Fear of Hell - Hope of Paradise

Back in December I was lucky enough to hang out in Copenhagen for the COP15 Climate Change Negotiations. While there, I had the chance to hear the band Outlandish perform after a speech by Desmund Tutu, and instantly became a fan of the Danish hip-hop band.

Recently I've been on an Outlandish kick, and came across their song "Beyond Words." There's a lot of lyrics (which is always a plus) but one line has really stood out to me:
If I worship You in fear of hell, burn me in it
And if I worship You in hope of paradise, exclude me from it
But if I worship You for Your own being
Don't withhold from me Your everlasting beauty  

I believe that spirituality and religion have a lot to offer the world, but often the organized part of religion gets in the way and causes more harm than good. Regardless, I still rely largely on my faith as a guiding light for the work I engage on and way in which I interact with those around me. But one of the frustrations I have is that with the rise of religion, people have slowly begun to divide the world around them into black and white. We seem to have lost the grey areas.

Homosexuality is either right or wrong. Christianity is the only way to God. Climate change is either a made-up science or the end of the world. The middle east is full of terrorists. Black or white. Right or wrong. Republican or democrat.

In a world full of complexity and constantly evolving systems and information, we have developed a tendency to simplify a message to break it down into bite-sized pieces. But we often simplify and reduce that message to either A or B, and this quickly overlooks the invaluable details of a situation.

Part of this tendency can be linked back to the rise of organized religion and the separation between heaven and hell. Although I don't believe this to be the intention of Jesus, the teachings about hell have been used to instill fear in society as a reason to follow their specific religious tradition. Unfortunately, I think that's the exact opposite of what Jesus came to preach - and Outlandish speaks to this in their song, though coming from a muslim perspective as well (one of the reasons I love the band, they consist of both muslim and christians creating some neat lyrics).

Jesus came to flip organized religion on its head, and to sweep away the rules, traditions, and stumbling blocks that we humans like to lay down behind and ahead of us. He wasn't concerned with forcing people to follow him, instead he had a tendency to cause people to turn away because his teachings hit at the heart of the matter and were often too difficult for people to follow with their actions. But for those that did choose to follow, they experienced a life change that transformed them from the inside out.

How many religious folk tend to worship god out of fear of hell or joy of heaven? The problem is that both of these forms of worship emerge entirely from a selfish nature, out of the good or bad that will happen to us in the future. We have a hard time stripping the black and white away from situations, especially when they regard ourselves. I think Jesus was more concerned about those who worshiped God simply for who God was. I am who I am. By focusing so much on ourselves and narrowing our thoughts to either heaven or hell, we forget to focus on the beauty of God's love for us. Perhaps that's why so many people today are turned away from religion, because the religious folks have done a really good job at stripping that beauty and appeal away from God. We've wrapped the beauty of God behind a boring cardboard box - sometimes I just want to rip that box apart.

Now although Jesus was most concerned with our relationship with God, I think his teachings have a significant ripple effect into the rest of our lives and the way we approach challenges each and every day.

Take climate change for example. For some crazy reason, we seem to have let the issue morph into a black or white situation, especially in the political realm. Democrats are concerned about man-made climate change and republicans seem to be able to discredit all scientific accounts and opinions, forming the other side of the coin - that man-made climate change is a myth and not a concern.

But why must we split an issue grounded in sound science as either black or white? Why can't we agree on the fact that climate change is a significant challenge for all of society, and rather than debate the science of the issue, focus on the strategies and methods for responding to it. A significant and sustainable solution must come from both the democrats and republicans, and relying on any one party to determine our path forward is a scary thought.

Yet we for some reason resort back to the tendency to reduce life to black and white, right and wrong. It's a dangerous habit that has permeated not only our personal and spiritual lives, but now into the life of our global society and will have lasting impact on generations to come through the decisions we make today.

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