‘Troubled Youth Such as You Burn in Hell’

By Wendy Thomas Russell | February 9, 2012 | 5 comments

During my freshman year of college, I had a roommate whose subversive sense of humor was rivaled only by my own. One day, while wandering around in a thrift store, she spotted a picture of Jesus with his arms around two forlorn teenagers.

My roommate bought the picture and penned an inscription at the top.

“Dear Wendy,” the inscription read. “Troubled youth such as you burn in hell. Love, Jesus.”

I suppose my roommate considered herself a lapsed Catholic, and I didn’t consider myself much of anything. We joked a lot in those days about how we were both destined to wind up in hell but how we weren’t worried because that’s where all the cool kids were going to end up anyway.

My favorite part of the picture is the pretty handwriting she used to pen the note, and the addition of the word “love.” Because there’s nothing unloving about telling someone they’re going to hell. Not when it’s the truth. Not when Jesus is saying it.

After 20 years, I don’t guess I fall into the “youth” category anymore. But I’m pretty certain a good number of people still think I’m heading to the underworld— what with my decision to write a public blog about raising kids without the many comforting images of heaven, eternal life and an almighty protector walking beside us on sandy beaches.

I guess I’ve always assumed that, if a benevolent god did exist, such a god would not punish skeptics or freethinkers simply for being skeptical or freethinking. But I suppose it’s possible that I’m wrong. It’s possible that somewhere, out there, a vengeful god is waiting to send me straight to hell, to burn alongside all those other poor souls who believed the wrong way.

Then again, all you guys are probably going to be there, too. So how bad could it be?



  1. JT says:

    Your blog reminds me of my favorite triolet:
    Why should the devil get all the good tunes?
    The booze and the neon and Saturday night?
    The swaying in darkness, the lovers like spoons
    Why should the devil get all the good tunes?
    Does he hum them to while away long afternoons
    or long lonesome Sundays or sing them for spite?
    Why does the devil get all the good tunes?
    The booze and the neon and Saturday night?

  2. Jenny says:

    Scotch whiskeys on me when we get there! Jesus doesn’t get any.

  3. Rohan Bhalerao says:

    It is real fun following your blog. I am about to get married in some days. Here in India, where we live in a joint family, it is very difficult to make relatives understand my agnostic point of view. So, mostly, I keep my views to myself. But from here on, with a new partner and a kid in some years, I will have to be very particular about expressing my views. Your blog certainly helps. Thank you for sharing your thoughts!

    • Fantastic, Rohan! And you’re so welcome. I think the friction caused between family members is one of the most difficult areas to conquer among us nonbelievers. But I’m determined to bring you all the best advice on that front — and others. Thanks so much!

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Due out March 31, Relax, It's Just God: How and Why to Talk to Your Kids About Religion When You're Not Religious offers a well-researched look at a timely subject: secular parenting. With chapters on avoiding indoctrination, talking about death, vaccinating kids against intolerance, dealing with religious baggage, and getting along with religious relatives, the book offers a refreshingly compassionate approach to raising religiously literate, highly tolerant and critically thinking children capable of making up their own minds about what to believe. The book may be pre-ordered by visiting Brown Paper Press.

      Natural Wonderers is my new blog published by the Patheos faith network. An extension of my previous blog — Relax, It's Just God — Natural Wonderers offers stories and advice on raising curious, compassionate children in secular families.
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