Way back in 2001, on the popular sit-com Everybody Loves Raymond, there was an episode named Stefania Arrives (Season 5, episode 17). Stefania was a character that Raymond’s brother Robert met while the family was vacationing in Italy. Beautiful and intriguing, Robert was smitten, only to have to leave at the end of the trip.
Eventually, Stefania moved to New York City and began to date Robert. After the thrill of the vacation wore off, and after the excitement of her arrival subsided, Robert found that she was actually not perfect, that he even found her annoying. True enough, these are the small issues you’ll end up having in any relationship, in that no one is perfect, even on the best day of their life.
In any event, Robert found her imperfections significant enough to break up with her. She was making moves to seduce him, wearing the shirt of his uniform, sneaking kisses, and so forth, when he finally manages to blurt out that they should see other people. He feels that he is doing the right thing, because it would be taking advantage of her to wait until ‘after’ to tell her that he’s having problems with the relationship.
Stefania becomes angry and storms out. Then Robert calls after her that she is still wearing the shirt he needs for his shift the next day, and of course she tosses it back in screen. After staring for a second or two, Robert reassures himself that he has done the proper thing, saying, “There better be a heaven.” There are a number of thoughts that crossed my mind here.
Perhaps we should start with this; such statements reflect a misconception about the Christian faith, that we do in order to get. Much of the secular world thinks that Christianity is a code of behavior maintained in order to receive a reward for ascetic living. We assuage transient pleasure for the moment in order to exchange greater pleasure later on. But that is logically fallacious. We are to avoid sinning, because it is not right to sin. Why should we delight in doing that which we know to be wrong? And further, why should we hope for similar delight later on? The Christian does not avoid sin because he is hoping for a reward. He avoids sin because he believes it to be wrong. Additionally, forgiveness is not our due, but a gift. God does not set aside justice in order to enact mercy. Because of the payment of the cross, justice is satisfied by mercy.
Now, as a reflection on the nature of society, Robert’s statement is poignant and powerful. Barring the existence of a metaphysical standard of justice, what is there to keep one person from lying to the other and taking advantage of that person? Of course, you may respond by saying, ‘Well, Stefania wanted to sleep with Robert too, so it wouldn’t harm her.’ And very well then, that would seem to be all right, but what if Stefania didn’t want to sleep with Robert? (I mean, really, we’re trying to convert all this to real life scenarios, right?) What if she wanted to see other people, instead of him? As a veritable giant (running joke on the show), Robert would have had no problem in forcing Stefania into that abuse.
And what of it? What is necessarily wrong with that? If we are all without purpose except that which we install into ourselves, what makes one person’s purpose superior to that of someone else?
Don’t get me wrong, I am not asserting that the atheist cannot do what is morally proper or morally good. What I am asserting is that the atheist is forced to rely upon societal acceptability as a basis for right and wrong, or to rely purely on assumptions (which can be equally as dangerous). Most people live out their lives not doing heinous things. They don’t murder or steal or rape. They don’t slander or vandalize or sabotage. It therefore comes as an oddity to hear that all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God, that every inclination of man’s heart is depraved.
What are these phrases actually saying though? That every inclination is depraved does not mean that man can only do horrid things. It means whatever man does is done for himself and not done for God. To say that all have sinned is only to say that all are born without God’s will in their hearts. When we start looking at why some things are right and some things are wrong, we are led to the will of God, which gave man purpose. When we say that heaven is a gift, we only mean that it is our purpose fulfilled, satisfaction as infinitely powerful as the purity of the one who provided it for us.
There better be a heaven? Only if life has any meaning, but if life has no meaning, there is no heaven, and the best you can feel is that most fleeting of moment when pleasure is present. When you get right down to it, carpe diem is a depressing philosophy.