Wednesday 2 July 2008

Beyond Heaven and Hell

Although I would count myself as a Theist and, in some senses (unconventional, I admit), a Christian, certainly a practising Catholic, I am not comfortable with Heaven and Hell.

I see the need for them, in a primitive faith. Where you have a primitive society which pretty much works by conditioning, by centralised control of the distribution of pleasure and pain, these concepts serve a useful function.

Because in a society where people really do starve to death if things don't work out, where life is hard and people really do kill and steal to survive, where rape, pillage and torture are facts of life, where the law is there to control, but if you're above the law, you do what you like, a certain fear that you will either be rewarded or punished by a higher power is a powerful incentive to try and be nice to people and do your best to make the world a better place.

And what better way to ensure that this idea works, than by making it payable upon death. You don't know when death will come, so make sure you don't die with guilt on your conscience. And once you're dead, there's no turning back. That damnation is forever.

It works, of it course it does. The history of religions that have preached this, proves this. Whatever one says about religion, both the history of Catholicism and Islam proves how much systems of belief founded on these concepts can achieve.

My brother once asked me quite how the Calvinist idea of predestination could possibly be an incentive. After all, if its predestined, not much you can do. God decided whether or not you'd go to Heaven or Hell.
I pointed out, that the strength of the belief, lies in it's psychological power. The idea is, that the elect KNOW they are the elect. They were judged at birth. You know you are going to Heaven by the fervour you feel for the Calvinist belief. It's pretty simple really, the strength of Calvinism is 'We're going to Heaven because we believe.' And of course, the Calvinist needs to prove to himself, his belief is right, so he lives accordingly.

Not, of course, that I think it's a nice belief at all. In fact, I find the Calvinist idea appalling, narrow minded and bigoted. And we see it alive and kicking, the root of all the troubles in the six counties. The refusal of the 'elect' to be governed by majority rule, because he majority of their countryman are 'damned'.

Catholicism, whatever it's faults, didn't automatically condemn the pagan to damnation, nor indeed did it condemn the Protestants of England to Hell, one the hold of the Church had gone long enough for the English to lack the chance to hear the 'true' teachings of Christ.

But even in my own faith, I don't much care for Heaven and Hell. Sin and redemption, yes, I like those concepts. It's more of a Karma concept, once you take Heaven and Hell away. And I do believe in that.

To me, Heaven and Hell make it all a deal. It's still a bargain. You're doing things, not because YOU feel them to be right, but because you don't want to spend eternity in rivers of molten lava.

And I keep getting struck with the same philosophical point.

The person in the world you love most is about to commit a terrible crime. You have foreknowledge. You KNOW they won't repent. Because they believe it to be right. You know, if they go ahead, they will go to Hell.

If they don't do it, they will be saved.

The only way THEY won't do it, is if you do it for them.
And you won't repent, because by doing it, you saved the person you loved from damnation.

So you take their damnation upon yourself.

Now THAT's why I don't like Heaven and Hell. They don't allow for complexities.

Take terrorism. We've all heard the phrase 'One man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter.'
And of course, it's true. History decides how each is remembered. The IRA are described over and over again as evil. As are Hamas. And the twin tower bombers.

But how much evil was there in there in the hears of the twin tower bombers? Will they go to Heaven? No. Hell? No.
They won't go to either, because they don't exist.

But did they die at peace?
Fact is, they probably did, uncomfortable as it is for us to accept.

Nelson Mandela, vindicated. Stern Gang, vindicated. Michael Collins, vindicated.

I can't believe any of the above are going to genuinely repent, or have repented on their deathbeds- well Collins didn't get a chance, but the point still stands.

Whatever they did, they did so for reasons beyond concern for an afterlife. They risked damnation, for an earthly cause.

And surely, in a sense, that's a greater act? I'm not suggesting that these things are right, but doing something even when you will get NO reward, is surely a higher ideal than doing it FOR a reward?

Isn't the highest ideal to suffer and get no reward? To love and not be loved back? To try make the world a better place even though no one will thank you for it? To do what is right, even if you face damnation for it?

Because at root, this is what is WRONG with our system.

Why Capitalism sucks, is because it is rooted in this reward-punishment system. Oh, it's great for those who want to feather their own nests and care about it that much they'll devote their lives to feathering nests.

But what do the rest of us say?

Come on, you know! YOU SAY IT YOURSELF!

'I work to live, not live to work.'

Because we know the work we do, does not serve us, except to feed us.

But I believe that now, with our technology, with our infrastructure, working to LIVE, doesn't actually need to occupy much of our time.

It's what we do with the REST of our time. And if we weren't all enmeshed in this token-driven power structure, if we didn't feel that everything we give should get some tokens back, because the token givers are fairly grudging about giving the tokens out, maybe we'd feel a lot happier about saying 'I live to work, not work to live.'

Work meaning, in this instance, contribution freely given.
Because you genuinely judged your life by how much you put in.


Anonymous said...

>You know, if they go ahead, they will go to Hell.

If they don't do it, they will be saved.

Maybe our opinions differ here cos I feel that even if they do it and repent, they go to heaven. While not doing it doesn't mean they won't go to hell either. Heaven and hell aren't about deed, but about the heart; it's just that our heart determines our actions. But our heart can change...

> Because we know the work we do, does not serve us, except to feed us.
Yup. there's lots of work like that, and except for the monetary rewards, not much incentive in it. :-)

Anonymous said...

Well you know I believe in the after life and better things to come!

Anonymous said...

Here's my example Crushed, and the reason I can't believe.
A man who sexually abused his grandaughters, locked his wife in a room when she would "get crazy", never spent a day in church, accepts god as his savior on his death bed at 90 because he's scared of dying.
A second man, who raised two children, never abused anyone, and took care of his wife with parkinson's disease until he died at 88, but he never accepted god as his savior.
If you believe what the church, and Bible says, the first man is in heaven, while the second one is in hell.
That's bullshit.
We move on, I do believe that, to another plane of exsistance, or whatever you want to call it, but heaven and hell are just stories to keep people in line...

About my example, the first man was my wife's grandfather, the second one was my father.

Anonymous said...

i don't prescribe to religious barriers...i do believe that somehow you are brought back here to continue in another body (i don't have it all worked out because i haven't died yet) and are made to continue to come back till you get things right...i think there are major lessons we all have to learn and we do those at different paces...but when we achieve them...we finally achieve peace...well that's what i am going with...the god thing is too much for me...

Anonymous said...

I believe that Heaven and Hell aren't just made up fairy tales to have everyone try and be nice to each other. I believe that Heaven and Hell are key parts in a great love story.
See, you don't get to Heaven through good works, and you don't get to Heaven by simply repenting of your wrong deeds. You get to Heaven through a Man who was fully God and gave up all that glory to fight it out in the mud, go through hell on Earth, and then go through the real thing for three days just so He could be raised up as a bridge between said Heaven and Earth.
Why? Because evidently He's the creator of every living thing, and man being His most loved creation (Us made in His image), it cut a knife through His heart to see man fall, and to know that many of them would not be able to partake with His family in Heaven.
So He paid the highest price.

That's a Love that's stronger than death. A jealousy as unyielding as the grave.

It's a Love that says, 'No matter WHAT you've ever done to hurt me, or to defile the image I gave you, if you except the sacrifice I made for you... then I will make you clean, I will wash your hands, I will give you a relationship with Me here on Earth, and when you die, you'll dwell in an everlasting Joy and Peace, in a house that I made for you with My own hands.'