The possibility of two doors in the beyond: one leading to heaven the other to “hell.” That was the topic two weeks ago. I have since heard that may not be the only set of experiences for those who experience clinical death and return to tell about it. More in a future column on this.
Now I have come across an article that states there is a relationship between a society’s religious beliefs regarding heaven and hell and how much crime exists. Prof Azim F. Shariff, a psychologist from the U. of Oregon, found a strong cultural belief in a god who punishes sin results in a lower crime rate. While stressing a forgiving god tends to increase crime. His study covered 67 countries over a 26-year period. His conclusion is that forgiveness seems to give license to behave unethically.
Since the majority of Christian churches in America have for the past 50 years de-emphasized, or even denied, the existence of hell and have focused, instead, on the loving all-forgiving nature of God, the mention of “hell” leads many to just shrug their shoulders in indifference.
Is it then no coincidence that crime, and cheating, and what were once considered immoral or unethical behaviors have grown almost commonplace during this same period of time? We shake our heads and roll our eyes and then turn away. In the not-so-distant past many of these behaviors would have caused outrage and the running of perpetrators out of town on the rail if they were not locked up first.
It seems to me we need three different emotions in relationship to God. One is LOVE, by all means. The second is AWE, as in overwhelmed by the greatness of the Creator and a humble awareness of our smallness in comparison. And thirdly, we need a dose of FEAR, recognizing that God set the rules of the universe in motion and we are subject to them. The Creator holds the power and the wisdom.
As I wrote last time, we all gamble on what happens to our consciousness after our physical bodies no longer can function on this physical plane. Humans for thousands of years have been certain something exists beyond.
I am guessing we all need a healthy dose of fear about the possibility of an eternity of suffering in order to keep us living within healthy personal and cultural boundaries. It is just human nature, whether we like it or not. We can see it in children every day. We are all willful and hedonistic enough to behave “badly” without boundaries.
C.S. Lewis wrote that because God respects our freedom, God would never ever force anyone’s love and acceptance. And we can either say to God, “Your will be done,” or if we reject God, God will say to us, “ Your will be done. You are welcome to be separated from me.” And THAT is hell where everyone will be singing for eternity Frank Sinatra’s hit: “I did it my way!”
Evelyn King is a preaching elder at the Community Presbyterian Church with graduate work in values education from San Francisco Theological Seminary and a BA in psychology/social science. She is a past director of the Healy Senior Center and the facilitator of senior fitness exercise.