Our family started a new devotional book a few weeks ago. This one is a year of readings from collected works by Phillip Yancey called Grace Notes: Daily Readings with a Fellow Pilgrim. I like it; a lot. I really enjoy the thought provoking writing style of Yancey and this collection of readings brings the best of many of his books to our kitchen table stimulating some great discussions. You can check out a chapter yourself from this site.
Yesterday we read an excerpt from the book, I Was Just Wondering, titled “Imagine There’s No Heaven.” I still haven’t been able to get it out of my head and decided to share it here.
Imagine There’s No Heaven
Anthropologists report that every human society discovered believed in an afterlife. I started wondering what a society might look like if it did not believe in an afterlife. I let my imagination run, and came up with the following conclusions. For the sake of a convenient label (and with apologies to Samuel Butler, author of Erewhon), I’ll call my mythical society the backward-spelled Acirema.
Aciremans value youth above all else. Since for them nothing exists beyond life on earth, youth represents hope. As a result, anything preserving the illusion of youthfulness flourishes. Sports is a national obsession. Magazine covers present wrinkle-free faces and gorgeous bodies.
Naturally, Aciremans do not value old age, for elderly people offer a distasteful reminder of the end of life. The Acireman health industry thus promotes cures for baldness, skin creams, cosmetic surgery, and other elaborate means to mask the effects of aging, the prelude to death. In especially callous parts of Acirema, citizens even confine the elderly to their own housing, isolated from the general populace.
Acirema emphasizes “image” rather than “substance.” Such practices as dieting, exercise, and body-building, for example, have attained the status of pagan worship rites. A well-formed body visibly demonstrates achievement in this world, whereas nebulous inner qualities — compassion, self-sacrifice, humility —merit little praise. As an unfortunate side-effect, a disabled or disfigured person has great difficulty competing in Acirema.
Acireman religion focuses exclusively on how one fares in the here and now, for there is no reward system after death. Those Aciremans who still believe in a deity look for God’s approval in terms of good health and prosperity on earth. At one time, Acireman priests pursued what they called “evangelism,” but now they devote most of their energy to improving the welfare of fellow citizens
Aciremans spend billions to maintain elderly bodies on life-support systems, while they permit, even encourage, the abortion of fetuses. This is not as paradoxical as it seems, for Aciremans believe that human life begins at birth and ends at death.
Just thinking about such a society gives me the creeps. I sure am glad I live in the good ol’ U.S.A., where, as George Gallup assures us, the vast majority of the population believes in an afterlife.