Mark Twain once said, “Heaven for climate. Hell for society.” I’d much rather be surrounded in the afterlife by like-minded souls I have known and loved during my time on Earth than to have to sit through one more sermon from all those who claimed to have known the truth. Oh, and told me over and over how they were right and I was wrong and how I was going to spend eternity in hell. As far as I can tell, having lived as long as I have amongst them, I figure I’ve already served my time.
As Huckleberry Finn says, when his Aunt Polly is telling him all about the “bad place,” he says, “I wish I was there.” He goes on to say, “I didn’t mean nothin’ by it. I just knew she was goin’ to the ‘good place’, and I wanted to go somewhere else.” Me too.
I’m not counting on my good works being tallied up at the end of my life to determine whether I measured up or not. I do what I do because I actually get a kick out of helping others. I don’t much care whether it’s considered “right” or “wrong” by anyone else. I do it because it helps others and that I feel good in the doing is a bonus.
Karen Armstrong writes in “A Case for God,” “All the world’s faiths insist that true spirituality must be expressed in practical compassion. The ability to feel with the other.” Having been poor, hungry, homeless, ignored and told repeatedly to shut up and sit down, I have a pretty well-developed ability to feel with the “other,” because I have been one of the “other.” And at times I am still treated as one of the “other.” Sometimes by those who call themselves Christians. Go figure.
So when the topic turns to the afterlife, I bring Ram Dass into the conversation. The title of one of his books, “Be Here Now,” reflects my perspective on when and where to enjoy heaven. That same perspective is also promoted by the spiritual teacher Eckhart Tolle. In his first book, “The Power of Now,” he explains how each current moment is the only time wherein the ability to choose holds any power. In other words, you can’t wait for later to be rewarded for being good earlier. So, too, I don’t expect to have to wait until the afterlife to get rewarded for my good works in this lifetime. I find rewards coming to me and happening all around me all the time. Like now. To me the reward is in the doing of the thing, not in the expectation of something bestowed upon me later.
And as for Christmas, why are we only supposed to be nice to each other at specified times on someone’s calendar? I’m pretty much nice to people all year long. Maybe I didn’t get the right calendar. My vote would be to replace the pope with Santa Claus. More people, especially children, seem to get the message of “naughty and nice” a lot clearer from Santa than the pope. Maybe it’s because the rewards are so much closer to the actions? Oh, and there I go again with that now-is-better-than-later stuff again. How about a compromise and we settle on the notion from the box of candy I saw the other day. It’s called Now & Later. That oughta settle it for just about everyone. Ya think?Terrence Zander is chairperson of the Olympia Unitarian Universalist Congregation social justice committee and a member of Veterans for Peace — Rachel Corrie chapter 109. Pastor’s Perspective is coordinated by Interfaith Works. Opinions are the author’s.