Belief Versus Behavior

What the afterlife tells us about religious motivations.

Daniel Patrick Moynihan famously said, “Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not his own facts.” In many religions there are countless arguments for the existence of an afterlife, but absolutely no facts. No one has risen from the dead. And I don’t much value opinions that are devoid of facts.

My philosophy of life is based less on the Bible than on the title of an old soap opera (which I never watched): One life to live. For atheists and humanists who believe life after death is a myth, the realization that this life is all we have encourages us to make the most of it in pursuit of happiness and fulfillment. This usually requires that we help others to fulfill their needs, too.

It’s sad that so many individuals spend their lives in fear of a judging god who condemns people to hell and purgatory. I feel sorry for priests, ministers, rabbis, and imams who dedicate their time on earth to appeasing a fantasy and trying to convince others to do it, also. I’m grateful that by pure chance I live at a time and in a country where it’s possible to be an open atheist and not expect to be executed as an infidel.

Different religious believers quote contradictory passages from their holy books about an afterlife and who winds up where. They resolve the contradictions by taking literally the passages they like and figuratively the passages they don’t. The problem some Christians have with Bell’s argument is that their belief system would not bring them any special rewards. It’s too bad they don’t find the teachings of their deity sufficiently meritorious to stand on their own, as is apparent in I Cor.15: “If Christ be not risen, then is our preaching in vain.

I can understand why a desire for justice or a fear of death might lead humans to make up various concepts of an afterlife. I can understand why self-interest might have led someone like Saint Cyprian of Carthage to say, “Outside the Church there is no salvation.” It is difficult, though, to believe a claim that a loving and all-powerful god would condemn Mahatma Gandhi to an eternity of torture while the Catholic Adolph Hitler has an eternity of bliss as he looks down at Jews suffering in hell. Now there’s a final solution for all Christians to think about, and discard as nonsense.

Image via Robert.

Herb Silverman
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