Sometimes I wish I could get into the heads of believers and root out what they really think about various issues. Today I’m especially perplexed by the notion of comfort from religion. What is it about the Christian narrative that’s comforting, and in what situations?
The most obvious answer is that when a loved one dies, we’re comforted with the thought that they’re really not gone and that we’ll get to see them again when we die. I suppose a lot of people believe that, and it sounds comforting enough.
But here’s the thing. I’ve lost loved ones, both when I was a Christian and a non-believer. And I don’t remember either time being especially easy, and I don’t remember feeling any better believing that someone was in heaven. The point is they were gone here and now, and regardless of anything else, they weren’t coming back in this life for sure. And that’s really sad.
A little known fact about me is that I made money playing music back in the day. And as money gigs go, weddings and funerals are about as regular as it gets. No matter what, people insist on getting married and dying. I’d guess that I’ve probably played for at least a hundred of each. Probably a lot more.
Interestingly, I’ve had the chance to observe theist and non-theist funerals, and you know what? The non-theist funerals were… happier… for lack of a better word. I know I’m arguing from anecdote, and I’m not trying to prove anything here. I’m just thinking aloud. But the general theme at most of the non-theist funerals I’ve been to was a celebration of the person’s life and accomplishments. Yes, there were always tears, but there was laughter, too. And without a doubt, the after-parties associated with heathen funerals have always been more fun.
The theist funerals I’ve seen have been uniformly drab and preachy. Half the time, I got the impression the pastor didn’t even know the stiff, given the two or three minutes of trite lip-service tossed vaguely in the direction of the coffin. It always felt like another chance for winning a new convert with the whole “You better come to Jesus or you’ll go to hell” shpiel.
So what I’m getting at is this: I wonder if there’s really much comfort at all from Christianity when someone else dies. Maybe in theory the belief in the afterlife offers some comfort, but when it’s steeped in so much preachy ceremony, and we’re constantly reminded of the threat of hell, I just don’t see it. Coming from where I sit, there’s a lot of peace in death. I firmly believe that nobody I know who’s died is suffering. Nobody’s in paradise either, but frankly, I’d trade a billion people’s shot at eternal paradise to prevent one person from suffering eternally. Anyone who wouldn’t is morally suspect in my book. How could anyone contemplate the message of Christianity — the REAL message, that there are MILLIONS and MILLIONS of people suffering at this very moment, and they’ll be suffering for the next trillion trillion years, because our god loves them — and not weep?!
I don’t get it. I really and truly don’t get how someone could be comforted at a time of death, knowing the horrible reality of that message.
It’s dehumanizing. That’s got to be it. The only way not to weep for people in hell is to believe that they were less than human and deserved it. Well I’m sorry, but I have too much empathy with my fellow man to believe that ANYBODY deserves eternal punishment. Whoever the worst person in the world was… maybe Hitler, maybe Pol Pot, maybe Stalin… whoever… if you gave me his eternal soul and told me to punish him appropriately for what he’d done, I can’t imagine torturing him for eternity. I can’t imagine trying to live with myself knowing what I’d done if I did give him the eternal sentence. Yes, bad people deserve punishment. But NOBODY deserves eternal punishment.
All I can conclude is that anyone who is genuinely comforted by the message of Christianity has turned off their empathy switch. If there was no hell, sure. I’d buy the comfort idea. But no. There’s no comfort in contemplating hell. And like it or not, that’s the central theme of Christianity. Believe or die.