Religion and Death

Religion and Death April 12, 2015

Hemant Mehta drew attention to a statement by Larry King, to the effect that religion is entirely a response to fear of death. Here is the most relevant quote:

I think the only reason for religion is death. If you didn’t die, there’d be no religion.

I have to disagree, since in the case of ancient Israelite religion, we find the two separated – religion without expectation of an afterlife.

And so I think the interesting question is not “Would there be religion if people did not die?” but “Why has religion in the modern era become so focused on death and surviving it, when in the past this was not always the case?”

I’ve shared more of my thoughts on the afterlife in the past, not only here on the blog, but also in my book The Burial of Jesus. Rather than repeat what I have said in the past often, let me say something that I think I may have said before, but perhaps not as explicitly as this.

Some people seem to think that events can only be meaningful if they last forever, or are part of something that lasts forever. But that idea is very problematic, and could be reversed: if something isn’t meaningful when transitory, it cannot become meaningful, no matter how long you extend its duration.

Let me conclude with a link to a webcomic from Zen Pencils using words of Isaac Asimov. Here’s an excerpt:

 

ASIMOV02

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  • Michael Wilson

    Yeah, the idea, while popular, that religion is about our fear of death is unenlightened. You might think so if all you knew of religion is Christianity. Personally though I’m of the mindset that if death erases all then all is meaningless. At the risk of getting to dark, we might say Hitler absolved his sins with the gas chambers since the dead will not remember their mistreatment in life. They and Hitler receive the exact same reward and are absolved from all sin, suffering and delight. And of the Buddha’s quest to escape suffering? Easy, no need for an eight fold path, just suicide. And of the miserable, find joy or end it all. Of course you could fool your self into the belief that it matters, or find meaning in the preasent. Lots of people are perfectly fine in the belief that when they die, existance will effectively end. But I cannot deny death raises serious questions, and so those philosophies that have speculated another life are not just immature.

    • Ian

      > They and Hitler receive the exact same [eternal fate – edit by me]

      Right. Which is why justice is crucially important for us. When “someone will sort it out later” why worry about hitlers at all – they’ll get their just rewards. There is no good reason to bust a gut to serve justice in this life if it is an instant of time fully compensated for by eternity.

      I find an eternity far more nihilistic.

      > Of course you could fool your self into the belief that it matters, or find meaning in the preasent.

      You seem to be assuming that the meaning of our lives is entirely defined by our own experience of it. From that point of self-centredness the rest of your depressing ‘what if’ seems to flow.

      And if that self-centredness is where you start, then I can see that a personal afterlife is probably all that might encourage you to think there’s any purpose in life at all, or any reason to live in a particular way. If you are the only being that matters in the universe, then once you are gone, there is no point to anything. But that strikes me as a deeply depressing philosophy.

      I’m in the group you refer to. I think my personal experience after death with be much the same as my experience before birth. I am no more fearful of either. But I’m nowhere near megalomaniac enough to presume that I am the only being who’s experience matters.

      I would give my life for the benefit of my family, or my species, or my world. In none of those cases would the goodness of the action be increased by thinking I might get a cookie afterwards, or get to sit and watch the good I’ve done. It comes from my understanding that I am not the only being who’s experience matters. I really struggle to see how that makes me either pointless or meaningless.

      So, to the extent that afterlife theologies are based on an extreme kind of narcissism, I think they could be said to be immature.

      • patkelly03

        While your attempt to assign some higher meaning or purpose to existence is an admiral folly into trying to turn reality into something that conforms to human perceptual needs, the fact is reality could care less about what you think or feel or how strongly you think or feel it. Meaning in life, a sense of purpose and the like all exist exclusively within the patterns of human thought and have no more relevance to the reality we were born into than a passage of music played on a piano or a feeling of fatherly love played upon the neurons that give rise to a sense of consciousness. None of it is real except in the realm of fleeting experiences that all add up to nothing more than now I am here but tomorrow I won’t be anywhere.

        • Ian

          > an admiral folly into trying to turn reality into something that conforms to human perceptual needs

          Human perception and experience is part of reality.

          I’ve no idea why you want to pretend that human experience is unreal simply because it isn’t the ultimate purpose or focus of the cosmos.

          You seem to have bought the Christian propaganda that, if something isn’t ultimate and eternal, then it is worthless and pointless.

          I’m human, I care about humanity and human experience. Both are real.

          Reality isn’t a conscious thing that it can ‘care less’ or more about anything. The idea that reality doesn’t care about me is silly. Reality isn’t a thing that it can care. There are things that can care, like me or you or many other things that are both real and care.

          Inventing a god to care is as silly as inventing a ‘Reality’ to not care.

