How to Get Into Heaven
For most of my life, I was under the impression that the surest way for us human sinners to gain entry to heaven (whatever or wherever that may be) was to lead a good life filled with good works and good fellowship. Goodness would beget goodness.
I learned this past weekend that my assumption was mistaken.
According to a speaker I heard on Sunday, an outreach minister from a Baptists-like sect of Christians, good works weren’t good enough. The one and only way to get into heaven was to accept Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, plead for forgiveness for being an essentially evil person (regardless of how “good” you fancied yourself), and pray hard that all the stuff promised in the Bible was true. (Even the parts that contradicted the other parts.) The minister said that being a decent and kind human being was nice and admirable, but essentially irrelevant. If you don’t repent to Jesus, the minister warned, he won’t welcome you into his eternal kingdom.
Heaven, clearly, isn’t going to have many Hindus or Muslims in it.
This “get with the program or be banished” ethos makes the omnipotent and other-cheek-turning Lord look like a petty, vindictive, and spiteful jerk. Sort of like a human being.
If you accept that the Bible is the Word of God filtered through the political concerns of frightened and power-mongering translators who were keen on protecting their then tiny slice of the soul business, then God as mean-spirited prick makes sense. If you believe, as most hardcore Christians do, that the Bible is the literal transcription of God’s story and His law, then the Lord you worship isn’t a particularly nice fellow.
Practice what you preach, Lord: “Forgive them father, for they know not what they do.” Give the Buddhists a break; cut the Pagans some slack. So long as they lived a life that embodied (and unintentionally celebrated) your shining values, open those doors to heaven wide and let them all in. Even Mel Gibson’s wife.
Of course, the human beings who control the purse strings of our world’s various Churches, have a vested interest in keeping the competition out of their personal wonderlands. Because if people can get a free pass to eternal life just by doing good works, then there wouldn’t be much use for a business whose main product (salvation) requires fear and self-abnegation to keep its wheels of commerce churning.
As for me, I’m going to keep trying to be a Good person. My acts of kindness, compassion, and fellowship may not eventually get me into heaven, but I think the Jesus Christ I know, the nice one, will be proud of me anyway.