Thursday, March 29, 2007

I should probably be asking my priest, but. . .

This post is actually a culmination of many thoughts I've had for some time now. Most recently, however, I was reading a post over at Poliblog about Dobson's comments about Thompson and what makes a person a Christian. And it made me think of something that occurred to me the other day when I was listing to an AudioSlave song, Like A Stone. The line in the song that particularly struck me was this:
On my deathbed I will pray
To the Gods and the angels
Like a pagan to anyone
Who will take me to heaven
As a good Christian (or at least a good Episcopalian), I've been trying to observe Lent this year, including some religious introspection. That said, the question occurred to me: Is it wrong to be a Christian (or any other religion for that matter) just because you want to go to heaven? That is not to say that it is necessarily wrong to want to go to heaven, but is it wrong for that to be one's only reason for being religious? Somehow that just seems too self-centered to me.

Considering some of our recent discussions at church, I'm sure some would suggest that if wanting to go to heaven encourages an individual to follow the teachings of Christ and be helpful and kind to others, then it is not a bad thing. It is undoubtedly true that it is not a bad thing for those being helped, but the question remains whether it is bad for the person who is actively seeking heaven.

It seems to me that Jesus taught that thoughts and motivations matter. I think most all Christians have heard the story of Jesus saying that it is as much a sin to lust after a woman as it is to commit adultery. This seems to me to indicate that what we want, what we truly madly deeply want, is just as important as what we do. So if we truly want the reward of a mansion on the hill or pearly gates or streets paved with gold, and we are willing to put up with some lowly earthly toils to get it, does that really comport with what Jesus was teaching? I'm not sure it does.

Seriously, do we think it is right in an Earthly relationship to only want to be with a person for what they can give us? For example, Anna Nicole Smith married an elderly millionaire. She was willing to fulfill her wifely duties and produced a child with him. She did what was expected of her in hopes of a lucrative reward. The problem is the whole world saw her as a gold digger.

And then there are also those churches that recruit converts with stories of the power of Christianity. I've heard radio commercials for a church in a nearby city that says something to the effect of ". . .having faith that can swing out over the pit of hell on a shoe string and spit in the devil's eye". Somehow that just doesn't sound very Jesus-like to me either. To me it sounds like something that will appeal to people who want to have the power to condemn others. And I just don't think that is what Jesus had in mind either.

Which brings me to the ultimate question: What should be want, as Christians? I feel like we should have love in our hearts. We should truly want to ease the suffering of those around us. We should really want to be helpful and kind for it's own sake. And if we do have a desire of a heavenly reward, it should not be about golden streets, it should be about wanting to be with God, whatever that means. And it certainly shouldn't be about having the power to condemn, but about having the tools to save them.

Now this may be evidence of my lack of faith, I don't know, but one question has recurred in my mind for many years. What would you do if you found out that your religion was wrong? What if there was nothing that came after this life? Would you feel like being good and behaving like a Christian was a waste of time? My personal answer is no. I don't think it would be a waste of time. I think it would be just as important if not more so. If this life is all we have, we should definitely make it as easy as we can for all concerned.

I'm reminded of the story of Moses. He was given the task of leading the Israelites to the Promised Land even though he knew that he would never get to enter it himself. Maybe that kind of faith is not necessary for the common person. Moses was obviously and extraordinary person. I don't know, but it is something I often contemplate.

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