Tuesday, June 16, 2020

Does Belief in the Afterlife ‘Devalue’ Life Today?

A few weeks ago, there was an opinion column in the Washington Post, and the writer made the point that faithful Christians are less fearful of contracting the Covid-19 virus because they believe dying is their ticket to the joys of Heaven for all eternity.
I’m pretty sure that’s not an accurate claim about Christians and risk-taking, but in response to that opinion piece, Harvard professor Steven Pinker had this to say: “Belief in an afterlife is a malignant delusion, since it devalues actual lives and discourages action that would make them longer, safer, and happier.”
Like most atheists, Pinker believes religious faith is an unfortunate holdover from pre-scientific times, and the sooner mankind stops believing in spiritual fairy tales the better off we all will be. A basic tenet of atheism is that all life on earth evolved randomly, without plan or purpose, and therefore in the grand scheme of things, human beings are no different in eternal value than, say, earthworms or dandelions.
Ingrid Newkirk, the founder of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), summarized this view very succinctly when she said, “[We] do not separate out the human animal, so there is no rational basis for saying that a human being has special rights. A rat is a pig is a dog is a boy.”
I’m sure Professor Pinker’s faith in atheism is sincere. However, his comments about belief in an afterlife must be refuted, since they are blatantly false. Pinker claims that people who believe in an afterlife “devalue actual lives” here and now, and are not interested in making lives “longer, safer, and happier.” This is plainly ridiculous.
Who created institutions such as hospitals, orphanages, soup kitchens, and homeless shelters? It was people of faith, not atheists. And these believers did what they did, not because they thought human beings were no different than earthworms, but because they believed all people were created in the image of God and as such were sacred.
I’m certainly not making the claim that Christians are morally and ethically perfect. One of the key tenets of Christianity comes straight from St. Paul: “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” And if you review some of the atrocities throughout history that were committed in the name of Jesus, it’s downright embarrassing.
But if we want to talk about which metaphysical worldview tends to make human lives “longer, safer, and happier,” then atheism is at the bottom of the list. In just the 20th century alone, over 100 million people were murdered by regimes built on the foundation of atheism. It’s safe to say the most prominent leaders of these deadly movements — Stalin, Hitler, and Mao — will never be lauded by historians because they made lives “longer, safer, and happier.” Their diabolical talent was making human lives shorter, dangerous, and miserable.
Another professor in the Boston area has a much different view. Dr. Peter Kreeft, who teaches philosophy at Boston College, has this to say about people who believe in an afterlife: “Throughout history it has been precisely those who believed most strongly in the next world who did the most to improve this one. That’s what you would expect. If you believe the road you’re on goes nowhere, you don’t take it too seriously. If you believe it goes to somewhere important, you keep it up.”
Kreeft also makes this observation: “Long ago, Lucretius, the ancient Roman philosopher, let the cat out of the bag when he said that we should stop believing in life after death because then we don’t have to be afraid of hell.”
Interesting. I suspect many atheists cling to their worldview precisely because it allows them to ignore the righteousness and judgment of God and avoid any eternal consequences for their actions today.
Whether or not there is life after death is, of course, something we cannot prove scientifically. (But at the moment of our death, each and every one of us will find out the correct answer!)
Like everyone in America, Steven Pinker has the right to free speech, especially speech others find offensive. But when he claims that belief in an afterlife is a “malignant delusion,” those of us who disagree also must speak out. As the 20th century body count indicates, NOT believing in an afterlife is truly the most malignant of delusions.

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