I’ve noticed an odd inversion in Christian theology. Depending on the interpretation, actions may be rewarded and punished entirely in this world – not in the next.
This is my take on the Orthodox conception of hell, at least. It holds that our experience of the afterlife is determined by our attitude toward God. Accept Him and His presence is heaven for you; reject Him and it is hell. On the other hand, the Bible is full of stories of God heaping material consequences on individuals and entire nations. Good things happen to the virtuous, calamity and suffering strike the wicked. This is remarkably consistent with a materialist understanding of the subtle consequences of our choices.
This is not to say that our choices don’t matter for our salvation. If we are sincere in our love of God, we will also respect His law. It may be possible to be pure of heart and horribly misled – but who is doing the misleading? Self-deception is a sin after all.
This is what I see as the essence of Christianity. God has given His law to guide us in our earthly life, and our souls are to be saved through His love. This is a great gift: we are asked to do right out of love, not out of fear. It is also a great responsibility: when we are not forced to do right by threats of damnation, we must choose for ourselves. The Law is for our benefit but we are free to ignore it.
This is the temptation that has brought the West to its knees. For generations some Christian sects have been emphasizing the easy message of Love over the hard message of Law. One of them had the bright idea to sever its ties to God and His pesky law entirely, becoming modern Progressivism and nearly unrecognizable as a religion. In a cruel twist of irony this crypto-cult of Lawless Love then squeaked through a loophole in the separation of Church and State, took over the Western governments and became our state not-a-religion.
The road to hell is paved with good intentions. The path the West has taken just might lead to hell on Earth.