          > Meaning in life, a sense of purpose and the like all exist exclusively within the patterns of human thought

          I agree. So why do you think that isn’t?

          > None of it is real

          All of it is deeply real. I’ve no idea why the behavior and qualia of neurones would suddenly be ‘unreal’.

          • patkelly03

            Ian your reply is way off base since you try and turn your own thoughts into my thoughts. To begin with, I don’t believe in gods, spirits or Santa so you are preaching to the choir. I was simply trying to point out to you that there is a real and tangible difference between the stars in the night sky and the perceptions the human mind experiences when looking out at that sky. The two things are not the same and do not hold the same meaning when defined by terms like “reality.” One is physical in nature and the other is informational in nature. Neither has any known relationship to any form of controlling higher intelligence no matter how much our cognitive processes want to perceive things in terms of their relationship to other things such as trying to assign some sense of “why” to our existence.

            Does it matter that life gives us the power to affect the experience of others? Of course it does. Does that give life meaning and purpose? Perhaps. And do our interactions with others have the potential to amplify and reverberate throughout the whole of humanity like ripples in a pond passing on joy and goodness or pain and suffering to untold others? It seems so. Do we need some entity sitting in judgement of us to give our life meaning? No. We are the ones who control whether others leave us smiling or crying. We don’t need gods to do what we do or leave others with positive or negative memories. All of this happens very nicely within a godless universe. Does any of this really matter? No, if you equate it with the number of browning points on your angelic scorecard. Yes if bringing a smile to another’s face tends to bring one to yours as well.

          • Ian

            I was simply trying to point out to you that there is a real and tangible difference between the stars in the night sky and the perceptions the human mind experiences when looking out at that sky.

            Wow, that was an impressive amount of bombast and derision for something so simple and obvious. What made you think I was unaware of the difference between human experience and stars?

            One is physical in nature and the other is informational in nature.

            I’m so glad I’ve got someone like you to explain the blindingly obvious to me.

            I’m also intrigued why you think these are different meanings of reality. Are you a dualist when it comes to reality? Do you think that information and physical systems are ontologically different? Do you not think that information supervenes on physical properties?

            Does it matter … All of this happens very nicely within a godless universe.

            Who are you talking to here? This is quite surreal, being given a talking to about how I’m wrong by someone who then proceeds to lecture me on things I’m very well aware of, and are a core part of my argument.

            Does any of this really matter? No, if you equate it with the number of browning points on your angelic scorecard.

            Right, if you define it that way then I agree you’d be wrong. Which is why I never even approached defining it that way.

            So remind me, what exactly in my initial comment did you disagree with? In what way did you think I was ‘turning reality into something that conforms to human perceptual needs’?

            I suspect you just assumed you were reading something, and decided to respond to something you invented. Rather than reading carefully what I actually said. And in your enthusiasm to be right, you made a bunch of points that were sloppy and week, so now you’re trying to scurry back onto reasonable ground, where I’ve been all along.

            It’s funny how often people want to double down on their arrogance. But try to gaslight their overreach. A better approach would have been “oh, I misread your original point, sorry”

            So again, what exactly do you think my ‘folly’ was, oh fountain of the obvious?

          • patkelly03

            Boy Ian I seemed to have upset you. Perhaps it would be better if you tried not to take things personally. Everything is not about you or your ego.

          • Ian

            So you’re doing tone criticism now? It’s as if you have no actual decent points, how strange.

            > Everything is not about you

            So you backtracked on your criticism of my point, now you’re suggesting your criticism wasn’t aimed at me at all.

            It’s quite an elabourate game to avoid just saying “Sorry, I didn’t read your original point correctly.”

          • patkelly03

            This may be difficult for anyone with your ego to fathom, but couldn’t it just be possible that if “I didn’t read your original point correctly” it was because you don’t know how to write very well. Perhaps if you take a break from trying to sound super intelligent all the time, you might occasionally meet the grade of at least writing something that sounds intelligent. I’m not sorry I didn’t read your original post correctly. I’m sorry you have yet to learn how to express yourself in writing.

            And while you are so busy trying to showoff your advanced psychoanalysis skills as you purport to figure out exactly what is behind other’s words, perhaps it would benefit you greatly to read over some of your own diatribe while looking in the mirror.

            While I commend you on being able to add two plus two and conclude that reality reasonably and rationally adds up to a godless universe, such a realization doesn’t automatically grant you super-genius status no matter how many savages you see dancing around sacrificial fires.

            I suspect we share many of the same frustrations with the world we were born into. It is indeed a sad state of affair for anyone intelligent enough to realize things could be a whole lot better.

