"Therefore if the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed."

Thursday, June 17, 2010

New Book: "Dying for Heaven"

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.


truerivers said...

That Arafat joke is funny :D

Sounds like an interesting book!

Being good and loving and doing good to others in itself is pleasure and real.These are fruits of our labour.How is this not real?
I think we have to see it in a spiritual sense to understand heaven.

For me suicide bombers are like soldiers or freedom fighters fighting for their country unjustly attacked or treated by another.Mostly religion is used for their cause or nationalism rather than fight for religion itself.

Unknown said...

Looks like an interesting book!

I don't think the idea of heaven is a problem in religion. I think what he's actually talking about (probably without realizing there's a difference, especially if he happened to experience one or more of these churches) is the people and groups that use the afterlife as a threat.

The first time I really heard about the second coming and the afterlife as anything more than "when you die you go to Heaven", my VBS teacher was crying to us (a bunch of 7-10 year olds) about how Jesus could come back that afternoon and most of us were going to Hell and so if she was in our place she would be terrified and we needed to pray for Jesus to save us right then. I was terrified! And worse, I didn't really understand what it meant or how to fix the situation, because I was raised in church so I already believed in and tried to live for Jesus, so if I was going to Hell anyway, what was I supposed to do now? Now that I'm grown, I think the things she said and definitely the way she said them are wrong and I've moved beyond that, but that terror has stayed with me and every once in awhile comes back again, because it had such a strong impact when I was a kid.

So I get what he's coming from. And it's not just people trying to earn their salvation with works. The churches where I grew up are adamant that you cannot earn and so cannot lose your salvation...but it is possible that you never had it to begin with, so people who think they're saved might actually not be. That for me led to a lot more anxiety than if I had a list of dos and do nots, because I could never be sure of where I stood until I died.

It's not part of the religion as a whole, and not even necessarily a part of those churches. My mom didn't know about what that teacher had said, because I was too scared to talk about it at the time. When I told her that story just a couple years ago, she was horrified and I think would have taken me out of that church or at least have spoken up and stopped that from happening again if she had known. So it's not the idea of Heaven, it's the way some people understand it and make religion about fear instead of love.

Wafa said...

if it's what you describe, then it's an amazing one. "i am looking for it" .

now here is what i believe about "dying for heaven" . no one will ever get my sympthy or understanding for killing themselves or others to go to heaven or even to die for heaven.

in a part of the book, it says how we must love all God's creation if we really love God. and that's what i believe. God created us equally. no one has more eyes or ears or body, we all created the same. As to the way we live, believe, pray, marry,...etc. is something up to us and it's our choice. we are a free creature born with free will.
The Quran-i don't know if you reach this verse or nor- says that we are created into tribes and nations to meet and connect. NOT to kill each other.
I hate to be the way for someone to go to heaven.

Sarah said...

Yeah, sounds like a book I would agree with :D I'm thinking of starting a Religioholics Anonymous group, lol. Did he not like Gandhi though?

Susanne said...

Lat, great comment! Yeah, I agree oftentimes suicide bombers are more like soldiers/freedom fighters. This guy is Israeli - and while fairly liberal and openminded, I'd say - still he isn't keen on people who blow up themselves (and others!!!) for the sake of their causes. He even gave example of an Israeli who did something similar so he didn't just pick on Arabs or Muslims. :)

Susanne said...

Sanil, welcome back! I am so glad you shared your heartfelt comment.

Yikes, I could feel your fright as I read what you wrote. And I think I can understand since I grew up similarly to you in that aspect. I don't remember being frightened about Jesus coming back and my going to hell so much, but I did wonder sometimes if I were "truly saved" and that fear of hell made me get up and talk to my dad about it. :) Thankfully he always assured me with verses from the Bible and told me it was normal to doubt and that Satan wouldn't bother an unbeliever with such thoughts so... thankfully he always assured me instead of frightening me further. :)

"So it's not the idea of Heaven, it's the way some people understand it and make religion about fear instead of love."

Actually I think his approach was more that the idea of Heaven was so good that we missed out on enjoying life and doing things for the sake of the joy they bring. Instead we were so bent on the rewards we would get *in the future*. Like we were working for pay rather than doing something for the sheer pleasure/enjoyment of it.

That's why I countered with what I said about salvation being a gift and it's freeing to not have to "work" for it.

Thanks much for your wonderful comment and for sharing something so personal!

Susanne said...


"I hate to be the way for someone to go to heaven."

For real! Can you imagine that some people celebrate this violence as a GOOD way to meet God? Ugh!

Your comment was so wonderfully sweet and refreshing!

The book talked a lot about the psychology of pleasure in leading up to the talk about why heaven (the idea or creation of it) was appealing. It was pretty interesting at points, but not my favorite type of book. It did give me reason to think though so I'm glad I stuck it out and finished it.

Thanks much for your comment! :)

Susanne said...


"Religioholics Anonymous group"

HAHAHAHAHAHA! You're a mess! :-P

He said nice things about Gandhi, but he didn't agree with all that he did. I don't think the author appreciated Gandhi telling the Jews to just suffer and die at the hands of Hitler even though this meant succumbing to genocide. He didn't come out and say it, but I got that impression. Maybe someone else would disagree with my thoughts on that though. (If you read the book, let me know. :)) He did say Gandhi used his own form of emotional blackmail (his own kind of martyrdom) in a way that seemed critical of Gandhi's tactics.

This was the book I said reminded me of you. Basically because you've talked before about how people do things for REWARDS instead of just for the sake of their being the right things to do.

Thanks for your comment as well!