Sunday, March 27, 2011

All That Lives....Is Born to Die!

NOTE:: This weeks entry is a continuation of "One World...One God...and the Same Sheet of Music" posted on March 20,2011

Billions of people around the world identify themselves with a particular brand of religion. Some are more devout than others,and some,although they do not actively practice a religion, still relate to the brand that they were subjected to at some point in their lives. It's not uncommon to hear someone say they haven't stepped into a church,mosque,or synagogue in years but yet still consider themselves Christian,Muslim,or Jewish. I personally went through a phase in the early 2000's where I described myself as a non-practicing Christian. I still believed....I just did not go to church any longer.

Last week's "One World...One God...and the Same Sheet of Music" explained how the world's religions make completely incompatible claims about life and death, and how its actually taboo to notice these differences. I concluded the entry by offering a bottom line to why people feel the need to keep religion in their lives:

People need a mental insurance policy on what happens after death.

You don't have to be religious to fall into this category. There are presently over 6 billion people on this earth and every single one of us will one day die. Everything that is currently alive will one day die.  Trees,plants,fish,insects,birds,mammals, name it. Death is coming. You and I will one day venture into the great unknown. And with the unknowing,and uncertainty of this appointment brings fear. Mankind is so scared of the unknown (death) that he is willing to make up any feel good story he can and cling to it for dear life to help deal with this reality.

Enter, if you will, Bibles,and Korans,and Hindu texts,and Buddhists texts,and everything in between past,present and future making genuinely incompatible claims about the realities of death and even the afterlife.
Heaven,Hell,Purgatory,Limbo, or Reincarnation. It's all there for the believing. But no believer can offer any evidence to support their claims about the realities of an afterlife. Again, believers of the world will agree to disagree and play a tune looking at completely different sheet music.

   "Many religions...teach the objectively implausible but subjectively appealing doctrine that our personalities survive our bodily death. The idea of immortality itself survives and spreads because it caters to wishful thinking. And wishful thinking counts,because human psychology has a near-universal tendency to let belief be coloured by desire"
---Prof. Richard Dawkins author "The God Delusion"

Christian beliefs about  life after death are no more supported by evidence than any other religious or non religious beliefs on what happens after death. Believers in Christ have many references in their Bible concerning individuals being raised from the dead. Jesus,according to the New Testament, raised three people from the dead. The most famous of these accounts was a guy named Lazarus. In the book of John chapter 11,we read the story of Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead. Lazarus was the brother of two women named Martha and Mary of Bethany,but unlike Martha and Mary,nothing specific is known about their brother Lazarus. To keep this story short: (I suggest you read John chapter 11) Lazarus has been dead for 4 days when Jesus shows up to perform one of his greatest "miracles": Resurrection! Lets pay close attention to the very end of the story.....John 11:43 &44
      43.And when he[Jesus] thus had spoken,he cried with a loud voice, "Lazarus,come forth."
      44.And he that was dead came forth,bound hand and foot with grave clothes:and his face was bound about with a napkin.Jesus saith unto them,"Loose him,and let him go"

Now personally I don't believe this story,I consider the Bible 90% fiction but I shouldn't dwell on that too much for that's a future blog in itself. But supposed you do account for Jesus' many miracles. Millions of people do. Imagine if you would, that this story is 100% accurate. What's most troubling about this story is that not one word is ever uttered or even recorded into history from the lips of Lazarus. Only John chapter 11 and 12 even refer to Lazarus: ALL other history is silent. Not one word nor any of his post death experiences are ever recorded! Where are the scores of theologians flocking to this man that spent four days dead? Shouldn't there at least been one book written in the Bible named after Lazarus to tell of his life's story? Lazarus would have been without a doubt the best testimony ever for the sake of Christianity and the teachings of Christ,but he just simply disappeared into obscurity. Where did he go? On vacation? Perhaps fishing? Was he seen later that night in a pub drinking a cold one and telling stories of the dead? Here's the perfect opportunity to learn a little something about what happens when you die...from a man that was in fact dead....but nothing....crickets chirping! Am I the only one that finds this bizarre?

I have attended many funerals over the years. Grandparents,aunts,uncles,friends and coworkers. I have never really completely focused on the words being used during those eulogies until a couple years ago. A coworker of mine died while he was on vacation in Asia. When I attended his funeral the pastor of his church so confidently declared "Today my friends,Danny is dancing on the streets of gold." That's all I remember him saying. My mind went into a severe deep thought after he uttered those words. What an absolute bold and confident claim to make. The trouble is, extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence to back the claims. This business of streets of gold,and walls made of jasper,and mansions a glistening,and pearly gates will not be at my funeral. Nor will any claim that is not reality based as far as human understanding is concerned. Danny dancing the streets of gold?! Hmmmm How does preacher man know this? It could have easily been cocktail hour in Heaven....