            You are already intelligent Ian and far freer of the societal garbage your less intelligent or otherwise less fortunate fellow humans must shoulder throughout their misguided lives. The fact you are here says you have something to say to them that they badly need to hear. But don’t say it for you. Say it for them.

            In short… grow-up Ian.

          • Ian

            In short… grow-up Ian.

            Ooh, now who seems to be the one who’s riled?

            couldn’t it just be possible that if “I didn’t read your original point correctly

            Very much so, which is why my last but one comment was full of specific questions about why you thought I was making a different point: what exactly did you disagree with, why did you think certain things I didn’t say, what are your views that would lead you to reply in different ways?

            That was the post where you replied telling me it wasn’t about me.

            But I’m still interested, if you actually want to consider the issue. As I understand it, the issue is this: given that we think there is no absolute and universal meaning, on what basis can there be a meaning and point that is non-individualistic. The conflation of those two is where Michael seemed to err, and was the basis of my response.

            But don’t say it for you. Say it for them.

            Ah, so are you primarily here as an evangelist for atheism? That might explain why you’re so focussed on pointing out others’ delusions rather than figuring out the details of the arguments.

            It would also explain your odd response that you don’t believe in Santa, and therefore I’m preaching to the choir, which I thought a strange response to me pointing out the weakness I saw in your argument.

            But if so, that’s not my thing. Drive by evangelism I find unpleasant, regardless of what the person is evangelising. I’m interested in learning, engaging and figuring out things. If that sounds like it might be interesting, then feel free to engage with my questions.

            If not, feel free to find another way to insult me. I’m a big boy. And we’ve clearly both identified that I’m smarter than you 🙂

            the societal garbage your less intelligent

            Ah, is that an “atheists are atheist because they are smarter” thing? You’ll find a lot of theists around here that are much smarter than either of us. Perhaps they’re just ‘less fortunate’ in their ‘misguided lives’. Except, you probably won’t see their intelligence at all, if you can’t get past thinking that everyone who disagrees is ‘delusional’ (look it up in a dictionary, why don’t you ! :D)

            Unfortunately the tendency to see disagreement as a mark of inferior intelligence is very human.

          • patkelly03

            What I was trying to point out to you early on is that the “issue” is a little too abstract to consider at the level you are trying to see it at. Meaning is a mental construct that does not exist in its own right any more than gods or Santas. There is no meaning. Only individual or collective ideas floating around in people’s heads that are purposed in trying to help predict what is going to happen next based upon probabilities drawn from associations. That is quite simply the way our biological computer works. It is at its heart an association machine that is forever comparing data to see if the comparison might reveal some insight into what tomorrow may bring. And if you want to get even more specific the real question the brain is perpetually trying to answer is how can I achieve pleasure and avoid pain.

            Because we are driven to try and understand the “meaning” of our existence does not by default create meaning or give meaning some legitimate place within reality. Once again, meaning is nothing more or less than a mental construct and in that sense exists only within the realm of delusions with all other mental constructs. Call them illusions if you like.

            “Meaning” is just a word. An abstract concept. There is no Davinci Code to existence that can ever put our mind at rest. There is no Nirvana or ultimate wisdom that can ever free us from an endlessly curious and wondering mind. There is no heavenly bliss. There is only truth and ignorance and of the two, only truth has the power to set us free though only just for a fleeting moment.

            You suggested I could be what you termed as an atheist evangelist. I’m not quite sure there is such a thing. The difference is I am not trying to convince others to believe the king has a wonderful new set of clothes. I am trying to convince them to open their own eyes and see for themselves that the king is walking around butt naked. And since that also happens to be true, chances are they will live a freer happier life if for no other reason than that they can once again look at themselves in the mirror and know there is an honest, truthful person looking back at them. For some reason that often puts a smile on one’s face.

            I don’t see disagreement as a form of ignorance. But religion is not a disagreement. It is ignorance in full bloom and in today’s world, generally willful ignorance since people should know better.

          • Ian

            is a little too

            Why do you think it is abstract?

            There is no meaning. Only individual or collective ideas floating around in people’s heads

            This is the rhetorical game that is played by some apologists:

            a) if meaning is subjective and temporal, then it isn’t true meaning

            b) meaning is real

            therefore

            c) it is not true that meaning is subjective

            I assume we agree that (c) isn’t true, so therefore either assumption (a) or (b) must be false (since the syllogism is sound).

            I don’t know if you accept (a), but you seem to be arguing for it several times in this thread.

            That seems to because you’re very happy to deny (b) – you don’t feel the need for meaning to be ‘true’ or ‘real’

            My point is that you can reject the syllogism by rejecting (a) instead of (b). That’s no more abstract, that I can see.

