Wednesday, February 13, 2013

The Temptation of Heaven

Heaven, the greatest carrot and stick routine
I was reading a muslim’s blog the other day.  This particular blog was talking about how non-muslims seem to be fascinated by the 70 virgins in heaven thing.  I must say that when the writer said that this is the first thing most non-muslims think of islam, I agreed.  This seems to be true for me.  The point of this particular blog was that the point of the virgins isn’t the virgins themselves, but that heaven is a reward for those who chose the right religion (or were lucky enough to have been born in it) and followed the dogma of the religion all their life.  I would say that my problem with the virgins is not the virgins themselves, but the fact religion thinks we need a reward in order to do the right thing.

Let me start with this:  what IS the right thing to do?  How do we tell the right from wrong?  The question of right and wrong SHOULD keep us up at night.  We should constantly be pondering our personal code of morals and ethics, looking for flaws and ways to correct those flaws. We need to be able to discuss what we find with those closest to us, to get other perspectives and weigh them.  But this can only happen AFTER we accept that there are no objective moral standards, and that any moral standard we make can be wrong.  If we think our morality is the best, greatest morality that has god’s stamp of approval, I imagine you’d have no reason to ever ask if an action is or is not right.  And you’d have no reason to change it.  And your morality would surly stagnate, and fail.  Humans are fallible, but we are the ones in control of our morality.  Give it over to an imaginary god, and we have lost before we have begun.

Of course religion is no place to find moral standards.  If it were, we’d see all religions agreeing on what is right and what is wrong.  And while simple layers like the Golden Rule do seem to make multiple appearances, how this plays out certainly varies from religion to religion.  Show me a religion that says “…and play nice with other religions, for they have as much evidence of their god(s) as you do”. 

And why should we do the right thing instead of the wrong thing? Perhaps the wrong thing is easier, more profitable, or more enjoyable. Why would anyone ever choose to do the right thing if the wrong thing could bring about a better result?   Surely we can all agree that the right thing often is far more complicated that the wring thing.  Surely we have all been faced with a choice where the wrong thing would bring a more favorable outcome.  Why do you not do it?  Never do I weigh the consequences that I may face in an afterlife when making this decision. Yet I am pulled to do the right thing, because I know it is the right thing to do.  Is there any reward better than knowing you did your best? 

In a story I often read to my son at bedtime, a boy is faced with the problem of showing an empty pot to the emperor, when he knows all the other children will be presenting lovely flowers.  His father says to him, “You did your best, and your best is good enough to present to the emperor.”  I love that line.
Now don’t get me wrong.  I like rewards.  I have a Kroger card: I save my Coke caps; I used to save Camel cash before some asshat thought the free lighters were the reason I smoked.  But the thing is I shop at Kroger because it’s close to my house.  I like soda, and Coke is my favorite.  Nicotine is addictive.  In other words, I’d do these things without the rewards.  I ought to be able to do the right thing without one either.
Finally, let’s talk about the nature of the reward.  In heaven, or at least the muslim heaven described in the blog, you get all the pleasures of earth without any consequence.   You can eat and never be full or gain weight.  You can have sex with your 70 virgins and they will remain virgins.  You can drink and never be drunk.  You get the idea.  You know, to me, this sounds more like hell than heaven.
What would I ever do with 70 virgins?  Like I’m dead so I have all the time in eternity to teach them all what to do?  Why can’t heaven have one chick who knows how to do the dirty dance with me?  I find one person who has a clue is better then 100 giggling at each other.
Look, after I’m dead, I don’t want to eat to enjoy the taste of food.  I don’t want to have sex for pleasure.  I don’t want to drink alcohol and get intoxicated.  THAT’S WHAT LIFE IS FOR!!  If I didn’t do those things while I was alive, why would I think a good time to start is after I’m dead?  As if a virgin, on his/her deathbed ever thought, “Gee, I’m going to die and finally lose my virginity after I’m in heaven!”  I doubt it.

I can’t understand why we can’t enjoy a good pork chop today, while we are alive.  I’m confused why we should not have sex now, while we can.  Why is alcohol banned in this life and not in the next?  Why would I EVER want to drink alcohol and NOT get drunk? 

Religion tries to tempt me with promises of eternal pleasure once I’m dead if I follow the “rules” in life.  Like an eternal hand job.  I guess I just know how to resist temptation.  Besides, I don’t need god to give me a hand job. I can do that myself just fine. 

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