If Heaven is so great why are so many Christians reluctant to go there?

Spend any amount of time talking with a True Believer™ about their religious outlook and eventually they’ll get around to raving about how awesome Heaven will be. Each one will have a slightly different viewpoint on what exactly Heaven will be like, but they all agree it’s the best thing you could ever hope to experience and they simply can’t wait to get there. You’d think, given all the excitement they express over it, that this would mean they’d be less likely to seek out aggressive medical care at the end of their lives. Surely with such a great thing waiting for them on the other side they’d be more than happy to die sooner rather than later, but as it turns out that’s often not the case at all.

The Boston Globe reports on a study done at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, Massachusetts General Hospital, and five other sites in which Boston researchers found that the more religious the terminal patients were the more likely they’d be to demand everything be done to keep them alive as long as possible:

The patients who leaned the most heavily on their faith were nearly three times more likely to choose and receive more aggressive care near death, such as ventilators or cardiopulmonary resuscitation. They were less likely to have advanced care planning in place, such as do-not-resuscitate orders, living wills, and healthcare proxies.

“These results suggest that relying upon religion to cope with terminal cancer may contribute to receiving aggressive medical care near death,” the authors write in today’s Journal of the American Medical Association. “Because aggressive end-of-life cancer care has been associated with poor quality of death . . . intensive end-of-life care might represent a negative outcome for religious copers.”

Cancer is a particularly painful way to die. It’s been the cause of death for a good number of my relatives so I’ve seen what it’s like. There’s a good chance it’ll be how I end up passing away if I don’t get hit by a bus. In short, it’s hard to imagine how anyone who is dieing from cancer, and who expects something as wonderful as Heaven is supposed to be to be waiting for them once they kick the bucket, could possibly want to draw out the experience.

The best I can come up with is that they’re worried they haven’t earned access to Heaven yet. Either through some action or inaction that they always meant to get around to or perhaps there’s some sin they’re not completely sure God will forgive them for or maybe it’s simple insecurity. It does seem odd, though, that the people most certain that Heaven does exist and that they’ve made the proper choice of which religion to believe in would be so reluctant to put that faith to the ultimate test. I claim no certainty that there isn’t God(s) or an afterlife, I don’t believe either proposition to be true, but I wouldn’t claim to be absolutely certain about it as some TB’s would about their beliefs that there are. I believe death brings only non-existence, which some people consider a fate worse than Hell. Yet I can assure you that if I were to develop terminal cancer I wouldn’t be wasting a lot of time and money trying to live as long as possible.

The Boston study confirms something I’ve long suspected about many True Believers™. That a good number of them have a very strong fear of death in spite of what they believe it’ll bring to them and in contradiction to what they claim. It’s certainly an interesting enigma.

21 thoughts on “If Heaven is so great why are so many Christians reluctant to go there?

  1. Could another interpretation be that the religious believe that if they don’t have everything possible done that in a way they have committed suicide and thus risk damnation?  Or possibly they are hoping to give God time to work a miracle?  (Yes, I know, miracles should be instantaneous or at least in the nick of time, but God’s a busy deity, always off smiting something or causing images of His son and/or baby mama to appear)

  2. Sure, I suppose those are possibilities.

    But I could counter argue on the first point that aggressive medical interventions in the face of otherwise terminal cancer could be considered an attempt to thwart God’s will and thusly a type of sin.

    The latter possibility, hoping for a miracle, still begs the question of why they’d want a miracle to keep them alive when Heaven is such a great destination? There’s more than a few hymns out there that carry on about how great Heaven is and how happy Christians should be to shake off the dust of this evil and corrupt world.

  3. I’ve always felt that religion was a way for humans to get around their fear of death. If you make yourself belive that after death you’ll live happly ever after it might lose some of it’s sting.

    To me this seems to show that people who fear death are more likly to turn to religion to deal with it

  4. It does seem odd, though, that the people most certain that Heaven does exist and that they’ve made the proper choice of which religion to believe in would be so reluctant to put that faith to the ultimate test.

    Another explanation could be that they are not certain; they know the whole story is bollocks.

  5. Isn’t it interesting that ALL Christians want to get to heaven but none of them wants to die to get there? You can talk to every religion on the planet and each on says all the others are wrong and they have the bestest Jesus..lol.. That lil bok of theirs says THEY ARE ALL WRONG!.. Funny they don’t read that part.

  6. Well, there is a difference between not being “certain,” and “knowing” that the whole story is bollocks.

    And there’s being certain, in faith, in something beyond, and then there’s being directly aware of what you are losing.  If being able to act on what one knows to be “right” in the face of the temptations / comforts / potential loss of what you know and have right here were easy, then everyone would be virtuous.

    I may know that a new job in a new city is actually a great opportunity, something far better than what I have.  I may have read glowing things about the company, gotten recommendations from trusted friends, and have an offer letter in my hand for twice the salary and a gold key to the executive washroom … but still be reluctant to leave my friends, my old house, the town I know and have been raised in, the folks at the current job. 

    On the other hand, Zhugie may be on to something.

    Note:  I am not a True Believer(TM), but I am truly a believer. But I have enough doubt (mostly about the particulars) that I don’t feel any need to rush toward death, though I also don’t feel like eking a few extra weeks out of life on a respirator.  Of course, that’s easy to say right *now*.

