The Methodist Church across the street from my church has a large lighted sign that reads, “It Will All Be OK!” Having been raised a Christian, I know what they mean by that. It’s a reassuring message. Perhaps those who put those words out there even believe it. It is, however, a myopic view and irresponsible besides.
There are two ways of viewing the world we see around us. One way, the Methodist Way, claims that the reality we see is not the ultimate reality of the universe. This view posits a supernatural world where “every little thing is gonna be alright” because the universe operates on a human scale through a deity with human concerns. After death, individuals go to another realm. In this view, eternity will go “there, there” and fix the boo-boos that life dealt each of us.
This is dualism, the classic Western model that splits body from spirit.
The other way of seeing the reality around us claims things are exactly as they appear: we are born; we live a length of time; then we die. This view sees our consciousness as a product of our physical bodies, and our deaths extinguish that consciousness.
This is non-duality.
Accepting non-duality leads to a very different view of what life is all about. If there is no supernatural realm where earth’s shortcomings are righted and no split between the body and “soul,” here, now, is all we get. This is the realm of Humanism where, as author James Baldwin put it, “It seems to me that one ought to rejoice in the fact of death—ought to decide, indeed, to earn one’s death by confronting with passion the conundrum of life.”
Some religions, the Methodist denomination among them, rely on dualism and therefore feel fine about projecting the certainty of that electric sign. This view projects some fairly strict rules onto this life we have. Others views, such as Humanism, merely attempt to clarify what the questions are because, as the British cartoonist Ashleigh Brilliant put it, “Life is the only game in which the object of the game is to learn the rules.”
This view of reality is not always comforting. Here is a certainty for the non-dual: death does, as James Baldwin pointed out, provide us with a fact. And that fact clearly proclaims “earn your death.”
For us, the next question, is “how?”
Earning a death implies a lifetime’s work at improving conditions here, in this world, so that others have the opportunity to earn their deaths and, further, insuring that the planet is habitable for the future.
Two world views. Each of us must choose one. For me, it’s non-duality. Far from distressing, accepting this leads us to confront “with passion the conundrum of life.” Perhaps “it will all be OK.” But only if we make it so.