Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Practical Advantages of Christianity - The Hope of Heaven

1. The Hope of Heaven - If you have ever dealt with emotionally disturbed individuals, you will know that one of the most difficult problems to overcome is their hopelessness. Their feelings may be partially based on reality. They may have disabilities, major problems in their past, or lack certain kinds of life skills that make it hard to enjoy or experience life to the fullest. Certainly, even individuals in very difficult circumstances can overcome hopelessness through counseling or self help, but it is sometimes a big mountain to climb.

Others have few or none of the problems that might make hopelessness seem reasonable, but they have personality disorders or mental diseases that cause them to feel this way even when most around them would see great promise in their lives.

For most functioning adults, there is also that sometimes fleeting, sometimes very present question of what happens when we die. If one believes that life merely ends and we “sleep” permanently, this alone would cause many to feel hopeless, not only about the finality in their own lives, but also at the time that their loved ones pass away.

Believing that God’s word is true, and that there is a heaven to look forward to after death, provides a very unique kind of hope. A hope for eternal life. A hope for an end to present difficulties. A hope that loved ones will be seen again. A hope that answers to life’s most interesting questions will be answered. A hope that we will experience an entirely unknown and unknowable dimension with untold beauty and joy and peace. And the hope that we will one day meet Jesus.

These hopes have a very practical benefit to those who have faith that they are true. It greatly reduces anxiety about present problems, helps through the grieving process, and provides great comfort as we face our own death.

21 comments:

bernardo said...

A particularly cynical atheist would then ask why Christians at funerals are so sad.

But, anyways, I do agree with your points. Faith feels nice for many reasons, and helps you be a better and happier person in many ways. I can't disagree with that. It's just that I personally can't get over how it all sounds made-up.

Randy Kirk said...

I suspect you're just pulling my leg, but for the benefits of USC grads, sadness over the loss of affection, attention, etc., is not surprising, even if the person is going to a better place. For instance, people in St. Louis cried when our family moved to the West Coast.

bernardo said...

"I suspect you're just pulling my leg..."

Pretty much. I have cried when loved ones moved away or when I moved away from them, and even the most religious people would agree that death is a more substantial barrier than, say, 5000 miles.

Anonymous said...

The problem that I see with this is that the same argument could be made for any of the following:

* Practical Advantages of Islam - The Hope of Heaven
* Practical Advantages of Karma - The Hope of Reincarnation
* Practical Advantages of Scientology - The Hope of Being Clear
* Practical Advantages of Deceiving Yourself - The Hope of Not Believing Your Wife Is Cheating On You After You See Her In Bed With Your Best Friend

I have a hard time believing that you would suggest that these are all practical advantages that are without any disadvantages.

Kit

Randy Kirk said...

I think people are seeking hope, and I believe that there are going to be those who sell hope for whatever gain they might hope comes with such a sale. I provide this as but one piece of evidence, not the final nail.

But I can think of not a single negative associated with the hope of heaven, if the potential for getting there is associated with only one requirement, a relationship with God as the Lord of my life.

Anonymous said...

Randy,

Here's a thought experiment for you. Imagine that you don't believe in heaven. Can you now think of a single negative associated with the hope of heaven?

This is why I listed the whole "hope of not believing your wife is cheating on you" concept.

If you don't think that something is true, then don't you see why there are negatives to believing in it?

Kit

Randy Kirk said...

If I don't believe in heaven, the negative I might imagine first would be the disappointment that my loved ones would feel about not spending eternity with me if they believe. In other words, I suppose I would feel badly for them.

If I had lived a life that had fallen short of my expectations, and/or where I had substantial pain (physical, emotional) I might wish that I could have enough faith to believe in a heaven where things would be so much better. I might even be tempted to try and believe. Of course, we believe that the answer is not in trying, but giving up.

Anonymous said...

Randy,

I think you might have misunderstood my thought experiment, or I misunderstood what you just wrote; I'll try to reword it.

Imagine yourself as me, someone who doesn't believe in a heaven. Imagine yourself as someone who doesn't believe that anyone goes to heaven, or hell for that matter. I think we can all agree that dead physical bodies of humans decompose, if they're not cremated first. The difference is that you, outside this thought experiment, believe in a soul. For this experiment, imagine that the word "soul" means as much to you as the word "ligvaabukwo".

Now, imagining you're me, as described in the paragraph above, as someone who doesn't believe that anyone goes to heaven, do you see any negatives with someone believing in heaven?

Do you agree that this can easily be switched with "Practical Advantages of Islam - The Hope of Heaven" at least, if not my "she's cheating on you" example?

Kit

Anonymous said...

To be clear, I think my examples are valid because they fulfill the advantages given in the conclusion of the paragraph.

"These hopes have a very practical benefit to those who have faith that they are true. It greatly reduces anxiety about present problems, helps through the grieving process, and provides great comfort as we face our own death."

