Opinions expressed here are my own and do not represent the views of the congregation I joyfully serve. But my congregation loves me!

Friday, October 28, 2011

A Religion of This Life

Madpriest and I have been having a conversation of sorts. It started with my post on the Jesus Seminar, Good Old Jesus and Me. He created a thought for the day. He tends to write in hyperbole and because I am such a literalist I am not quite sure if he is being straight with me or not. He sounds snippy and I get defensive but we trundle on.

The question comes down to afterlife. What happens to us when we die? This is an important question whether we are religious or not. To raise the question creates a crisis. That crisis is my mortality. When we bring our personal mortality into focus we are forced to address our lives and the time we spend doing whatever it is we do.

So I won't have to write this all again, I am taking what I posted at his place with some editing to offer my thoughts on this question. What comes up for me is that I don't find any type of afterlife persuasive. One can argue with me back and forth on that, but I doubt I will change my mind simply because I don't think it is real. That is one argument to have, whether or not afterlife is real or credible.

The other argument is whether or not belief in afterlife is good or not. One might say that believing in it is better than not believing in it as to do so makes life tolerable or provides other benefits.

I don't think you can believe in it if you don't think it is real. In medicine a placebo only works if the patient doesn't know it is a placebo.

The church seems to promote a belief in belief. The unstated argument goes,
"We have a placebo thing going, don't screw it up. It makes people feel good, it gives people hope, don't take it away."
As a minister, I know that argument and I know the compassionate impulse behind it.

I also know that the church's beliefs including afterlife have become less credible for many people. Many people who in times past might have been church members are now into New Age things which I find to be placebos in newer wrappings. Others have left organized religion altogether. It is for these folks, including me, that I want to offer an alternative option to the religion of afterlife.

I make the case that religion primarily is not about afterlife but about helping people cope with this life. It always has been. Religious belief may include afterlife, but must it? Is a belief in afterlife the best way to cope with the suffering of life or has it been the only way we have known?

I personally believe that a religion of this world is a beautiful, meaningful thing, even in the midst of suffering. I know that one day I will enter an unconscious rest like the rest I had before I was born. In one sense I look forward to it, and yet, I have no desire to wish time away. Despite what may happen to me in this life, I have that rest coming. It will be a full rest, an unconscious union with the Divine. Call it eternal life if you like.

With that confidence, I can say,
"Yes, I can live another day. I didn't ask for this day or this life, but I will treat it as a gift and an adventure. I will face my depression. I will notice something beautiful. I will kiss my wife. I will stand up for someone."
I find the religion of this life to be comforting and credible. It fits my understanding of the universe, our cosmic history, and the evolution of species. I have no fear of God, gods or hell or concern about doing certain things to get a better future incarnation or a spot in heaven. I have the freedom to create my own meaning. Nothing is ready-made. I can draw from all wisdom available to me. There is no coercion to embrace certain beliefs. I don't need to "believe" anything. My energy, intelligence, imagination, and love is directed toward this life, this Earth, this present now.

I do acknowledge that we are headed for change on a massive scale due to energy, environmental, population, and economic crises. These unfolding crises as industrial civilization faces its limits will last for centuries. I have been blathering on about this since I started this blog five years ago. I include links to these concerns on the sidebar. My primary concern is that we face whatever changes may come with awareness, compassion, and courage because these are the angels of our better nature.

The church will have a role in helping people cope with these changes. On one hand, one branch of the church will help many people cope by offering traditional beliefs in the afterlife. For folks who find that helpful, then I have no argument.

My branch of the church will help people cope by offering an encouragement to be fully present here and now. Life is a crazy ride and it is best to travel lightly and to recognize that we can be and are blessings to others if we choose to be.

Maybe these two forms of Christianity, the Christianity of this life and the Christianity of the afterlife can work together.
We can be with and for one another in the here and now, accept our limits, accept our mortality and be humane, even joyful in the midst of the via negativa.

I have no idea how I will respond when I face severe personal crises. Maybe I will jump over onto the afterlife branch, but I doubt it. I plan to stick with my religion and do what I can while I have breath.
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