A Problem with Heaven

Remove notions of Heaven from contemporary belief, and we remove one of the most effective motivators of terrorists, both Islamist and Christian.

Despite global advances in the arts and sciences, the contemporary imagination seems to embrace Heaven, if anything, more than in the past. As the economic gap between rich and poor widens, promises of Paradise replace hopes of social mobility, sovereignty, equality, rule of law, world peace, and other post-Cold War promises. Hence, talk of Paradise (from the Persian word Ferdaus) is increasingly common, not only in sermons of both religions, but also in cable news chatter, around dinner tables, and in coffee shops worldwide.

These Paradise fantasies are theo-erotic and, of course, patriarchal—both religions’ deities have penises. And by design, the fantasies are the precise opposites of many a lonely young terrorist’s daily, earth-bound realities.

Islamists have codified the fantasies more than Christians have, but few violent, socially disengaged cross bearers are likely to quibble with the differences. They go something like this: alluring virgin women (known as houris), reputedly 72 of them, eagerly await the righteous slayer of unarmed, infidel adults and children. It seems to help if said slayer dies while slaying. (These inexperienced boy-men have no idea how hellish managing seventy-two women would be, but try telling them that.)

So then, what about the eternal bliss of the women? Imams and preachers offer a ready answer: The woman’s reward is to happily satisfy her husband’s sexual appetites. For ever and ever.

Bon appétit.