Monday, October 03, 2011

Why You May Want to Hit Reverse on Your Drive to the Afterlife?

I was at a church service yesterday, and the pastor said something that disturbed me. I don't remember his exact statements, but I'll sum it up with some good old fashion paraphrasing. "The 9/11 terrorists did one thing right. They were focused and driven towards the glorious afterlife with their god, and so they perpetuated acts that they believed would get them into the afterlife and please their lord. They were committed to receiving awards and the best in the afterlife, and they believed their martyrdom would get them there." I do want to reiterate this was a paraphrase. Essentially the pastor was trying to get across the fact that we need to be driven and focused on doing things that will please God and allow for a glorious life in paradise.

I think it is rather shaky ground to ever try to claim that the 9/11 nutjobs were doing anything right. Sure, you may be able to be impressed by their communication skills and thorough planning, and think that we all could be more successful if we had that kind of focus. I don't think their martyrdom inspired by the promise of getting virgins and sweet digs in 'paradise' should ever be lauded and respected. Rather I think that such a narrow and committed focus on a glorious afterlife can be an extremely dangerous and detrimental thing, and I would hold 9/11 as the greatest example of the dangers of being driven towards a life in heaven.

I grew up around people who were eagerly anticipating the time they would go to heaven. My church would preach about the wonders of heaven, and how it would be so much more magnificent than life here. I remember there being conferences that were all about preparing us for our eventual arrival to the kingdom of God. I remember some telling me how they couldn't wait until they got their 'new body' in heaven, and how they could leave all this sorrow and pain behind. I've seen the obsession towards an afterlife, and I've witnessed why it can be unhealthy and detrimental.

9/11 is the ultimate example of the extreme dangers of being obsessed with an afterlife. I don't think most would ever do things to those extremes, but it does show how that type of thinking can lead to something absolutely revolting and despicable.

If the 9/11 suicide bombers didn't believe in an afterlife or any type of post death rewards, do you really think they would have been willing to fly into a tower and face certain death? I'm thinking they would have been a little more wary and started to believe the idea was pretty hideous and idiotic. The ideas of jihad or a war creating mass death may not be such an appealing concept if there aren’t the promises of spiritual rewards at the end of the bloodshed.

But I am using the extreme examples here, and I fully understand that.

I also realize there is actual value in a belief in the afterlife too. It does provide hope and it does lift the downtrodden's spirits. A person who has lost a loved one can be reassured with the belief that person is in a better place. A person who is suffering with a terminal disease can be at peace if they believe there is something wondrous waiting for them. A person who has lived a rough and unhappy life can get renewed hope by the promise of finally meeting their god and living in an eternal paradise. In these cases, I don't see a belief or focus on the afterlife being completely detrimental and it does have real intrinsic value for the sufferer.

I do feel a tunnel vision like drive towards the afterlife is usually a scary and dangerous thing. It may not be 9/11 dangerous, but it can still cause harm.

I remember a few people from my old church who'd be overweight or in poor physical shape, but shrug off their condition because "I'll get a new body in the afterlife." I remember people who do not feel the need to support environmental or animal right issues because "this whole place is going to be destroyed and made new in a few years anyway." I remember wars, famines and tragedies get trivialized because "the righteous are in a better place now, anyway."

I went to a church where the focus was getting people through the gates of heaven. It wasn't to feed the poor. It wasn't to support human right causes around the world. It wasn't about building genuine and lasting relationships with people that desperately need to know they're loved. No, the focus was getting people into heaven and everything else was secondary.

This life was secondary. The life that mattered was the one that happened after this one.

Can you see where that can get dangerous?

It can cause for this life to be downplayed and to be seen as trivial. These folks will admit the issues and tragedies are real, but they only last for a miniscule time compared to the eternity of heaven (or hell). Some of these people will believe in charities or sending relief to war torn countries, but it is driven by the focus of getting those people into the good side of the afterlife.

For some, sadly the focus is more on performing good deeds so that they can get all the jewels and rewards promised when they enter their paradise. Each person they help is just another crown or yacht to enjoy while they bask in glory. Now, I hope these types of people are rare, and I'm not sure if they are, but I'll stay optimistic. I still think even the well intentioned people who focus on an afterlife can be dangerous.

It makes this world and life temporary. And it is, I realize that. We aren't immortal. A focus on the afterlife makes this time just a pre-game show to the real main event -- life in paradise. One will find themselves doing things to prepare for their future rather than focus on making their current life great. There may be less concern on what is happening in the world today or even at the downtown in your city, because they're just finite issues that will be cured with the coming of paradise. You risk doing things for the sole purpose of preparing the way for heaven rather than making this world a truly greater place. The notion is that this world is damned anyway, and so it is better to focus on the perfect place. You can't fix this place, because otherwise, why would you need a heaven?

But what if the focus was on making this world a heaven on earth? Treating this life as the one that mattered? Believing this time was the moment that counted, and the only chance you had to leave a loving impact on the disenfranchised and downtrodden. A belief that we can make this place better and we can get it closer to perfect. The environment and Africa and curing disease and the poor really all do matter. We should care about them. We can make a difference. Not because we want heavenly jewels and crowns, but rather we want a helping and compassionate global community. We want a heaven, but we want it here.

I know that Christians and atheists and Muslims and Buddhists and Yankee fans will always have disagreements and different beliefs. If some started to put less focus on how to prepare for heaven (and I realize some of these groups obviously already do that) , and more focus on making this place heaven, then you may be pretty shocked by how much we actually have in common. It is a chance to put real value on this current life. We also put real value on everyone that is living in this actual world.

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