            I can’t detect in your response what you think is wrong with that, except that you seem to want to reject (b) instead. That’s your prerogative, but quite a different point to the one I’m making.

            Agree or not, does that make my point clearer?

            [edit: removed extra verbiage]

            I don’t see disagreement as a form of ignorance. But religion is not a disagreement. It is ignorance

            Was that comment facetious? If not, can you not see the irony?

          • patkelly03

            a) if meaning is subjective and temporal, then it isn’t true meaning

            This statement is illogical because it attempts to imply there is such a thing as true meaning without any rational foundation for such a conclusion.

            b) meaning is real

            This statement is illogical because it attempts to imply meaning is real without any rational foundation for such a conclusion.

            c) it is not true that meaning is subjective

            This statement is false.

            My Terms:

            meaning – something informational in nature

            real – existence within reality

            subjective – cognitive view

            temporal – cognitive process

            Does meaning exist in its own right void of cognitive processes? No.

            “I don’t see disagreement as a form of ignorance. But religion is not a disagreement. It is ignorance.”

            I don’t see any irony. Arguing something exists without any tangible connection to reality does not rise to the level of a disagreement. While we can disagree about which hat is bigger this is OK because both hats exist. One of us is likely wrong about the size of the hats unless they both turn out to be the same size but this too is OK because in the end the size of the hats can be rationally and scientifically established.

            Does religion exist in its own right void of cognitive processes? No.

            Can we disagree about the existence of gods? Only at the level where one side is arguing the world is flat and the other is arguing it is round. One would hardly look at that as a disagreement since the flat world person obviously needs to get out more so he can become less ignorant. And when the flat world person rejects all the evidence that shows how and why he came to wrongly see the world as flat and still insists the world is flat, I would not qualify his view as part of a disagreement. He would have long since crossed the line into ignorance and indeed willful ignorance. Ignorance does not rise to the level of a disagreement and exists in its own right as ignorance.

          • Ian

            This statement is illogical because it attempts to imply there is such a thing as true meaning

            That was informality on my part. Formally, the implication is

            a) If subjective(X) then not meaning(X)
            b) meaning(X)
            therefore
            c) not subjective(X)

            which assumes only that meaning and subjectivity are predicates with a valid referent.

            meaning is real

            This statement is illogical because it attempts to imply meaning is real

            In what way does it ‘attempt to imply’ that – it treats it as an axiom. Do you understand what a syllogism is?

            It certainly assumes that reality is a thing (which I expected to be your problem, though in your definition, you don’t seem worried about that). And assumes that meaning is a thing (which you seem to have a problem with, at least chasing through the consequences of your definitions, though you’ve also used the word before without qualification).

            b) meaning is real

            This statement is illogical because it attempts to imply meaning is real without any rational foundation for such a conclusion.

            My Terms:

            meaning – something informational in nature

            real – existence within reality

            So things ‘informational in nature’ having ‘existence within reality’ is ‘illogical? I don’t understand how your terms are consistent, given that you made the claim earlier that mental phenomena are informational in nature.

            temporal – cognitive process

            That’s your definition of temporal? That’s very odd. Do you mean all cognitive processes are temporal (which would beg the question, of course), all temporal things are cognitive processes, or that the two are identical?

            It’s going to be tough to make progress I think if you’re defining stuff in this kind of way.

            Does meaning exist in its own right void of cognitive processes? No

            I do think you’re missing something, since you making statements again like that as if they’re not the conclusion of both breakdowns of the syllogism.

            I guess it might be useful for you to describe your metaphysics. You do seem to have this dualism about ‘cognitive processes’ (such that they define temporality?) so can you say whether you think cognition supervenes on physical (non-cognitive – and therefore atemporal in your definition?) processes (can there be a process atemporally?)

            I’m afraid I don’t understand the distinctions you’re making.

        • Cecil Bagpuss

          Pat, that was a compelling depiction of the nihilistic potential of atheism. As you point out, our sense of meaning may exist only as fleeting patterns of neural activity. In fact, this view of things may be overly optimistic. Here is a quote from the Wikipedia entry on eliminative materialism:

          Eliminative materialism is the relatively new (1960s-70s) idea that certain classes of mental entities that common sense takes for granted, such as beliefs, desires, and the subjective sensation of pain, do not exist.

          If the alternative is an admirable folly, I think I’ll take it.

          • patkelly03

            The purported nihilistic potential of atheism is a fallacy born out of a delusional view of those susceptible to delusional views. It is premised upon a totally unsupported supposition that the human animal if left to its own devices without the hand of gods would start eating its own young. In fact, the true nature of humanity tells us that what humanity would do without gods is exactly what humanity is doing today. That includes both good and bad or in more technical terms both what is good for the group and what is bad for the group.

