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!

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Imagine There's No Heaven

I placed this quote from Don Cupitt in Sunday's bulletin as a reflection piece.

It is from his book,
Emptiness and Brightness:

It is the philosopher’s job to question all the things that ordinary people take for granted. And in the last century or two this has often meant having doubts about God in particular. Anyone who has had a vivid and strong conviction of the objective reality of a loving personal God, and then loses it, finds himself or herself suddenly plunged into an equally vivid and strong conviction of being utterly alone in an infinite, cold, empty darkness.

This is the Nihil, the Void, and if one is unprepared for it, it is like being damned or like being severely depressed. When in this state one cannot imagine ever being able to escape from it. But in time most people do escape and find they can congratulate themselves on having learned a few useful lessons.

First, many of most of people’s religious and moral tenets are comfort-beliefs, clung to as a defence against the Void. Such beliefs are defended fiercely: it is a sin even to question them. But any serious interrogation of one’s own basic convictions risks discovering that some of them are just comfort-beliefs and must be got rid of….

....Serious religious thought today risks the Void all the time—so much so that in the end one is sure to be taught the great mystical and Buddhist lesson: it is necessary to make a friend of the Void….

....I contend that in time we can learn to love the Void. We can learn to love the Empty, free-floating, foundationless, outsideless contingency of everything….learn to love life and simply…float. pp. 70-71
I enjoy the writings of Don Cupitt. I have appreciated his willingness to search honestly and take nothing on "faith." For him, "taking it on faith" can be the same as living in denial. He doesn't take any theological belief including God on faith.

My recent post in which I expressed some hunches of my own achieved a good level of energy in the comment section. I tend to think that believing, wishing, or hoping that our consciousness will survive our own deaths is a comfort belief.

I don't think life after death is true. Nor do I find it particularly comforting. Further, I don't think that the message of Christianity has to be or always has been about surviving death. At its best, Christianity is a life philosophy inspiring us to do justice and to live compassionately, joyfully, and hopefully,
this side of the grave.

I also find a belief in life after death oppressive and worrisome. After giving it up, I find life much more liberating. I, like many, was raised in a religious tradition that emphasized life after death and going to heaven and avoiding hell. There were things that one needed to believe in order to get to heaven or be saved. The bodily resurrection of Jesus comes to mind. I remember hearing many an Easter sermon stressing that Jesus did in fact rise from the dead and that one needed to affirm that in order to be a Christian.

Of course there were other requirements as well, such as accepting that Jesus died for my sins. If I didn't accept that doctrine I would die in my sins which meant an eternity of hell. I left that long ago. I am happy to have done so.

I became a Presbyterian as an adult. The Presbyterians have an interesting theory. The theory is that there is nothing anyone can do to make it to heaven as it all has been fixed. God has already elected who will be saved and there is nothing anyone can do about it. Of course the flip side is that God has predestined the non-elect for hell. But not all Presbyterians believe in the flip side.

The idea that it is all fixed is helpful. I kind of like it. With it, there is no need to worry about one's state in the afterlife as you can't do anything about it anyway. What do we do? Live justly, compassionately, joyfully and hopefully in the present. You are free from obsessing about the afterlife, so you can devote energy and time to this one.

Because the weeds of Arminianism (one must do something to be saved) continually taint the crop, many Presbyterians don't understand their own unique philosophy.

I think that letting go of the idea of an afterlife altogether is the logical next step for Presbyterianism. We already have the idea that there is nothing we can do to get there, so giving up the "there" makes perfect sense. It fits with our understanding of our 14 billion year old universe and the evolution of all of life including human beings.

Imagine there's no heaven. It isn't hard to do.

Well, it might be a bit hard at first, especially if we have had it drilled into us and if we still regard it as a comfort belief. But when we let it go, we may discover that this life is a unique experience we will never have again. At death, we will sink into whatever consciousness we had before birth, which of course is no consciousness. It will be done.

But, if you are reading this, it isn't done yet. You have breath today. What will you do with it?