You have to die to go to heaven

I was listening to some song lyrics a couple of days back which had the line “you have to die to go to heaven”. Which struck me as such an incredibly odd thing about religion, but then religion is about faith, and nothing takes more faith then dieing in the hope of eternal salvation – even as misguided as I think it it.

I’m sure many others have expressed these thoughts, but I’ve always thought that religion must have been created as the ultimate way of controlling crowds. Think of the sway religious leaders have in world politics and how it allows them to control their flock. Hell, people even blow themselves up with the conviction that they’ll “get” many virgins for their sacrifice.

I’m sure in the past religion was a great coping mechanism for dealing with our mortality. If you live a good life, and follow these simple rules, then you’ll be accepted into a wondeful kingdom when you die. It’s a lovely thing to believe, and they added an extra clause for the people that were kind of hesitant: If you DON’T do these things, then you’ll burn and be exposed to eternal suffering. With that kind of choice, most people would probably just go along with it “just in case”. Probably in the same way that people on their death beds, on death row, or who are about to “face their maker” all suddenly want to have a priest with them and do some last minute praying (I’m interested to know how I’d behave in such a situation, I honestly don’t know).

In some ways I liken the thought of heaven, at the end of life, to how I use suicide when I’m depressed. When things are going crap and nothing is working out, you can rest assured that, so long as you are repentant for your sins and swear to live a good life, you’ll get into a lovely place at the end of it all. When I’m in a similar situation, I think that if life gets to bad then I am ultimately in control of my existance. I can push the eject button if I become desperate. Nothing for anyone to worry about, I’m not at risk of doing anything drastic, I just know that I use it as a comforting thought in tough times. Kind of like someone owning a gun for self-protection, just knowing you have it there to protect you is enough, even if you never use it.

There is one final point I’d like to make. I am a huge believer in relative happiness – the idea that happiness or sadness, when related to life circumstance is completely relative. If you lose a limb, that really sucks for several months, but if you are asked about your happiness and are compared to the happiness of someone who is able-bodied you’ll most likely be on par with them. For the same reason, people who win the lottery, after the first couple of months, don’t think they are any happier then before their strike of luck. For this very reason the idea of heaven seems strange – if this is meant to be the kingdom of happiness then how are you meant to maintain it? Do you just continue to be exposed to more and more happiness-creating events until you implode with ecstasy?

By coincidence, while writing this entry I was listening to a John B mix that has a quote of a Dylan Thomas poem “And death shall have no dominion” – 3:50 of this mix. Pretty damn awesome, and I often disregard poetry, so that is saying alot:

    And death shall have no dominion.
    Dead men naked they shall be one
    With the man in the wind and the west moon;
    When their bones are picked clean and the clean bones gone,
    They shall have stars at elbow and foot;
    Though they go mad they shall be sane,
    Though they sink through the sea they shall rise again;
    Though lovers be lost love shall not;
    And death shall have no dominion.



7 comments ↓

#1   andrew brown on 09.20.06 at 5:14 pm

Interesting. Did you know I even have a completely seperate blog dedicated to theology?

Your idea of religion being created by people to control crowds, I don’t think it has much ground to stand on. if you want to look at religion as not inspired by God, and therefore study the evolution of religion, well, if you took the first human existances, they had no knowledge to go on. The aztecs and their sun worship? And you can go into interesting areas in the realm of pyschoactive drugs (shrooms, ahuyascha) and their effect on the first primal religions.. But religions created to make people do things? Maybe scientology, but all other religions are either God inspired or pyscho inspired.

#2   Joel on 09.20.06 at 5:40 pm

Well, I don’t really want to argue the point. But, at least in medieval times, the Church was a centre of power and held sway even over royalty.

Certainly not all religions are purely about controlling people, particularly Buddhism I guess. But your examples – I would assume the Aztec people were controlled by their priests more than anyone else (did they have a ruling class or were they purely a theocracy?), and those priests were dutiful in maintaining the fear of God.

Much psychoactive based spirituality confounds itself. On such a psychoactive journey, the things you see are created by your mind, so you can believe what your mind tells you as insight, but if you come across a particular God then it is most likely that your mind believed it would exist in the first place and so was creating images to support your beliefs.

I’ve had “spiritual” experiences while tripping on various substances – but none of them involved a higher being…

#3   andrew brown on 09.20.06 at 6:53 pm

My point, was that these people had no prior knowledge of hardly anything, and as far as they were concerned, taking these drugs may have been their way of communcating. They didn’t know drug reality from reality reality, maybe they thought it was the way of opening the door.

Religion certainly has been a way of controlling people, rome converted to christianity despite the leader of rome not even being a christian, he saw it as a way to control people better. But I don’t think it was ever created with that purpose in mind.

#4   Joel on 09.20.06 at 6:57 pm

Yeah, I don’t think religion was ever intended to control people but rather to explain that which we couldn’t understand.

I also think that you’d be suprised at how advanced very ancient tribes were. Still, since they couldn’t understand that drugs were altering their brain chemistry, they probably did think that certain berries/cacti/mushrooms were mystical gifts from the Gods.

#5   Jon on 09.22.06 at 6:51 am

I think early religion was too mixed up with other aspects of society to say it was deliberately created for one reason or another (and I don’t think pschoactive substances had much to do with it either). Of course as civilisation got more complex religion naturally presented itself as a tool for social control in most societies.

Damn it I can’t remember the song that the title quote comes from!

#6   phoebe black on 01.14.09 at 12:49 pm

this is so stupid you are talking about nothing really of course u have 2 die 2 go 2 heaven or hell get a life nd maybe a brain

#7   Joel on 01.14.09 at 3:09 pm

@phoebe: thanks for your insightful and thought provoking comment. I just received my PhD, so society as determined I do have a brain. Please to be getting yourself some punctuation.

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