Kit

Randy Kirk said...

I suspect you'd like me to say that I would see it as a negative that my friends and family end up with certain feelings and ways of doing things that come from delusion.

So there are advantages to believing in Santa Clause, but one day there is a reckoning with truth. And you might feel badly that we are unwilling or unable to handle life without our make-believe god.

But, as Bernardo loves to point out, we might be able to dismiss Santa Clause as a myth, and no one tries to make him out to be anything but. However, when it comes to God and heaven, we probably won't ever know for sure until we meet Him or get there ... or not. But for an atheist there will be no "See I told you so." For Christians there shouldn't be either, but there will be great rejoicing in so many ways.

Anonymous said...

Randy,

I want to be clear on two important things:

1. You said, "I suspect you'd like me to say...". Randy, they only thing I'd like you to say is your honest opinion. Nothing more and nothing less. I don't ask questions to trick or trap, because that would destroy my point of talking with people who think differently than I do, which is to better understand what their viewpoint is.

2. I have no desire to say "I told you so". What would that gain me? Randy, I am not so concerned with being right as it appears (to me) that you think I am.

If you want me to act like the standard theist's atheist, then I'd say that I do this to "know thine enemy"; as a real person, I'd say that it's a bit more complicated than that... but that's a completely different discussion altogether, but it's not something that I'm secretive about.

Kit

Hey Skipper said...

Randy:

If all there was to religion was belief in heaven, there would be no discussion.

Unfortunately, religions don't -- probably can't -- stop there.

So the practical advantage of believing in heaven has to be balanced against the practical disadvantages of the dead hand of theocratic conformity and sectarian violence that goes hand in hand with a religion's universalist claims.

Such as f the potential for getting there is associated with only one requirement, a relationship with God as the Lord of my life.

Randy Kirk said...

hey skipper,

When you're right, you're right. Heaven is the reward. There has to be conditions for getting it.

Kit,

I wasn't suggesting anything negative in your motive, but only that you probably had some idea where you thought I'd end up if I did the experiment. This became even more clear when you didn't like my first answer.

But now I'm wondering if that was where you thought I'd end up, or if you have another thought regarding the negative.

Anonymous said...

Randy,

It's not an issue of me liking or disliking your first answer; I didn't feel either way. It's that it seemed to me (and that's why I made it clear that I might have misunderstood you) that you were still thinking as someone who believed in a heaven.

Again, I wasn't sure I understood, so I asked for clarification.

"But now I'm wondering if that was where you thought I'd end up"

Again, Randy, all I was looking for was your honest point of view. Having pre-conceived notions is not pratical with what I'm trying to do, which is to understand your viewpoint, as I described above. It doesn't benefit me, and in fact it works against me, to try to assume what your answer is.

"[...] or if you have another thought regarding the negative."

The only other thought I have on this is my own answer to the question: "Tricking yourself to believe in something is still an act of deceit, even though it's on yourself, and whatever benefits you think it gives you can be better fulfilled through (intellectually) honest means."

Kit

Randy Kirk said...

No one would ever suggest that anyone trick themselves into believing anything. One would hope that you would look at someone like me, and at least conclude that I have honestly and thoroughly considered the evidence prior to concluding that there is a God and heaven.

Once having honestly come to that conclusion, there is an advantage that attaches. And the two together result in another piece of evidence. God created heaven and the hope of heaven as ways to help those who trust in Him to have the best possible joy while on earth. And it works.

bernardo said...

"Tricking yourself to believe in something is still an act of deceit... and whatever benefits you think it gives you can be better fulfilled through (intellectually) honest means."

Not necessarily. Deceiving yourself into believing in God and/or Heaven and/or Jesus might bring benefits that you simply could not get by always reminding yourself that those concepts are made up. A Christian once admitted to me that Christianity is fundamentally about fooling yourself into being a better and happier person. While most Christians would probably consider that comment blasphemous, an honest Christian should see the truth in it.

"No one would ever suggest that anyone trick themselves into believing anything."

But Christians trick themselves into believing that God wants them to be good, that Jesus was perfect, that God loves people, and all kinds of other things that one could very easily and reasonably doubt.

To me it seems like a big part of Christianity would be figuring out how to manage doubt, and then doing it. It seems to me that an honest and "proper" Christian is one who sticks with Christianity even though he realizes that, to many reasonable people, Christianity seems basically made-up, and that those reasonable people might conceivably be right.

So, yes, it's a little bit of a paradox, I suppose. (Maybe my model needs to be revised). A Christian needs to fool himself into believing that those things are true, but an honest Christian should not lose sight of the fact that believing in those things requires leaps of faith that are not reasonably justifiable.

Randy Kirk said...

Bernardo reports: "A Christian once admitted to me that Christianity is fundamentally about fooling yourself into being a better and happier person. While most Christians would probably consider that comment blasphemous, an honest Christian should see the truth in it."

