"Imagine there's no heaven
It's easy if you try
No hell below us
Above us only sky …"
- John Lennon's "Imagine"
"I don't know what my beliefs are," our 15-year-old said recently when asked whether or not he believes in hell.
You know, hell. Hades. The pit. The abyss. The Inferno.
Fire and brimstone, and all that.
Is there really such a place, illuminated by flames, where the devil has horns and a tail and rubs his hands together in glee - sending sparks flying - when another doomed soul falls down through a fiery chute?
Damned if I know, pardon the pun.
I hope not to find out.
And I have a lot more respect for our son's honest ambiguity than I do for people who claim complete certainty about the afterlife and know exactly who is going to be condemned to spend eternity in hell.
It's never themselves, of course.
And the caller said ...
Such was the case with a caller to a CBC Radio feedback line recently after "On the Go" had run a piece about a young person in St. John's making the brave journey through transgenderdom, and for whom
a benefit had been held to
raise money for the surgery he needs to have his female breasts removed.
A listener called in after hearing the program to matter-of-factly, and in a sweet-little-old-lady voice, denounce the young man and his parents as being in league with the devil and destined to spend eternity writhing in hellfire.
Well, I'm glad she's so sure.
It must be nice to know that you're on the right path - thank God - even if others insist on being morally deficient.
A night's sleep must be sweet indeed for people so unwavering in their knowledge that they are among God's chosen few while their neighbour down the road is living in sin, whiling away his piddly little life in a state of ignorant bliss until the devil decides he's due.
Now, I'm all for freedom of speech. That listener had every right to call in and voice her opinion about what she'd heard on the radio show.
What I've got little time for is intolerance.
Live, and let live
By all means, live your life according to your faith - or lack of it - and as long as you do no harm, bully for you. Bow down to Buddha or praise Allah or Yahweh or Jesus or Krishna. Pray to the gnarled tree in your backyard. Create a shrine to garden gnomes. It's of no concern to me.
But if you take some sort of comfort in believing that you are following the path of righteousness while a brave transgendered youth is a sinner for finally having the courage to begin the process of gender reassignment - and that his parents are sinners for being supportive - I'd suggest that perhaps your afterlife destination is not so preordained after all.
That kind of intolerance is just another form of hate.
There's a website called ReligiousTolerance.org that explores various Christian beliefs about the afterlife.
"Faced with such a diversity of beliefs about life after death - even within Christianity - some people conclude that nobody really knows what happens when a person dies," it notes.
"But most Christians hold tenaciously to the beliefs taught by their own particular denomination. This satisfies one of the main needs that many people have of their religion: to give them a sense of security in the face of an uncertain and frightening world."
Who pays the price
Now, I understand that need for security. The world can be a scary place, with crime, sickness and poverty seemingly increasing all the time.
But who says someone else has to pay the price for your security? Why should you be right and anyone who thinks differently be wrong?
Wouldn't a real Christian embrace diversity, love his neighbour, preach tolerance? Those are values I was taught, and cling to, even if I don't darken a church door very often.
Where are you going after death?
What? You're not sure?
Me neither. But I'll take my chances with uncertainty and leave the fluffy, bouncy clouds and the harp music to the zealots.
Pam Frampton is The Telegram's story editor. She can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read her columns online at www.thetelegram.com.
For heaven's sake
"Imagine there's no heaven
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