Archive for Questioning

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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Spirituality for smart people

The title of this article is paraphrased from Steve Pavlina’s Personal Development for Smart People.This recently published book is in close alignment with the values of this site, and indeed the final chapter is devoted to spirituality. Throughout the book, Steve challenges us to be honest with ourselves and to face the realities of how we live and where our path is taking us. For those of us truly committed to growth, this book is highly recommended.

Steve strikes to the heart of spiritual inquiry when he declares that “a sound spiritual philosophy must be rooted in truth”, and that we must “strive to perceive reality as accurately as possible”. People so often choose their beliefs based on what is convenient and appealing, or by following their family and society at large. Yet beliefs can only be based on one guiding principle, and that is the principle of truth. Therefore, we must have the courage to strike out on our own and discover what we truly align with. We must recognize, as Steve says, that “there’s only one true authority in your life, and it’s you”. These principles – truth, courage, and authority – are just three of the seven principles described in the book, and together they empower us to tackle every area of our lives.

Steve also discusses the importance of exploring different belief systems and considering unfamiliar perspectives. When our goal is open-minded spiritual inquiry, it is clearly foolish to limit our perspectives to the few belief systems with which we are familiar. In the past, religions have sometimes warned against exploring other faiths. Such an approach is based on insecurity: we are afraid that by considering other beliefs, we will realize that our own beliefs are wrong. However, remembering that our primary goal is the pursuit of truth, this possibility should excite us rather than scare us.

Perhaps this fear of discovering our own beliefs are wrong results from a discordance from the principle of power. Our beliefs do not define us, and “one of the most empowering choices you can make is to decouple your spiritual beliefs from your identity”. As Steve points out, this does not only limit our ability to grow, but it also makes it harder for us to connect with people who hold different beliefs. Rather than holding to ideas such as “I am a Christian”, or an agnostic, or whatever, we must examine reality from multiple viewpoints, making it easier to see the big picture.

These lessons are not restricted to spirituality. They are representative of Steve’s approach to all personal growth. Be it our spirituality, our finances, our relationships, or our health, we are foolish to limit our thought to fixed preconceptions, and we must have the courage to be honest with ourselves and to seek out the truth. Steve challenges us to explore different viewpoints and to rethink every area of our life. More importantly, he teaches us how to do this rethinking.

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