            Needless to say, humanity does not need gods to be genetically driven to protect our young any more than we need gods to want to do what we can to lessen other’s pain. We are social animals and as such carry inside us many traits that moves us to things like love. Such goodness does not come from gods but rather from millions of years of evolutionary development that we just happened to be born into.

            We are what we are and none of us has the power to take it or leave it. In that sense there are no alternatives and it doesn’t matter what we believe. Life will have its way with us and for all practical purposes we are only along for the ride.

          • Cecil Bagpuss

            None of it [meaning, purpose] is real except in the realm of fleeting experiences that all add up to nothing more than now I am here but tomorrow I won’t be anywhere.

            That seemed rather nihilistic to me, but I concede that my interpretation may have been the result of a “delusional” state.

          • patkelly03

            Everything you perceive yourself to be is the result of a delusional state. I’m on pins and needles waiting for you to try and explain how that isn’t true.

          • Nick G

            It’s quite difficult to find anyone who’s a consistent eliminative materialist! Those mentioned in the wikipedia article, and in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophyseem all to focus on some subset of “folk psychology” mental predicates and argue that they won’t find a place in a coherent scientific psychology. Even if true, this would not establish that they don’t exist: as the Stanford article notes:

            we do not doubt the existence of several sorts of things (e.g., chairs, articles of clothing) that are defined in ways that make them ill-suited for science

            .

          • Cecil Bagpuss

            My definition of an eliminative materialist:

            Someone who believes there are no such things as beliefs.

          • patkelly03

            And how would you define someone who believes their beliefs have the power to remake reality into something that mirrors their beliefs? Try looking up the word “delusional”.

          • Cecil Bagpuss

            Pat, I decided to take your advice and look up “delusional” in the dictionary. It seems that delusional beliefs are a sub-set of mistaken beliefs. We won’t need to concern ourselves with the characteristics that distinguish delusional beliefs from other mistaken beliefs in what follows. We can say in general that illusions and delusions occur when our perceptions or beliefs fail to match reality in some way: there is a difference between the way things seem and the way things are. For example, horizontal lines that are superimposed on a pattern of radiating lines will seem to be curved when they are in fact straight.

            With this distinction in mind, we can return to our conversation about eliminative materialism. If I believe that we are being visited by aliens, you might say that I am deluded. My belief fails to match reality. But what if we go further; what if we say that my sense that I actually have the belief that we are being visited by aliens is itself a delusion? That would be strange wouldn’t it? If it seems to me that I have that belief, then surely I do have that belief.

            Can you help me out here, Pat?

          • patkelly03

            There are two elements here. One is reality and the other is the perception of reality. You can break the perception down into two further categories. One is a more accurate perception of reality and the other is a less accurate perception of reality. For obvious reasons of needing to interact with reality, it is preferable to strive for a more accurate as opposed to a more delusional view.

            In any event, a perception can never rise above just being a perception. What you believe is irrelevant and without any value whatsoever except perhaps within the level of its accuracy in perceiving reality. You can call a green sock red all you want but it will always be green.

            All perception falls short of accurately capturing the true fidelity of reality so in that sense all perception is to one degree or another a delusion or as the dictionary told you, a mistaken or inaccurate view. All your beliefs consist of inaccurate perceptions once again to one degree or another and therefore no belief can rise above some level of inaccuracy. Though this is technically true, it does not rule out the fact that one belief can be more accurate than another. For example:

            You claim what you term as a god or gods exist.

            I claim your claim is false and since you are unable to support your claim with anything connected to reality and since I can more or less fully account for where your claim first originated, my claim your claim is false is more valid or accurate than your claim gods exist.

            In short, your imagination gives you the power to believe whatever you want with as much associated feelings as you like. But you do not have the power to turn your beliefs into reality. It just doesn’t work that way.

            When you pray and believe your prayer is being heard you do yourself a disservice by allowing a delusional view to move even further from an accurate depiction of reality. For example, when you advance your delusional view to the next logical step away from reality you might begin to hear voices and think the mythical god is starting to talk back to you because you are chosen and special. When delusional thinking gets to that level of extreme we usually try and assist you by bringing you back to or closer to reality with the help of drugs or other means to reconnect you to the real world.

            Life isn’t about believing what you want. It’s about learning to exist the best way you can within the reality into which you were born. We call that honesty and recognize the intrinsic value in trying to keep one’s view of reality as accurate as humanly possible. In that sense, faith is and always will be a bad thing.