My brother,Lee Weaver, has been in the funeral business for 15 years.He hears a wide variety of funeral sermons and bold claims of the afterlife. I recently asked him a few questions concerning being in the business of grief,including the big questions concerning what happens when you die.

"Well you dummy,you quit breathing and your heart stops!" Ah, the brotherly love...All jokes aside Lee informs that funeral directors are discouraged to say things like "It will be OK" or "He's in a much better place"

"When someone dies.a lot of emotions overtake families. Sadness,anger,fear,and sometimes relief believe it or not"

"We are in the business of grief. We handle it our own way and the best we can. We can not assure them their loved one has gone to a better place. Yet, We can cater to their belief system,whether we agree with it or not. Simply because its makes the funeral experience a better one"

Funerals are never easy to experience on any level. When emotions overrun a grieving family it becomes plain to see why bold claims such as streets of gold,chatting with Jesus,seeing others gone on before them,or no desire to return to earth are very comforting. I however, feel it just masks reality and it becomes awfully hard to admit in our most hour of need and grief that we are simply left with one of life's biggest mysteries in dealing with what happens when we die. So we seek anything and everything that will comfort us,whether its reality based or not.

Matt Dillahunty,host of "The Atheist Experience" in Austin,Texas gives his take on the mysteries of God and death after he experienced a Catholic themed funeral.
    "If you're Catholic, I have a special task for you. Count the number times that the word mystery is used. Just do it. Because that to me was overwhelming.-----Oh the great mystery of this,and the great mystery of this,and God and your infinite mystery,and your mystery and your mystery and you're sooooooo mysterious!------Well, Congratulations! You basically just said....We don't have a clue what's going on!"
He adds "You can't solve a mystery with a mystery"

The truth is no one knows what happens when you die. No one! Not the Pope,Mother Teresa,the Dalai Lama,Billy Graham,your youth minister,or any scientist(yet). One scene from the movie "Religulous" with Bill Maher sums it up nicely:

       "And anyone who tells you they know,they just know what happens when you die....I promise you they don't.How can I be so sure? Because I don't know and you do not process mental powers that I do not. The only appropriate attitude for man to have about the big questions, Is not the arrogant certitude that is the hallmark of religion,but doubt! Doubt is humble, and that's what man needs to be considering that human history is just a litany of getting shit DEAD WRONG!"---Bill Maher

In a recent debate over what happens when we die that aired on the Jewish TV Network,best selling author Sam Harris pointed out a very startling statistic: 9 million children,every year,die before they reach the age of 5. Year after year after year. That's like an Asian style tsunami of 2004 every ten days.
In the past ten years this world has lost 90 million children 5 and under. The world in which we live is cruel,vicious and uncaring when it comes to respect of death. It becomes pretty obvious to why the belief in the afterlife is so strong. It just simply helps us deal with the stark realities of life and natural selection. Every generation dies at the same rate. Some die at the age of 90...some at the age of 3.

This conclusion is my personal view of what happens when we die. I do not subscribe to any religious beliefs or to any gods on offer. I do not believe in heavens,hells,purgatory,or reincarnations. Once we die, we will simply go right back into a state of nothingness as it were before we were ever born. One day I will go into a state of non existence. It's not easy to imagine is it?

Consider the deer. The next time you are driving down the highway and notice a deer lying on the side of the road;Consider his/her fate. That deer was hit by a vehicle causing it to die. Once struck,the heart will stop beating,the blood stops flowing through the body,lungs stop functioning,the brain will shut down and the conscience will cease and the poor deer will simply fade away. No one ever considers all the other living organisms on earth that die. I've never heard of an afterlife for the chicken that I ate last week. The pet goldfish you lost recently isn't swimming in a lake in heaven. The plant that withered due to lack of water is not being ushered off by angels into the great garden in the sky.
So why are we,the human race, any different from the natural laws of the world?

When I imagine my death,sometimes I will literally stop what I'm doing and take a long pause. It can be scary. The great unknown can be a fearful proposition. It's human nature to fear the unknowing.But life is too short to dwell on the depressing. I am extremely lucky to ever been born at all. I love life and try to live it to the fullest. I would even challenge the believer and suggest I love life more than them. This is the only life I get and Ive been very lucky to be healthy and to be in the best possible position to make the best of it.

The human species is the most intelligent species living on this planet,but it comes with a great and fearful reality:

We know we are going to die.....

A special "Thank You" to Lee Weaver for the many suggestions and thoughts during the research and writng of this entry. Good luck with the "Day in the Life of Death!"

Liberty Study Bible (KJV)
"The God Delusion" by Prof. Richard Dawkins
Matt Dillahunty; host of the Atheist Experience
"Religulous" starring Bill Maher

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