Overview:

The logic of Christianity leads to the disturbing conclusion that if heaven is better than this life, then death is a good and desirable outcome.

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White evangelical Christians refuse vaccines more than any other religious group. As a result, they make up a disproportionate number of those dying from COVID. How should we feel about this?

Some people feel a sense of sorrow over so much needless death and suffering. Others choose to respond with black humor or serves-’em-right mockery, pointing out that anti-vaxxers are literally killing themselves for the sake of their ideology.

However, you might come across a more unusual response: happiness.

I don’t mean that secular folk are celebrating far-right, Trump-loving theocrat-wannabes subtracting themselves from the electorate. No, I’m talking about happiness from fellow Christians, who are delighted that so many of their compatriots are dying.

It sounds too strange to be true, but it’s real. Witness a column in the Federalist by Joy Pullmann, with a title that I’m not making up: For Christians, Dying From COVID (Or Anything Else) Is A Good Thing.

Wanting to stay alive is a “heathen idea”

Pullman is upset at Christian churches that shut down, or went virtual, to safeguard their members at the height of the pandemic. She describes this as “prioritizing obedience to men instead of to God” and says that it “contradicts numerous clear commands of scripture,” including the Third Commandment.

Notably, she isn’t arguing (as, for example, the deceased Greek Orthodox Bishop Kosmas did) that God will miraculously protect the faithful when they’re in church. She’s fully aware that, if churches had stayed open through the pandemic, more people would have gotten sick and died.

However, she argues this is a price worth paying, because for Christians, death is inherently good:

The Christian faith makes it very clear that death, while sad to those left behind and a tragic consequence of human sin, is now good for all who believe in Christ. A Christian funeral is a cause for rejoicing, albeit understandably through tears from those of us temporarily left behind.

…This is not a small or unclear doctrine. It is repeated over and over again in scripture. It flatly rejects the heathen idea that death is to be avoided at any cost.

For Christians, Dying From COVID (Or Anything Else) Is A Good Thing.” Joy Pullman, The Federalist, October 2021

This is a stark illustration of how belief in an afterlife devalues this life.

Pullman isn’t merely arguing that Christians shouldn’t fear death. She’s arguing that they should welcome death, to the point of fighting against rules and precautions intended to keep them alive. She goes so far as to say that wanting to stay alive is a heathen idea!

“Death cult” is an inflammatory term, and I don’t use it lightly. However, this is an instance where it’s literally appropriate. It’s a factual descriptor of a belief system that values death above continued life.

Why afterlife beliefs devalue this life

Most Christians are reluctant to look like they’re applauding the death of fellow believers, the way Pullman does. However, as macabre as her conclusion is, it follows logically from the tenets of Christian belief.

If you believe there’s another existence that’s infinitely superior to this one, why do you want to live in this world at all? Shouldn’t your aim be to die as soon as possible, so you can expedite your heavenly reward?

Belief in heaven makes this life actively undesirable. The longer we live, the more chances we have to encounter temptation, fall into sin, and lose our salvation—the worst catastrophe imaginable.

Of course, you can say that suicide is a sin, so it’s not allowed to directly harm yourself. Even so, why take any other precaution that runs the risk of extending your life? Why wear seat belts in cars or have smoke detectors in your house? Most of all, why would you ever go to the doctor? Why even pray for healing if you’re sick?

Belief in heaven makes this life pointless. Any pleasure or achievement in the here and now is only a pale shadow of what awaits in the next one. In fact, belief in heaven makes this life actively undesirable. The longer we live, the more chances we have to encounter temptation, fall into sin, and lose our salvation—the worst catastrophe imaginable. If heaven is the goal, then the younger we die, the better.

This idea is taken to an extreme by Christian apologists who say that fetuses which die before birth go straight to heaven, bypassing human existence entirely. In this belief system, that’s the best possible outcome. The second best outcome is children who die before the age of accountability. They may suffer, but they never have a chance to lose their salvation.

To be clear, I don’t think all afterlife beliefs are harmful. It’s understandable to fear extinction, or to wish for reunion with lost loved ones. It does no harm to hope, and I don’t condemn anyone who seeks comfort in that notion. The harm comes when humble hope transforms into arrogant faith, and people treat their belief in an afterlife as so certain that they value it above this life.

In contrast, the secular outlook reminds us that this is the only life we can be sure of getting. Being alive is a priceless opportunity, and we should treasure it and live to the fullest. If there is no other, then this is our one and only chance at happiness. To squander it in the name of faith is an incalculably tragic waste.

DAYLIGHT ATHEISM Adam Lee is an atheist author and speaker from New York City. His previously published books include "Daylight Atheism," "Meta: On God, the Big Questions, and the Just City," and most...