Why Heaven Isn't Worth It
Mais quand ta main droite donne quelque chose à un pauvre,
ta main gauche elle-même
ne doit pas savoir.
As a Catholic, let me be the first to say that I don’t want to go to Heaven. Whether real or a mass hallucination of clergy around the world, I will have no part in the practice. Even only as a concept, Heaven makes us worse people.
Contextually, the idea of paradise, since the middle ages, has infatuated Western Cultures. And for an isolated, feudal community it makes sense: how do you motivate an uneducated, demotivated, disease-ridden mass to work harder? Give then a reward they can believe in. And this reward has molded Western Cultures for centuries. It’s considered by almost every Christian denomination to be the ultimate reward for doing good: The ethereal finish line. Even if you lead a completely secular life, the idea of Heaven permeates into everything you do. There are tons of versions of Heaven to strive for: the ultimate retirement, a Do Nothing Weekend, or a well-earned cruise.
Whether in a pew or out of it, the idea of recognition and reward for good deeds is Quotidien.
It should be noted, there’s nothing wrong with a ‘treat yo self’ mentality. Mental health is important, and we all need breaks sometimes to keep us going. The Heaven Problem, however, comes in when we stop working with the little breaks in-between, and rather, work so that we can have the break little breaks themselves.
This problem is best exemplified in The Heaven Situation. Many Christians and other religious folks strive to do good not because they legitimately enjoy it, but so that they can go to Heaven. Which begs the question:
Are you a good person if you’re good only for a reward?
And then, the more important question:
If you knew, from the beginning that you would receive no recognition, no reward, would you be the same person?
I don’t like the idea of Heaven because it reinforces the mentality that morality for a reward is ok. In a secular sense this concept of morality = reward sprouts up like a weed; It’s ok to make sure the cashier sees you add a dollar to their tip jar so that they can say thank you. It’s ok to share on your Instagram story all the trash you collected on a beach clean up. It’s ok to open the door, only for a thank you. The Heaven Problem, frankly, is just a more religious version of ‘Good Person Clout’ that has existed for centuries.
But it’s not that we’re all devoid of a moral compass. It’s natural to seek reward and recognition, but it’s important for all of us to take a step back and assess where that need is coming from, and what we actually want as a reward.
And it’s not that good works come devoid of satisfaction either. Rather, its been proven by marketing managers and philosophers alike, that true motivation only comes when the work we do itself means something to us.
My perception of what it meant to be a good person changed when I first heard of the book “What We Owe to Each Other” by T.M. Scanlon while watching The Good Place (a show I would highly recommend). The book is quite straight forward: our of morality doesn’t come from a sense of reward or fear of punishment, but rather an innate feeling of empathy and contractualism, essentially, what we owe to each other. This universal empathy makes good deeds feel, well, good- Satisfaction comes when we help ourselves, and if everyone has the same need for good to come to them, by the standards of contractualism, morality becomes self-satisfying. I can offer no pearly gates, but there is a light at the end of the tunnel.