Dying for Heaven by Ariel Glucklich is a book I found at the library last week. I didn't know anything about the author*, but thought the subject - "Holy Pleasure and Suicide Bombers -- Why the Best Qualities of Religion are Also its Most Dangerous" - seemed intriguing. The book was fair. More of a study on pleasure (using the example of food choices) and why people do what they do to maximize pleasure. Of course he tied it into religious pleasure including the love of God which translated into us loving God.
Chapters include such things as The Mysteries of Pleasure, The Varieties of Religious Pleasures, God's Love and the Prozac Effect, The Paradise Paradox: The Misery of Heaven-Addicts among others.
The Paradise Paradox chapter argued that we actually enjoy life less when we believe in heaven. This book discusses mystics, martyrs, militant Sufis (!? pg.217) and those today who willingly strap on a vest and blow themselves up for the sake of God. The focus is reaching a possible way to discourage such behavior as no one wants to play "chicken" with a trigger-happy person with a nuclear bomb at his fingertips. The author argues for the effective use of comedy in dealing with this problem.
The author told how Arabs have used humor throughout the centuries and made reference to one of these jokes (below) as told by Sharif Kanaana on this site.
"I want a Palestinian state," Arafat says to God, who wishes to fulfill a wish for him. God hummed and hawed. "It will not happen in your lifetime, Arafat." "I want Jerusalem." "Nor will this happen in your lifetime, Arafat." "Then at least I want to be as good-looking as George Clooney." "Arafat!" says God, "that won't even happen in my lifetime."
Pages of interest to me --
The ones speaking of Gandhi and his recommendations to Jews in Germany and the Hindus in Pakistan to "die because he believed in their potential moral superiority over the people who were out to kill them. In Gandhi's view, glad acceptance of voluntary destruction could thus act as a kind of lesson to the killers - a form of spiritual education about the nature of true joy." The author then reminds us of Gandhi's "own lifelong commitment to this form of martyrdom by repeatedly threatening to kill himself through fasting." (pg. 29) He agreed with another writer who called this "blackmail."
"If one can love God, one surely ought to love another human. In practice, however, no such horizontal love can be detected in large-scale groups. The majority of humans, even those who believe in God, mostly just love their relatives." (pg. 194) The author made mention of Leviticus 19:18 where Jews are told to love their neighbors and also to Jesus' words in John 13:34,35 and I got to wondering is the concept of loving others in the Quran? I'm trying to remember if I saw it there so far.
"Heaven is part of a broader intellectual and religious habit of mind that makes our life less fulfilling and ultimately less real. Heaven depletes life of its potential joy." (pg. 231) He likens a person believing in heaven to an inmate who knows he will get out of prison sooner if he behaves. Therefore, during life we constantly analyze everything to make sure we are good enough for heaven. (pg. 238) He argues "they could be much happier in this life if they eliminated the notion of heavenly reward from their religion." (pg. 241)
(From a Christian perspective, I would argue with the author that I'm not trying to work my way to heaven so I don't have that fear and worry of one who believes her every deed will be analyzed. Maybe I am silly and naive for that, but if I believe I can do nothing truly good without God's help, it's freeing. I struggle more with abiding in Him, having fellowship and relationship with Him instead of worrying that I'm not good enough or that that string of hateful words I used will tip the scales out of my favor in God's eyes. Relationship with God, living in close fellowship with Him, basking in His goodness to me -- in my opinion, that is the source of my joy and peace! So I would like to share this thought with Mr. Glucklich if I had a chance.)
"Acting for the sake of heaven will turn you into a spiritual addict. You will find yourself compelled to act entirely because you want something (reward) and not at all because you like it (joy)." (pg. 243)
(Perhaps this is true for those trying to earn salvation or who believe they must "be good" in order to please God. They see most everything as a suffering or hardship they must endure in order to gain a reward later. But why not live in the here and now and enjoy doing good because it's what God made you for? It's how He works in you to show Himself as good and holy to a needy world.)
* Found out through reading the book that he was born in Israel, his father was buried there and he has atheistic/humanistic views from what I could tell. He teaches in the US. See this:
Ariel Glucklich is a professor of religion at Georgetown University. He specializes in Hinduism and in the psychology and biology of religion. He is particularly interested in what motivates people to become and remain religious and the various ways that religion makes people self-destruct.