Religious bumper stickers always catch my eye and elicit a strong reaction from me. Recently when I saw “Life is short. Heaven is forever,” on the back of a car, an audible sigh escaped my lips. I remember thinking, “Yes, and no.” Yes, life is short, but Heaven not only is not forever, Heaven simply is not. I wish Christians could understand that life is short and heaven doesn’t exist. Sometimes I want to grab them and shake them and say, “Stop hoping for Heaven! Live now! Dive in now! Love others for who they are now! Make the world a better place now! This is it! Make it count!” Then I’d slap them in the face of couple of times and then let them go…just kidding…I wouldn’t let them go. I’d fling them to the ground :-).
Sick kidding aside, at first glance, the belief in Heaven seems harmless enough, like most Christian doctrines, when analyzed, its harmfulness becomes evident. The idea that this life is short, but don’t worry about it, paradise awaits after death, is a destructive belief.
What is my evidence for such a strong statement, you may ask? Why, of course, I have much evidence, but for today, let me offer up to you one of many personal stories that will support my thesis and then perhaps my statement about slapping Christians and flinging them to the ground (figuratively of course) will make more sense.
I was having coffee with a Christian acquaintance and during the conversation she shared with me about her youngest son. A few years before, at the age of 20, and still living at home, he had become “rebellious.” He was refusing to attend church, and was spending time partying with his friends. (Wow, I’ve never heard of a 20-year-old doing that) Anyway, she had informed him that as long as he lived under her roof, he would go to church. When he continued to refuse to go and continued to party, she kicked him out. A week later, living on the streets, he was struck by a truck and killed.
I cannot imagine what it must be like to lose a child, but to lose one under those circumstances, one would think, would be devastating. When I reached out to her, telling her how sorry I was and how awful that must have been for her, I was floored by her response. She calmly, and without much emotion, explained to me that she knew she had done the right thing, (what God would have wanted her to do) in throwing him out when she did and she knew, because he had accepted Jesus, she would see him in heaven one day. She told me that she had such peace about it that she didn’t even cry at the funeral.
It’s not that I don’t understand why she believed that and continues to believe it to this day. It’s probably the only thing that keeps her sane—if in fact she is sane. It must take an awful lot of energy to bury the unrealized pain and guilt she must carry with her on a daily basis. Like many Christians, she is one of the walking wounded, unable to have her wounds attended to because they must remain covered and hidden.
I walked away from the conversation feeling extremely sad. This woman had rejected her son because of religion. She had missed out on truly loving him and sharing her life with him because of religion, and now she feels exonerated and at peace, because one day she will have the opportunity to build a relationship with him when they are reunited in Heaven. Sadly, that reunion will never take place. She missed an opportunity she will never get back and all because she believes in the myth of a personal god and a literal heaven. It gets worse though. Because she continues to believe she was doing “God’s will,” when she rejected her son, due to his lack of church attendance and “rebellion,” her belief, and the support she receives from the Christian community for that belief, keeps her on the same destructive path today. Just last year, she kicked her 18-year-old daughter out because she is a non-believer. Thankfully she was kept safe because she came to live with us for a time, but their mother/daughter relationship is severely damaged. How very tragic.
Since rejecting Christianity, I have gone back and forth as to whether it has some redeeming value or is just plain damaging. More and more it is becoming extremely difficult for me to see how there can be any redeeming value in a belief system that causes such pain. It seems to me that the Christian idea of heaven prevents people from giving life all they’ve got here and now. If I could create my own bumper sticker and I do in my mind quite often, it would read: “Life is short. Give it all you’ve got.”