            Once again, you can believe whatever you want. But in the final analysis of trying to associate some value to your beliefs, the ones closest to reality have the most value. We tend to label such things as truths.

          • Cecil Bagpuss

            I think we agree that, contrary to the eliminative materialists, there is no need to discard the language of mental entities such as beliefs.

            I wouldn’t say that beliefs are irrelevant to perceptions. Whether or not you believe in advance that there is a dalmatian in the picture can certainly influence your perception.

          • patkelly03

            You make an interesting point by saying “there is no need to discard the language of mental entities such as beliefs.”

            However, it almost sounds like you are trying to breath life into your beliefs as if they are in and of themselves “mental entities.” That of course is not correct and it makes me wonder why you appear to be trying to suggest your beliefs are somehow more important than they are.

            A belief is just an idea. It is fluid and ever changing. Things you believe today, others will laugh at tomorrow just as we find it hard to fathom how past generations could have been so stupid to believe in witches, etc.

            There is nothing sacred in anyone’s beliefs. They are just ideas and as such everyone has a responsibility to themselves and others to continually scrutinize what they think they believe at any given moment to make sure it mirrors truth and reality. In this regard, faith is the evil in beliefs because it proposes to say it is OK to stop questioning. OK to close your eyes. OK to live in a pretend world made up of fairies, good and evil spirits, mythical gods and so on. Very wrong and a very bad idea for anyone who places any value in honesty and integrity. You simply cannot have it both ways and claim to be both honest and faithful. That’s like saying you are an honest thief.

            It is ultimately your decision regarding what you chose to believe. But once again it is not your belief that holds any importance. It is the real world that will have its way with you no matter what you decide to believe. My advice to you and anyone else who denies the rational mind they were born with because they have deluded themselves into thinking it feels good to have some kind of loving big daddy in the sky is GET REAL!

            I will tell you from personal experience that the real world is not such a bad place and far more preferable to live in than one founded in make-believe. It feels good to be honest, even when the rest of the group is chanting and banging their heads against religious symbols trying oh so hard to keep reality from seeping in.

          • charlesburchfield

            cecil bagpuss I love your name! I’ve heard that dickens collected names or made them up for his novels. I think he would have gotten joy over yours!

          • Cecil Bagpuss

            Thank you, Charles!

          • Charles, if you’ve never experienced it before, you need to visit the wonderful world of Baguss. At 39 years 11 months old, I’m not ashamed to say I’ve asked for the DVD for my 40th!

            https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=t9beAp3TG2E

          • charlesburchfield

            thx 4 that! I watched it & it was delightful!

      • charlesburchfield

        I think it comes down to being in a love relationship. Every day when I get out of the house and encounter ppl on the bus, for instance, I am aware that I carry a friendly spirit w/in who wants to know these ppl bc loving them is the most important thing in this expanding reality of the new moment that may be infinatly unfolding. I’m so glad i’ve got a ticket to ride! I’m not just a day tripper!

        • Ian

          I generally agree. Though I’m unwilling to imagine the existence of other things to explain this (things like ‘friendly spirits one could carry with one’, or ‘expanding realities of the new moment’). I think human experience is difficult to express in ways that evoke the experience in ourselves, and even harder to express in ways that evoke the feeling in others. So we end up in artistic or literary or mythic language quite often.

          I’m very happy with that. I find artistic expression very evocative of the things I value about my experience. But I think such expressions are often confused with reality, or with things that are external to people (i.e. how things really are, rather than just how we feel about them), and that I think isn’t helpful.

          So yes, I agree, but I’d never use the same kind of words to express that feeling.

          • charlesburchfield

            yes! iI think when jesus said something abt the ‘kingdom w/in’ it was a way of divulging the hidden order of the reality of love, joy & peace: a universe where feelings are alive and combine perfectly w every thing else abt living this existance. So it may be a case of both/and. A clean conscience and willingness to have an open mind rather than clinginging tightly to ones fearbased control fantasy is the ticket to ride on this magical mystery tour perhaps!

    • What a bizarre notion. The lack of an afterlife renders everything meaningless?

      That’s a truly unenlightened idea.

  • Mo Kip

    Pseudo-Solomon upset the apple cart on notions of afterlife, contra his earlier Hebrew wisdom writers. Without afterlife, religion was about pleasing God(s) in order to make as much of life as possible (longevity, reputation, children, etc) while you had it. He took Platonic/Greek ideas of dualistic soul-body, pre-existent immortal soul, and fused it to the Judaic religion, transforming the possibilities for the righteous (but not the wicked…immortality was not, at that point, a matter of nature but was a gift). It is not coincidental that this idea flourished and developed within the following century among the jewish community who became Christians. Paul would take it even further re: resurrection. An argument could be made that death certainly did play a key role in religion even before a belief in immortality, but it was about using religion to stack the deck as much in your favor on this side of the grave as possible. Same catalyst, different period of gratification. It’s a fascinating topic.