  7. That reminds me, I need to do my advanced care planning. About ten years ago I was diagnosed with my second terminal disease, glaucoma. The first one, of course, is birth. The only cure for birth is, duh, death. Natural and normal. THAT’s what the fundies fear. They can’t begin to comprehend what is natural and normal, there must be an ID directing, and by inference, having the power to make some kind of change. Not that there’s any evidence to prove that, just a desperate hope. What a pity. Chill-out and accept the natural and don’t forget to appreciate each moment and each other.

  8. To me this seems to show that people who fear death are more likly to turn to religion to deal with it

    Isn’t it interesting that ALL Christians want to get to heaven but none of them wants to die to get there?

    That would explain why so many fundamentalists believe in the Rapture and want it to come as soon as possible. That way they get to heaven without having to die.

  9. Note:  I am not a True Believer(TM), but I am truly a believer.

    Very well said, and also means you aren’t the focus of the article.  If I read the information correctly, it’s the True Believers™ who get all worked up about life support.

    That said, I do fear death, or more correctly; dying.  It’s likely to suck.  Death itself isn’t likely to anything.

    Also am enjoying life right now, and I would like to see my kids secure and on their way.  But death, if he cares about such things, gives no indication.

  10. If you are talking so much about death, then you are most likely afraid of death. Hush up and watch the NCAA Tournament basketball game.

    And you can watch the game at one of the fabulous Marcythewhore (me) Massage Parlors in and around the greater Chicago Outfit area……..marcythewhore

  11. Marcy, that’s the dumbest argument I’ve heard in a long damn time. Talking about something doesn’t mean I’m afraid of it.

    And I couldn’t give a fuck about the NCAA Tournament.

  12. Marcy, that’s the dumbest argument I’ve heard in a long damn time. Talking about something doesn’t mean I’m afraid of it.
    And I couldn’t give a fuck about the NCAA Tournament.

    And there you go getting scared and talking about death again. Reminds me of the closet gay who keeps saying he’s straight.

    And the NCAA Tournament will go on whether you care or not. As for anyone else who cares to make a wager on the game while having a massage, come to one of Marcythewhore’s (me) Chicago Outfit aread massage parlors for the game.

    And live a little.

    We don’t care if you are scared of death or not. We won’t bring the subject up in the middle of the massage or the game….unless you bring it up first. Then we will supply therapy along with the massage (at a nominal added cost, of course)……….marcythewhore

  13. Repeating a stupid argument doesn’t make it any less stupid, Marcy.

    And if you continue to advertise in your comments I’ll start marking them as spam.

  14. I must agree with Zhugie. I think most of religion was developed around the idea that death is scary.

    I say don’t worry bout it. Everyone has to die sometime so just accept it and spend the precious time you have with the ones you love. Use your time wisely.

  15. Reading the post DoF linked to (highly recommended, very thoughtful and thought-provoking) led me to another post by Orac on a related issue: the difficulty parents have in letting the doctors turn off the machines which are keeping their child’s heart beating after the brain is dead.  In the case discussed, the parents were Orthodox Jews belonging to a sect which says that a person is only dead when the heart stops beating.  A harrowing discussion of ethics where it counts, but where there are no easy answers.

  16. I think that if any religious person truly believes what he or she tells other people, if they truly believe in “god” or “allah” and if they have done their best to be a good servant of god or however they phrase it, then they should have no hesitation in dying. They know that they will go to heaven or paradise and live with their god; why would they fear death? Last minute doubts and clinging to live on this earth come across as hypocrisy.

  17. I think DecrepitOldFool’s first comment nails it—except that humans are complex enough to “believe” something in the sense of stridently insisting to themselves that it’s true, even while deep down not being able to get rid of the gnawing realization that it’s almost certainly bollocks.  Belief in Heaven helps people cope not only with their own fear of death, but with grief when someone else dies.

    Maybe this is why the religious have tended to react with such violence when faith is challenged?  I mean, burning someone at the stake just for having a different opinion is not normal behavior.  But when our different opinion threatens to make them face that gnawing fear that their source of comfort is bollocks—well, I can see why they’d want us to be afraid to even raise the subject.

  18. If, in their heart of hearts, the religious know that religion is all just a fairy tale yet they insist on maintaining an outward appearance of piety and conformity, then they truly are hypocrites!

    Religion may have started out as a means of explaining natural phenomena such as death, drought and that strange rumbling sound that the sky makes every now and then, but it quickly became a means of social control. Knowledge, even if concocted, is power.

    Confronting religious people, forcing them to drop their “all-knowing” facade, to look inside and to see their own doubts, is a grave threat to them. They have used and will continue to use their organization and their numbers to slap down Free Thinkers.

  19. One must look around in the workings of our own life for clues. Those working for a certain company, reflect the values and thinking that that company stands for. So it can be deduced that from the way the general employees behave amply demonstrates the workings of how the company behaves as well. So taking a real life example, if the employees aren’t guaranteed to sit and dine with the CEO of their company, how can we expect that we can sit with Him after death? There has to be a continuity in the way we behave in life and after death, since all systems merge in Him…..

  20. I allowed Natureface’s comment up there through as a reminder to always take your medication every day. Not entirely sure what he/she/they are trying to say.

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