A few weeks ago, I watched a movie called Jesus Camp. It’s about a bible camp for young children, who appear to be between 9-13, and is run by an evangelical Christian group. I felt sorry for these kids, because the camp counselors seemed to spend all of their time putting the fear of God into them – in one scene (starting at 39:30) the camp’s founder is preparing a PowerPoint presentation for the children, and one slide reads (in large red capital letters) “The punishment for sin is death”. She examines the text and decides that it would look better with a stylized Halloween font in which each letter is dripping in blood. With the proverbial Sword of Damocles hanging over their impressionable little heads, these counselors are preaching as if they’ve just stolen a copy of Life’s Final Exam – they alone know the upcoming questions (and the answers), and they alone know how we’re going to be judged. After watching the movie, I can say with some confidence that these kids are not going to bound through their lives with the joy, reckless abandon and wide-eyed wonder of other children, or even with the idealism of other teenagers or young adults. Instead, they are going to live out their days in constant fear, walking a metaphorical tightrope, while Satan (whom the camp counselors insist is real) tries to push them off-balance at every opportunity. Throughout the entire documentary, these kids are never taught any critical thinking skills – they, at an impressionable age, are expected to accept whatever these adults tell them, and accept it without question.
Who among us knows how (or even if) we will be judged after we die? Sure, we can wave books and quote scripture, but no one actually knows. Which got me wondering… what’s happened to our own critical thinking ability? Why should we assume that we are going to be judged only in the ways stipulated by our religions? Could there be more than one way of passing Life’s Final Exam? Secondly, why do we assume that we’re going to receive an individual evaluation? In my article Living The Reward, I point out that all humans were punished for the sins of Adam and Eve by the revocation of paradise – even those people who weren’t born yet. Therefore, if we were punished as a group, why couldn’t we be also evaluated and rewarded as a group?
It was time for a creative writing exercise: if I were the creator of the universe, how might I judge others – both individuals and Humankind as a whole? In this article, I will examine a number of individual evaluation scenarios. In Part Two, I will explore a few collective ones, in which our entire species is judged as a whole.
Scenario 1: The Ripple Effect
In my Toastmasters club, we are taught that communication consists of two parts: what you say, and what other people hear. No matter how polished you are as an orator, you will be able to control only 50% of your communication. The same principle can be applied to our behaviour: despite what we actually do, the intentions behind our actions may not be interpreted in the way that we intended. In The Ripple Effect scenario, we are judged, not by the good deeds we did during our life, but by the way that our words and actions were interpreted by others. For example, we might have made a casual, insensitive comment that was overheard and really hurt someone’s feelings, or we may have offered a stranger a small, immediately-forgotten courtesy that restored her faith in humanity. It can go both ways. We often don’t know exactly how we come across to others, but I – as the omniscient creator of the universe – do, and that’s how you’ll be judged – by the ripples that you created in this world. It’s the ultimate peer review.
Scenario 2: Something Borrowed, Something Blue
When I was growing up, my parents always told me that when borrowing someone else’s property, that I had to return it in the same condition. Since then I’ve internalized this lesson completely. Whenever I’m at a hotel, I’ll make the bed in the morning, and leave the room in exactly the same condition. This philosophy also applies in a broader context – each generation should leave the world in better shape than it was when we inherited it. While we may think that the planet is ours to exploit, we are merely its stewards. We inherit it from our parents and we should (at a minimum) keep it in the same condition when we pass it along to our children. If we can improve the world during our stewardship, that’s even better. There are two parts to this evaluation:
- What did you do – personally, or as part of a team – to make the world a better place? I’m looking for something tangible with results that can be measured – therefore praying, worshipping and boldly attempting to vanquish Satan and his army of minions don’t count. You may have developed a vaccine, written a useful computer program, or written a book or a song that brought joy to others. You may have saved someone’s life, or came to someone’s defense when no one else would. Even if you can’t think of anything, don’t worry – I (being omniscient) can see the effects that you had on others: perhaps you were an outstanding teacher who inspired hundreds of children to accomplish great things later in life. You will even receive credit for things that you did after you died, such as donating your organs or donating money to worthwhile charities. This evaluation depends on how well you’ve taken care of what’s been entrusted to you, and how much time and energy you spent during your lifetime to ensure that you are leaving behind the best possible world for the next generation.
