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The Poison of Religion's Hope

Carl S ~

My escaped-from-the-Soviet-Union Czech co-worker was a skeptic. He was very frank about things and asked bold questions. One time, he and I were riding with the foreman, and asked him about eternal life. The foreman said, "We hope for eternal life." The Czech said, "You hope?!" and scoffed.

Religious hope is like a spouse who day by day and hour by hour poisons her husband. Every day, "nursing" him, she administers the poison, each time telling him he's getting the care he needs, he’s getting better. And he believes and trusts her. This is how the poison of religious hope spreads, slowly poisoning minds.

Isn't some beauty too much to handle? Aren't some out-of-the- ordinary experiences so overwhelming, so mysterious, that your body shakes from them? Tears aren't just for sorrow and mourning, but for joy. Happiness can bring weeping. The body that suffers is the same body which enjoys. The joy of sex is both sweet and sour and echoes through the years beyond. The brain that thinks and ponders and solves becomes confused and overwhelmed at times. This is really living; so what if it doesn't last forever? Like a song, it's great that it has an ending to it. If it lasted forever, it would drive you insane.

Many, many people believe in an eternal life that will be quite unlike living. They believe in a life without sadness, sorrow, pain, without contrasts, ups and downs, surprises, and the fears, trepidations, trials, and those errors which lead to discoveries and the knowledge that makes human experience hopeful. They expect to have a body without pain, but a body without pain is a body without pleasure; it is a numb body.

Though it is seldom mentioned, some believe in an eternity of eternal pain, usually for those who disagree with them. These everlasting unchangeable fixtures are all determined by the very prone to flawed choices of each individual! (What a "hell" of a terror to carry throughout life; the chance one always has of having made the wrong choice, and to be punished forever because of it. Normal regrets about choices are hard enough to handle.)

One of my brothers remarked that, for thousands of years, people believed they didn't have a right to happiness. I don't know where he got that from, but it makes sense. For thousands of years, religions have promoted that message, included in the familiar "original sin" dogma, which says that whatever evil or misfortune befalls us as humans, we deserve it. Early believers did not wash themselves, and let skin diseases overtake their bodies, in the belief that they should spend their lives in misery. (Recently, the American president publically sang a hymn, in which he called himself a "Wretch." What effect will this have on his dealings with leaders of other countries?)

That "other" reward-life hung before those who believed they had no right to happiness, a reward for doing nothing to better their lives, the only lives they had. This was their forever dangling carrot-on-a-stick. The same trickery worked in favor of the American slave owners; the slaves would get “heavenly" rewards, and should be grateful they were "saved" to get them. Those who lived under the power of ancient Egyptian, Aztec, Mayan, etc. religions, suffered needlessly while they lived.

Those who still live under the Christian, Hindu, Islamic and Buddhist religions, which also share the hope of a future happiness to come only after death, also suffer needlessly in their lives. It is no wonder; insistent religious hope sucks the life out of human aspirations. That hope, when sincerely believed in, sucks the life out of any future hope of making life in the here and now better. Why bother? The hope of faiths is a submission to fate.

That word "eternal" has ever bothered me, as it refers to a stasis which it cannot be. How can something be eternal which exists in time? The eternity of either forever-lasting bliss or agonizing torture has to be a series of events, otherwise nothing could be happening.

And yet, billions of humans spend their lives preparing themselves for a life after dying, and neglect to make the most of the lives they know for certain they already have. That's a tragedy. What makes living as a human being, or a mouse or lion or tiger or any other mammal significant are the challenges, the caring, the nurturing and losses, the learning, yearnings and discoveries we all experience, all in the here and now.

We weep with tears of joy and sorrow. We become tenderness and anger, the pleasure when justice triumphs over evil, and the disappointment when it doesn't. We live with empathy. All of these things would be eternally deprived to us in the "hoped-for" imaginary state of eternal comfort. This is not a “reward" we can relate to. It's antithetical to being human.

There is something zombie-like about people who bet their lives on a sincere commitment to getting the eternal prize packet deal. There is a glazed look about them; they're not fully "getting it" about the temporal existence they are really living in. In this one life, believers are willing to throw away the happiness in the here and now and suffer needlessly and make others suffer needlessly in body and mind, just because they insist an eternal awaiting life is all that counts.

Religious hope is like a spouse who day by day and hour by hour poisons her husband. Every day, "nursing" him, she administers the poison, each time telling him he's getting the care he needs, he’s getting better. And he believes and trusts her. It wasn't until the Age of Enlightenment (In the mid-eighteenth century), that any effort was made to push for a human right to happiness, and to state it as fact. Unfortunately some arguments for this freedom put it forth as "God-given." This was really, thoughtlessly, ironic, considering that the rights of the gods and kings have always kept humans from accepting their inalienable rights to life, individual liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. In the 21st century, we are still fighting for the rights of humans versus the rights of the gods. And those who are on "God's side" are out to deprive or deny those human rights.

The really, really true believers who "know" they are destined for eternal bliss, go through life semi-numb and judgmental of those who do not share their fervor, their dedication. They don‘t burn with desires in knowing this is the only existence we will have, and work to appreciate and make the most of it.

Without an understanding of sole mortal existence, believers cannot fully share the anger at injustices and human miseries we already are aware of, and help to alleviate or end them, even for one person at a time, as long as their eyes are solely on the prize beyond living. (Fortunately, there are enough Enlightenment values they accept by osmosis, that they work for the betterment of others on earth.) They spend billions to build churches, not shelters. Those who are this-life-alone centered are humans for humans, not human instruments used by a god, and to serve a god.

Isn't life worth living as a human being, pursuing happiness and helping other humans to be free and happy, without carrying the burdens of delusional hopes and gods on our backs?