Sunday, December 21, 2014

The Dangers Inherent in the Seductive Allure of Paradise

Both christians and muslims believe in an afterlife (for the "righteous") that's characterized by eternal bliss with their putative deity.  For the unbelievers and unrepentant sinners, there's eternal pain and torment.  This is the classic carrot-and-stick by which the faithful are controlled.  Reward or punishment?  It's your choice.  Submit or suffer forever, it appears.  This seems like a simple and effective way to control behavior and, to listen to many believers, it seems to work.  Furthermore, many people who experience the death of their friends and relatives are comforted by the thought that (a) the suffering (if any) has been exchanged for eternal bliss, and (b) they will meet again when the living join the dead in paradise.

Unfortunately, this seemingly simple black-and-white isn't so simple as it seems.  For instance, the comfort derived from the prospect of a heavenly afterlife for our friends and family members has to be a bit uncertain.  After all, there's precious little comfort if the deceased were to pass on into eternal torment!  How can we know for sure, since no one has ever come back and let us know how it turned out for them?  Can we know for sure that we'’ll pass muster when we die?  Every religion claims to be the right path.  At most, only one can be right, and they may all be wrong, even about the very existence of a heavenly afterlife reserved only for their followers.

And think about the attractive lure of paradise when your life becomes a living hell (at least as you or others see it)?  Why not take one's own life, put an end to your troubles, and hasten your entry into paradise?  The bible is silent on suicide, interestingly enough.  See:  here

The clergy figured out centuries ago that if they gave believers the choice of a hard, unpleasant life on Earth or an everlasting paradise in heaven, their churches could become rather sparsely populated!  Hence, the clergy invented a cure for this problem:  they ruled that suicide is a guaranteed way to wind up in the bad place to spend eternity, not the good place!!  No mention of that in the bible, so it's clearly an invention of the clergy.  Brilliant!  Problem solved, right?

Well, no, not completely.  Religious believers are still committing suicide, although some perhaps are swayed by this threat.  To what extent the prospect of paradise (or hades) motivates their decision, I certainly can't say.  Many people evidently see no alternative in this life, despite the threat of going to eternal torment for it.  Furthermore, suppose someone is having a really difficult time, or is perceived to be suffering (or about to suffer) by one of their friends or family?  Would it not be an act of mercy to murder them, and hasten their entry into paradise?  Surely, releasing someone (even without their permission) from physical pain and/or mental agony would be an act of altruism.  But of course, murder is a sin and damns the murderer in the afterlife .  Nevertheless, in some people’s twisted mind, this "benevolent" act is a selfless sacrifice by the murderer.  You give up your own ticket to heaven (and book a ticket to hell) for the noble purpose of sending the sufferer to immortal joy, relieving them of their anguish.

We see reports of this sort of "benevolent murder" all too often – it's pretty obvious that such people have a very twisted view of right and wrong.  Most would agree that the perpetrators are mentally ill, and such a diagnosis is probably correct.  But these murderers believe they’re doing good, not evil.  Mainstream religion has provided them with this vision of neverending paradise that they believe not only justifies their crime, but ennobles it!  The vision itself likely isn't the root cause of their murderous deeds, but it's a way that a sick mind can “rationalize” what they do.  The prospect of paradise for the victim is a ready-made excuse, and the hope for gaining paradise is preached by religious clergy all the time.

To what extent does such a justification affect the frequency of murder among believers versus non-believers?  I haven't done the work to give a proper answer to that and know of no work done on this subject.  But I can virtually guarantee that no atheist will ever justify a murder for such a "reason".  What might these sick minds have done without the vision of their deeds as help, not harm?  No one can know that, of course.  They might have found a different excuse for their murder, or they might not have done the murder at all.  We can only speculate on what might have been, but we do know for a fact that the allure of a heavenly paradise was used as the reason they gave for their actions.  If they didn't actually need the excuse, nevertheless they used it rather than something else.

In a related vein, the religious concept of the "end of times" includes the sweeping up of all the righteous into paradise and the eternal punishment of all the unbelievers and unrepentant sinners.  I find it worrisome that some people actually look forward to this "end of times" evolution, with its "settling of all the accounts".  Rather than seeking to make the Earth a better place, such people are provided with a ready-made excuse to do nothing to improve our lives in this life.  And I've even heard people say that if they could hasten the day of the world's end by doing something, they'd gladly do so. That is, in my view, a sick person, deluded by religion in the arrogant, narcissistic belief that they surely would be selected for paradise.

Paradise in an afterlife has some pretty worrisome implications as a concept, if you think about it – it puts a benevolent face on an otherwise evil deed.  Suicidal terrorists often justify themselves this way, as well - they're sacrificing their lives for the sake of advancing their (religious) aims, and so will be guaranteed an eternity in heaven.  The paradise concept  doesn’t cause mental illness and murder, but it does make it possible for sick, deluded people to justify horrific acts.  In the absence of the belief in a paradise (and/or an anti-paradise), mentally ill people might find other excuses, but this one is so widely disseminated and accepted, it falls readily into their hands.  It is concept that provides fertile ground for diseased minds.