“The world is so exquisite with so much love and moral depth, that there is no reason to deceive ourselves with pretty stories for which there’s little good evidence. Far better it seems to me, in our vulnerability, is to look death in the eye and to be grateful every day for the brief but magnificent opportunity that life provides.” – Carl Sagan
It may seem counterintuitive to put a quote by an Atheist as your Sunday God Quote of the week. However, I couldn’t help but notice, though I am a Theist, that I agree very much with what Carl Sagan said.
I know that one problem Atheist have with God-believers is this notion of heaven, of an eternal somewhere in the great by-and-by, with streets of gold and shiny angels. It can be especially galling to the Atheist when they see the notion of heaven used to subjugate people, get them to accept their “lot” in life with a promise of something glorious after death. Or when heaven is an excuse to destroy the earth you live on, to strip it bare of resources and pollute it because, after all, it is all going to be burned up and replaced in the end. Or simply because it is too unbelievable, too much of an almost literal pie-in-the-sky mentality that distracts from the reality, both good and bad, of the life and the world we have to live here and now.
Though I am a Christian, have spoken and taught about heaven and the afterlife described in the Bible, have sung lots of songs about eternity and eternal life, and believe in resurrection (a necessity, I find, to accept that “Jesus Christ is Lord” thing), I have never been particularly motivated in my life by a great promise of a Hereafter. To me, the concept of a possibility of a life after this one doesn’t give me my motivation to get out of bed in the morning, to go to work, to love my family, to do good things, to consider people, to work for peace, to take care of my environment, to hug trees (which I do now and again) or snuggle with animals (which I try to do more often than now and again). Heaven is too out there, too vague, too undefined, to be something I cling to on a daily faith basis. And, frankly, I find believers who spend inordinate amounts of time thinking and talking about it kind of annoying. They are so often missing out on the original gift their God has given them: Life. Here. Now. Right in front of their flippin’ nose.
The older I get, the more I find Life fascinating. Perhaps it is because of that creeping sense of mortality. But I am learning not to be afraid of that inevitability, or even to soften the blow by talking of heaven, but to instead realize that if God has given me this time, I have a responsibility to give that time back, to live to the fullest I am capable of living, to embrace my gifts and abilities, to love people without holding anything back. In this way I am in total agreement with Carl Sagan: “Far better it seems to me, in our vulnerability, is to look death in the eye and to be grateful every day for the brief but magnificent opportunity that life provides.”
Amen, Carl. Preach it. I may get me a turtleneck or two just to be more like you.
I realize that the concept of Heaven has been very, very important for oppressed people groups or people in terrible straights or conditions. In that kind of circumstance, the pondering of a God who loves you so much as to embrace you and bring you Home one day is lovely and, honestly, comforting. But for a North American Christian like myself, one who has known nothing but religious freedom all my life, who has been given so much, I choose not to focus on Heaven but on earth and on what each day brings to me. Here. Now. Right in front of my flippin’ nose.