Archive for December, 2008

Why unbelievers will not go to hell

The British philosopher Bertrand Russell was once asked his response if, upon dying, God were to ask why he had not believed. Russell’s answer: “Not enough evidence, God! Not enough evidence!” He raises an interesting question: why are we obliged to believe if we do not think that the evidence supports it?

The emphasis on belief is peculiar to theistic religions. The common question in the West is “what are your religious beliefs?”. It would seem that a more pertinent question would relate to one’s spiritual practices or views. After all, there is more to religion than sitting quietly in a corner and believing something. Surely it is more important to love thy neighbour, practise forgiveness, speak the truth and give generously. These things have a much greater effect in the world.

People hold many views on how the universe was created, how humans came about, and the role of God and whether he exists. Some of these views may be wrong, and they may be many different perspectives on the same thing. In Good Company, there is a story of an elephant who appears in a village inhabited mainly by blind people. Each wanted to experience the elephant, but of course each touched a different part.

The one who felt the foot said an elephant was a pillar, the one who had felt the tail said it was like a stick, and so it went on with the ears, trunk, tusks, fat belly, etc. Each person described it according to the type of experience to which they could relate it. Then they started arguing. ‘Yours was not the proper elephant, yours was illusion, mine is the only real one, etc.’ Later on the mahout told them, ‘You cannot have a complete picture of the elephant. All you can do is put together all your different experiences of “elephant”, and out of these experiences you can imagine a novel creature known as “elephant”. But it is the sum of all these parts and something more, which represents the wholeness of the creature known as “elephant”.’

Like the blind men and the elephant, it is easy for us to disagree about the nature of the universe or a concept such as God, even if we are all talking about the same thing. Does this disagreement matter?

At the end of the day, I do not think we will go to heaven based on our understanding of metaphysics. Our religious beliefs are not a strong indicator of our character. The Truth is beyond our comprehension, and there is no shame is saying that we do not know, or in saying, as Russell said, “Not enough evidence, God! Not enough evidence!” If we are to judge our character, it should not be based on our beliefs in God, a soul, or life after death. Instead, it should be based on who we are, how we treat others, and how we live our lives. It is qualities such as honesty, integrity, and love, that will determine our final destination.

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