Friday, December 16, 2005

Imagine there's no heaven

Two years ago, in America’s Weekly Standard, Joel Engel pondered that favourite hymn of sentimental secularists, apparently so anodyne and unobjectionable that, in a world twitchy about the insufficient multiculturalism of ‘Jingle Bells’, never mind ‘Away in a Manger’, the holiday concert at my kids’ school nevertheless gaily programmed John Lennon’s fluffy nihilism as an appropriate sentiment for the season:

Imagine there’s no heaven,
It’s easy if you try,
No hell below us,
Above us only sky,
Imagine all the people
Living for today...

‘Okay,’ wrote Engel, ‘let’s imagine that; let’s imagine six billion people who believe that flesh and blood is all there is; that once you shuffle off this mortal coil, poof, you’re history; that Hitler and Mother Teresa, for example, both met the same ultimate fate. Common sense suggests that such a world would produce a lot more Hitlers and a lot fewer Teresas, for the same reason that you get a lot more speeders/murderers/rapists/embezzlers when you eliminate laws, police and punishment. Sceptics and atheists can say what they like about religion, but it’s hard to deny that the fear of an afterlife where one will be judged has likely kept hundreds of millions from committing acts of aggression, if not outright horror. Nothing clears the conscience quite like a belief in eternal nothingness.’

That sounds right. There’s an important exception, of course: the challenge of Islam is precisely that it’s a religion whose afterlife appears -- at least according to many of its more bloodcurdling spokespersons -- to reward ‘wars and bigotry’. But the question then is what kind of society is best equipped to defend itself against such a challenge? It’s not just that a radical secularist present-tense society will produce more Hitlers and Stalins -- not all of us want to work that hard -- but that millions more will lapse into the fey passivity of Lennon’s song.
What’s so rational about putting yourself out of business? On both sides of the Atlantic, the godly will inherit the Earth: in the United States, blue-state birthrates mean that in 20 years America will look a lot less like John Kerry’s Massachusetts and a lot more like Texas and Utah; Europe will look a lot less like an Amsterdam sex club and a lot more like Clichy-sous-Bois. Post-Christian Europe will also be post-European. If you’re cool with that, fine. If you’re not, you might want to rethink the lazy slurs about America’s ‘neo-fascist’ religiosity. Merry Christmas. Happy Eid.

Mark Steyn

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