I Didn’t Want to Go to Hell

One thing I learned from the cult of my youth: Dressing lies pretty don’t make it the truth

Joel Michael Herbert
Human Parts
Published in
4 min readMay 23, 2019


Photo: Jenny Getter/EyeEm/Getty Images

When I was 7 years old
I walked down an aisle
Because I didn’t want to
Go to hell
What a thing to tell a kid
And as long as I can remember
I wondered
If anyone could break the spell
Of the shame I felt

As a 7-year-old boy

When I was 8 years old I learned
That women who wore jeans
Were probably gonna go to hell
My grandparents too
Who didn’t quite believe
In Jesus and his love
Would face his wrath as well
Oh the fear I felt

As an 8-year-old boy

Mama, don’t you kid yourself
That’s child abuse
Making up the rules as you go along
Refusing to sing if it ain’t your song
Dress it up the best you can
I won’t call a truce
Till the whole thing burns in ashes to the ground

For the kids who still have to listen to the sound
Of late night altar calls and the sound of their own tears
Conjured up, desperate to make a mad god hear
Of adults who hate themselves, who cope by peddling fear
Of angry, sweaty preachers who haven’t been laid in years
Of the quiet panic every night from a conscience uncleared

When I was 10 years old
I learned that after Jesus came back
You could be killed, or take the mark and go to hell
And all the kids who disobeyed, drank beer, or had sex were left behind
I didn’t know what sex was, so I figured I was swell
But that didn’t change
The shame that I still felt



Joel Michael Herbert
Human Parts

Husband. Father. Artist. Storyteller. Armchair Theologian. Advocate, activist and politician. Gryffindor. [neuro]Divergent.