Getting rid of the idea of Heaven doesn’t necessarily rid us of the longing for a painless paradise. John Faithful Hamer on religious conversation.
We had a friend in Baltimore who was brought up in a hard-core Jehovah’s Witness household. Her family was among the most pious in their religious community. People looked up to them with a mixture of fear and awe. They were the gold standard: a family that never missed a meeting at the Kingdom Hall and spent thousands of hours spreading the faith each year.
She fell away from the faith in her late teens and got “disfellowshiped” (systematically shunned by her entire community). When we met her she was in her mid-20s. She hadn’t spoken to anyone in her family for years. She had dreads and tattoos, and a massive hate-on for religion. She’d rejected all of her parents values and beliefs, and she never had a kind word for the Witnesses. Yet it was obvious to us, charmingly obvious, that she was still a Jehovah’s Witness in so many ways. For instance, she was extremely evangelical about whatever she happened to be into at the moment (e.g., veganism, smoking weed, going organic, skateboarding, new atheism, chemtrails, etc.). She would preach and proselytize incessantly, just as she preached and proselytized incessantly with her parents when she was a kid.
Everyone had to like whatever she happened to like. What’s more, she was highly prone to demonization: people who didn’t share her enthusiasms weren’t just boring, they were evil. She’d transcended Protestant theology, but she hadn’t transcended Protestant psychology.
I’ve witnessed the same pattern countless times in myself and others, and it’s led me to suspect that religion doesn’t have much to do with believing, or ceasing to believe, in a metaphysical proposition like God. Religion shapes how you think and believe far more than what you think and believe. Getting rid of the idea of Heaven doesn’t necessarily rid us of the longing for a painless paradise.
Getting rid of the idea of Redemption doesn’t necessarily rid us of the longing for an escape from History and Consequence. And getting rid of The Savior doesn’t necessarily rid us of the longing for salvation.
—John Faithful Hamer, The Goldfish (2nd edition)
This article originally appeared on Committing Sociology
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