  • Gary

    I don’t think I want to spend too much time contemplating what Larry King says or believes. From Wiki:
    “Freda Miller
    (1952–1953; annulled)
    Annette Kaye
    (1961; divorced)
    Alene Akins
    (1961–1963; divorced)
    Mickey Stuphin
    (1963–1967; divorced)
    Alene Akins
    (1967–1972; divorced)
    Sharon Lepore
    (1976–1983; divorced)
    Julie Alexander
    (1989–1992; divorced)
    Shawn Southwick
    (1997–present)”
    Anyone that made that many mistakes in marriage must be permanently stuck in a junior high school mentality. Larry won’t ever die, because he is perpetually 15 years old.

    • Nick G

      This would seem to be that rare thing, a pure ad hominem argument!

      • Gary

        Just a data sort, based upon quality of data.

  • No, I don’t think that all religion is obsessed with an afterlife. But a good case can be made that the belief in an afterlife is a huge factor in the rise of Christianity in the first place.

    • Gary

      I often wonder if the Romans had not destroyed the temple (and redefined Jewish worship), if Christianity would have developed beyond a small cult. Makes “Roman” Catholic into a significant point in history. Pivotal is “afterlife”.

      • Andrew Dowling

        Christianity had actually spread quite far prior to the fall of Jerusalem, although the Jewish-Roman war certainly helped its spread. That there was already a large Christian community in Rome (pretty far from Galilee in Judea) by the 50s is impressive.

        • Gary

          Wonder what percentage was Jewish versus what might be considered followers of Jesus in Rome, in the 50’s. Seems like the data is pretty limited, and maybe questionable. Or followers of Jesus, thinking Jesus was a good guy, but not a God. Or gnostics. The whole question of what was a follower of Jesus in Rome in the 50’s is a problem, I think. Wonder what reference sources you have on it?

          • Andrew Dowling

            Our primary source is Paul’s letter to the Romans, which most scholars date to the 50s, which presupposes a Christian community there that had been in existence for some time.

  • Andy Hardy

    The more fundamental motivation for religion is the pleasing, or appeasing, of divinities in order to curry favor or avoid punishment, which is no more high minded than anything else in human experience. Any god that needs that from us is rather undeserving of a quid pro quo relationship.

    • Andrew Dowling

      There’s actually lots of religions which aren’t about currying divine favor to avoid punishment.

  • ccws

    That’s the value & promise of progressive Christianity – to bring the “Kingdom of Heaven” proclaimed by Jesus of Nazareth back into the world of the living, where it belongs. Do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly, and any afterlife will take care of itself. (Yes, I said the same thing on Facebook. So sue me. [grin])

  • Kay Ojen

    Death? I have my druthers but would rather not think about it. It’s nice to think that all the bad guys are gonna get theirs, tho. In the mean time…if I might, there is an album, anonymous, on itunes where you can buy some music for 2 bucks. the money goes to nuns in Mexico who take care of poor kids. Do the Christian thing and support ” For the Good Sisters and the children” on itunes and amazon. thanks and sorry for taking your time.

  • Nick G

    I have to disagree, since in the case of ancient Israelite religion, we
    find the two separated – religion without expectation of an afterlife.

    I don’t think that refutes King’s view (not that I necessarily agree with the latter), because it could still be the case that followers of such a religion find it comforting because it makes them “part of something that lasts forever”.

  • R Vogel

    I think you make a mistake by thinking that the fear of death is only assuaged by the myth of an afterlife. It is certainly one way, but a rather crude one. I think Richard Beck does a pretty good job discussing the role of religion as an immortality project vis a vis Ernest Becker’s work. You don’t have to be eternal, but you have to believe or at least act like your immortality project will be. Religion is certainly not the only immortality project either.

    Larry may be right, but he doesn’t go far enough. The fact of dying in and of itself is not the problem. Animals die but don’t, as far as we know, invent religion. The problem is our knowledge of death, which I would rather term ‘non-existence.’ The idea that this concept of ‘self’ that we have spent a lifetime constructing inexorably and, to make matters worse, often unexpectedly, is destined for non-existence is terrifying and demoralizing. The only salve is the hope that a part of us somehow continues; in our work, our families, our contributions, in our G*d…

    • The idea of my nonexistence is not terrorizing or demoralizing to me. I have already not existed for all of time prior to my birth. My nonexistence after my death is no more terrifying than that before my birth.

