Friday, April 23, 2010

Heaven don't help us! (We'll help ourselves)

An interesting piece about the concept of heaven (really a review of this book, which the writer finds lacking), with two main thrusts.  First, like all imaginary places, heaven is a reflection of the society that creates it:
Heaven is constantly shifting shape because it is a history of subconscious human longings. Show me your heaven, and I'll show you what's lacking in your life. The desert-dwellers who wrote the Bible and the Koran lived in thirst – so their heavens were forever running with rivers and fountains and springs. African-American slaves believed they were headed for a heaven where "the first would be last, and the last would be first" – so they would be the free men dominating white slaves.
 And secondly, when religion organizations took charge of heaven, they gained control of the people:
Even some atheists regard heaven as one of the least-harmful religious ideas: a soothing blanket to press onto the brow of the bereaved. But its primary function for centuries was as a tool of control and intimidation. The Vatican, for example, declared it had a monopoly on St Peter's VIP list – and only those who obeyed their every command and paid them vast sums for Get-Out-of-Hell-Free cards would get them and their children onto it. The afterlife was a means of tyrannising people in this life. This use of heaven as a bludgeon long outlasted the Protestant Reformation.
An SDShout group member responds to the idea of heaven as a tool of control and succinctly expresses the humanist approach:
So true!  My parents and other relatives waste so much time fretting about entering a place that exists only in the imagination--a place invented by humans.  I am dismayed at how frightened and obedient they have become as they have gotten more and more religious.  I reject that nonsense, of course.  I'm a happy and fulfilled person, and I don't worry about the notion of heaven one bit!  Moreover, in accordance with what the author writes in the last paragraph, I prefer to live my life to the fullest here and now because THIS life, the life we have on earth, is the only life we have!

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