I picked up a free ebook by Scott Adams, the creator of Dilbert. It’s a quick read, so if you’re interested, here’s the download page.
Adams calls it a “thought experiment”, and it’s a little more than I feel like summarizing at the moment, so I suggest you have a peek at it. Won’t cost you anything, and you might find it interesting–unless you’re devoted to your religious beliefs, in which case you might not. The book’s not asking you to believe anything, though…it’s just suggesting a different way of seeing things.
There’s a passage in which one of the characters wonders why he should care if there’s no afterlife–no payoff for contributing positively to the world. The other charatcer responds that there is a short-term payoff: “fewer problems in your daily life, less stress, and more happiness”.
It’s always been funny to me…the idea that people needed to believe there’s a reward for good behaviour. Awhile back, I saw a news report discussing the virtues of American schools offering prizes to kids for grades and attendance. And we’re not talking about gold stars here; we’re talking about money and cars.
Some people think there’s value in the rewards because they reinforce the good behaviour. The hope is that the kids will grow up just liking the work ethics and responsibility they develop as a result of the reward system.
Isn’t this the same as the idea of an afterlife? Live a good and proper existence, and you will be rewarded. Sounds the same to me.
You know what this makes me wonder? It makes me wonder how many people only do good things because they fear the consequences in the afterlife. They fear going to Hell, so they don’t act on their negative impulses.
Many religious people just believe in what they believe, and it’s not because of anything to do with an afterlife. They believe that it’s God’s will, or that it’s just the right path. I respect that, a lot.
I’m not so sure about the ones who are looking for rewards or avoiding consequences, though. It just doesn’t feel genuine.
In the end, you should be inclined to do good things because it makes the world we live in a better place.
I suppose I could have just said that in the first place.