Previously published on my Tumblr page, http://a-woman-apart.tumblr.com/
I covered a lot of ground in one of my last posts “No One’s Laughing at God”. I did a light analysis of the “God of the Old Testament”, Evangelical views on other faiths, spiritual experiences in non-Judeo-Christian religions, and finally science (particularly bioengineering) and what it means- or doesn’t- to “play God.” It felt good to get all of that out but I apologize if the post as a whole was really disjointed. I’ll try to stay on topic with this one.
Today, at my job, I was “witnessed to” by a patron who is a Jehovah’s Witness. Once while I was providing her service I believe she asked if I believed in God and I decided- maybe mistakenly- to be honest and say that I was struggling with reconciling the idea of the God of the Bible with the state of the world. Her answer was to give me 1 John 5:19.
And we know that we are of God, and the whole world lieth in wicknedness.
Needless to say that wasn’t very comforting, but she seemed genuine and I appreciated that she was trying. She’s a friendly person, obviously a loving mother, and clearly believes in what she’s been sharing with me. So far in my knowing her, she’s given me brochures, invited me to Bible study- which I politely declined- and guided me through the JW website. It feels odd to be the recipient of this kind of evangelical behavior, but I’m not totally offended.
Today, she made a point that was interesting. She showed me prophecies in the Bible about how Jehovah was going to bring His kingdom down on earth. She said that “this is the only hope that we have.” She said, “If you’re trusting in man’s kingdom, in man’s government, you’re going to be disappointed.”
This leads me back to a point I was making in the end of my previous entry. The idea that we will get a “new heaven and a new earth” or simply enjoy everlasting peace in the after life, can sometimes make us careless about how we deal with this one. It isn’t an accident that Evangelical Christians, including Republican presidential candidate, Ted Cruz, are the quickest to deny global warming. it isn’t accidental that radical Islam executes murder and chaos as part of a plan to bring about the apocalypse.
As a “pessimistic idealist” I think it’s important to hope for the best, but prepare for the worst. An afterlife is a possibility, not an absolute. Also, if history is any indication, God(s) have stood back and watched without intervening while human beings have razed the earth. We are becoming overpopulated. We are burning up fossil fuels at alarming rates and weakening the atmosphere. We are destroying important wildlife and causing shifts in the earth’s plate tectonics by way of our drilling.
There’s still hope and there’s still time.
I know we have to be practical, but I feel like the worst thing that we can do is to pretend that nothing is happening. We can’t solve a problem if we don’t acknowledge that there’s one there. I drive a somewhat dated vehicle, so unfortunately it’s a little bit of a gas guzzler. It’s not financially feasible for me to get a different vehicle right now, and carpooling and mass transit aren’t viable alternatives for me. Nevertheless there’s things I can do for the environment, like conserving water and recycling. When I do drive, I can choose to make sure I get as much as I can in the same general location and avoid making repeated trips. I can keep my vehicle in decent condition so that it causes less air pollution. I can grow plants wherever possible, which remove carbon dioxide and replenish oxygen.
Unfortunately, not taking care of our planet is just one consequence of this sort of thinking. Some people endure unspeakable suffering in this life because of what they believe will be afforded a reward in the next. What if, however, that reward never comes? (I might get into “Pascal’s Wager” later). The Apostle Paul actually discusses this in one of the epistles.
Else what shall they do which are baptized for the dead, if the dead rise not at all? why are they then baptized for the dead? / And why stand we in jeopardy every hour? / I protest by your rejoicing which I have in Christ Jesus our Lord, I die daily. /If after the manner of men I have fought with beasts at Ephesus, what advantageth it me, if the dead rise not? let us eat and drink; for to morrow we die. / Be not deceived: evil communications corrupt good manners. -1 Corinthians 15:29-33
It’s interesting that the Mormon’s created an entire theology about “baptizing for the dead” based on verse twenty-nine and a handful of other scattered Pauline references about baptizing for the dead. We won’t really go into that here, though.
Paul said, “I die daily” and we know from some of his other verses that when he talks about “dying to the flesh” he means being sexually pure and abstaining also from selfishness, anger, hatred, and dishonesty. He also seems to follow the logic that many theists do today, in that they ask atheists “If there is no God, heaven, or hell, then what is the point of life?”
I don’t feel like I’m qualified to answer that question. Countless philosophers have tried and failed to come to a conclusion. The philosopher of Ecclesiastes, King Solomon, said- after writing chapter upon chapter about the apparent vanity of life- that in the end we should “Fear God and keep his commandments, because that is the entire duty of man.”
