Of all the comforting promises religion offers its believers, the most desperately cherished one, everlasting life after death, is the toughest to truly believe. If the faithful truly believe in a Utopian afterlife, then they should be anxious to get to it and death should be the most anticipated event of their earthly lives.
The sheer intensity with which believers work and pray to prolong their time here on earth, however, reveals the extent to which there is at least some doubt that death is a golden ticket to eternal bliss. If they truly internalized a belief in heaven, where life would be infinitely more enjoyable than the one they were living, and where there was no pain, sorrow, or strife, they should have harbored an ongoing wish for an imminent, swift, and painless death to whisk them away as soon as possible to this new and glorious place.
There are no atheists in foxholes at battlefronts, they say. When you are in a foxhole and bullets are flying every which way, you cannot afford to be an atheist. You start praying for your safety. This does make sense intuitively.
But counter-intuitively I say that there are only atheists in foxholes. If the faithful truly and fully believe in a protective deity, why would they dive into a foxhole to protect themselves from the bullets whizzing by ? A part of their brains knows damn well that if they do not protect themselves, the bullets will hardly discriminate between those who claim faith and those who reject it. They may say and think they believe, but their instinctive actions expose the lie. And moreover no one is so eager to end their lives and go to heaven.
On any given Thursday (for many Hindus worshiping saints & gurus), Friday (for the Muslims), Saturday (for the Jews) Or Sunday (for the Christians), there are millions of so called religious folks praying fervently for ailing seventy-,eighty-, and ninety-year-old members of their families & friend's circle, who have life-threatening illnesses. Of these millions of prayerful believers, how many are asking God to hasten the death of their old and afflicted friend or relative so that they can finally get to heaven and really start living it up?
How many are looking forward to celebrating this person’s grand transition to “the other side” ? How many would get a visceral jolt of positive excitement at the news of this person succumbing to his illness and beginning his new wonderful life with God, and all his friends and relatives who were fortunate enough to get there before he did?
I suspect not many.
Instead, most of the prayers are for God to make the illnesses go away, or at least prevent them from becoming terminal. “God, keep grampa alive for another day, another week, another year.” “God give John the strength to fight this terrible illness and stay with us for a while longer.” If these prayers go unanswered, and eventually they must, few if any believers will have a sudden urge to throw triumphant fist jabs at the sky (like in cricket when some bowlers hit the timber and displace the stumps) upon learning their friend or relative had just stepped into heaven. Instead, most will have a tremendous sense of loss, not just for themselves in losing the loved ones in question, but in sympathy for the deceased in losing the most precious thing they had—their own lives.
Apparently, eternal life in heaven is not as fervent a belief to the majority of the faithful as they claim. That, or it is a concept they have not fully understood and embraced intuitively. If it were, death among the majority of the faithful would be a far more anticipated event than it is.
A minority of believers ( !%), however, do believe as strongly in an afterlife as religion professes. Heaven for these people is as real and inevitable a prospect as tomorrow’s sunrise. Unlike their more numerous (99% of the believers) but less faithful brethren who listen devotedly to preachers talking about heaven & afterlife but still have lurking doubts and some fear of death’s unknowns, these 1% true believers take their religion’s claim of an immortal soul to heart and really relish the thought of moving on from this earthbound existence to the heavenly next. These folks look forward to death and their actions sometimes bear this out.
To the rest of us who are not as obsessed with transitioning to the hereafter, these believers are at best, curiously delusional and at worst, exceptionally dangerous. The suicide bombers in Iraq, Pakistan, Afghanistan and the 9/11 hijackers in USA and the 26/11 suicide commando squad in Mumbai ( It should be called 11/26 to match with the American 9/11)—every one of them is a true believer in an afterlife.
Now I would never suggest that all who truly believe in an afterlife should martyr themselves to hasten its arrival, but I would say that this kind of belief trivializes the importance of life in the present and makes martyrdom not only possible, but for some, an aspiration as well. How pathetic.