:21] Abby: The outside of the movie theater, thick with angels.

[01:05:25] Abby and Ami: [Laughing]

[01:05:26] Abby: Alright bye guys, we'll see you next week.

Guest Interviews

[01:05:32] Abby: Do animals go to heaven according to your upbringing?

[01:05:36] Guest 1: I was raised Catholic and in the Catholic church, I may be incorrect, but I don't believe that Catholics believe animals go to heaven. However, my mom is really big into sort of picking and choosing within Catholicism what she wants to believe.

[01:05:52] Guest 1: So she always decided like, whenever we had an animal die, she would be like 'They're with granddaddy,' her dad, who had passed away. And in fact, I just lost my dog and when my dog died, she's like, 'It's okay, she's with granddaddy now.'

[01:06:06] Guest 1: And of course, I was raised on the cinematic masterpiece All Dogs Go to Heaven, so I believed that yes, in fact, animals do go to heaven, dogs specifically.

[01:06:16] Abby: Follow up question: Do wild animals go to heaven?

[01:06:20] Guest 1: Do wild animals?

[01:06:21] Abby: Do all animals go to heaven, or just pet animals, or just specific pet animals?

[01:06:24] Guest 1: That was never addressed in my household growing up. However, the rational person I am now, I mean, heaven would be really crowded. How big is this place? All the people that ever lived, uh, like the good people, but then like animals who would then be blameless and don't... Sin doesn't factor in, like you're telling me all the animals are in heaven? That's just, heaven's gotta be really huge.

[01:06:50] Ami: Abby and I think that there's a possibility of a concept of like, a cosmic animal that represents all the souls of all the animals.

[01:06:58] Abby: The Platonic Squirrel!

[01:06:59] Ami: Like in Adventure Time there's the Cosmic Owl, I assume it's like that.

[01:07:03] Guest 1: Yes.

[01:07:05] Abby: Were you taught the animals go to heaven?

[01:07:07] Guest 2: Huh? Oh, was I taught that...

[01:07:08] Abby: Do animals go to heaven?

[01:07:10] Guest 2: I was not taught that animals go to heaven, no, we were taught that animals didn't have souls, so they just died and were done.

[01:07:17] Abby: And did that bother you?

[01:07:19] Guest 2: When we were in the process of being taught that, it was a sort of thing that was just like, um, no, it really didn't. It really didn't. At that time I was just like, oh no, that just makes perfect sense, of course they don't, and they wouldn't.

[01:07:31] Guest 3: I wasn't taught that anyone goes to heaven, so didn't really come up.

[01:07:37] Abby: Did you receive the impression from the, uh, general Christian culture?

[01:07:42] Guest 3: It didn't seem likely to me.

[01:07:45] Abby: Fair enough.

[01:07:48] Guest 4: Damn, well, I wasn't raised Christian or anything, but all my friends were and they, they were told that animals have no souls and don't go to heaven. I went to a temple. But I drank a lot of grape juice, I don't really remember what happened in there. It was dark, it's, if you've ever been in a temple, it's really dark in there.

[01:08:03] Abby: You thought it was grape juice...

[01:08:05] Guest 4: And uh, I don't remember anything I learned, I was probably sleeping, and uh, whatever I learned was from All Dogs Go to Heaven, which surprisingly is not about religion 'cause they don't, I guess, but I don't know.

[01:08:14] Abby: Strangely. Alex?

[01:08:17] Guest 5: No, animals don't go to heaven.

[01:08:19] Abby: It was a definitive no?

[01:08:20] Guest 5: Definitively told, like, like my cat got hit by a car and I was like, 'Well, will I see my cat in heaven?' And my parents were like, 'Nope!'

[01:08:28] Abby: Okay, so I'm gonna ask a follow up question of all the 'no' people. Did that give you an early model for atheism because you had this creature that you loved and you believed was basically a good creature, but um, did not have a soul and would not be...

[01:08:42] Guest 5: I don't think I, I don't think I personally ever internalized it as a model for atheism, but I guess it was, I just remember being upset.

[01:08:51] Guest 6: I definitively recall being told that, yes, that beloved pets will be there with you.

[01:08:56] Ami: So pets only, or all animals?

[01:08:59] Guest 6: That's obviously, uh, based on the fact that uh, believed the superstitious nonsense so we didn't think all those little details through. But at the time, I remember that beloved pets will be there. Um, probably once you start questioning those kind of things is when you start down that slippery slope to atheism.

[01:09:14] Ami: To right here drinking beer with you.

[01:09:16] Guest 6: To here we are, that's what happened.

[01:09:19] Ami: They were right!

[01:09:22] Abby: Were you taught the animals go to heaven?

[01:09:23] Guest 7: Absolutely not.

[01:09:25] Abby: All right.

[01:09:25] Guest 7: I was not taught that.

[01:09:27] Abby: Were you taught anything, or just like, was it ambiguous? Or was it a definitive 'No, definitely not.'

[01:09:32] Guest 7: I was taught a lot of things, but not that animals go to heaven.

[01:09:38] Guest 8: Um, I don't think so. I think that question was kind of just avoided. Because we had pets, and when they died, I mean, they kind of died in horrible ways. Like one was, you know, hit by a car. One of 'em, um, had thyroid problems and climbed up into our family van. And when my dad turned on the engine it kind of, you know, well either scared him or injured him and he ran off in the woods and never came back. And without his thyroid medicine, he, you know, he's gonna be dead anyway.

[01:10:11] Guest 8: My parents never tried to comfort us with the idea that they would live forever. And I don't think it was a conscious thing of like, 'Oh, you know, they're not special enough to be in a heaven themselves' or anything. I think it was just, it was like a life lesson at that point. You know, life and death happens.

Haystacks & Hell Outro

[01:10:27] Santiago: Thanks for listening. If you have a story to share about your Adventist or fundamentalist experience, we'd love to hear it. You can submit stories on our website at (that's H E L L dot B I O) or leave us a voicemail at 301-750-8648 and we might feature it in a future episode. Thanks to Abby and Ami for their original podcast audio, and thanks again for listening. We'll see you on the next one!

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