Often you may hear devout followers in a afterlife based religion saying something to the effect of, “Though tough times may come, they will only last for a little while, heaven is our home.”
Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your [our] life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory. –Colossians 3:2-4
Those who are faithfully true to their trusts and to their covenants; And those who strictly guard their […] prayers […]. These are indeed the inheritors. Who shall inherit the Firdaus (Paradise). They shall dwell therein forever. –The Noble Qur’an – Al-Mu’minun 23:8-11
You may know fundamentalist and evangelicals who hold a principal of beliefs centered around the idea that their eventual destination is heaven. Although this is not universally true of all strong believers of their respective faiths, it is a common trend. By itself it may seem harmless. After all, we all wish to believe there is something beyond the limits of our lives and the idea of an afterlife is common in many religious as a way to cope with the frailty of our own existence. When this becomes a danger is when a person’s beliefs in the realization of this afterlife and the myths surrounding it become so strong that the realities of this world are often seen as a momentary displeasure that will soon be absolved.
I’ve heard a pastor in a church once say, “For the believer, this world is all we will know of hell. But for the unbelievers, this world is all they will know of heaven.”
The vast amount of injustice in this world: those who are falsely imprisoning or tortured, those who are killed in wars for resources such as oil, diamonds and even fresh drinking water, those who are slaves in factories to give the world its supply of cheap plastic trinkets; to say that god’s judgment shall one day come and give to each person what is deserved is to unburden mankind from the very reality of needless human suffering.
There are many religious believers who hold to this system, and although it can help those who are suffering while dealing with these very harsh injustices, the reality is that if these beliefs are not true, then there will in-fact be no judgment. If there is no heaven or hell, this world becomes all any human being will know.
“Most people think, great god will come from the skies, take away everything and make everybody feel high. But if you know what life is worth, you will look for yours on earth, and now you see the light, you stand up for your rights.” -Bob Marley
If we to rely solely on the power of an invisible god’s judgment, what would be the point of people like Martin Luther King, Mahatma Gandhi, Nelson Mandela, Benazir Bhutto, Sergio Vieira de Mello and others who have fought for social justice? What would be the point of groups like the American Civil Liberties Union, Lawyers without Borders and Amnesty International?
Some would say god chooses to work through some individuals. Why does god chose to alleviate the suffering of some on earth and not others? No one has a reasonable explanation except that human beings cannot possibly understand the perfect will and plan of a divine being. It is circular logic that defies any meaningful reason.
Some believers will return to Pascal’s Wager: since the existence of god cannot be determined by reason, one should live as though god exists for one has nothing to lose and everything to gain. It’s an interesting theological theory, but it holds the same amount of subjective reasoning as Occam’s Razor, and it doesn’t alleviate the tendency of inaction due to the overwhelming will of an all powerful god.
During my short time in a Baptist church youth group, I remember one of the elders who said he believed the end was coming soon, referring directly to the Christians Rapture, a time when Jesus will supposedly return to earth and take all believers into heaven with him. He went as far as to say that, based on what he’s read in the Bible, he believed it will be a nuclear end.
“…that our leaders, our national leaders are sending them out on a task that is from god. That’s what we have to make sure what we are praying for that there is a plan and that plan is god’s plan…God’s will has to be done in unifying people and companies to get this gas line built…” -Sarah Palin’s Speech to the Wasilla Assembly of God.
The movements of Zionist extremists and neo-conservatives are pushing their believes to embrace this idea that the end is near and that it will be a nuclear end. Here is where we see the connection between this misguided believe in the afterlife and total and absolute disaster. What started off as a belief system to help individuals cope with the reality of death and loss can twist itself over, surrounding itself in myth, to lead us to a believe in the end of the world.
“…society has … a vested interest in considerable losses and catastrophes. These wars, famines, floods and quakes meet well-defined needs. Man wants chaos. In fact, he’s gotta have it. Depression, strife, riots, murder, all this dread. We’re irresistibly drawn to that almost orgiastic state created out of death and destruction. It’s in all of us. We revel in it. Sure, the media tries to put a sad face on these things, painting them up as great human tragedies. But we all know the function of the media has never been to eliminate the evils of the world, no. Their job is to persuade us to accept those evils and get used to living with them…” -Waking Life (Film 2001)
We can only begin to understand the deep psychological need humanity has for the end of its own existence, but it has exists in a variety of myths and religions for thousands of years. It may be a deep yearning to seek the justice of god against our enemies, or a subconscious need to see humanity as a story with a concrete beginning and ending. Or it may simply be a coping mechanism to deal with our own human frailty and the realization of our own mortality.
As a single race, the human race, we need not look to the heavens which may never open up to reveal the divine hand of god sent to save us from ourselves. Since humanity now has the power to destroy our world several times over, we simply cannot allow ourselves to take that chance. What kind of god would plan for a crewel end to show creation the dependency it must have with divinity?
To simply accept Pascal’s Wager and believe in god on the off chance that he or she exists is a fruitless task that can have the unintended consequence of pride and misguided apathy. The better wager is to believe that humanity can stand against the injustice of the world and that we as human beings, as individuals, as people who are personally responsibly for both our lives and the direction of the human race, will wager our lives on fighting for peace and justice; that we would protect this pale blue dot we inhabit, the only home we have ever known.