By Kasun Kamaladasa –
I have never really been able to understand the concept of heaven and hell. If heaven granted all my wishes would a person who wishes the complete opposite of what I want, be living in a different heaven? If lying was a reason to go to hell would my friends who tell me I’m handsome go to hell? If I somehow wound up in heaven would all the honest people tell me, I’m ugly when I meet them? Who are the keepers of the gate to heaven that have to process 8,000 humans alone each hour? Who is supposed to count and assess our sins and good deeds? Would we be able to learn how bureaucracy in heaven is so efficient?
Modern followers of religion would accuse me of not understanding metaphors and state that heaven is just a peaceful land with abundance of resources or an advance civilization of aliens living beyond in the cosmos. Yet instead of creating this heaven here on earth many acolytes of faith are hell bound not only to seek it after death but to force others to follow them to their grave, in their search.
No matter what religion we follow (or not) we all believe in salvation in our own “twisted” ways. Mary Wollstonecraft wrote on her publication “A Vindication of the Rights of Men” that:
If you really think about it, a thief might be having the good intention of feeding his family or himself, a drug or alcoholic addict just trying to escape the cruel reality and a murderer trying to defend his beliefs or express his scared childhood, a monk preaching superiority of a race in the intention of boosting ego of people, who would otherwise feel useless and unwanted, too has good intentions.
It makes us wonder if we could all really be having good (righteous) intentions. My righteous intentions of this article is not to be a judge or jury, but to discuss how good intentions (seeking heaven) might end up in not so good outcomes.
Battling Lernaean Hydra with an ordinary sword.
Lernaean Hydra is a mythical serpentine creature that believed to have lived in a lake and had multiple heads that could not be killed by ordinary swords, according to Greek mythology. In modern day version of the story, whenever you cut one of its heads it regenerates two heads, making this beast impossible to kill. So instead of using a simple sword, Hercules finally had to use a sword made of flame to defeat it.
Of course, in reality, we do not have a Hydra nor do we have gods to grant us swords made by flame. But when battling modern forms of Hydra (drug epidemics, depression, suicide, poaching, extremism and terrorism) we do face similar problems and require weapons (solutions) that we do not currently possess.
Let me take for example animal poaching. In Africa rhinos have been poached for ages due to the value of their horns. It is illegal to poach them and in most countries you could get severe punishment for even dealing in rhino horns, even if you have not killed it. In Africa both wild life officials and animal activist keep hunting for poaches, there are new initiatives that have placed cameras in the jungle, drone surveillance and some countries even have tried adding toxins in to living rhinos to make people who kill and consume the horns to fall sick.
Even after all these efforts, poaches still manage to kill rhinos and steal their horns sell and profit and do it all over again. Recently a startup company Rhinoceros Horn LLC has started to manufacture rhino horns, using 3D printers and selling them. Market research conducted in Vietnam has shown that 50% people who buy rhino horns would prefer to buy this blood free version. It would reduce the price of rhino horns significantly making poaching no longer profitable to risk life and limb for.
So the flaming sword we need to defeat our hydras might even be a simpler and economically viable solution than an ordinary sword.
Curse of the Cat goddess Bastet.
In Egyptian mythology, Bastet is the goddess of war, protection, motherhood and fertility. Thanks to her, cats of ancient Egypt were treated like the modern day cows in India (that is if you Ignore the fact that India is the largest beef exporter in the world). Cats were gods preferred creatures, worshiped by millions of people, given a special place in society and even mummified along with the pharos. Punishment for harming cats was severe, one could get death penalty for killing a cat.
Today we share much more modest attitude towards our feline friends. We still love them, give them the coziest places to sleep, have lovely snacks made just for them, give them full body massages when they demand it, but we do have animal control programs and if you were for some reason harm a cat, you might not really find yourself facing the wrath of Bastet (Then again who am I to say, she doesn’t exist).
Recent social movements (with good intent) have made animal control a little problematic. Pet cats sometimes run away or get lost and become feral. Normally (in most parts of the world) cats have been bred to live with us, eating food that we provide. However, when they start living in the wild, either they would not become part of the ecosystem nor would they be controlled naturally by being hunted as prey.
Somewhere down the line, due to a mix of animal rights and poor funding, we have millions of feral cats hunting and killing other wildlife. Unlike with humans, you can’t teach cats not to kill nor do we have resources to build a cat police and cat judicial system and even if we do, can we afford to cage them all? Cats have in the recent years been responsible for the extinction of 33 species of animals. I wonder what Bastet would do with such a conundrum being goddess of fertility and motherhood. Maybe it is her good intention, making a cat heaven on earth by killing off all other animals.
