Heaven Sent?

Last night, I watched a television special hosted by Barbara Walters on ABC; Does Heaven Exist; How do we get there? Walters explored the concept of Heaven and Hell and what people from various backgrounds, countries, and religions, believe about heaven and the afterlife. Walters interviewed different types of Christians, Muslims (including an extremist and failed suicide bomber who suggested that if Barbara didn’t follow the prophet Mohammed, that she would go to Hell), a Rabbi, the Dalai Lama himself , and actor Richard Gere. I called my older sister (who told me once that she has a “relationship with Christ”), and suggested that she might be interested in watching the program, as she and her family were recently saved and attend church every Sunday. Somehow, my well intentioned phone call promptly turned into a mini religious debate, as my sister suggested that she didn’t need to watch, as she read the bible, already knew about heaven, and that she felt bad for people who didn’t believe in the concept of Heaven. She also opined that it was good that I was watching the program, as I might learn something from it, and be more at peace… *insert me shivering with annoyance* I responded that I was watching the program not because I'm wayward or in need of any guidance, but because I thought it was interesting, and figured she would find it interesting too, to hear diverse groups of people’s perspectives on religion and Heaven. She asked me what it was I believed in, exactly, if I didn’t believe in God or Christ. I responded that just because I had doubts didn't make me any less spiritual than she is. I also stated that I classified myself as an agnostic (with atheist leanings), and that I don't believe in organized religion. I also suggested that my personal and philosophical views didn’t mean that I lacked morals, ideals, or spirituality. I honestly did not feel comfortable having this discussion, because I felt proselytized to and judged. I finally answered that I believed in humanity and consciousness, and this answer seemed to placate her enough to end the discussion on a “let’s agree to disagree” note.

Tibetan Buddhists, are not necessarily believers in God, yet they have an inner peace, humility, and compassion for others. The Dalai Lama suggested that the purpose of life is to be happy and warm toward others. He spoke about the concept of reincarnation, explaining that Heaven was a holding place for people to develop “spiritual practice” and that the goal for Buddhists is not to end there, but to reach a heightened sense of enlightenment or Nirvana; so, essentially it’s a never-ending process. He suggested that if someone did bad things, they can become reincarnated as an animal, or possibly as another human life form, if they lived an honest life. Richard Gere, who is a devout Buddhist, commented that he didn’t believe that Heaven or Hell happened some place else, but existed in the present… and that people who walked around unhappy, conflicted, and miserable were, undoubtedly, living some sort of hell and that he has met some people who are truly happy and enlightened.

Early Christians and Jews believed that a man wasn’t suitable enough to enter Heaven, as a flesh and blood human being, and so was transformed into some spiritual entity, becoming an angel. The program also featured Evangelicals in this country, who believe they are the purest incarnation of the Christian faith, and that it’s their mission (God given) to save the world from itself. That only those who believe in Christ can get to heaven. *sigh* As someone who has recently struggled with angry, growling demons, I am more apt to agree with Richard Gere and the Dalai Lama’s concept of peace and happiness. I am a person who has spirit. I also believe that my recently deceased niece, is an entity I feel in nature. I carry her in me. I carry her spirit with me. I’ve always said that whenever a pleasant gust of wind touched my face, it was her. And I honestly believe this; feeling and believing this is what brings me peace, with that tragedy. One pastor commented that Heaven was another dimension entirely… a “fourth dimension” that you don’t have to “look up at" to experience… that you can “look out” and see it as well, but that you should definitely never “look down." I think it’s great that people believe in whatever it is, that makes them become better people. It is no one’s place to judge how someone else should find their peace of the pi, however. I think someone who doesn’t believe in God or organized religion isn’t necessarily unhappy or immoral. Someone who is devout and attends church everyday, isn’t necessarily happier or more at peace than I am. Particularly when you consider religious wars we’ve had in the past and what is being experienced at present, i.e. the recent outbreak of violence in Lebanon and in Jerusalem.

A geneticist on the program suggested that a person’s spirituality is not a matter of will, but something that may be innate within their personalities, something that’s encoded in our genes. He researched 1000 or so people and their DNA, asking them a series of questions about religion and spirituality. Those who scored the highest had some sort of mutated gene that dictated their level of spirituality… a gene he deemed “the God gene” or VMAT2. This gene can, apparently, be isolated and studied. This “God gene” also sets off certain chemicals that determine how consciousness functions, and how we react to certain events occurring around us. *sighs even more heavily* Why can't we just learn to be? Why does existence, life, the whole process of living have to be labeled, boxed, and bowed? I think it’s up to each individual to find his or her own peace, however or whatever that process is. If it's via Christianity, Islam, Judaism, and believing in the concept of heaven and an evenutal reunion with loved ones... so be it... but don't belittle me for refusing to simply accept that as my reality. My peace comes in the form of being the best ME I can be… reserving the right to err; learning and growing from my mistakes, living and letting live. I don’t know that I have a fart or reduced/increased levels of chemicals in my brain, that determine what level of spirituality I harbor. I do know that I am human. I would like to suggest that if you’re a devout Christian however, don’t feel sorry for me, don't tsk tsk or look down your nose at me- (I don't need your pity)- just because I don’t believe in this cut and dry concept of heaven or hell. I struggle with the trials and tribulations of life, like everyone else, and am not perfect. While I may not be religious enough for your taste, this doesn’t make me any less spiritual or content, despite (and in spite of) my struggles. It doesn’t make me any less of a decent or productive person. It may make me a tad more complex. But so what? My reflection, my meditative state, my thought processes, looking inward, being introspective… this is how I cope and grapple with my spirit. It’s not up to anybody else to determine how I should attain happiness or peace, or where my spirit will ascend (or descend) to after I'm departed. The beauty of living in this country is the freedom we have to express ourselves, freedom of religion or the freedom to pass on religion.


