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Heaven: a selfish gift

By rural_atheist ~

Most everyone has received (or given) a "selfish gift"--an item of little interest to the recipient, an item that the giver secretly wanted himself but couldn't otherwise justify; I recall the time I, an avid gamer, bought my non-gaming husband a video game console for his birthday. This aptly describes the Christian idea of heaven. In exchange for satisfactorily worshiping him during their mortal lives, God rewards the faithful by allowing them to worship him forever without rest.

Especially to non-believers, but even to many believers, this image of heaven seems unappealing. Many people can quickly think of activities they prefer to prayer or church--of course, their faith requires Christians to feel guilt over their instinctual choices.

On the other hand, the Bible clearly documents God as sad or angry whenever mortals refuse to obey him (hence Sodom's destruction), yet happy or pleased whenever they do (hence the many gifts showered upon his questionable favorites).

Therefore, one can safely assert that heaven, an eternity of praising God, is actually a gift for God, not the believer.

Confronted with this phenomena after skipping church so that he could watch a football game, one conscious-stricken acquaintance attempted explained it this way: "In heaven, we'll want to worship God, just like we want to watch the Superbowl."

He further explained that in a fallen world, most Christians fall prey to the sin of enjoying worldly activities more than religious ones, but the best and purest of believers overcame this natural inclination--driving their fervor with which they serve the Lord.

Once in heaven, however, converted into their perfect forms and free of sin, Christians will want nothing but an opportunity to grovel before the Lord, forever.
In fact, in heaven, everyone becomes essentially equal--minor doctrinal differences aside, such as my former church's teaching that preachers (immediately ruling out females like myself) would receive special recognition at the pearly gates.

At first glance, this equality-for-all seems rather democratic, something towards which all societies should strive. On further examination, though, problems arise. Within the realm of heaven, all individuality and achievement disappears--and free will with them. Receiving flawless spirits, Christians actually lose the ability to choose to believe in God; belief becomes the default.

Despite the typical Christian conservative's vocal support of capitalism, heaven actually begins to resemble socialism (at least, the simplistic, antagonistic socialism they envision).

Despite the typical Christian conservative's vocal support of capitalism, heaven actually begins to resemble socialism Within the realm of Christian teachings, this sameness makes sense. To enter heaven, God requires the same single thing of everyone: that they confess and believe in Jesus Christ as personal redeemer and creator. Therefore, for completing the same task, it follows that believers each receive the same reward.

Christians emphasize the all-consuming importance of faith in Christ by stressing that faith alone--not works--saves the soul. The act of accepting Christ requires little work on the part of the individual, beyond declaring his faith, and guarantees his eternal reward; meanwhile, the many people who, for whatever reason, cannot accept Christ, do not get to claim the reward.

The reaction of my parents-in-law to their young daughter's project on Greek mythology highlighted the value fundamentalists place in the faith-only route to heaven. Despite the white-washing and universal disbelief of the Greek gods, they felt very threatened by such heathen teachings. In particular, they latched onto to the "illogical" idea of Hades wherein "everybody goes to 'hell' no matter what kind of life they led." (Of course, they saw no problem with their belief that the no ancient Greeks descended to the Christian hell with disregard for their personal characters, just because they didn't know about the Jewish God.)

Christians commonly equate the Hades with their idea of hell (punishment), refusing to recognize, in any meaningful way, that it actually contained both positive and negative: perhaps because of the similar underworld symbolism, perhaps because they associate Satan with anything marginally different from their beliefs, or perhaps because
In the ancient Greek idea of the afterlife, individuals could end up in Tartarus (bad), Asphodel Fields (neutral), or Elysium (good)-- based on their virtues. The judged virtues undoubtedly included respect for the gods, but unlike Christianity, encompassed more than simply determining if one satisfactorily believed in the divine.

Christians fear a merit-based afterlife, because without the backing of Christianity, the relatively effortless acts of proselytizing and prayer have no significance. In other words, many Christians have not exerted themselves in any meaningful, measurable way, and at some level know they would end up in Asphodel Fields. Admitting belief in a deity would not immediately tip the scales in their favor, erasing past sins. Instead, they would have to actively redeem themselves, working to creating more good in their lives than bad.

Perhaps even worse to the fundamentalist's frail ego, a merit-based afterlife destroys the lines they've drawn around their in-group. Under a merit-based afterlife, they don't have a monopoly on the secret key to heaven--and everybody has an equal shot at getting in.

Meanwhile, non-believers like myself one-up the merit-based afterlife by discounting the existence of an afterlife altogether; life itself simultaneously serves as the journey and the reward, with just one shot to get it right.

Confronted with and afraid of these realities, Christians cling desperately to God's selfish gift, for it makes them feel special and comforted. Unlike many other selfish gifts, though, wherein the recipient benefits somewhat, God's gift only benefits his ego and even actively works to harm the recipient's self-esteem. I recommend returning the gift for a nice refund of freedom, time, and sanity.


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