It’s time to read Billy Graham’s mail again.
Why do you think most people still believe in some kind of life after death, even if they aren’t particularly religious or don’t think very much about it? — E.A.
Because without it, death feels too damned final. People want to think there’s a chance for a loved one to live again in some other, better paradise instead of leaving all that they were behind forever. A chance to reunite at some future point, a second chance, a reward for services rendered, whatever. It’s a notion that pervades so many cultures, faiths, and times. Ancient Egyptians buried their royalty with what they hoped would be all the useful items on the other side, from food to carts to slaves. Ancient Greeks and Romans told stories of elaborate adventures for the dead to enjoy on their journey to the other side. Others have bought into a notion of coming back to this world again reincarnated as something else.
It’s a comfort. It’s a habit. It’s a convenient fiction that makes us all feel better about seeing people go and knowing our turn will come, too. It will continue to tide us over whether actual, empirical evidence for “the other side” gets found or not. I think it would be better to lay these beliefs to rest, as well, but I don’t see it happening. People need something to hope for and heaven winds up seeming like a good reason to keep hoping.
Graham answers the question differently, of course. For him, people believe in heaven because
God has put within each of us an inner sense that this life is not all, but that we were meant for eternity. We may suppress it or deny it, or even fight against it (as atheists often do) — but the inner feeling is still there.
I don’t know if we all share an inner sense of something greater going on, but I do think it’s inaccurate to say a God would automatically be responsible for that. I think our evolution as a species is responsible for it. What good does a belief like this do, though? What’s the benefit? Why not teach people to accept death as the final curtain and show them how to honour the lost in a way that doesn’t require inventing a different reality for them to continue residing in? Why tell people the great warriors revel it up in Valhalla? Did living warriors fight better with the belief they’d get to do the same? Did the chance for that future make them braver on the killing fields?
A child dies “before its time” and the parents are assured by everyone around them that life goes on elsewhere and a reunion is possible. What good does that thought process do for the ones grieving? I’d rather still have the child now than maybe have the child later.
The writer of book of Ecclesiastes put it this way: “He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the hearts of men” (Ecclesiastes 3:11). Even the beauty of the created world, he suggested, points us to a far greater beauty — the beauty of heaven.
In early Greek philosophy there was this notion of Forms, that everything we see around us is an imperfect copy of some perfect idealized version of a thing, be it a square or a horse or a tree. Everything might strive to be true to form but only the Form itself can have that level of perfection. Heaven tends to be thought of as a perfection as well. The better place we’re supposed to be and life on Earth’s just some dry run to prepare us for how much better Heaven is.
Why? Was it because life on earth tended to be brutal and short for much of humanity’s history? Cultivate the idea that it’ll be easier or more fun the next time around?
For Billy Graham, our soul is the perfect form and our bodies, being “marred and distorted by sin,” will gladly be shucked off so we can live in eternity with God, the most perfect of perfect forms.
But we don’t need to depend on a vague feeling that heaven might exist. We can know for sure that it does because Jesus Christ died and rose again for us. Put your life into his hands, and then thank him that you will be with Him forever.
Sorry, this isn’t a “know for sure” thing. This is merely what people said happened, and continue to say happened. It’s expected to be believed and taken on faith. There’s nothing factual there. Using this tale as proof it’ll someday happen to us is more than a bit silly yet people use it as evidence of truth all the time and take great comfort from it.
I’m not saying this is inherently a bad thing, but I think it might be a childish type of thing. It’s a promise we can only hope will be fulfilled but we’ll die without ever knowing if we’ve been disappointed and lied to.
I like the heading on this post, I would certainly say that quote doesn’t apply to me. But that is one of the arguments for faith I hear the most, that people take great comfort from their beliefs, and for me that is the hardest one to argue. I mean, I would look like an ogre who wants to take someone’s comfort away, especially if that someone has lost a child or parent or something.
The problem is, when we use that belief in the afterlife to not make things good in real life. For example, putting up with pain and suffering in this life because you think you will be rewarded in the afterlife. Or if a child dies and the priest says “rejoice, they are in a better place,” well fuck no, it is natural to grieve, and then maybe take action to prevent the same thing happening again in the future, like inventing new vaccines or something for example.
I everyone really believed that malarky about the afterlife, would we have made the life-saving advances in science that we have? Well, I would say people are too smart to hang their hat on the certainty of an afterlife, no matter what Billy Graham says.
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