Friday, September 17, 2010

Muslim Heaven and Hell

I was listening to a woman on the radio last night. She was raised Muslim but had become o critic of the Muslim faith as an adult. One thing she said struck me. That was that the biggest difference she saw between Muslim culture and Western culture was the Muslim emphasis on heaven and hell. In her experience of Islam life was basically a trial. A tool used by Allah to judge your soul. Everything you did that was good or evil was recorded. The good had better outweigh the evil so you would go to heaven rather than hell.

Of course, Christianity has the concepts of heaven and hell. But her opinion was the they were hardly mentioned. Heaven and hell were regularly described in graphic detail when she was growing up. This is what they lived for. It was very much a sinful vision of heaven. Material possessions abound. Men got to have endless sex with 72 virgins. It was seen as a place where the desires of the flesh were met. Sure there is a sense that the deeper desires of the heart would be met as well but it seemed like a vision of heaven that was not transformed by the grace of God. It was what sinful human hearts would envision as paradise. In many ways I would not be surprised if they are describing hell.

Anyway, I got to thinking about why Christians don't talk about heaven and hell as much. Part of it is because we have lost that part of Christianity. It is unfashionable to talk about hell so the entire subject is avoided. But I think there is more than that. Christians don't see our present life and the hereafter as being so different. Muslims see pain and suffering in this left and either eternal joy or much worse suffering in the hereafter. Christians see heaven and hell on earth. When we choose to be close to God we choose heaven. When we choose to forget about God and pursue our own desires we are choosing hell. Those who have spent their life choosing heaven will go to heaven. Those who have spent their life choosing hell will go there. We vote with our feet. Yes, we need God's grace to choose heaven and that begins with faith and is marked by the sacraments. But we affirm our choice by choosing God day after day. We say we want heaven because we say we want God by the choices we make.

So there is no need for a Christian to dream about heaven. What he experiences in here is what it will be like. What we experience is partial and imperfect. Heaven will be complete and perfect. Still it is not something foreign to us. God is not going to suddenly decide cheap sex is better than the beatific vision and go that direction. God will still be God.

It is this idea of something like heaven being possible on earth that has made Christians better at transforming the world than Muslims have been. Muslim societies have not really developed socially, politically, scientifically, or philosophically. Muslims have been told life is a trial. You need to worry about your next life. Christians have been told the way to heaven for you and for others  is to make earth more heavenly. Sure they have the power of Jesus to transform the world but that begins with a vision that it can and should be done. Muslims don't really have that.

You can also see why Muslims might be attracted to terrorism. If a young man has been caught in a serious sin. Say they have indulged in pornography, masturbation, premarital sex, etc. Say that has gone on for a few years. They can be looking at a huge amount of time in hell. Then someone tells them they can wipe all that away and go straight to heaven. All they have to do is fly this plane into this building. There is going to be an appeal. Oddly enough Western mass media giving Muslims access to pornography has increased the number of young men willing to do this. You reap what you sow. If you sow the spiritual death of pornography you reap the spiritual death of terrorism.

1 comment:

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