Monday, June 14, 2010
Hope and Fear
Hope and fear. Are they feelings? Thoughts? States of being? I don’t know. What I do know is that they are two things that I am very familiar with. There is not a time in my life in which I can remember not having them or perhaps I should say not being with them.
As I examine my life I find an odd change in what I hope for and what I fear. In my youth I feared disappointing God but I did not fear wasting my time because I knew there was more to come after this life. And what I hoped for was to be faithful to Christ in all things whatever the cost but I did not hope for intellectual honesty or the genuine character to stand up for what is right no matter the cost. But as I examine my life now I find that the tables have turned. Now I fear wasting my time pining away for whatever does or does not come next but I do not fear disappointing any god or gods. Now I hope and work towards intellectual honesty and the genuine character to stand up for what is right whatever the cost but I no longer hope to be faithful to Christ in all things. And one reason I no longer hope this is because the cost is too great. In order to be faithful to the Christ of Christianity I must (and I believe most others) sacrifice intellectual integrity and the pursuit of an authentic morality. Faith ultimately demands ignorance, this does not mean stupidity but usually an intentional blindness or a willingness to stop searching and cease questioning. Faith says be obedient, just keep your head down and do as you are told. By no means is obedience bad in and of itself but when we choose to be obedient to an authority that places itself above moral questioning then our obedience becomes a character flaw that exposes our own trepidations or lack of concern for seeking to do what is truly right.
There is a reason people fly airplanes into buildings it is because faith demands it. Faith demands obedience and fidelity to the one that commands you to act no matter what action is commanded. The morality of the command is of no consequence rather it is only the authority of the one giving the commands that matters. The only wiggle room available to people of faith trying to distance themselves from those who do evil in the name of God is simply arguing over what their silent authority has actually commanded, not about the required response to any given command. The only moral action faith recognizes is obedience. According to the Bible disobedience was the first and chief sin of humanity. If God says kill one must kill there is no other option for faith and so I do not want to be a person of faith but rather a person seeking truth, willing to reject authorities that clearly command evil.
Now I can talk a big game, indeed, but I will not pretend that these new hopes and these new fears never waiver. There are many times I look back at where I used to be and where I am now and wonder if I've made a huge mistake with the path I have now chosen. Sometimes I still hope that there might be something more for us after death, after our life here on earth and that in some way I am of eternal significance. This hope is occasionally accompanied by times of fear particularly the fear of hell. What if traditional Christianity (Islam too) is right about their being both a heaven and a hell with eternal life for some and eternal torment for others? And what if the choices I've made and all my efforts to live a good life ultimately lead me to that eternal torment? These times are few but they are real.
When I was a Christian I had neither this hope (for something more) nor this fear (hell). Heaven was a given and hell was simply not thought about. Hell wasn't actually tangible or real it was a doctrine to be accepted but not dwelled upon. I think the easiest way to maintain one’s belief in hell is to never make any friends who don't share your beliefs. It sounds silly but I truly was insulated in my Christian bubble, not that I didn't know any non-Christians but I simply had no genuine connection to them except in theory. I “loved” them because God did but love of course only really meant trying to make them believe the things I believed. Once you start to make true friends with those who do not share your eschatology you discover that there is simply no reason for them to go to any sort of hell except for the silly math equations (Rom. 3:23; 6:23; John 3:16 ) you were taught as a child. Another thing I have noticed is that in all of the people I have met and all the friends I have made I've never once met a person who thought they were going to hell, no matter what their religion happened to be or not be. While this is but a small sampling it would not surprise me to find out that of all the people on this planet who believe that hell exists not a single one of them believes they are going to be the ones residing there. Ah, the convenience of our personal beliefs.
The other oddity that is raised by this hope for something “more” and this occasional fear of eternal punishment is that they expose my previous beliefs for what they were, prudent self-interest. While I did not view my Christian beliefs in that light, few do, I see that what I believed was not believed because of intellectually inquiry or moral testing but rather because it was good for me. It made me feel good and just as importantly, though again I would not have said it this way, it insured me eternal life. If morality is nothing more than blind obedience in order to gain the greatest reward then does morality have any inherit value beyond prudence? Can one do what is right merely for right’s sake?
Many I have talked to believe there must be something more after death because ultimately they believe there must be some greater purpose to the world, which I think is a nice way of saying they believe they are too important to simply stop existing. It seems that if the belief in hell is the price to ensure that they live forever then so be it. Christians appear willing to accept mystery when it comes to the existence of evil and the suffering of others but not when it comes to their own eternal well-being. For them certainty must and does exist when it comes to their own salvation. Once again the convenience of that idea seems worth noting. For me this has switched. I have come to accept mystery when it comes to death particularly my own but not when it comes to idea of eternal evil and the suffering of others. It is worth giving up heaven to be rid of hell. If there is a God he/she does not deserve adoration simply because he/she offers great rewards for docile compliance.
In the fictional dialogs I recently posted with Satan as the main character there is one point where he is arguing with a theologian and the theologian smugly accuses Satan of making arguments that are personally harmful and self-defeating. Satan responds, “Would I be Satan if I were prudent? Or egotistical? What could be more satanic than to bite the hand that feeds me, regardless of the consequence to me? Is not that how I became the Lord of Hell? Let the pious be prudent! What else is their piety, in nine cases out of ten, but enlightened selfishness? What is satanic is not egoism but the love of truth at the expense of happiness—to find one’s happiness in truth, to oppose illusion, to value integrity above God, and character above salvation.”
So that is where I find myself today, hoping to be satanic in my love of truth while fearing I am still just being pious in my prudent desire of salvation.