Thursday, August 28, 2008

Spirituality: If there is no life after death, does it matter whether you are Hitler or Mother Teresa?

In "If there is no God, Dennis Praeger notes,

We are constantly reminded about the destructive consequences of religion -- intolerance, hatred, division, inquisitions, persecutions of "heretics," holy wars. Though far from the whole story, they are, nevertheless, true. There have been many awful consequences of religion.

What one almost never hears described are the deleterious consequences of secularism -- the terrible developments that have accompanied the breakdown of traditional religion and belief in God. For every thousand students who learn about the Spanish Inquisition and the Salem Witch Trials, maybe two learn to associate Gulag, Auschwitz, The Cultural Revolution and the Cambodian genocide with secular regimes and ideologies.

For all the problems associated with belief in God, the death of God leads to far more of them.

So, while it is not possible to prove (or disprove) God's existence, what is provable is what happens when people stop believing in God.
The number one reason, he says, is
Without God there is no good and evil; there are only subjective opinions that we then label "good" and "evil." This does not mean that an atheist cannot be a good person. Nor does it mean that all those who believe in God are good; there are good atheists and there are bad believers in God. It simply means that unless there is a moral authority that transcends humans from which emanates an objective right and wrong, "right" and "wrong" no more objectively exist than do "beautiful" and "ugly."
and second,
Without God, there is no objective meaning to life. We are all merely random creations of natural selection whose existence has no more intrinsic purpose or meaning than that of a pebble equally randomly produced.
He also writes, however,
If there is no God, the kindest and most innocent victims of torture and murder have no better a fate after death than do the most cruel torturers and mass murderers. Only if there is a good God do Mother Teresa and Adolf Hitler have different fates.
... and that set me thinking. Is that true?

As a traditional Christian, I believe that people begin to experience in this life the ultimate destiny that their personal choices hint at. Hitler, for example, became progressively madder and more murderous and finally committed suicide in a bunker, ending World War II in Europe. Mother Teresa lived to be 87 and fell asleep quietly after dinner, with the knowledge that many thousands of people had been helped by her Sisters of Charity.

True, she had many spiritual struggles, and I have written and spoken them. These struggles originated in the difference she experienced between the visions that first inspired her to reach out to the streets of Calcutta and the practical difficulties of making it happen. But even in this world, she was surely more blessed in poverty than Hitler was in power.

On that view, what happens after death is the maturing of a process that has already begun beforehand.

Mario and I were on Dennis Praeger's show recently.