Sunday, February 19, 2006

Different Eternities

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One of the truly significant differences between the Jihadists and the West, is the question of rewards. It has been said, correctly, that Jihadists are promised great sensual rewards in a Muslim Paradise. Small wonder, since it’s pretty obvious that dying for the cause is hardly going to mean comfort and success in this life. But looking through the Scriptures uised by Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, it becomes apparent that the three religions have significantly different ideas for what happens after death.

Some theologians try to explain the differences in how the Tanakh addresses life after death as an evolving concept of Heaven and Hell. I find it striking that the Jews have the plainest explanation right from the start; do what is just, and you will not be ashamed. It’s not very hard at all to believe that is the word of God. Of course, the problem with Good and Evil is that there is some of each in everyone, which makes an absolute judgment difficult for people to accept or describe. It’s one thing to believe that you will be treated fairly, but an absolutely perfect delight or perfect hell makes people wonder where they will fall out. That’s why I have always found the Christian heaven a bit more believable; justice for those who can bear it, but mercy for everyone who needs it. I also think the Tanakh implies that same mercy from God, so it’s not as though the Christian heaven is directly in conflict with the Jewish one.

Islam, however, is quite another matter. The Quran makes clear that the afterlife, for Muslims at least, is a very sensuous and rather mortal-life amusement park. And I at least would become bored beyond belief in a very short order with such a trivial and petty version of eternity. As much enjoyment as a man might find with virgins, abundant food and drink, and whatever sexual or physical pleasures the conditions might afford (many Muslim apoligists seem unable to clarify on that point), the physical existence is only one dimension, and I should expect a blessed eternity to offer something for the mind at least, to say nothing of the emotions, heart, and of course the soul. Sorry to sound flippant, but it sounds as if Hugh Hefner and Donald Trump opened a combination grocery store/Halal deli/brothel and kept it supplied, Islam could literally have its heaven on earth right now.

But of course, that would lack the blood. Islam has a lot of that. Judaism was never big on forcing people to convert, and Christ taught His disciples to teach by the example of their love. But Islam was spread by the sword, indeed it only caught on because Mohammed himself went around killing anyone who wouldn’t convert to his belief. I understand that the men of his day were tough and ruthless, so maybe he just did what he had to, but it set a pattern which led to bloody conquest of dozens of countries, and which is used to justify countless atrocities by terrorists now. And the end-days ‘sayings’ attributed to Mohammed and other early Muslims are pretty darn violent. Most involve the coming of ‘al-Mahdi’ (literally, ‘the guided one’) who kills unbelievers in large numbers and in a greta variety of ways, the coming of an evil leader called ‘Dajjat’, kind of like the AntiChrist, who also goes around killing folks, and the Second Coming of Jesus, whom the Muslims call ‘Isa’. Only the Muslim version of Jesus defers authority to the Mahdi and to Mohammed, and is not heard to speak about being One with the Father, as He is quoted in the Gospels. And in the Muslim accounts, Isa goes around killing evil-doers and also personally kills Dajjat. All that violence makes it hard to sort out how they are the religion of peace, and their ‘Allah’ the deity of mercy and compassion.

Your goals often define your methods. Accordingly, it might do Islam a bit of good to reconsider Paradise, and give its believers a better focus.

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