Afterlife Myths (3)

17 11 2008

(Afterlife Myths 2)

So, I’ve talked about what the myths tend to be like, both the heaven side of them and the hell side. I was actually going somewhere with my ramblings this time, so here’s the conclusion post. (Sorry it’s so focused on Christianity again =\ )

Hell myths are obviously bad. Many who believed strongly in Hell say that it has terrified them for much of their life. Hell espouses an idea of justice that is distorted to the point of meaninglessness. It declares God’s absolute power over us and his right to that power. It’s authoritarian and hate filled, and it’s absolute crap.

Heaven myths are less clear cut. They give people a reason to live good lives, after all, without terrifying them (yes, it’s cynical, but if it works…), and they provide comfort for people about death. What’s wrong with that?

Well, I left out a few important things that heaven myths do. For instance, they interfere with the grieving process. People continue to believe that in some sense, their loved one is still there. They can’t completely get over the death because, to them, the death is caught forever half way done. Can you imagine what it would make you feel like if your mother, your brother, your child were permanently almost dead?

It leaves us with a ghost of that family member forever haunting us, because we never give up on their being there. We cling to that because it comforts us that they aren’t really gone, but that’s just denial. Denial is unhealthy at best, and incredibly destructive at worst, yet it is enshrined in almost all religions because it makes us think we feel better.

On top of that, it erases the idea of morality, or at the very least the idea of “Christian morality.” I’ll tackle the very liberal view of heave first,  liberal view of heaven next (I don’t mind those two so much, because they’re welcoming and accepting to other people as well), then last the more “traditional” view of Heaven.

If we say that everyone goes to heaven, well, that means that no matter what we do, we recieve eternal happiness. The likes of Hitler would thus arrive in Heaven completely unpunished, because this view of heaven is so tolerant. So much for God caring about morality. Of course, I think this still leaves room for morality. It just means you do good because it should be done, and because it helps other people. However, if you believe in eternal heaven, you don’t think that life on Earth matters so much, so why worry about it? I realize that many very liberal Christians work to help others. I’m just saying that their beliefs somewhat devalue that action.

If we say that everyone receives their just punishment and then goes to Heaven, you have a reason to be good, but not too much reason. After all, no matter how long your punishment, you’re in Heaven forever, right? There’s also the same problem of devaluing life on Earth as in the first view, since Heaven is still eternal. And finally, this starts to overlap with the traditional view, where you do good because you get something out of it.

Finally, there is the traditional Heaven. This, of course, is paired with Hell. That right there is enough against it, I think, because Hell is bull, but I’ll address the Heaven side, too. This is the ultimate “do good or else” situation. You don’t do good because it’s the right thing to do, you do good because it gets you into heaven. It’s as cynical and amoral as it comes, but it’s embraced by a horrifying number of people.

I’m not of the PZ Myers school of thought. I don’t think religion is completely evil. I’m not of the Dawkins school of thought, either. I don’t think it’s fairly evil. I think that the more liberal versions of Heaven really aren’t too bad. If the comfort they provide outweighs the interruption of the grieving process, then I have no problem with them. But sadly, I think that for many people that’s not the case. Even the liberal view of Heaven can cause harm. That’s why I argue against it. Not because I hate religion, not because I eat babies (ok, maybe one or two), but because I feel that I have to oppose that which causes needless harm.

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