      The present can be a wonderful place to live.

      • R Vogel

        We could argue over that, but I am not sure it would be fruitful. unless alcohol was involved. :p

        I don’ think fear of nonexistence would not bar one from living in the present. It all depends on where you locate meaning. In some instances I think it would actually strengthen the desire to live in the present. If I understand the theory, the drive for meaning is fueled by repressed death anxiety, so it is not all negative. Just like many things it has health and unhealthy manifestations. Much religion, I would propose, is an unhealthy manifestation, along with things like nationalism, racism, tribalism, etc. I say ‘much,’ not all just to be clear.

        • I did say the present “can be” wonderful; I would never ignore the suffering that exists in the world.

          But I do think that working to improve each other’s lives now (as opposed to preparing each other for an afterlife that is determined by decisions we make now) is a value that can bring consensus, regardless of whether or not we fear death. I was mainly pointing out that, contrary to your experience, I don’t find the prospect of non-existence “terrifying and demoralizing”. I recognize that some may.

          • R Vogel

            ‘I did say the present “can be” wonderful; I would never ignore the suffering that exists in the world.’

            If I implied you indicated anything more than, I apologize. I was simply trying to make the point that living in the present and fear of death are not necessarily mutually exclusive.

            ‘But I do think that working to improve each other’s lives now (as opposed to preparing each other for an afterlife that is determined by decisions we make now) is a value that can bring consensus, regardless of whether or not we fear death.’

            Can a value bring consensus, or does consensus create a value? That for me is the operative question. I am currently largely sympathetic to the view that consensus (i.e. culture) creates values.

            ‘I was mainly pointing out that, contrary to your experience, I don’t find the prospect of non-existence “terrifying and demoralizing”. I recognize that some may.’

            I don’t want to overplay the hand here. By fear of death I don’t want to conjure up people trembling in a corner, but something more subtle. If you are familiar with the ideas of denial and repression, I believe it is thought to act more on this level. Experiments done in Terror Management Theory (TMT) which I understand is based on much of this framework, have confirmed that when people are reminded of death it impacts their behavior in some predictable ways. It is interesting stuff.

            I am probably not the best to explain it all, but my original point being that a belief in an afterlife is only one kind of manifestation of fear of death, and that religion could still be a product of that, even one which does not have an belief in an afterlife.

          • No argument from me on any of those points, and I agree with you about the ordering of values and consensus. With a bit more thought I might have more correctly stated:

            Working to improve each other’s lives now is a value [shared by] a consensus of society, regardless of whether or not we fear death.

    • charlesburchfield

      what part of one continues & is significant to anyone after one dies? i think one has the least amout of control over that!

      • R Vogel

        I agree. In fact I think we have no control over it. But like many things we can intellectually assent to that but still live as if it were true. Most people, for instance, will profess reject the notion that things can make them happy, yet if you look at their live you would probably come to a different conclusion, yeah?

        • charlesburchfield

          I often think other ppl are happier than I am w their lives bc of what they have, who they are related to, how intelligent, gifted, young (but not too young!), handsom, where they live etc. & I wish I was them! I think it is an illusion, one can literally seem to buy into, that there is an eternal state of bliss where one loses none of the things one had & the church seems to be selling this assurance for ten percent of one’s income. I think the temptation to believe in these contigencies exacts an extream amount of anxiety that can potentielly keep one living in fear all of one’s life! That’s why I thank god I am a marginalized, mentally ill, grateful alcoholic old f**k! I often feel as if I have either just won the lottery or had an abortion.

          • R Vogel

            ‘the church seems to be selling this assurance for ten percent of one’s income’

            Great line!

            We are a curious animal, are we not? I think you have hit the proverbial nail on the head! It takes more than intellectual assent to free ourselves from big other. Sometimes I think the brain evolved simply in order to generate rationalizations for why our actions don’t seem to align with what we profess!

          • charlesburchfield

            yikes! i think i got a clue from kubbler-ross’ work on death, grief & loss; specific stages one goes thru that do seem to be evolving towards freedom to experience life on lifes terms rather than one’s defense patterns.

          • R Vogel

            Interesting that the process of death may be the apt metaphor given the Cross stands at the center of Christianity. I think Richard Beck, and someone like Peter Rolling (and perhaps Saul of Tarsus) would say this is not a coincidence.

          • charlesburchfield

            quite true! I think more will be revealed if one is willing to persue this line of inquirey and also simultaneously inventory ones losses, go thru the grief process & connect w a community that supports one in transition. The road to recovery for me, at least, is yielding a modicom of empathy & discernment for others who are suffering what I have gone thru. I think the pure gold of encouragement is a healing to both giver & reciever.