For God will bring every work into judgment, with every secret thing, whether it be good, or whether it be evil. -Ecclesiastes 12:14
The idea of God judging a person’s works at the end of his or her life- as well as possibly during- was used as a catalyst to keep living and doing good things. If you behaved well enough, you would be rewarded. If you didn’t behave well, you would be punished. This really isn’t unique to Judaism, Islam, or Christianity- many religions have similar beliefs about life and the afterlife.
I am only here to raise the question about whether doing actions for the sake of an improved second life is really a good reason to do things. Sure, being good is often its own reward. If you just go around as a renegade, you won’t be able to benefit from the contribution of strong allies. It is often best to work together in a team than it is to just do things alone. Hostility towards the group at large only affords you antagonism and enemies. If we, however, only look at things this way, it only makes the case for it being a good idea to be a manipulator, that is, to simply act good just to curry favor and then later betraying those who trust you.
No, religious devotion in an altruistic sense, at least as Jesus described it, means “loving your enemies.” It means turning the other cheek when someone strikes your face during a dispute. It means forgiving, because, otherwise “your Father in heaven will not forgive you.”
What if there’s no “father in heaven” like Jesus described? Or, what if some people don’t deserve forgiveness? What if I die because I refuse to defend myself against an attacker, all in the name of God?
Let’s raise the stakes here. What if I am called to either renounce my faith or die? If I choose to die, and there’s no afterlife, was my life wasted? What if I give ten percent of my income to the church every month and discover that I should’ve been giving to the synagogue or the mosque? What if like the parable of Cain of ancient days, God “rejects” my offering? What if my intentions are good, but the church is greedy and uses my tithe to line their pockets instead of ministering to the community? Will God hold me responsible?
So then once we come to the question of whether we should live for God, we also at once come to the question of whether we should die. For him.
Enter, “Pascal’s wager” (according to Google);
the argument that it is in one’s best interest to behave as if God exists, since the possibility of eternal punishment in hell outweighs any advantage of believing otherwise.
I would simply ask Pascal one question.
Christianity did not originate the idea of hell (or at least something very similar), and all religions have different requirements for avoiding it. In order to cover all of my bases, I would need to make sure that I didn’t eat any “unclean foods” or “sacred beasts” and maybe that I avoided killing even insects. I dare say that running around trying to make sure that I met all the prerequisites for either reincarnation or admission into heaven I would greatly reduce my quality of life here on earth, and even in doing so I would be unable to guarantee any reward for myself because I might have ticked off one of the gods in one way or the other.
So yes? Why not “eat and drink” and just enjoy an overall hedonistic existence?
The apostle Paul calls encouragement this kind of unbridled pursuit of pleasure “evil communication” and “corrupt”. He isn’t really alone in this belief. Most cultures share some core values, like emphasis on a good work ethic, respect for elders, and honesty in business. Selfishness isn’t really encouraged in most cultures. We’re discovering, however, that this may have less to do with the “fear of God” then just some deeply ingrained biochemical predisposition to forming groups to benefit us individually. In other words, we humans are social animals and whatever benefits the social order is seen as beneficial to us.
When I was listening to the radio I heard a scientist give some interesting perspective on this. He said that animals shared a lot of characteristics with us. They might make trades or share with one another, but we are the only beings that might give up something based on not receiving another physical thing, but something non-material, like a place in heaven. He says we have based our societies and ways of life around fictional stories and identities, with money being the chief fictional thing that we believe in. We can give seemingly useless green slips of paper and receive food or services in return. He points out that this system only works because we believe in it. We believe that the money has value, and so it does. Everyone knows that the vast majority of it isn’t backed by gold or anything physical anymore.
Back when I could call myself a Christian, I loved a song by Rebecca St. James titled simply, “God”. (It’s lyrics posting time).
He made the light / He made the day / Spread the earth upon the waters / made the heavens and the rain / Look at the sky / See his design / the very same Creator / Is the one who gave us life
And what is man that he’s mindful of us? / (We’re merely clay in His hands) / And what is He that He loves me so much / He would die / well all that I can say is…
It’s God (x2) / Can you see / Can you hear / Can you touch / Can you feel / It’s God / Truly God/ I can’t explain any other way
You know what, I can’t either. Even though I no longer believe this earth is a mere 6,000 years old, or the story of creation in the Bible there’s something mystical and fantastic going on out there, and I’m sure eventually we’ll know a little bit more about it soon. For now though, I’m not going to base my life on intangibles. I’m going to deal with facts, and the fact is that I’m just starting to know who I am outside of this religion, to read the Bible without the biased lenses of Biblical literalism and I’m well on my way to becoming an independent, fully functional member of society. I don’t need the promise of an afterlife to find meaning in my life, I find meaning everyday in what I do.