FAITH column September 2015
Different religions preach various visions of heaven and hell, based on life lived as a saint or a sinner, perceived by some ethereal idea of a Supreme Being. Are these visions significant in the here and now, albeit whether we ‘think …(we) can tell heaven from hell’ as Pink Floyd sang more than 40 years ago? The concept of heaven and hell is as old as time immemorial, permeating many people’s lives today with a relevance that ascribes greater importance to an afterlife than faith in life itself. Most of us live as mortals in the present imperfect, making mistakes and managing to move on without too many mea culpas. Guilt can be assuaged by absolution in a confessional box in Catholicism or 24-hour fasting on the Day of Atonement in Judaism to ensure your forgiveness, but a quintessential aspect of life is maintaining faith in yourself and forgiving your own transgressions as much as those of others. This forgiveness reaches beyond the realm of heaven or hell, whereby we can appreciate the beauty and wonder of life itself with a faith that transcends religious teachings; creating a heaven on earth for enriched enjoyment, instead of retreating into an ordained destiny of a dark and cavernous hell.
It may well be that religion is implicit in this understanding, but learning to live life to the full, despite personal trials and tribulations as well as environmental chaos and war, is implicit in faith of all kinds, suggesting we should focus on optimism and positivity rather than pessimism and pain. Heaven and hell are both extreme manifestations of unrealistic and inhuman constructs that deny our foibles and frailties. We need faith in our own intrinsic capacity for happiness and joy, accepting our own mortality and using faith in life to ignore ideas of heaven and hell. We should disregard those notions as aberrant religiosity that often obfuscates the challenge of living life, struggling through the troughs and riding high on the crests as we experience them. Adversity can work in re-shaping our faith so that while we may not have the lucid answers to explain ‘why’ about so many things (I’ve learned so many things are simply inexplicable), our faith in life can invest us with hope instead of despair. There is a greater philosophical (rational?) wisdom than the heaven and hell concepts which offers us the insight to live life doing’ unto others as you would have them do unto you’. This may reward us with blessings of peace and serenity on earth without worrying about an afterlife at all. Do we even need to tell the difference?