Opening the gates of hell
In the 17th century (a period of time where people believed poor women who did not abide by norms of society were witches). In a small town, called Salem, there lived two women who suffered from epilepsy. Cotton Mather, a well-educated and a very revered man arrived in Salem to investigate. He was convinced that these women were witches, sent to create hell on earth. He, with the help of few others, tortured a woman for 10 days, until she confessed that she was a witch indeed. She further confessed there were many more amongst them in Salem. Now with proof to back up his claim and other poor women showing signs of seizures (Later found out to be due to a fungus) the town started to burn the “witches” to save our world from hell. A total of 20 women burned in just one year.
Recent years the Philippines had a rising concern on rapid spread of HIV due to Drug use. So in 2016 the president in Philippines Rodrigo Duterte started a war on drugs that killed more than 12,000 suspected drug users and dealers. It didn’t take much time for many of my trigger happy acquaintance to praise his actions, his braveness in taking action to stop this demonic plague.
Classical inaccurate education and art (movies) on drugs have left many people believing in a drug user stereotype “A poor, useless, selfish, manic person who is ready to steal, rape and murder to get his next high” and a Drug dealer stereotype “rich, deviant, sneaky person who is in a gang, responsible for half of the crime in the world”. In other words, it lead us to treat them as people who are nothing like us “normal” humans.
As violence progressed journalists, human right activists, family members of drug users and political enemies were also killed “with the intention of stopping drugs”. Now my law abiding friends would argue that any war has collateral damage, so, as long as it is not them dying, there is nothing one needs to do.
The biggest problem I see in this solution of fighting drugs is there is no evaluation. There is no evidence that this has stopped drug use. It has not stopped the spread of HIV which is mostly due to contaminated needles used by poor drug addicts. So now more than 20,000 people might have died simply for “good intentions” of some delusional people. Is there a difference between the witch hunt of 17th century and this hunt in the 21st?
Turning Hell in to Heaven
In 2001, Portugal was facing the same problem. Instead of killing the people who were suffering from drug abuse, authorities took a bold step of decriminalizing drugs. They initiated a needle exchange program, where addicts could receive free/cheap needles and condoms. They opened rehabilitation centers for those who needed help. They opened support centers where drug users could find jobs and be a part of the community. Fines for Drug possession (large quantities) among people who were poor was reduced, while for the rich it was increased. Now a drug user is considered a patient, who requires help instead of a criminal, who needs to be punished.
Within a few years newly diagnosed HIV dropped 17%, death due to drug overdose was reduced significantly, teenage drug addiction was reduced by 50%, drug related police work and court work was reduced, saving money for the government.
Myth of Fear, Eternal damnation and Flames of hell.
Both religious myths and scientific misunderstanding have led to a false belief that fear controls humans.
Preachers of modern religions claim that fear of doing “bad” deeds will stop people from engaging in them. They define what is good and bad. Yet most religious people engage in “bad” deeds.
If you actually read any of the religious books it says a total different story. Karma in Thripitaka for example does not say that all good deeds will be rewarded and all bad deeds will be punished, but that is what monks preach everywhere. If you take the Bible you’d see sin can be whatever you do according to the circumstance, but modern day preachers teach, as if there are absolute sins and absolute good deeds. The Quran too seems to contradict itself, yet it is also seeing good and bad, in context, which is conveniently removed from preaching to misguide its followers. Aesop’s Fables or Spiderman comics too can be used to learn about morals and ethics. Perhaps are even be better suited to modern times.
If we are to analyze the example of nuclear stalemate; lot of people believe that the threat (Fear) of nuclear fallout has stopped us from conflict and violence (and there are those who believe that the world is becoming more violent and full of sin, which is factually wrong. You can read “The Better Angels of Our Nature” for more detailed explanation if you doubt me). Even at the end of world war one, the world had powerful weapons never seen before, like Zeppelins, Artillery and poisonous gasses. Sure they weren’t as devastating as a nuke, but it still killed millions of people from far and was difficult to defend against, with technology of those times.
What really pressed the world for change is the unity we found towards stopping such suffering, the economic gains we found in peace, the power that was lost to single governments and kings and distributed amongst more people and groups, the organizations like UN, WHO, UNICEF which addressed basic human rights and needs for citizens of the world (and not single countries), which has been paramount to peace and happiness.
The WHO for example does not threaten countries with war, death and eternal damnation, to give vaccines to eradicate diseases. It does not even try, embarrassingly, to take credit for all that it prevents and cures. Yet it does more than any organized religion does to make the world a better place (a heaven) for all humans.
