Christian philosopher Victor Reppert wrote at his blog: “What God created us for, and what will fulfill us for an eternity is, according to Christianity, eternal fellowship with Himself. If atheism is true, that kind of satisfaction isnʼt in the cards for anybody. That said, I think Christians make a mistake in saying that life has no meaning if Christianity isnʼt true. Christianity offers a meaningful life in this particular sense, but atheists can have a meaningful life in many other senses, which should not be denied by theists.”
If I may comment on Vicʼs statement (and those of others who responded at his blog)…
…I take the view that though Vic wrote “eternal fellowship with God” was “the meaning of life,” what he was probably more concerned with was the question of the “duration of life,” rather than its “meaning.” In fact Iʼd even say that when Vic wrote, “eternal fellowship,” he was more concerned with the “eternal” part rather than the “fellowship” part.
Why do I say this?
No matter how you dress up the idea of the “meaning of life” the desire for a longer healthier life is one that we all share, sans all the poetry and heavenly vision talk. Such a simple basic desire is even reflected in the question that Jesus was asked a number of times according to the earliest written Gospels, namely, “How may I inherit eternal life?”
Secondly, concerning the “fellowship” side of Vicʼs speech, I suspect that having friends and knowing the joy of being with them is something both Vic and I take more for granted than living “eternally.” Vic and I already practice “fellowshipping” of a very human sort with people of a wide variety of beliefs and consider it less of a miracle than say “eternal life.” I could for instance attend church with Vic, or pray with Vic, and/or he could simply spend time together with me enjoying each others company and friendly banter, and share food, music, films, books, a game of chess, etc. (Speaking of “fellowshipping,” a recent poll published in Christianity Today or Christian Century mentioned that even among Evangelicals, most do not put “attending church” at their list of favorite things to do. So most Evangelicals are like most people in general in that respect.)
My point is that “eternal life” is a miraculous wish, but spending quality time with people of different beliefs is something we each do everyday at work, at school, even in our own families where beliefs may differ, but love and “fellowship” of a very human sort, remains. So people of a wide variety of different beliefs are able to enjoy the other “fellow,” especially in the U.S.
Unfortunately, many non-U.S. countries are filled with people whose ethnicity continues to regulate their lives, including their language, food, religion, and choice of marriage partners, with rival ethnicities being viewed with suspicion, or sometimes, hatred.
In contrast, in the U.S. people of different ethnic persuasions are uncommonly free to eat what they like, read and watch and speak what they wish, even marry people of completely different religions, and even disagree or change their religion, even within the same family. Take for instance John Wilson, editor of Books & Culture (a magazine published by Christianity Today International, whose flagship magazine was founded by Billy Graham), and who recently mentioned that he and his fellow “Evangelicals are… notoriously riven by disagreement over matters large and small, from the particular translation of the Bible that should be used to the political implications of the Gospel, from the flavor of music most conducive to worship to the role of women in ministry. No wonder a new evangelical denomination or quasi-denomination is born every day;” to which Wilson added, “[Never]underestimate the fluidity of religious identities. My wife and I have four children, all of them raised in an evangelical setting. The two oldest, ages 36 and 28, stopped going to church when they were about 16. We pray that they will return. Our third child — after graduation from Grahamʼs alma mater, the evangelical Wheaton College in Illinois — converted to Catholicism along with her husband, also a Wheaton grad, who was home-schooled in a self-described fundamentalist family in Texas.” [John Wilson, “God Fearing,” essay in The New York Times, Nov. 12, 2006]
Note On “Eternal Fellowship”
If Christianity is true then isnʼt THIS life here on earth the most exciting point in all of eternity for each human being because only here is where the Christian experiences the excitement of “escaping damnation” and “finding salvation?” Itʼs relatively clear sailing after that according to Christian theology. Or to use an analogy, if Christianity is true then even an “eternity” in heaven seems like an eternal drag on a cigarette after all the “action in bed” is over.
To put it yet another way, see the following conversation, based on something that the famous Rev. Spurgeon really said:
Reporter: But Rev. Spurgeon, What will we do in heaven for eternity? Wonʼt we get bored?
Rev. Spurgeon: Nonsense. We will joyously sing and meditate on the sufferings of Christ that made the miracle of our salvation possible. As for myself, I could sing and meditate on the wounds round Jesusʼs head for a billion years. Then focus on the wounds on his scourged back for the next billion. Then the wound in his right hand for a billion more, the wound in his left hand for a billion, the wound in his side for a billion. Then the wounds in his feet, each foot for a billion years.
