The most remarkable thing about the chilling Four Corners' episode "Soldiers of Allah" on Monday night, in which a French Muslim undercover reporter secretly filmed conversations with radicalised Islamic wannabe terrorists and IS soldiers, was how much the young men were inspired by a specific, and very carnal, vision of the rewards of Heaven for a young male martyr. Yes, we're talking about the expectation of scores of beautiful houris, the young virginal women of Islamic fame, living in a grand palace, waiting to attend to all the needs (nudge nudge, wink wink) of a recently arrived martyr, not to mention the winged horse which will be the expected mode of heavenly transport.
It was weird listening to the conversation in which a guy in his mid twenties was painting this picture to his youngest recruit, a mere 16 year old, who seemed to be revelling in the promises with an almost masturbatory intensity.
Which made me think: one of the great practical advantages of Christianity is surely the Biblical lack of a clear and detailed explanation of the experience of Heaven. God knows, over-certainty of His* intentions has caused problem enough in the history of the religion, but I don't know that anyone can accuse it of causing horny young men to kill in the expectation that the sex they've missed out on on Earth will be on tap in the afterlife. If anything, I've always considered the message of both Jesus and Paul (whichever you might consider the "true" creator of Christianity) to be along the lines of "yes, Heaven is definitely there and is the just reward of the deserving, and it'll be great; but exactly how it works? - trust me, you don't need to understand the details and I'm not going to try to explain."
It's a peculiar thing, that I've surely noted before, but holding too much certainly on the nature of both this life, and the afterlife, can be a terribly, terribly dangerous thing. Even from the non-theistic point of view, the firm belief that you're just a meat robot acting out on decisions made subconsciously and without your real control is hardly conducive to moral behaviour. And at the other extreme, of course, is thinking that Heaven is about a fantastic sex life, at least if you are a martyr.
It's odd how the lesson seems to be "it's best for all concerned to be somewhat uncertain about the metaphysics of life".
* I don't really consider God is gendered, but I'm comfortable sticking with the male imagery.