How To Get To Heaven Part 1

Saturday, 10 November 2001

[Picture of test tubes]WE want control, so we want to know the future, don’t we? I guess that’s why we have superstition and science.

You know, it seems to me that both science and superstition try to detect naturally occurring patterns just so that we can manipulate and control things — so that we can make things behave exactly as we want, to get the desired outcome. In that respect, I see no difference between science and star-signs!

[Picture of Lucky Four leaf clover]An important subset of superstition is religion. Religion seems to scare a lot of people; I bet some people read the word there and got a shudder.

Talking about religion is a taboo.

Oddly enough, though, Religion is a social matter — and I think it has always been intended to be social; with a culture of identity and shared behaviour based on rites and rituals. To me it is obvious that there is a powerful group or social dynamic which needs to be constantly managed or guided — much like a shepherd with sheep or a cowboy with cattle.

I almost hate to say it, but religion has historically been used to control and manage groups of people. But this is not necessarily such a baaaaad thing; while some of the outcomes are concerned with the living (feeding the hungry and other charity works), the main thrust is to affect the outcome after life is over — in death — and that flips back and affects how we live our lives.

But this is a philosophical pursuit; philosophers wonder why we live, how best to live, and what happens when we die. My goodness, there are a great many philosophical theories about life and the afterlife.

[Picture of Jesus wearing a Crown of Thorns]But although philosophy may be interesting fun, for serious social control of large groups of simple folk, any afterlife theory has to contain a reward and a punishment — so that any enjoyment in life can be balanced by punishment in the afterlife of hell, and any harsh poverty in life is can be rewarded and compensated for in heaven.

The idea of heaven and hell reminded me of Christianity, so I looked it up, and it turns out that the biggest religion ever and by far has been Christianity; over a third of the world’s population are Christian, and aside from Calvinism and Pre-Destination, the main thrust of it is that the outcome of your afterlife is in your own hands; the Christian God sends you to heaven or to hell depending on a judgement of how you have run your entire life.

  • Oh dear! I judge myself to have enjoyed having had a soft, comfortable and happy life so far. Does this then mean that were I to die tomorrow, I would go to hell to balance things out?

Although I haven’t done anything bad, I suppose I could have done more good works, put other people ahead of myself, given things away and to have lived as simply as possible…

But there’s the problem: I am not so convinced of the reward-punishment afterlife that I would risk throwing away my life and its achievements.

I do not have that blind-faith, I do not have that conviction and certainty.

I am sorry, but I just don’t.

[Picture of Jesus’s Suffering with the Cross]I bet there are a lot of people who share my lack of belief in the reward-punishment type of afterlife (not that it has made any difference to me, because I think for myself).

I needed much more information on this distressing notion. I don’t want to go to hell simply for having a normal lifestyle! But where to look? Well, there are over 2.1 BILLION Christians alive, and the vast majority are Roman Catholic or Roman Christians, which is the original church, dating right back to Jesus and year dot. So I thought I had better refer to their oldest written authority, The Challoner Revision of the Douay-Rheims Bible, for clues.

There’s little point in reading the Old Testament, the latest information would be in the New Testament, so I checked the four Gospels for clues about lifestyle.

I found that Jesus of Nazareth did not seem to own anything. He seems to have lived with his parents and then become homeless. He wandered freely and lived simply. No halls or rooms were hired for preaching. All his preaching was done outdoors and entry was free. No donations were offered nor accepted. He did miracles and helped the poor, putting prostitutes and beggars ahead of himself. He starved himself. His victorious ride into town was on a donkey. There’s no mention of a will or possessions. He never married (a wife was considered a possession back then), and so was denied sex and children [etc.]

I tried hard, but could not find anything to contradict the idea that I would be going to hell for having what-I-call a ‘normal lifestyle’. Jesus lived life like a person 100% convinced in a balancing reward-punishment afterlife. That is the ultimate example, I suppose.