If we take fear campaigns by science like fear of global warming for instance, not many really cared or changed when scientist said we will all drown soon, but when scientists and economists took an approach of education and found that we could save our environment and still reap benefits from it, people’s attitudes changed (Instead of saying coal and nuclear power will engulf the world in flames and could end humanity or send you to burn in hell, they found cheaper methods of solar power production, profitable methods of recycling, alternate food instead of beef that was both tasty and nutritional, maybe soon become affordable as well)
Seduction of God, Fear of Satan(Or the other way around).
Lot of people talk about fear and temptation, as if they were experts of psychology. They are dead sure that if you put enough fear in to a man’s heart, they will withstand the mightiest of temptation and the seduction of Satan can be avoided. The same people believe that their temptation to seek pleasure in heaven could overtake the fear of standing against Satan.
My clinical rotation in Dermatology and Venereology during med school was in one of the first ever STD (sexually transmitted diseases) clinics in Russia. So I got to learn lot about the history and evolution of management thanks to my enthusiastic teacher. He also mentioned about a research that they conducted recently on STD distribution amongst different professions and what surprised me the most is that prostitutes were ranked 14th most infected while taxi drivers were ranked 1st and doctors 7th . So theoretically, I was at more risk of getting a STD than a prostitute. This really changed my closed view towards this controversial profession. This allowed me to listen without prejudice to a lecture done by a prostitute in a gathering. No, she didn’t strip or dance naked. She was there to discuss what kind of problems she and her colleges faced, how in her country where prostitution was legal and regulated, she felt safe like any other human being. But in other countries that she visited for her research, prostitutes were tortured, abused and treated like stray animals. I can’t really remember the whole speech but one thing she said that day I will never ever forget.
-Lot of fathers worry about their girls someday growing up and selling their bodies to earn a living but what they do not understand is that somethings are out of your control. In reality despite your best efforts and care there is a chance that your daughter might choose or be forced into this line of work, the question you should ask is not “do you want your child to work as a prostitute” but “if for some reason she does, will she be safe?”-
Instead of trying to rid the world of prostitution, which is morally wrong according to modern religions, she was creating heaven for those who have been condemned to hell, by corrupt governments and bigots. Was she showing gods compassion towards her sisters or turning sadistic desires of Satan possible, I leave for your intelligence to decide.
Righteous reapers of death.
Today all over the world we are seeing people seeking death penalty to terrorist, drug dealers, rapists and others, who they see unworthy to live in this world amongst us, the “worthy” people. It was with great sadness that I witnessed our whole country cheering for death penalty, recently.
You probably have heard consequences of death penalty to culprits, but it’s also important to understand the pathetic consequences that will be fallen on powerless victims. Both drug addicts and rape victims have very complex and individually unique problems that some of us might be unaware of and there are people who dedicate their whole life to learn and treat them. So what I mention here is just a glimpse of how problematic these situations really are. Some rape victims form bonds with their assailants and might unknowingly be yearning to be close to them, for some who are abused for months and years, it takes more months and years to realize that they have actually been abused, some would get pregnant and not be able to get abortions and have to live with a child that constantly reminds them of the trauma they faced and a child who would not have a father, some would end up never being able to have normal sex or some showing manic attitude towards it. Sometimes therapy of these people might involve meeting the assailant and forgiving them or understanding that the assailant might not be of normal mental state (If the assailant is dead this would be quite hard).
When questioned, none of the blood hungry self-proclaimed judges and jurors, who possess infinite wisdom of the world, seem to be aware of the consequences of death. I guess when their entire belief system is based on infinite life after death, it’s easy to not think twice, before taking another’s life. Enraged with emotions of anger, it is easy to seek revenge that does not fix the problem nor give a cure to those harmed. I too, understand having friends and acquaintances, who have been victims of drugs and rape, it is frustrating not being able to stop and help. But there is no simple solution. We just cannot sit at home and office, and ask to kill some randomly caught person and wish these complex problems to go away.
If you truly want long lasting solutions and not fake justice and a spectacle by a cheap politician, volunteer your time to care for drug addicts, give them hope and opportunity again and again, to get back in shape, educate yourself and others from well researched and peer reviewed journals (sadly some professionals too, resort to superstitions and outdated treatments), work to make our country a more equal and fair place, try to read and understand about depression, lean more about sex, fight for sexual education for all children and adults. Everything I mentioned has proven to reduce rape and addiction far better than death penalty (actually there is no scientific evidence that shows any benefit of death penalty).
I think it is time; Instead of serving as reapers of death and escorting people to a nonexistent heaven and hell, to make heaven on earth that all people may go to, if they so please.