“Even if there is no afterlife, do you think that belief in one makes people live a better life?”
The students were sceptical over whether religious people lived a better life than anyone else and questioned whether believing in an afterlife made a difference to the way people made decisions. One was particularly forthright, “I think religions use heaven and hell as a way of blackmailing people to obey them.”
It was an interesting insight, it was an accusation that was certainly applicable to the medieval church where the wall paintings in some buildings depicted the Day of Judgement and people being cast down into the flames of hell where demonic figures stood waiting to torture those who had not accepted the teachings of the church. Had the student lived in such centuries and had suggested the church was a blackmailer he would very quickly have been invited to recant his beliefs.
“Sir, there is a lot of stuff now saying the world is about to end?”
“Where? Do you mean on the religious TV channels?”
“No, on social media. People say the world is going to end?”
“What? Do people think that God is going to come back?
“Like, a Day of Judgement, sir,” added another.
It was a familiar theme to anyone who had encountered evangelical Christianity, particularly to anyone who had lived in Northern Ireland.
“Do you think people believe the stories?”
“Don’t know, sir. Lots of people are saying it.”
“Well, if you look at the Bible, there are lots of predictions of the end of the world. The people who followed Jesus thought the world was going to end soon, and it didn’t happen. The Bible says lots of bad things will happen before the end of the world, so down through the centuries there have been Christians who think that bad times are a sign that the Day of Judgement is coming. There are probably people who are now saying that Covid is a sign of the end of the world.”
The students are of a rational and sceptical frame of mind and seemed content with the explanation, but I wondered what stuff they were encountering. It seemed pointless doing an Internet search, enter “end of the world” or “day of judgement” into Google and there will be countless sites offering information as to when the day is due.
In a generation or two, when there is another crisis, the predictions will come around again and the students, now in their mature years, will say, “they said that in 2021.”