Just look how far Jesus took it — to the very extreme; He preached zero-tolerance and 100% non-violence. He preached that we must be pacifists; that we should never defend ourselves, that if struck on the cheek, we should turn to offer the other cheek — asking to be hit again! He was accused and did not defend himself at the trial. He took the punishment without appeal. He was wronged and yet did not bear a grudge or demand retribution. He did not judge; that would be the job of God on Judgement Day.

The Bible didn’t help me — it made me feel worse! The thing that I am clinging to is the fact that I don’t see billions of Christians choosing poverty — this makes me think that I am looking in the wrong place or in the wrong way.

Yes, it does look like I am looking for a way out, that I am trying to bend the religion to agree with me and to fit around my life and lifestyle, and sure, maybe I am… but I am also simply not convinced or convicted, and let’s face it, “The Son of God” is not exactly a normal human being living a normal life (whatever that really means). Hmmm. Is it possible then that Jesus was exceptional?

Well, no. I looked into that, and unfortunately He was not exceptional not in that respect; history is littered with normal people who lived exactly like that… they are called The Martyrs…

A lot of people think of a Martyr as someone who chooses to die for a cause. Nope, that’s not how it works at all; Martyrs are Christians who refuse to defend themselves, even to death — just like Jesus. They were thrown to the lions in ancient Rome, and because they refused to fight back, speak in their own defence, or try to protect their friends and family in any way, the word “Christian” which originally meant “anointed” became synonymous in Rome with “Idiot”.

Well, I am sorry, but I cannot say that I could be like Jesus or The Martyrs; I do not want to be poor and homeless. I do not want to live a short harsh lonely life.

I’m not that much of an idiot; I don’t think I could stand by and allow someone to harm my loved ones, and I think I would defend myself when confronted with violence — in fact I would probably kill in self-defence. Well, that’s how I feel anyway. I suppose I won’t know what I will do unless something that bad happens.

[Picture of Saint Sebastian]Mind you, violence can be avoided, or at the very least we can say that violence is not obligatory, so self-defence is not particularly common. So I can see that not all perfect Christians get killed and become martyrs; it seems that the ones who manage not-to-be-killed are known as saints.

The point is that is was actually possible to live that way.

But is it possible to live like that today? — Well, apart from homeless people, and the poor of the third world, the best I can come up with are nuns, monks, priests and the like.

[Picture of a monk] [Picture of a Nun] [Picture of Priest]

OK! Dammit, I have to admit that it is possible to live like Jesus today!

(This is NOT going well at all, is it?)

But, even though I know I could join a religious sect and give up all my worldly possessions, and even though I know I could choose a life as close to Jesus’s as possible — am I going to hell just because I don’t wanna do that?

[Picture of wedding]Every part of my being revolted against the evidence I had so far found. It looks like I will be going to hell after all. I desperately looked back through the four gospels. I needed to look again with fresh eyes, with a new angle — a new perspective. I decided that instead of looking closely at Jesus’s lifestyle, I should maybe look for Jesus’s opinion on what would be a good lifestyle.

It was stated that Jesus suffered so that we would not have to, so there’s an important difference between Jesus’s life and my life right away. Jesus reportedly turned the water into wine at a wedding and that He was all for marriage, even though His parents weren’t and He never married. Aha! That’s IT!

Marriage! Brilliant! how different from a Jesus lifestyle is THAT?

It’s obvious now; marriage is probably the biggest single religious event in even modern people’s lives.

I was finally onto something. I began researching marriage, and found that it is a cornerstone of the religion; the Church says that marriage is an outward sign of the state of grace and love. The Council of Trent of 1563 straightened out a lot of doctrine including the sacraments. It is possible to receive, achieve or collect all six sacraments in a lifetime: (1) Baptism, (2) Penance, (3) Communion, (4) Confirmation, (5) Matrimony and (6) Extreme Unction.

