Thursday, July 19, 2007

Then There's Hell

Believing in heaven or hell is a very personal evolution. Many adults get their concepts of heaven or hell while young and from many varied sources- television, teachers, but most strongly from whomever raises them- and carry the concepts throughout their lives. I think that the concepts of heaven and hell are offered by spiritual leaders to effect three outcomes. The first is to bolster the image of god as omniscient, all knowing. Obviously, if god is all knowing, then god can know what a person is doing or thinking at any time and have an opinion about that behavior. The second is to infuse fear into the people who subscribe to any particular religion. Fear of going to hell is a strong motivator to do good and to turn to the church in times of personal doubt. The last reason that the concepts of heaven and hell made their way into the popular conscience is that they made very slippery concepts of morality concrete. In other words, as people were and still are profoundly accustomed to learning by narrative, the story of the battle for one's soul and the possible results was digestible for people; they could get their minds around it. And it is this very oversimplifying that erodes any credibility for me. It seems to me that if there is a "god," capable of creating the most subtle and intricate forces of nature, capable of designing complex structures such as the human brain, capable of emboldening people to bring forth great art and music, then that entity is in no way concerned with our day to day follies. I think that if there is a god, the most brilliant minds humans have ever produced- Einstein, Jefferson, Oppenheimer- could not come close to understanding its magnitude. To believe that an entity of such unfathomable power is somehow keeping track of whether we swore on a given day or lied to our boss is just ridiculous. We want to believe in the concepts of heaven and hell because we want to believe that some people- Jeffrey Dahmer, Hitler, Dewey (just checking if you were paying attention)- could never enjoy some sort of posthumous comfort or elation. But that is imposing human scale justice onto an enormously larger plane. I like to think that by being a basically good hard working person, that it will not go unrewarded at least in this life. But the cold hard facts are that we either die and simply decay or we are all afforded the same treatment after we die. The reading I've done of the work by Elizabeth Kubler Ross on near death experiences informs my thinking as well. I don't think there is some super huge abacus up in the sky calculating our every misstep. It is comforting to think there is a heaven and hell but it seems part of a larger story told for very earth bound reasons.

1 comment:

Nocomme1 said...

But of course you see that our need for a heaven and hell in no way negates the possibility that they may nonetheless be REAL. We have a need for food. Without food we would have no way to gain energy for life. But our needing it doesn't negate its reality. The same would hold for the obverse as well; if we had no need of plants or animals for food, they would not need to cease to exist. In fact there is no connection at all between our need (or lack of need for something) and that thing's existence. But don't feel bad, this is a common lapse in logic.
As for a God's interest in the minutia of human life, it would seem to me that any entity so omniscient and powerful that he took the time to craft and create a human eyelash as carefully as he did the Milky Way galaxy is a God for whom even the smallest of matters, matters. You cannot acknowledge the scale of his abilities and then discount the scale of his interest.