Reporter: So, youʼre saying thereʼs nothing worthy of a Christian's time and devotion, nothing worth looking at, or singing about, for all eternity, except Jesus and his wounds?
Rev. Spurgeon: Thatʼs exactly what Iʼm saying.
Reporter: So, ah…Whatʼs hell going to be like?
E.T.B. (based on actual replies of Rev. Spurgeon)
When Robert Ingersoll heard how Rev. Spurgeon planned to spend billions of years in heaven just staring at Jesusʼs wounds, Ingersoll said, “I bet he even takes great delight in reading the genealogies of the Old Testament.”
The Best of Robert Ingersoll, Robert E. Greeley, Ed.
And What About Those In Hell? Another Equally Banal Answer From a Theologian
An article in Christianity Today (“Hellʼs Final Enigma,” April 22, 2002) by Rev. J. I. Packer (professor of theology at Regent College in Vancouver and executive director of the aforementioned magazine) addressed the question, “How might those in heaven feel about those in hell?” The people in hell will include fellow human beings with similar joys, fears, and life stories to those in heaven, and Christians have been taught they ought to love others with an “unconditional love” and “forgive seventy-times-seven times.” So how can heaven truly be bliss for Christians if people whom they have grown to know and love (and care for) on earth are burning in hell?
Reverend Packer replied that heavenʼs occupants would be busy loving each other and praising God. (I wondered if he meant that in the same sense as “winning teammates patting each other on the back for eternity?”) He added that their attention would be focused on heavenly glories. (I wondered if he meant that in the same sense as children so immersed in playing an entrancingly beautiful video game that they cannot be distracted by any actions or thoughts outside of the game?) Then, after having described how heavenʼs occupants would feel about God, heaven, and each other, Reverend Packer finally replied to the original question of “How might heavenʼs occupants feel about those in hell?” The Reverendʼs reply consisted of ten words: “Love and pity for hellʼs occupants will not enter our hearts.”
But doesnʼt such a reply beg the question? What kind of “heart” could find neither “love nor pity” entering it, knowing that the greater portion of mankind, including former wives, children, and friends, were all suffering in hell?
Perhaps Rev. Packerʼs next column should be about how to reconcile the following two statements, the first one being his own:
“Love and pity for hellʼs occupants will not enter our hearts”
“Love is patient… it keeps no record of wrongs… It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails… These three remain: faith, hope and love.” (1 Corinthians 13:4,7,8,13—NIV translation)
According to the book of Revelation, Heaven is an eternal praise service; a service of compliment or flattery. God sits on his throne, attended by twenty-four harp-playing elders (Rev. 5:8) and some other dignitaries pertaining to his court, and looks out over his miles and miles of tempestuous worshippers, and smiles, and purrs, and nods his satisfaction northward, eastward, southwards; as quaint and naive a spectacle as has yet been imagined in this universe, I take it. It is easy to see that the inventor of this image of heaven did not originate the idea, but copied it from the show-ceremonies of some sorry little sovereign state up in the back settlements of the Middle East somewhere.
Mark Twain, Letters from the Earth
Is it possible that an infinite God created this world simply to be the dwelling place of slaves and serfs? Simply for the purpose of raising orthodox Christians? That he did a few miracles to astonish a few of them? That all the evils of life are simply his punishments, and that he is finally going to turn heaven into a kind of religious museum filled with Baptist barnacles, petrified Presbyterians and Methodist mummies?
Have you ever been awakened early in the morning by a Jehovahʼs Witness? Maybe youʼve been accosted by a crazy street preacher with a megaphone? You turn on your TV, and thereʼs Tammy Bakker, Jerry Falwell, that Reverend Scott guy who never sleeps. Has it ever dawned on you that heaven might be a very annoying place?
My brother Mike has always been—and still is—the most annoying religious person Iʼve ever known. He thinks homosexuality is a sickness. He believes that all Jews will burn in hell. He thinks women belong in the home. Mikeʼs one of those people who has to talk to God, because nobody else can stand him.
One Thanksgiving Mike told me, “You know, Ricky, Iʼm really worried about you! Iʼm beginning to think that you might not go to heaven!” I leaned toward him very calmly and said, “Mike, I donʼt want to go to heaven. You know why? Youʼre gonna be there!”
Rick Reynolds, Only the Truth is Funny
The experts on Heaven disagree about which conglomeration of religious believers will qualify, but they always seem to think that they personally belong to that elite group. An eternity with people that conceited seems intolerable to me.
Robert Anton Wilson, “Cheerful Reflections on Death and Dying,” Gnoware, February 1999
On The Meaning of Life, Heaven & Hell: Victor Reppert & Edward T. Babinski
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