"What happens after nature, reason and science have all been exhausted? It is a pretty dismal life that a non-Christian must live! You put faith in the the things of this world which are passing away. I am laying up my treasures in heaven."
This statement, or something like it is a common apologetic thrown out at the non-Christian. Throughout the New Testament the idea is promoted that those who enjoy this present world are wasting their lives and will ultimately regret it in the world to come. Having a good time here and now comes at an extremely high price, namely what is termed in Xtianity as the "second death." While there are differing view points on exactly what "hell" is exactly, it is generally agreed that "hell" is separation from God in some way. Although God is supposedly omnipresent and there is nothing in existence which HE did not create or at least mandate and approve, yet somehow, where ever or what ever hell is, HE is not in it. Therefore HE is both omnipresent and not-omnipresent simultaneously. While this may be a contradiction to our puny human minds, it all makes sense to HIM and it will to us too, once we reach HEAVEN.
Um, yeah, right!
Anyway, although this would make an excellent rant in itself, this is not the direction I want to go. I want to talk about the idea that my life is of no comparative value next the faithful Christian life. Of course having been an Xtian for many years, I understand the thinking. It goes something like this: "I am going to live forever in Heaven with GOD. All unbelievers are going to be relegated to HELL where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth - called the second death. While those unbelievers may have enjoyed the heck out of their lives it will end, and even if I suffer the most hideous privations as a Christian, my reward will go on for eternity, while their reward is only for the here and now. Therefore, I must conclude that my life as a Christian is of infinitely more value than those of the pitiful unbelievers. I am the vessel made for honor in the Potter's house, while they are the vessels unto dishonor.
Now as an unbeliever I know that my life only finds true meaning in the real and material world I live in. The believer believes that true meaning is found for his or her life in the spiritual realm. The spiritual realm is touted as being better than the material realm, so ultimately a spiritual person is better than a material person and a spiritual life of much more value than a material life. My life will probably not last much beyond 70 or 80 years if I am lucky. However, a Christian believes that their existence will continue forever and ever.
It appears to me that in the final analysis, it is not being happy or sad that defines the value or quality of life in Christianity as much as longevity. I may suffer terribly for being a Christian, but that time in misery will be so short in comparison to how long I will live in heaven. Conversely, while my happiness on earth may be awesome, it is admittedly short lived. I can only conclude from this that a life that never ends is better than a life that ends.
In traditional Christianity the only earth creature that has the possibility of living for eternity is the human being. No other form of life on the planet is even offered the opportunity to live forever. Since all animals are only destined for the grave, does that mean that the lives of all animals are valueless? I had a dog that lived 10 years and died. I also had a dog that lived 2 years and died. Was the one who lived the longest more valuable, or did they both live worthless lives because they died anyway. The companionship they provided, the protection of the property, the affection they showed was just a big waste of time because they did not live forever. Is that right? Albert Einstein, Thomas Edison, Mark Twain and Thomas Jefferson were not Christians. Were their lives pointless and meaningless because of their lack of religion? These three men changed the world, affecting the lives of millions without placing obligation on anyone for their contributions to history. Yet in the fundamentalist mind, these guys were a waste of human flesh, because they didn't ask Jesus into their hearts.
All animals on earth die, and not one is accused of being valueless because of lacking an eternal destiny. Only the most inhumane think that animals lives are worthless. Only humans have the arrogance to think they somehow deserve to live forever while all other life perishes, making room for the future. Even if we believe this way, we do not look down on our four footed pets and friends simply because they are without a soul. We still invite them to live in our homes and love their affectionate responses to our attentions. Sometimes we love our pets better than people.
Apparently even their very short lives have meaning.
It is not the length of a life that gives it value, it is what that individual does with the life that gives it value. The person who is loved has extraordinary value in the eyes of the lover. The person who is hated has very little value in the eyes of the hater. Life finds meaning and value in a number of ways, but most would agree that love is the defining quality that makes it all worth while. Even the Christian speaks of love as if they alone have the real corner market on the emotion.
So where am I going with this?
Jesus hates most of the world. While claiming to having infinite love for all, the Bible is emphatic on explaining that those who grow up and live in non-Christian cultures, or in areas where the gospel has not penetrated, or lived in history before Christianity either existed or had been brought to them, or have been converted to a heretical version of Christianity, or just don't have the capacity to believe in it, and so on and so on and so on, are going to be tortured for all eternity while God and the angels look on smiling. God, the angels and even the human inhabitants of heaven would have to be happy about all those billions in hell, because there is no sadness in heaven, it is not allowed. Picture this: Here I am in heaven while my wife whom I loved as much as my own life and my only son are burning in agony forever in hell. Somehow this makes me really happy, because it is God's will for me to be happy. After all, I asked Jesus in my heart in life and though I prayed daily for my family, they did not believe, so..........
While I may live forever in heaven, my life there is valueless. I am there because I made a pact with a monster. I may go on forever, but I am happy and joyful in the presence of the same one who is torturing those I love. Forget all the bologna about my family choosing their fate by not believing. God says he loves us unconditionally. Unconditionally means unconditionally. Apparently there are conditions on His love and that condition is for you to obey His instructions or be tortured. And why is he torturing them? Just because they couldn't or didn't believe a bunch of stupid religious rhetoric and say the magic formula of (A): admit you are a sinner, (B): believe that Christ rose from the dead, and (C): confess with your mouth that Jesus is LORD, or some other silly formulated bullshit.
We humans are uncomfortable with our mortality and try to find someway, any way, to deny the reality that we will someday die and disappear. We are dust in the wind, tis true, but just going on and on forever does not make our lives any more worthwhile. In fact, really accepting that we only have a short time to live might actually encourage some of us to get off our butts and make the most of the lives we have.
Death is a part of life. None of us want to go there, but we will. Before I was born, I did not exist. I suppose one could say that I was not alive before I was born. When I die, I will return to the same status I had previous to my life - I will not be alive. From what I remember of being "not alive," it was not unpleasant or the slightest bit inconvenient. From a non-religious perspective, death is not something to be overly afraid of. Death is simply the way of nature. It is a part of evolution and change.
In the Christian view, death is something to fear greatly. If you don't get the right religion, and even the right version of the right religion, you have the very real threat of eternal damnation.
In so many ways, losing Christ has been the most freeing and encouraging thing that ever happened to me.
Online Reading List
- An Outline of Intellectual Rubbish by Bertrand Russell (1943)
- Bible Teaching and Religious Practice by Mark Twain
- God is Imaginary
- Is there an Artificial God? by Douglas Adams (1998)
- Skeptics Annotated Bible
- The Age of Reason by Thomas Paine (1795)
- Which Way? by Robert Ingersoll (1884).
- Why I Am Not A Christian by Bertrand Russell (1927)