A frequently used argument for religion is that it’s a comfort to people, and in no way do I disagree with this. There are definitely times when I wish I knew that there was some meaning to my life, that my existence wasn’t going to just cease someday, and that good will be rewarded and evil punished in the end. The thing is, I don’t really see any evidence for this. Just because it would be NICE for something to be true doesn’t mean it is. So why do I keep on living, if I don’t really see a point? In my darker moments, I tell myself that it’s simply the path of least resistance. When I’m feeling more content, however, my thought is that you have to make your own meaning, that life can suck but at least you get a chance to experience the good parts. Besides, it’s not like religious people don’t suffer from depression, regardless of what some of them might say. Even if Jesus really does save from sin, he doesn’t save from misery and drudgery. I guess I’ve always found it kind of odd that the same people who say that mankind is fallen and the world is the domain of the Devil will also talk about how the beauty and majesty of creation prove there’s a God. Which is it? Well, obviously the world is both wonderful and horrible. It’s not necessarily contradictory to have both existential angst and the joy of being alive, although perhaps not both at the same time. Hey, it was the chronically depressed and persistently atheistic Andy Partridge who wrote the lyric, “Everybody says join our religion, get to Heaven. I say no thanks, why bless my soul, I’m already there.”
But if there’s really some supreme intelligence in charge of it all, why did he (or she) make everything so complicated?
One issue that religion answers for some people is what happens to you after you die. For me, this is a non-issue, as I don’t think there’s any evidence that ANYTHING happens to you after you die, other than your body decomposing. It does relate to some of the things I mentioned at the beginning of the post, though, as the afterlife provides some sense of meaning, and a way to reward the righteous and punish the guilty. That said, if Heaven is perfect, why did God bother making all the non-perfect stuff? And if you blame Satan or Adam and Eve, well, who made them?
And I think the idea that this life is just a testing ground for where you’ll spend eternity kind of cheapens it. I do envy people who don’t fear death, but for me it isn’t a fear of what will happen afterwards, but of my life ending before I’ve really done anything. I also have somewhat of a desire to be remembered in a positive way, even if that’s kind of weird for someone who craves attention, because I won’t be around to receive any of that attention after I pass on. Sometimes I figure I wouldn’t mind being immortal, but I’m sure it wouldn’t be all that practical.
Besides, what if I live forever and my life just keeps getting worse and worse? I know about the Struldbruggs, thank you. I often hear of Heaven and Hell being used as motivators, but I don’t think this is all that effective. If I don’t believe in Hell, why would I really care to stay out of it? Sure, it COULD be real, but if the Vikings were right, I could also miss out on the cool afterlife by not dying in battle. I kind of think the carrot-and-stick mentality is missing the point of Jesus’ teachings anyway, although if the Bible is at all reliable, it does say that he was known to promise glory to his followers and damnation to his enemies. That said, the stuff that even non-Christians can look out and say that Jesus had some pretty good ideas, what might be loosely referred to as his don’t-be-a-jerk teachings, can be seen as more or less the opposite. You should follow the Golden Rule not because you’ll get into Heaven, but it would make THIS world a better place. If that also lets you live a blissful eternity, fine, but you shouldn’t do it JUST for that reason. If you act simply to gain rewards or avoid punishment, I’m not sure you’re a follower of Christ so much as of B.F. Skinner. The thing I DO appreciate about the idea of salvation is one that appears in many other religions as well, that even though people can do some terrible things, we all have the potential for goodness. Not perfection, but goodness.