Monday, April 03, 2006

The Truth about Eternity

I was on my lunch break the other day, sitting in the teachers’ lounge carrying on a conversation with a friend of mine. We share the same Alma mater, Franklin College, so that often gives us something to talk about.

This conversation, however, was not about college life, but religion. I happened to mention that I thought religion had held society back. He agreed.

Then he told me that, although he wasn’t officially an atheist, he didn’t believe in a heaven or a hell. He said he believes that when we die, that’s it. Nothing else happens.

I explained I wasn’t ready to give up on an afterlife, even though I had no evidence of one. It’s nice to hope there is something more than what we see. Again, he agreed.

In the mean time, another teacher happened to be in the lounge, having her lunch. When she was finished, she threw away her lunch bag and headed for the door. On her way out, she turned and said confidently, “There is a heaven and there is a hell and every word in the bible is true.”

When she left, we acknowledged that she had the right to believe whatever she wished and that it wasn’t our intent to offend her with our conversation.

Later, during the students’ lunch, the other teacher and I had lunch duty together. I walked over and told her that we didn’t mean to offend her; we were just having an interesting conversation about religion.

She said she wasn’t offended. But then she added something that truly offended me and she offered no apology for it. She said, “But if you ever want to know the truth, I’ll explain it to you.”

I made her the same offer and left it at that.

She probably didn’t realize she had offended me. But, like most fundamentalists, she obviously believes she has a monopoly on the truth and that those who hold different beliefs than she does are obviously in need of being set straight.

It’s rare that I meet a fundamentalist teacher, but when I do, it saddens me. Fundamentalists don’t realize that other’s points of view about religion may be equally valid.

If she had said something like, “I believe there is a heaven and hell and that the bible is truth,” it would have been much more diplomatic. And if she had offered to explain her religion to me and why she believes it to be true it would have been much less offensive than offering to explain to me the truth.

My personal belief is that religion in any form has done nothing but hold society back. Humans are an innovative species. Unfortunately, their awareness of their limited lifespan has caused them to invent religion to make them feel better.

That’s all fine and good, except when the dogma associated with the fundamentalist varieties of religion begin setting barriers that apply to everyone, even those of different faiths, or no faith at all.

A recent scientific study conducted by Harvard Medical showed that at least one kind of prayer, called intercessory prayer, doesn’t work. Heart patients were divided into three groups: Those who were prayed for every day but didn’t know it, those who were prayed for and knew about it, and those who were not prayed for.

The group that was prayed for but didn’t know about it and the group that was not prayed for had exactly the same rate of complications following surgery. Surprisingly, the group that was prayed for and knew it had even more complications.

The study was large enough and lasted long enough to be scientifically valid. It doesn’t prove that all types of prayer never work, but it suggests that maybe God has more important stuff to do than listen to us whine.

In America, thankfully, people are free to believe what they want. It’s just sad that some people believe that when it comes to religion, only they know the truth.

The fact is, the truth about eternity won’t be revealed until after we’re dead. And if my old college friend is right, we won’t even know about it then.

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