…and I feel FINE. Great, even.
In case you live under a rock inside a cave at the bottom of the ocean, let me fill you in: the world is going to end next Saturday, May 21, 2011. Or at least, that’s what this guy thinks.
Judgement Day, The Rapture, the End of Days…whatever you wanna call it, supposedly it’s a’coming. And even if you are like me and don’t believe that for a second, the mention of the end of the world tends to make one take a close look at his or her life and wonder: what’s waiting for me “on the other side.” Well, I’ve considered that question myself, and I’m fairly certain that if anything is waiting, I’ll be happy with it.
You see, I was raised Catholic, but from an early age, I just knew that their doctrine and dogma was not for me. Sitting in Catechism in the 8th grade, I got in a heated debate with a substitute who suggested that anyone not Catholic, who didn’t go to church every weekend, and who didn’t read the “correct” version of the Bible was going to Hell. I staunchly refused to believe…nay, I simply knew in my heart that god would never condemn someone for what their parents did. Because, frankly, that’s where most people get their religion: from the people who raised them. There are plenty of us who abandon religion altogether, and there are a few people who search for a religious community that suits them, and to those select few, I say, good for you! But, for the most part, you believe what your parents told you to believe. And thus, there I was, 13 years old, shouting at this droopy balding man that my very close friend who was Hmong and far from Catholic would NEVER end up in hell because she was the nicest, sweetest, least judgmental girl I had ever met, and any higher power would know that she had earned a place in a beautiful afterlife, no matter what label her faith was given on Earth. Catechism guy disagreed with me and instructed me to “save” her, but at that moment, I stopped thinking of myself as Catholic and instead as someone who “hung around Catholic people and was influenced by their ideas.”
Over the years I’ve pulled fairly far away from all religion. I no longer attend church except for holidays (because it makes those days seem…special, I guess is the best word) and when I am on vacation with my mom (it makes her happy, dammit!), the last time I went to confession was nearly 4 years ago (and I felt dirtier after walking out of confession than I had going in), and I don’t really “pray,” per se, anymore. My mom finds value and peace in her faith, and thus I have no qualms about it. I feel that some people use religion as a weapon, as an excuse for ignorance, and as a way to make others feel as if they are less than you, but to those who simply nurture their soul with their religion, that’s great for them. I just don’t want any part of it.
Now, would I call myself spiritual? Sure. I look around the world and see god everywhere: in each purple blossom on the lilac tree outside, in the clouds swimming across the periwinkle sky, in my dog’s adoring eyes, in my yoga instructor, everywhere. Do I define that “god” as a powerful-grandfatherly-thinking-being-in-the-sky? NO. Do I believe in a god with set rules for what is a sin and what is alright? No. Do I believe we go somewhere when we’re no longer here? Nah. But I do believe in…something. An energy, a force (not The Force, a force), a uniting positivity, something that makes here have enough meaning that we don’t need an afterlife to justify it.
But I also believe that even if there is a grandpa-in-the-sky, he’s not such a selfish, jealous bastard that he’d be pissed that I don’t believe in him. If anything, he’d think I was a silly little girl and enjoy watching my antics…much like a real grandfather. He might even smile bemusedly, put his hands on his hips and shake his head in disbelief sometimes, but I know no god or gods in the universe would really give a damn about my little slip-ups.
See, I am a firm supporter of The Atheist’s Wager. Unlike my mother who I think would agree with Pascal and say that she’d rather believe in god just in case he does exist, just to be safe, but here’s my problem with that line of thinking:
A) There is a slim-to-none chance that you’ll even believe in the “right god” because there are so many sects of so many religions that whatever you choose to believe is probably WRONG. (Unless, of course, everyone is somehow right, but how could that be? God would have to be…GOD…to make that magic trick work.)
B) I think there is more value, more beauty, and more good in acting morally because you simply should, not out of fear of retribution. My mother has on various occasions expressed to me that she takes comfort in the notion that bad people will someday be punished and she will be rewarded; and furthermore, if she didn’t think she would someday get props for being a good person, that she wouldn’t be a good person. I’ve tried to explain to her how fucked up that is: you don’t want your son to not hit his sister because if he’s a good boy he’ll get a cookie; you want him to not hit his sister because it’s mean and everyone will be better off if he doesn’t. But she doesn’t seem to get it.
I, however, feel it is much better to live your life as best as you can; forgive yourself when you make mistakes or do something that may not have been definitively good because you are, after all, human, but learn from those mistakes and try to be better; and use your intellect and your empathy to dictate your actions, because the world will be a better, happier place if you live that way–NOT because you want to get something in return for being a nice person. Let’s work to create happiness and well-being on earth, and then we won’t need heaven later.
If there is a god out there with an afterlife all set up for us like a painted and furnished nursery awaiting a baby, I think he’d be much more impressed with the latter way of thinking. Doesn’t it just seem so much more rightt–dare I say, more Christian?–to act morally simply for the value of being moral? I think if you said to god, “Yeah, I really wanted to kill that guy but I didn’t because I knew you’d be pissed and I didn’t want to get in trouble,” he’d be a little peeved. But if you said, “I was very angry, and even had murderous thoughts, but I didn’t kill him because killing is wrong and by violating the social contract I would only have made our community a less safe and comfortable place for everyone,” I bet god would give you a high-five.
Yeah, if there is a god, I’m pretty sure he’s a high-fiver.
OK, I’m dragging this out. I had a point, and now I am going to get to it: If the world ends next weekend, and it turns out that there is a god, and he has expectations for our behavior, I think I’m in the clear. I doubt he’ll care about any underage drinking that I did (which, yes, my mom has made a religious issue in the past), any premarital sex that I had (which doesn’t hurt anyone), or any time I used his name in vain. I think he’ll see that I tried to put others’ needs ahead of my own as much as possible. He’ll see that I loved my neighbor as myself: I hurt when they hurt, and felt joy when they felt joy. He’ll see that I didn’t steal or cheat or lie (except when I was saving someone’s feelings, which I think falls on the side of morality) or seek to hurt. He’ll see all that, and he’ll be pleased. And if there is an afterlife, even though I don’t believe there is, I’m confident he’d let me in.
So bring on the end of the world. I’m ready.
P.S. I just realized I referred to god as a “he” for that whole post when I’ve always been a fan of the notion that any god worth believing in would totally be a chick. So here’s a little something to make up for my gender-slip.