- How much damage did you do to the world while you were alive? If you spent your career cutting down trees in the rainforest, or if your negligence caused a toxic spill or a radiation leak, then you may not score very high, but it doesn’t have to be environmental damage.
Your score in this scenario will be determined by the improvements you made to the world, minus the damage you did to it.
Scenario 3: Not What You Expected, Was It?
In the Jesus Camp movie, both the camp counselor and the children are spending every waking moment walking that tightrope and living in fear of a spiteful God. They are so afraid that they won’t be granted that elusive and coveted ticket into heaven that they will do whatever it takes to get on God’s good side, and demonstrate that they are good Christian soldiers. Personally, I see this approach as nothing more than “kissing God’s butt”, and I view these people with as much admiration as any other sycophant, hanger-on or member of a celebrity’s entourage: none whatsoever.
In this scenario, I, as the creator of the universe, am going to do the opposite of what these pious folks expect. After asking the next soul to step forward I’ll throw them an unwavering, piercing stare, and after an uncomfortably long pause. I’ll say “I see that you’ve been worshipping me your entire life… [looking through notes] yes, you’ve been attending religious services almost every week, bothering complete strangers while you praise me, announcing that you’re doing everything in my name, and trying to recruit people who are already following their own spiritual path. Did you really think I couldn’t see through all of that bombastic nonsense? Come on – even your fellow humans weren’t fooled by your self-created, one-way relationship with me. Consider this: while you were sitting in your place of worship each week, could you have done something more productive with your time? Something that might actually help your fellow man or woman? I think so. You could have been volunteering at a food bank, or cleaning up litter in a park, or donating blood, or helping a child with his or her homework, or trying to cure a disease. Instead, you were doing nothing of value – and before you start to protest, let me say one thing: I’m the creator of the universe, and my opinion is the only one that matters; If I think you were wasting your time, then you were. Think for a minute… I created your universe and everything in it, including you. Do you honestly believe that my self-esteem is that fragile? Do I really need to hear constant praise from beings that I created myself? Unlike your B-list celebrities, I don’t need to surround myself with obsequious little weenies. I prefer to surround myself with beings who can impress me with their talent – with beings who are able to do something constructive with their lives. Now, it’s time for your evaluation: your final score will be inversely proportional to the total amount of time that you’ve spent worshipping, praising and recruiting.”
Scenario 4: Idealism
Think back to when you were growing up – that magical time when we thought that life was fair, people were inherently good, there was equal opportunity for everyone, and that anyone could make a substantial and positive change in the world merely by working hard. Of course, as we get older, our view of the world through the proverbial rose-coloured glasses slowly disappears. As pop singer Jewel Kilcher remarked during a television interview a few years ago, “Most people have all of the idealism squashed out of them by the time they turn 25”. Do we have the inner strength to maintain our idealism in an imperfect and sometimes unjust world? Will we remain hopeful, happy and optimistic, or will we eventually allow life to beat us down and make us miserable, distrusting and cynical?
At what point in your life did you gaze at all of the unfairness, corruption, greed and poor behaviour among others and think “If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em” and then compromise your character as you lowered your expectations, and ultimately the level of your ambition? In this scenario, you will be judged on the parentage of your life during which you remained idealistic, and on the amount of idealism that you managed to retain at the end of your life.
Scenario 5a: Promises, Promises
This is one of the simplest evaluations. I add up all of the promises you made during your lifetime, assign a magnitude to each one, and then count the number of promises that you kept. Your score will be the percentage of your promises that you actually kept, adjusted for their magnitude.
Scenario 5b: Lies, Lies, Lies, Yeah
A similar, simple evaluation. I add up all of the lies you told during your lifetime, and divide them into two categories: white lies – ones that you told in order to spare others’ feelings, and ordinary lies – ones invented for your own selfish motives. White lies are disregarded, and the remaining lies are added up, and then assigned a multiplier or coefficient, based on their severity. The more you lied to serve yourself, the lower your score.
Coming up in Part Two – The Collective Evaluation Scenarios. In the end, it might not be all about you – your ultimate judgment might be based on your ability to function as part of a team.