“I was also intrigued by Georges Rey's paper ‘Meta-atheism: Religious Avowal as Self-Deception.’ Many of us skeptics have had occasion to wonder if some of the religious people we encounter really believe in what they insist they do. We get further suspicious when some of their behavior seems to fit badly with their beliefs: why, for example, all the devastation and mourning if a loved one really has gone on to a wonderful afterlife?”
The social and theological naïveté of this objection is downright comical.
1.To begin with, orthodox Christians don’t assume that every loved who dies is heavenbound. Not every loved one is a Christian when he dies. So the expectation is that we will not be reunited with all our loved ones in the hereafter.
We may, of course, be pleasantly surprised by what we find. But that’s not something we can count on. There’s no presumption that if I’m a Christian, then all my loved ones have a ticket to heaven.
It reflects a self-reinforcing ignorance on the part of Edis and Rey that they operate with such a faulty knowledge of the faith they’re so quick to criticize.
2. Then there’s the absurd equation between belief and feeling. I wonder if it’s coincidental that both men are scientists by training. Is that why they’re so out of touch with ordinary human psychology?
We have no direct control over how we feel. Suppose two friends love the same woman. That is going to put a strain on the friendship.
Suppose she chooses to marry Jim instead of John. Logically, John should be happy for Jim. After all, Jim is John’s best friend. He should be glad that Jim got to marry the love of his life. It should make John happy to see his best friend so happy.
That’s all very gallant, very noble. Be a good sport. May the best man win!
And it’s also utterly and totally unrealistic. John is going to resent the fact that Jim married the woman John wanted to marry. He will be envious. Jealous. Maybe bitter.
John knows that it’s wrong for him to feel this way. Jim didn’t cheat him out of this woman. She chose Jim over John. What was Jim supposed to do? Refuse her?
Yet John can’t help feeling that his best friend betrayed him. Stole her away from him. He knows that isn’t true. But his head can’t silence his heart.
3. Suppose I do expect to be reunited with my loved ones in heaven? Is it irrational for me to grieve?
Take a poor family in Ireland. Their only son decides to emigrate to America to make a better life for himself and his parents. When he’s made enough money, he’ll send for them.
Does this mean that the parents shouldn’t grieve when they wave good-bye as they watch his ship leave port? After all, he’s going to a better place. The land of opportunity. After all, they hope to see him again.
But of course they’ll mourn the separation. And while they expect to be reunited with their son in the new world, they don’t know when that will be—which makes the separation all the more painful to endure.