By Devon Gable
A man is starving on the side of the road when two men approach him. One man is wearing blue, the other wearing green. The man in blue offers the starving man all the food he could ever eat in the afterlife if he lives a certain way, but warns that if he strays from the set path, he’ll starve for eternity. The man in green offers the starving man a meal and one day’s pay if the starving man will plant a tree in the park. Who’s offer does the starving man take?
Religion, in it of itself, is not inherently bad. What is bad about most world religions is that they espouse inaction on the belief that a higher power will sort everything out as they ought to be, and for one’s inaction they will be admitted to an ultimate reward after their time on Earth is over. When a person is more concerned with how their hypothetical afterlife will be rather than how their actual current life is, they will unconsciously undervalue everything that can be experienced or gained in it, only committing good acts for the promise of reward, their every action solely self-serving. After all, no food could taste as sweet as that in the afterlife, no view as beautiful, no person as kind as the Supreme Being who would let a repentant exploiter enjoy the best of existence in the afterlife while sending someone who’s never heard of the Being’s religion to eternal suffering.
When we aren’t focused on the afterlife but are concerned with making the best of our current life, we will subconsciously start to better the world for themselves and others. When we do good, it’s for its own sake. The reward we receive is the knowledge of a job well done, or the satisfaction of brightening someone’s day. If there is no afterlife, then the state of the world is important and it becomes our duty to try and bequeath the Earth to the next generation in as good (if not better) condition than we originally received it. However, if one does believe in an afterlife, therein lies a perfect cop-out. Why should someone who is hypothetically destined to paradise care about the state of the physical world?
If the starving man chooses the man-in-blue’s offer, then he gambles on getting his reward of food to cease his starvation. Likely, the man starves to death living by the prescribed tenets and in his best-case scenario, he gets food after he dies, although the food is now worthless and he followed someone else’s arbitrary rules for no reason. If the starving man chooses the man-in-green’s offer, then he gets his food and is no longer starving. The man also receives pay, which he may use to continue living, and the man helped the world. The man has benefited not just himself, but the world, granted in a small way.
Humanity on a whole is better off focusing on the here and now to take responsibility for what we have done and are allowing ourselves to do. By acknowledging that this, our current life, is the only life we will get to live, it forces us to lead the best lives we can. Not in a hedonistic sense, where “best” means “most pleasurable,” but in a more egalitarian sense, where “best” means “causes the most good for everyone involved.” Due to the fact that the “everyone involved” part of that definition is anyone who is alive during the time you are alive, this creates a positive cycle of beneficial actions which should, if everyone lived in this fashion, create the sort of paradise on Earth that most religions tell people they will receive in the hypothetical afterlife. If we could achieve paradise in the now, what possible reason is there to wait until after one’s life is done?
Devon, 20, is from Thornton, Colo., and attends Front Range Community College. His goal is to become a college professor teaching either English, history or a subset of the humanities. Devon is an aspiring writer currently working on his first novel, and works as a supplemental instruction leader at his college.