As some of you may know, this blog's origins come from a sporadic series of Facebook notes I posted criticizing religion. However, I have recently realized that here are a fair few topics I covered on Facebook that never made the transition to the blog. So I'm starting a short pseudo-series where I will be reposting the old Facebook notes here, with slight updates as needed. Hope you enjoy!
In case you don't know, a good friend of mine from high school died in November of 2010. I attended both the public and private memorial services, and also spent a lot of time with his family during that week. While I didn't pick up on any relgious tones in the public service (doesn't mean there weren't any, I tend to tune them out when they're around), the private ceremony included some religious words presented by some sort of holy-man (I can't bother to remember the title. Preacher maybe? Pastor? I don't even know the difference. I do remember he was a friend of the family though). Anyway, long story short this guy talked about a couple of different things, including the idea of an afterlife.
Some time later my mom seemed quite determined to convince me that some part of my friend was still "out there," or something. I admit I didn't quite understand exactly what she was trying to convince me of, but it seemed like she thought my believing it would help me deal with my friends death (really, though, it just annoyed me).
This all got me thinking. If people really believe that the deceased have gone on to a "better place" or are otherwise stil "out there," then why are they always so sad?
This is especially egregrious with the traditional notion of heaven as a utopia of sorts. If people truly believe that their loved ones are living in a utopia, and that they will someday join their loved ones in this utopia, then why are they so upset? Why do people cry their hearts out at furnerals and grieve their loss if their belief implies that it is really no loss at all?
Now I tend not to question whether or not people really believe what they claim to believe because I don't think it's productive to argue that one's opposition is insincere. After all, an argument ought to stand on its own merits, independent of who presents it and what the presenter believes. However, I just can't help but notice the stunning disconnect between what people say they believe, and the way they behave.
Now I must say that I would expect some grief from the mere fact of separation. When my older sister went off to participate in AmeriCorps, I was sad that I wouldn't get to see her for a long time. Yet the knowledge that she was doing something she really wanted to do, and that I would get to see her again in due time, completely overwhelmed this sadness. I was very happy for her, and I was in no way torn up with tremendous grief over the temporary loss of a sister. Sure I was a little sad, but it was a very different kind of sad then the sad that I felt and saw when my friend died.
Why is it that when a loved one dies, people who supposedly believe in heaven are torn arpart with grief? If I honestly believed that my friend was having a better life in a better place, and that I would soon be able to join him, I would have absolutely no need for a funeral. I'd be throwing a party.
So what do you think. Do people really believe in heaven? If so, why the enormous disconnect between their belief and their actions? If not, why do they say they believe it?
Here's a thought-exercise to demonstrate the discrepency more clearly. We're going to remove the emotion of "losing someone" and focus specifically on the disconnect between emotions about "death" and what we would expect about emotions regarding "gone to a better place."
Consider a person you knew back in high school. Someone you were on good terms with then, but haven't talked to in years. You never really intended to get back in touch with this person, and you rarely even think about them. For all intents you've already "lost" them.
1. Imagine you heard that this person suddenly moved to some far-off country you'll probably never visit in persuit of a great career opportunity. They had to leave their friends and family behind, but they're off to meet knew friends and live what will undoubtedly be an awsome and successful life. It's what they've always wanted. How would you feal?
2. Imagine you heard that this person suddenly died. How would you feal?
Pragmatically, the effect of the two scenarious are virtually identical for someone who beleives in heaven. After all, you haven't talked to this person in years, so you're not really losing anything with them being further away. Yet I suspect most people, even those who believe in heaven, would be far more saddened by scenario 2 than scenario 1 (many people would even be happy in scenario 1). Why is this?