BeautyinBaltimore said...

You made a number of good points in this post. May I add that I notice some of the most religious even fanatical religious people are those who have been through very very very hard times in their lives. Do you think the reason that your sister's family recently became born again was because of the passing of your niece, and the converson was their way of dealing with pain.

Personally, I think Buddhists are on the right track in contrast to the other major religions. It is very important that people realize that they must find some type of happiness on earth.
I'm pretty sure you are aware that the Christanity that African-American slaves were taught was one in which they were told to be good now, and later they would have great riches in the after life. This was one of the ways that the slave masters were able to pull the wool over the slaves eyes.

Today, many Pastors worship money(it seems) more than God(you know their names). Maybe I should post on this topic also.

TiffJ said...

@Beauty: Perhaps my sister and her family did join a church to help them cope with the passing of my niece, and to perhaps become stronger as a family in the process. I don't know. My sister tends not to be judgmental and says that her relationship with God is her business and it's not her right to judge others or put others down, which is why I was a bit surprised and then put off. Anyway, she has since apologized for seeming rude and condescending, toward me... but the conversation prompted me to think of all the other times I've felt proselytized to, looked down on, and tsk tsked at by zealots, who displayed questionable behaviour themselves.

There was actually one evangelical preacher that was featured on the program... last name Osteen I believe, or something to that effect, whose religious theme centers around prosperity and wealth. He preaches about acquiring, material wealth, and asks for god's guidance in showering his congregation with raises or monetary luck. This man claims he's trying to help people reach a certain economic level, because he believes that God wants people to be happy and prosperous in their lives, or whatever...

Anyway, whatevs... how I or anybody else choose to proceed in life is no one's business.
I wont get on a soapbox about Catholicism and right wing conservatism, and how they're trying to control birth control and what women can and can't do with their bodies, while their priests are molesting young boys.

It's exasperating! I don't care what one's religion is, people should learn to accept others how they are and offer productive and worthwhile suggestions, if the situation calls for it!

Unknown said...

I'm right there with you Coffey (I just took the extra step past I don't know to I see no evidence warranting belief....)

anyhoooo...I just wanted to say Happy Holidays and I'm wishing you all the best for the new year!

xoxox Spin

Anonymous said...

Fantastic post Coffey! I am of the cloth that does believe in God as a creator, but I do not believe in organized religion, giving my money to said religion, the beliefs of organized religion, etc...I have however stumbled upon a fantastic debate that MAY or MAY NOT interest you. It involves everyone living on this earth but it is not our consciousness. Our consciousness comes AFTER we die and that this is mearly a pit stop. It's very interesting and reading about ancient Egypt and traditions and ceremonies of Indian tribes all over the world...It is fascinating. If you are interested, let me know and I'll send you some book titles.

Anyway...Hope you have a fantastic new year if I don't talk to you!!!!

Amadeo said...

This always makes me think of the South Park Episode that shows new people going to hell. They start complaining and saying, "I was a devout christian...or Orthodox Jew or whatever. The "guide" says "Oh I'm sorry the correct answer was Mormon." I think most folks who follow some religious dogma tend to miss the point of spirituality.

Anonymous said...

I'd like to be given a chance to add my interpretation of our conversation. Not once did I convict or judge for your belief. I'd never thought about or have ever asked you the question. I was once saved and backslide several times so I've always had religion/christ in my life. When my daughter was born and extremely sick that's when both me and my husband decided to turn back to God for support. We were able to deal with her being in and out of the hospital and we received tremendous support from the church when she was in the hospital. Once she passed away, I was able to accept and have peace in my heart, this is what God provided. Now as far as my questions to you, they were just questions because as I said, I'd never had that discussion with you or even asked you what you believed it. I also asked you if you read the Bible, prayed and have a relationship with God. Coffey, I do not only go to church on every sundays, I have a supernatural, personal relationship with Christ. That's far more important than going and just sitting in a church. I go to church on sunday as an opportunity to praise and worship with like Christians. I am not a religious person, nor do I categorize myself as a religious person. If you read the Bible at anytime, you would know that it was religious people who killed Jesus because they didn't believe that God sent him to give prophetic words. My goal is about saving souls Coffey, not about judging people who are not saved or who don't know Christ. A number of people like yourself have been approach by such religious people, that when someone who is genuinely trying to understand where they are in their spiritual life they become defensive, the way you did. I apologized to you because you seemed to have been upset by my questions, but I didn't apologize for asking the questions. You say you believe in the universe and humanity, then you should also believe that what you put out into the universe is what you get back. So many people focus so much on religion instead of prayer and their spiritual relationship with Christ. One last comment, just for the record, the illness of my daughter may have led me to seek spiritual guidance in order for me to remain sane, but it was the best choice in my life that I've ever made. And I just want everyone that I care about and love to get the opportunity to have the same experience.

TiffJ said...

@Anonymous: I think your approach to religion and spirituality is refreshing. Whether one calls him/herself a Christian or associate themselves with a religious denomination or NOT... spirituality is universal, and I don't think you have to CLAIM a religion to feel spiritual.
Unfortunately, those who follow an organized religion don't look at religion the way you do.
I don't like labels, but I'm agnostic/borderline Atheist, but the spiritual impact your daughter/my niece has had on ALL of us and EVERYONE who came to know her and feels her presence is REAL! Word. I know her spirit resonates with me, everyday, and I think that extends FAR BEYOND religion. It's otherworldly.