I rhetorically asked the driver, “How do you know?” And the answer is, “you don’t.” You just assume Eternal Rewards and Eternal Punishment and off you go, living your life to get as much of the former and as little of the latter as possible.
So many of the decisions people make are based on the belief that “Heaven is Forever”, but there is absolutely no way to know whether or not that is true. No one has ever come back and reported it, (non-verifiable accounts notwithstanding.) There is just no way to prove it.
It leads me to ask myself a question, “how many silly, life-altering decisions have I made based on something I cannot prove?” For me, the answer would be “a lot.”
Fear is the prime motivator here, and control is the object. People quite naturally fear eternal punishment – and really, what could possibly be more dreadful than facing an eternity of torment – and will therefore do almost anything to avoid it. Convince a person that unless he eats/drinks/speaks/thinks/believes the way you command him to or he will face eternal torture, and you can completely control that person. Or at least control that part of them which is subject to their own internal control.
The part not subject to internal control is the biology of desire. You can control what you do. To a lesser extent you can control what you think. But no one can control what they desire. And this – to me – is where most religions fail the sniff test. To be sure, belief in eternal rewards and punishments is powerful motivation, but oftentimes the rewards and punishments are doled out based on the content of our desires. If in fact we actually desired the things that religion tells us we should desire, then doing the things we are told to do would be easier and the Rewards should pile up like frequent flyer miles. But our desires – which we cannot control – are at odds with The Commands.
The gods of some religions don’t care what you want or what you think; they only care what you do. These gods are apparently far more interested in appearing to be good than in actually being good, a situation that calls into question what it actually means to be good. Other gods care more about your internal life than your external life, which is all well and good until you realize that your internal life is the place where the conflict rages and the only thing you really have control over is your actions. You can make yourself do the right thing, but you cannot make yourself want the right thing. That situation calls into question the sanity of the god who makes such demands.
We tend to desire what is forbidden, be it food, sex or control.
Yet the same people who tell us that God forbids what we desire, also tell us that God is the one who created us; that we are each and every one of us God’s Special Creation in whom He delights. It almost leads me to wonder if some Priest or King looked at the strength of biological desire and said, “we shall forbid these desires and thus plunge our subjects into shame and despair, and through their shame at their own humanity, exercise complete control over them.”
But that would be pretty cynical, wouldn’t it?
I recall the words of the Apostle John from his first epistle:
There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.
And I wonder, why the maniacal obsession with eternal punishment?
I have no answers, just questions.