Friday, April 24, 2009

Punchin' That Ticket

On occasion when my wife, LaVonna, and I commit a good deed, we'll remark that we're punching another hole in the ticket, meaning the ticket to heaven. We usually refer to this metaphorical step toward eternal salvation when the task is one that isn't convenient. Our thinking goes like this: the more we go out of our way to do the favor, the larger the hole (the greater the number of "brownie points.") We say this jokingly, but our traditional upbringing is still imprinted somewhere within.

Easter Sunday, we heard a sermon that was probably similar to many Protestant preachments on that day. Our pastor spoke of Jesus' resurrection and the promise of eternal salvation for his followers. As an adult, this approach has bothered me.

It seems like the hook that seals the deal, the big "What's in It for Me?". Take the steps to become a Christian (and hopefully a practicing one) and you cheat death. You die, but are raised and achieve eternal immortality in paradise. No car dealer can offer incentives like that.

As a parent and former teacher, I see this as similar to paying a child to make good grades on a report card. If the student learns the three R's and other stuff, that's nice, too. But such a plan of reward may do little to inculcate a love of learning or to grant insight into application of the facts the child can recite or write at crunch time in school.

When I taught, I used to ask my students--especially the more flamboyant Bible thumpers: "If you somehow became convinced that there was no afterlife, would you still try to live a good (Christian) life?" I posed this as a rhetorical question, but still I got no affirmative answers.

And living a good life does not seem to be enough for many Christian theologians' satisfaction. An atheist or Muslim or Hindu who otherwise follows the Golden Rule and obeys the laws is still doomed to hellfire and damnation because he or she does not subscribe to a particular creed.

What happened to virtue as rewarding in and of itself? What becomes of loving the unlovable or feeding the hungry because it is the right thing to do? I'm going to presume to think like God, here. D-a-n-g-e-r-o-u-s I know. But wouldn't God be more pleased if we'd just learned to get along with one another and to protect the planet because we wanted to?

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