Last Sunday, the preacher talked about hell. He said there was no point praying for souls in hell because they are beyond salvation, beyond the reach of God. By saying this, the preacher was declaring that God has limits to his power and reach – a contradiction to church dogma. He also stated that he didn’t know for sure whether his grandmother was in heaven, because it was impossible for humans to know this. Agreed. Therefore, I say hell is unpopulated. Or it is at least less populated than we assume. You see, who are we to condemn anyone? Are we humans equipped for or entitled to pass judgement on each other?
Beliefs aside, the progress of human development has provided us with a sense of wisdom and discernment, to make reasonable conclusions based on the information we have, to make sound judgements. We inherited this from our distant ancestors, those hunter-gatherers from 100,000 years ago, who made judgements about which plants were safe to eat or whether an outsider could be trusted. Lives depended on these decisions. It stands to reason that this part of our nature would carry over to modern humans. We still respond to the sound of a rattlesnake or a baby crying. We still duck when thunder claps, and hairs stand on end when we’re anxious or frightened. But we have progressed. The last 40 years have seen amazing advances in human interaction, even though there is still racial and religious bigotry.
In the extreme, groups like the Taliban or Westboro Baptist Church are busy perpetuating humanity’s propensity to be assholes. And it’s not just these groups. Religious intolerance has contributed to persecution and suffering more than most other human activity. Wars have been fought for nothing more than a difference in beliefs within the same religion. Sunnis vs. Shia, Catholics vs. Protestants, everybody vs. the Jews. Why does something so ostensibly insignificant as which version of God to blame for all this mess necessarily give us the right to chop off peoples’ heads?
Back in – well, not that long ago, actually – religious intolerance rendered it a crime in this country to not go to Sunday worship. Granted, it was 150 years before the signing of the Declaration of Independence – fascinating read, by the way. Antisemitic legislation was on the books as late as the 1960’s, and I’m pretty sure that being an atheist is a misdemeanor in Oklahoma. People get their shorts in a bundle thinking about Obama being a Muslim. You know what – so what if he is? There are two practicing Muslims in the House of Representatives (and, yes, they were sworn in using the Quran). There are also Buddhists in Congress, and one confirmed atheist. Of course, there are plenty of Protestants and Catholics representing you and me. But what does it matter? Why do I give a crap what a person believes?
It seems that it does matter to a great number of people. And I won’t be able to change anyone’s mind. If a person wants to believe that I am going to hell for thinking there is no such place, I should let them continue in their judgment of me, rather than engaging in civil discussions with them, if that were possible. I do occasionally have conversations about religion with a friend of mine, who was raised Baptist. Being Catholic, he and I actually agree on many things. He even understands my views on hell, to an extent. But what I would rather see is that religion holds as much importance as one’s choice in mobile carriers. The fact is that changing religions is considered symptomatic of a deep conflict by psychologists. So, it appears that we need our faith, we need something to believe in.
I fully expect the hypocrisy to continue. People have certainly not become smarter with each generation since the Enlightenment. But Thomas Jefferson would be surprised to see Sikhs living on the same street with Catholics. He might be surprised to find a Muslim cemetery in a small town in North Texas – actually, he might find it surprising to see the current border of Mexico. This country is much more diverse than any of the Founding Dads could have ever imagined. Perhaps the future will bring us closer to understanding, transcending the petty differences of what we believe, where we can embrace universal truths. Or we may just return to the dark ages. Anything could happen.