A Christian woman, who otherwise considered herself a “freethinker,” once asked our freethinker meetup group: “if you don’t raise your children to believe in Heaven, then how can they have hope?”.
My first thought is that this is a very good example of how parenting reinforces religious belief. Having children creates anxiety in people and pushes them to rely on religion as an easy “out” on how to not turn their children into monsters or deprived beings. They are victims of what I’ve previous discussed as an overactive imagination for disaster. So you get the relapsed atheist, the non-churchgoer who becomes a churchgoer, and in general a degradation of the moral faculties. This we can blame squarely on natalism. It is true that some atheists express a longing for religion, but only having children can make someone who knows the evils of religion still go back to it.
Of course, I am also against parenting and believe that indoctrination of any kind is criminal in nature. I also don’t think we should lie to children, and Heaven is a fairy tale and, if you take it literally instead of the myth it actually is, a lie. But this then brings the issue of whether we should tell children fairy tales, and whether we should tell them lies. A good example is that of Santa Claus. Should we teach children about Santa Claus?
Again here the religious brainwashing of our culture affects the way we think. We think there can only be two alternatives: either children believe in Santa Claus, or they don’t believe in Santa Claus at all. But children make believe all the time. When I was a child, I knew deep down that Santa Claus was my uncle Bob, but I played make believe because it was fun.
Many children play at Santa Claus even though they have been told he doesn’t exist: these children don’t “believe” or “disbelieve” in Santa Claus any more than people who play Monopoly “believe” or “disbelieve” in the existence of Park Place. To divide everything into belief/disbelief, rational/irrational, true/false, means missing the point of all art, all entertainment, all imagination, all concepts of history or planning the future.
But being religious seems to make you think in terms of believe/disbelieve. When I try to explain to Christians that I think Jesus is a myth, that concept alone is far beyond them. They give their standard reply of “well, you don’t believe in it, but that doesn’t mean…” and so on, as if what I said has anything to do with believing or not believing in Jesus.
Imagine the equivalent of this reaction for a different myth. A Star Wars fan tells you that that Darth Vader dies in Star Wars Episode VI and you reply: “You seriously believe Darth Vader exists? Don’t you realize it’s just a movie character? Why do you believe in such things?” That would just be stupid and would completely miss the point of discussing a mythical story, where the existence or non-existence of its elements has nothing to do with its meaning.
Like Santa Claus, Heaven is a myth. And if one accepts the message behind it, then one might choose to teach children about Heaven, as a myth. These children’s myths must be abandoned when the child grows up. Once we become adults, we must switch to adult myths, mustn’t we? After all, does not the Bible say, “When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things” (1 Corinthians 13:11). It is bizarre for an adult American to believe in Santa Claus or Snow White, but it’s perfectly fine for an adult American to believe that the Revolutionary War was fought for freedom, or the whole mythos of the “Wild West.” As a fairy tale, Heaven belongs to the former category.
What’s important about a myth is its underlying system of meaning. What does the myth of Heaven as a source of hope mean? Christians see Heaven as their reward for living a righteous life. Hope comes in because the believer must hold out hope that everything bad in their lives will be rendered moot someday when they get to Heaven. As the song The Preacher and the Slave, a parody of a Salvation Army hymn, tells us:
You will eat, bye and bye,
In that glorious land above the sky;
Work and pray, live on hay,
You’ll get pie in the sky when you die.
The concept of Heaven has always been used to keep the masses appeased and content with their fate here on Earth. The hope it gives us crowds out of our imaginary the possibility of social justice and other forms of material improvement of our living conditions. Ultimate, absolute justice is the domain of God in Heaven; here on Earth, we must suffer and pray.
So the indoctrination of children with the Heaven myth serves the role, whether parents realize it or not, of teaching children that hope comes from the afterlife instead of coming from the here and now. In essence, children, who have a natural desire for equality (as do other primates), are brainwashed into being good little conservatives (of course, I am not saying that the indoctrination of Heaven is what makes people conservatives, but it certainly leads to an unjust outlook).
I am not going to discuss how bad it is for Christians to create people who might one day go to Hell based on an uncertain hope that they might go to Heaven instead (I’ve already written that one anyway). But what exactly is Heaven?
Well, Heaven is supposed to be a place of eternal bliss, where all your needs are met. Humans usually imagine that heaven involves not having to do anything to maintain your heavenly life. You don’t have to exert any effort. You won’t die or get sick if you don’t eat the right foods, obtain shelter and clothing, etc. There are no diseases in heaven.
Many atheists have noted that Heaven cannot be for our selves. since we’re not supposed to grieve for loved ones who are in Hell. In Heaven, we’re supposed to have no “negative” emotions. There are many possible conclusions based on this, but it seems to me that the most natural conclusion is that we are “changed” somehow by being in Heaven. We’re not really “ourselves.”
What’s obvious is that without needs, desires or emotions, humans cannot be motivated, so you can’t really do anything. Christians may argue that it can’t be Heaven if you can’t do anything, but directed action is predicated on suffering (the presence of need, desire and emotion) and leads to more suffering (failure, competition for resources, loss of status, etc). How can it be Heaven if there is suffering?
Some versions of heaven you just praise God all day (including the version given to us in the Bible), but I would think that would get boring pretty fast, and boredom is just another form of suffering. Given enough time, anything you did would get boring eventually anyway.
The only Heaven we have on Earth, I think, is in the womb. In the womb, one (insofar as we can speak of a fetus as a “one” in a metaphorical manner) has no needs, desires or emotions. Everything is provided without effort. There are usually no diseases. One can’t really do anything except some physical motions. No percepts hurt the senses. In fact, one is not even conscious.
True, there is no God involved, and the role of the fetus is not to worship God. But God doesn’t exist anyway, so that’s not really an issue. There are no souls of the dead ones, but there is no such thing as souls either, so again not an issue. There is no supernatural New Jerusalem or otherwise ethereal city of angels, but that’s fantasy too. Once you strip all the bullshit out of the imaginary conceptions of Heaven, the womb fits every criteria.
Which brings us to the delicious irony that the people who believe the hardest in Heaven are the ones trying to get everyone out of it.
Of course, the womb is not an adequate emotional replacement for Christians because Heaven is all about ego-fulfillment, and the fetus has no ego. Vulgar Christians especially relish the idea of going to Heaven because they imagine Heaven as a place where all their (non-obscene) desires can be fulfilled.
From an antinatalist standpoint, one may also note that, while natalists claim that life on Earth is so great that bringing children into the world should be nigh mandatory, they imagine life in Heaven as being so much different than life on Earth. One should ponder why that is.