Sunday, October 5, 2008

Love and the afterlife

I'm often surprised by how little Christianity has to do with the pop-culture religion that most North Americans are exposed to most of their lives. I mean, I got more of my knowledge of religion from Bugs Bunny than I ever did from the Bible, but i had just presumed that they were more or less the same thing: since North American culture comes largely from a Christian basis, I had generally presumed that most of the spiritual concepts floating around in the shared consciousness of North Americans had had a basis in Christianity.

To whit: the idea, amazingly common in English-language literature and art, that families are reunited in heaven after death. This idea is so prevalent in popular culture that it barely even seems worth mentioning. We comfort ourselves upon the death of a loved one by telling ourselves that one day we will be 'reunited'; the more maudlin of popular representations of death even show families embracing on clouds awash in white light. We enter into discussions about which partner a divorced or widowed person who remarries will spend eternity with.

So i was, frankly, gobsmacked the first time I was presented with a dogmatic Christian answer to the question of 'how can heaven be a reward when loved ones are in hell?'

It's a good question, as unanswerable questions about scripture go. The idea is that since heaven is supposed to be the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, if you happen to have dirty heathens in your otherwise clean Christian household, and if you happen to love said dirty heathens, how beatific will your harp-and-halo afterlife be when you know (and perhaps are able on big-screen TV to visually confirm) that your beloved infidel is roasting on an open Lake of Fire?

The answer, apparently is: pretty darn beatific. Apparently the correct Christian answer to this is that in heaven we'll be too busy worshipping and loving Jesus Christ to hear the sounds of our loved ones' flesh sizzling. In fact, our love for Jesus Christ will overwhelm any other love we might have, and we will quite literally forget about any love we might have had for other humans down here on earth. This, it would seem, is the reward we get for a lifetime of good Christian living (a large part of which, dare I remind us, involves strict rules on who you can share your life with and under what circumstances you can share your life with said person).

I'm not sure whether or not you need to be an atheist to see this particular orthodoxy as shockingly insensitive. I mean, atheism doesn't offer a nicer vision of the afterlife, but frankly it doesn't offer a worse one, either. Asking people to hope for an afterlife and to adjust their behavioural patterns accordingly, but denying them the love of their loved ones in that afterlife, seems both surprisingly cruel and ultimately unsatisfying.

And since heaven is the greatest power Christianity has over wavering followers, that's particularly surprising.

No wonder they rarely talk about it...

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