Shuck and Jive

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

Monday, August 23, 2010

If There Is No Life After Death, Are We To Be Pitied?

I have been thinking again.

That's a problem.

I have been thinking about life after death. The Apostle Paul wrote:

If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied. (1 Corinthians 15:19)
I wonder if most people feel that way (regardless of their religion). I wonder if most people think that it is pitiable if there is no life after death. If it is true that my consciousness is wed to my body and when my body dies so will "I" is that a bad thing? Does that make my existence pitiable?

If most people believe that what does that say about the human race and our future on Earth? I wonder if we have reached a point in human consciousness of incredible despair because we cannot face the inevitable void. I wonder if there is a collective drive toward human extinction because we have not adequately been able to come to terms with mortality.

It seems to me that the task of religion, at least for some of us, is not to hide from the void but to embrace it. I think there is only this life. But we don't need pity. We need to embrace our mortality.

There are a few things of which I am not convinced:

  1. I am not convinced that anyone's consciousness will survive or ever has survived death. This goes for immortal souls, resurrection of bodies, reincarnation, you name it.
  2. I am not convinced that humanity or any other species is "to be pitied" for our mortality.
  3. I am not convinced that believing we are immortal in some form or another will make us more loving, happier, and kinder.
  4. I am not convinced that religion must promote theories of immortality in order to help people live meaningful and productive lives.
I also have a few hunches:
  1. I have a hunch that traditional religious language can be helpful when understood as a metaphor for the quality of life. (Resurrection becomes a symbol for the serendipitous joy of being able to start over, discover a new lease on life, affirm hopefulness in difficult situations, etc.)
  2. I have a hunch that religious bodies (such as churches) would be more helpful and more healthy if they allowed for open-ended questioning among leaders and participants (as opposed to expulsion, fear of being called a sinner, heretic, and in some cases fear of being sent to hell for openly questioning and doubting cherished beliefs).
  3. I have a hunch that we will need more and more thinkers, ritualists, community-builders, therapists, and ministers to help people embrace their mortality rather than put hope in an afterlife as traditional religious dogmas become increasingly incredible for more and more people.
  4. I have a hunch that if we developed a religion that helped people to embrace their mortality rather than deny it, we would become healthier in mind and in body and appreciate more the sacred quality of life.
That is all. Carry on.