4/18/2011 | Share this article:By dealdoctor ~
John Lennon's song “Imagine” contains the famous lines:
Imagine There’s No Heaven
It’s Easy If You Try
No Hell Below Us
Above Us, Only Sky
Image via WikipediaAtheists simply do not believe in Heaven or Hell after this life, but rather that this life is the only life an individual will have to live. What are the implications of such a belief? Does this leave atheists in a sad hopeless situation while living this life, because once it is over it is really flat out over with no encore? Would this make us depressed people because there are no golden streets on which we will walk for eternity? Does this mean that atheists will live irresponsible, immoral lives now, because there is no hell to punish us when we die? Gosh if God does not have a carrot of heaven to inspire us and a big stick of hell to fill us with fear, what in the world would motivate us to act in kind ways toward others?
Gosh it seems if we actually start to imagine that there is no heaven or hell it brings on a whole list of questions that would pop into the minds of people who had never even stopped once to imagined that God and all things of God might not be real. Why man alive without God in the picture the entire meaning of life must be re-evaluated as well as the meaning of death. It is about like the comedian Stephen Colbert who no longer practices the Catholicism of his youth saying that the thing he is going to give up this year for Lent is the whole damn Catholic religion. He is a funny guy but there is no danger that without Catholicism he will become a crazed ax murderer who has no concern for other people.
People do not have meaning in this life because of gold, lead or copper streets in a next life, but because they have found ways to create meaning in this world -- while they are here. Atheists find meaning in loving their significant others, family and children. They might really enjoy their sports teams. Music, art, good books, philosophy, exercise, volunteer work, helping their neighbors, work, civil rights, politics, hobbies are just a few things which might provide meaning and make living interesting for atheists. The list goes one and on and on and well on. Think about it if people do not find meaning in such things as these their life while in THIS world must be crappy and meaningless. You can only sit on a bench and sing, pray, and read the Bible so long and most people will get impatient to get on with their lives even if they are Christians. Meaning in this life must come from things in this life that happen seven days as week. If you are only in line for the movie you better find something to do in the damn line like talking to the people who have come with you to go to the movie, or you are going to be bored as hell until you get inside and the lights dim and the show starts.
Imagining there is neither heaven nor hell after death means a couple of things for life in this world. It makes this life become so very special and precious. Each moment, each second, each situation is unique, limited and valuable. The birth of one of your children in this context is more precious, not less precious.Morality and human kindness are certainly not things that belongs to theists alone. The prisons are full of Christians as well as a few non-believers too. Having been a pastor for over twenty years I can assure you that immorality is common among Christians at least to the same degree as it is among atheists. Arguments can be made that there are lower rates of crime among non-believers than among Christians and that the divorce rate is now higher among Christians than non-Christians. The debate will rage on each side because statistics can be manipulated by anyone. Christians will say that these stats do not apply to Christians who read their Bibles everyday. Whatever!
Atheists who want to be successful business people better deliver what they promise their customers. They better not terrorize their neighborhoods by raping, pillaging or stealing or the damn cops are going to bust their ass. Crime may pay in the short run but communities, Christian or otherwise, will not put up with it for long. Non Christian countries have jails too. Morality and its being put in the codes of laws that prohibit stealing and murder is absolutely required by any society religious or non-religious that are going to function. So just like Christian parents atheist parents teach their children to be “good” and pick up their toys and share their toys with the other children. You get the idea.
Now, imagining there is neither heaven nor hell after death means a couple of things for life in this world. First it causes this life to be so very special and precious. Each moment, each second, each situation is unique, limited and valuable. The birth of one of your children in this context is more precious, not less precious.
Also atheists who do good do it for goodness sake not for the sake of going to heaven as a reward or going to hell as a punishment. They do good things because they believe it is good and that we all benefit when we all do the good things that benefit our communities and planet.
Fear of hell can make Christians neurotic and worrisome so that they are not able to enjoy the simple pleasures of life. Each little group has its list of things “good Christians” do not do. Many Baptists think it is wrong to have a beer. Some Methodists think it hurts not only your health but also your “witness” if you smoke. All Evangelical Churches will try to make teenagers feel guilty as a Federal Bank robber if they masturbate. News flash almost 100% of teenagers and most adults do masturbate so calling this harmless pleasure sin causes them to live in painful guilt and of course if true believers to fear of hell daily. The church induces the guilt and then has the only store for “forgiveness” each Sunday with the altar call. Gotcha! Everything from women wearing makeup to spending money on something that is not a basic essential can be made into a sin worthy of hell. Of course there is the “unforgivable sin” that is thrown in as a joker in the deck that keeps all imperfect Christians in fear to some degree that they have fucked up so bad that there is perhaps not even a chance that God will ever forgive them because they have gone too far. Hell is an essential of the Bible’s version of Christianity. Preachers have let their own imagination run wild with descriptions of hell throughout the centuries. But for once imagine there is no hell. Fear of hell vanishes at least for that moment. Fully embrace atheism and that irrational fear is gone forever.
Imagine there is no heaven. That means that when you are dead there is no Eternal Christian Disneyland or Islamic Heaven with 72 virgins for terrorist’s bombers. I guess this would also mean there is no one employed eternally to sweep the gold streets of heaven since there are not any gold streets there to be swept.
Heaven and Hell gone. Poof! Evolution has made humankind, along with the dogs, chickens, ducks, lizards, fish, grass, and flowers. All of life is still evolving including humankind and there is no break in the Tree of Life just different branches. Most of the Universe is made up of vast reaches where there is no life at all. How marvelous it is to be alive! What a wonder it is to be, to hear, see, love, cry, hope, work, and dance. Yes, oh, hell yes there is meaning. If you do not see this you are already dead in the head. Not everyone cares about smelling the flowers so they might as well be plastic for those people anyway. To the Christian everything in this world is like plastic flowers. Only the flowers of heaven will be real flowers. The pains of this world for the Christian are only minor inconveniences when compared to the flames of hell. I remember somewhere in C.S. Lewis’ writings I think it was in Mere Christianity where he has an American Christian soldier and a German Christian soldier shoot one another in World War II and they are both killed only to wake up laughing together in heaven. So much for the value of life in this world from a Christian perspective! The deal is to sell all you own and give it to the poor and take up your cross and die to this world. If you save your life in this world you lose it in the next. For the Christian when push comes to shove only the next life counts. It is the pearl of great price for which a person if wise is to buy even if it costs them everything they have in this world. That will leave you broke and empty emotionally and physically given time. A Catholic monk takes vows of chastity, poverty and obedience for just these reasons. Even the right to marry must go.
We atheists give a promise to the world. After death all people will have an equal amount of pleasure. After death no person will feel any pains of hell. After death everyone is the same. They are dead. They are gone. Imagine that. There is no need to fear anything at all after you die. Toss the fear and start living. Christians will have not one ounce more joy or pleasure in the non-existent afterlife than atheists. They also are just as dead as a rock. No pleasure, no pain. Ask a rock if they are ok. Yep, says the rock. It rocks to be a rock!
So today we are alive. Today is the day to love your significant other, your children, your grandchildren, your community, your friends, your hobbies, and as many others as you can and do not forget to love yourself too. Be your own friend while you can be a friend to you. When you are a rock no worries too. Wow! It’s all good. Imagine that! Some people are hurting. The rocks are fine. Help someone today. You will feel good, they will feel good and that is a damn good thing. Imagine an atheist saying that! Friendly caring atheists could that be possible? Imagine!
Imagine There’s No Heaven
It’s Easy If You Try
No Hell Below Us
Above Us, Only Sky