When a leading Southern Baptist blogs on the passing of a notable Unitarian Universalist, it makes for an interesting contrast.
Forrest Church, who died on September 24 at the age of 61, was Senior Minister of All Souls Church in New York City for thirty years. He was the author of more than twenty books, and co-authored A Chosen Faith, which is on the shelf of every Unitarian Universalist in the country, or so it seems. His next-to-last book was titled Love & Death, written after he knew he was dying from cancer.
Church’s message was the only thing that can be said with certainty about death: we will die, but our love remains. He said “if religion is our human response to being alive and having to die, the purpose of life is to live in such as way that our lives will prove worth dying for.”
Al Mohler is President of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky, the leading seminary of the Southern Baptist Convention. He is a fundamentalist and a Calvinist, but he is also very intelligent and articulate. That someone in his position noticed the passing of a UU minister is a testament to Rev. Church’s stature.
Not surprisingly, Mohler finds Church’s ideas lacking. Mohler says “Without the resurrection of Christ, there is no hope for us after death” and “The Christian hope is essentially grounded in the physical resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. Without life after death, love after death will not matter. No resurrection — no hope.” I’m not exactly sure what that says about his opinion of this world he believes his god made, but it can’t be good.
So here we have quite a contrast: the Unitarian who, finding insufficient evidence for life after death, comes to terms with his own mortality; and the Baptist who, holding fast to the literal interpretation of the Christian myth, insists that if this life is all there is we have “no hope.”
I agree with Rev. Church that there is love after death – we live on in the love we leave behind. We live on in our physical and spiritual descendants. We live on in the deeds we do – the good and the not-so-good. And we live on in that our bodies will be returned to the Earth and our elements recycled into future living things. These things are clearly true. And if it turns out they’re all that’s true, I’m OK with that.
But I also believe our souls – the essence of who we are – live on after death. There is evidence (though not proof) for this: near death experiences, past life memories, communication from the dead. There are the beliefs and practices of cultures across the world from the time we became human (and maybe before) through today. But mainly, I believe it because my heart tells me it’s true – there is more to Life than the material world, and our spirits are more than the interaction of the chemicals in our brains.
I may be wrong. But this is what I believe, so I do the only thing that allows me to live with integrity – I order my life as though it is all entirely true. I speak with (and listen to) my gods and goddesses. I honor my ancestors (of blood and of spirit). And I do my best to care for the Earth, because it’s the right thing to do, but also because I want it to be in good shape when I live again.
But regardless of what comes after death, Forrest Church was right about one thing – love lives on.