A few years ago when my sons were about thirteen or fourteen, they were invited by their cousin to attend a Christmas function at City Harvest Church. As it was Christmas, I agreed to let them join their Christian cousin.
We are a free-thinker family who respect all religions and we discuss religious issues freely in the family on mainly why we are free-thinkers. I am more of an agnostic than atheist and I encourage my sons to ask questions when in doubt, especially in the wake of so many terrorist attacks in the name of religion during that period.
When they returned from the function after midnight, I asked casually how it went and what they did. They told me they went up on stage. Why? I asked. What they said horrified me. The Pastor had invited them by asking those who are ready to receive Christ to go up on stage, and so they went. What followed after this was a two-hour talk on religion and by the time the talk ended, it was 2 am. Basically, what I wanted to know from them was why they thought they were ready to receive Christ just after a one night event. Do they even know Christ? If they were really interested in joining a religion, I would be happy to guide them, but first, I took out a book on World Religion and told them to read it before they make a choice. After all, they should know about all the other religions like Islam and Hinduism and be given a choice to choose. I guess the faith was not there and reading the book too difficult, so they decided to remain status-quo.
They were invited again to go for a New Year’s event at City Harvest one week later but I forbade it. Their cousin came by to persuade me. Among the reasons were how well Christianity had helped him in his studies, but I was firm. I told my sons since they were still a minor, I shall decide for them, but they can decide again when they are more mature, after they turn 21.
In our discussion, a big question I asked is, what is faith? How do you know the answer you get from a book, interpreted and written by another human being thousands of years ago to be correct? How do you know what is being preached on that stage is correct? Do I go to hell because I am a non-believer? What is hell and what is heaven?
I was invited to an evangelist church in KL once. I went there at the invitation of my good friends and attended the service with an open mind, hoping to learn something. What I heard appalled me. There seemed to be a competition between the Christians and Muslims on the help rendered to the minority group in Sarawak. The Muslims apparently had done more and the congregation were urged to put in more effort. Are they helping out of compassion or for something in return?
In my search for spirituality, I found the Buddhist’s way of self-help by changing the mindset to make the most sense. Ajahn Brahm says why wait until you die before you go to Heaven when you can be in Heaven right now, just by changing your attitude towards life.
My brother attended Ajahn Brahm’s retreat recently and he told me this story.
A man went to his pastor and asked, if only believers go to Heaven, where do all the other kind people like Buddha, Gandhi, Socrates, but non-belivers go to? Hell? The Pastor couldn’t give him an answer. One day, he spotted a train to Heaven which allowed two-way tickets. He stepped in and zoomed to Heaven, where he asked the gatekeeper minding Heaven’s gate who knew all who have entered Heaven, ‘Is Buddha here? Is Gandhi here? Is Socrates here?’ The gatekeeper checked through his list and shook his head. They were all not in heaven. Dejected, the man went back to Earth. Then, he spotted a train going to Hell which also allowed a two-way ticket. He hopped on and zoomed to Hell. Hell was not at all what he had imagined. There were laughters and balloons beyond the gate. Intrigued, the man asked the gatekeeper, “Is this Hell?” The gatekeeper answered, ‘It sure is. Welcome to Hell.” The man asked, “Do you know everyone in Hell?” The gatekeeper answered, “I sure do.” The man then asked, “Is Buddha here? Is Gandhi here? Is Socrates here?” The man checked through his list and replied gleefully, “They sure are.” Disappointed, the man then asked, “But why is Hell so different? I had expected it to be a horrible place of suffering but everyone appears to be so happy.” The gatekeeper smiled, “Oh, Hell is a changed place since people like Buddha, Gandhi and Socrates arrived. It’s now a happy place.”
So the message is, it’s not what you call the place, but who lives there.
Finally, a if you want happiness, look not at Heaven but heed this advise:
Doesn’t that make sense?
Finally, as a parent, I am concern that the pastor, leading a congregation of 33,000, many of whom are impressionable teens and young adults is arrested. Thank goodness I have a good relationship with my sons that they trust me enough not to join the church.
( PS: Ajahn Brahm who says he his name stands for:
B— for Buddhist R—for Roman Catholic A—for Anglican H—for Hindu M—for Muslim, no wonder his talk is also attended by people of other faiths.)