But marriage posed a problem. You see, priests were sworn to poverty. They were allowed no possessions. Because a wife was considered a man’s property, she might have a dowry, and she might inherit property later, priests took an oath of celibacy. It is a popular misconception that celibacy is sexual abstinence; celibacy is the oath never to marry. But this created a problem — the holy man who has given over his life to God’s work cannot achieve all six sacraments! So the Council of Trent allowed Holy Orders to be a sacrament/ alternative, and the list was rewritten as (5) Matrimony/ Ordination, making a total of seven possible sacraments or outward signs of Divine grace.

All of which seems to suggest that it is possible to get to heaven WITHOUT LIVING LIKE JESUS.

Hey! Maybe it is, after all, OK not to be a priest, nun or monk… maybe you don’t have to follow Jesus into a life of poverty and homelessness.

It could be possible to have possessions, to be married… and still qualify for heaven!

Just as I was happy at the potential of getting into heaven, I thought I had come across something of a stumbling block — I was referred to a passage in The Gospel According To St.Matthew — where a man asked Jesus how he could improve his chances of getting into heaven.

“Jesus said unto him, If thou wilt be perfect, go and sell that thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come and follow me. But when the young man hear that saying, he went away sorrowful: for he had great possessions”
(Mat. 19:21-22).

At first this seemed to take me right back to my starting idea of giving away everything and trying to live exactly like Jesus, and that there is a rewarding balance in heaven. But then I realised that Jesus was not saying this was the ONLY way to get into heaven. He wasn’t, for instance, asking the young man to divorce a wife and put his now homeless children up for adoption! So it obviously wasn’t advice intended for everyone, so what did Jesus mean, and why is it important enough for St.Matthew to include?

The answer comes almost straight away:

“When his disciples heard it, they were exceedingly amazed, saying, who then can be saved?

But Jesus beheld them, and said unto them, With men this is impossible; but with God all things are possible.”
(Mat. 19:25-26)

You have to laugh; the disciples (like me) thought that it was impossible then to get into heaven because it is impossible to live up to that standard.

Seriously, though, I think Jesus is making two points here: first, that it is NOT EASY to get into heaven. This implies exclusivity — that only a few will deserve to get into heaven.

The second thing I think Jesus is saying is that the young man could be ‘perfect’ and follow Jesus’s example to be homeless and poor, in order to deserve heaven.

Imperfection means that it is impossible to get into heaven without God’s judgement and decision. This applies to the young man, to me and to everyone else who cannot be perfect, who is or wants to be married with children.

This really sums up the first part of ‘How to Get to Heaven’ — I do not have to copy Jesus’s lifestyle, join a sect, or strive for perfection; instead I can be married and imperfect and still have a chance — a chance, mind you, not a guarantee, and the final decision is up to God on Judgement Day. We have reached a reasonable starting point for part two, which looks at how a life might be appraised.

/end of part one

(edited 2006-11-10, rtone, colours added, post cut into two)

Continue to part two>>

8 Responses to “How To Get To Heaven Part 1”

  1. Maria Toth Says:

    Woah! long blog entry. Couldn’t read it all but interesting to find all the same!

    Every blessing
    Maria in the UK

  2. digga Says:

    Interesting route but soft conclusion

  3. […] The original post was too long (there were complaints!), so I have chopped it up and used colours to help make it more interesting. This is the second part of the original giant post, I hope this is easier and better. I also promise to do at least one more essay to finish off the topic more completely. –Enjoy, RTone […]

  4. PaisleyBuddy Says:

    The Glasites were a Christian sect founded in about 1730 in Paisley, Scotland by John Glas. It was spread by his son-in-law Robert Sandeman into England and America, where they were called Sandemanians

    These Christians believed that the accumulation of wealth was improper, and each member considered his property as liable to be called upon at any time to meet the wants of the poor and the necessities of the church.

    Which means that they could have wealth, but not ‘possess’ it fully.

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