Do you believe in memes, or have you just tricked yourself into believing in them. How about love, beauty, etc. This last comment borders on dismissing the intellect and wisdom of those who beieve in anything they can't prove.

In no way need I trick myself or ignore or avoid the complications of my belief. I believe that I have come to believe what I believe by virtually the same mechanism as you. I've looked at the evidence, and I've come to one conclusion. You have looked at substantially the same evidence and come to another conclusion. I certainly don't think you have to trick yourself into not believing in God. I might think that there are underlying psychological or social reasons for your conclusion, and I would never suggest that those same things don't impact folks who are believers. But your friend who is tricking himself isn't tricking anyone.

bernardo said...

"This last comment borders on dismissing the intellect and wisdom of those who beieve in anything they can't prove."

"In no way need I trick myself or ignore or avoid the complications of my belief. I believe that I have come to believe what I believe by virtually the same mechanism as you. I've looked at the evidence, and I've come to one conclusion. You have looked at substantially the same evidence and come to another conclusion. I certainly don't think you have to trick yourself into not believing in God. I might think that there are underlying psychological or social reasons for your conclusion, and I would never suggest that those same things don't impact folks who are believers."

Yeah, you're right. I apologize. It's just that to me, it all sounds so made-up and so easy to doubt, that it seems that one would have to work pretty hard to believe it's true.

Still, I think that in order to be a Christian, you have to believe in these things pretty hard. You have to make leaps of faith. You have to say "I can't know that this is true, but I KNOW that this is true". Otherwise, you're (technically) agnostic. In order to be anything but agnostic, you have to make a leap of faith, and this involves deceiving oneself.

So, in a way, you do have to trick yourself more than I do. You have faith. You need to be more convinced of the theist possibility than I have to be of the atheist possibility. Otherwise we're all agnostic. I don't have a problem with being considered an agnostic, but most Christians would, since being a Christian means having a kind of certainty in your axioms that agnostics and atheists don't share.

"Do you believe in memes, or have you just tricked yourself into believing in them?"

That question makes no sense whatsoever. Memes are just a model for how ideas work. "Believing" that a God created the universe deliberately, as you do - or believing that this is probably not the case, as I do - is different from "believing in memes". Asking me if I "believe in memes" is like asking me if I "believe in elliptical orbits". No, orbits aren't PERFECTLY elliptical, but the ellipse is a useful model for describing them, and accurate enough for our purposes.

Randy Kirk said...

Bernardo said: "So, in a way, you do have to trick yourself more than I do."

Most Christians think it takes more faith to imagine that all of this came about by some lucky fluke (directed fluke.) So we would say you have to trick yourself more to BELIEVE that currrent MODELS provide a simpler or more reasonable example of how things came to be.

Yes, ultimately, Christians take a leap of faith. So do you.

Thanks for the apology. Maybe you humanists are ok, after all. : )

Also, once I've concluded that a certain system works for me, I then tend to believe the reasons behind it. Say I take Glucosamine & Chondroitin for my arthritis and I get great relief. I will then believe that the ingredients in those supplements are good for other people's arthritis, also. I will likely want to tell you about it, if that will benefit you.

bernardo said...

Oh, I definitely understand why Christians want to tell non-Christians about Christianity. It might be somewhat annoying to non-Christians, but I'm pretty sure I'd do the same thing if I believed that I had discovered some fundamental truths about the universe, formed a relationship with the Creator, and seen my life improve in the process.

As for which model is more likely, I still insist that saying "I think this one is more likely, but the other one could be right" is what an agnostic does. As far as I know, a Christian has to "know" that their model is the accurate one, to an extent beyond what can be reached via reason.

It doesn't take much faith to believe that the world was probably created deliberately by an intelligence with a plan. This belief might even be the "default" for the human mind, given how we have evolved, so it might even require less faith than naturalism. But it does take significant faith to believe in Jesus, miracles, the truth of the Bible, and church doctrine. I do think you have to work pretty hard to convince yourself that those are true - i.e., that any other explanation could not possibly be right.

You see, I have a "preference" for naturalism. I think theism could be right, I just think it's needlessly complicated and doesn't help me understand anything. I'll even admit that maybe Christianity is right, even though it's VERY complicated and in some ways self-contradictory, and also does not help me understand anything. But you cannot claim that most Christians are in a symmetric position regarding naturalism. Most Christians KNOW that God is there, KNOW that Jesus came to earth and rose from the dead and so forth. Getting to that belief must take more convincing than getting to the nontheist position I'm at.

Randy Kirk said...

If a Christian tells you he never has doubts, he is either a liar or a fool. Even Mother Theresa had major doubts and was suicidal at one point. Billy Graham almost didn't follow God. CS Lewis left the faith at 9 and came back around 30. I was out from 21 to 35.