Religion and death
THE CONTEMPLATION OF A SKULL

The following is a meditation taken from the end of my book in which I am grappling with the fear that my conclusions about the existence and reality of God are mere “rationalizations.” This scene takes place in the presence of the ashes of my beloved brother:

I think of myself as someone who now believes in God. I am slowly starting to feel and see things differently.

For example, there is a philosopher (I still wince at the pretension of calling myself a philosopher), Alain de Botton, who has just written a book called Religion for Atheists (2012) in which he takes the position that we should bring back the ritual and music and other trappings of religion, but without the God part because he “assumes that none of his educated readers could possibly believe in spooky ghosts in the sky.” I thought to myself, speaking of spooky, this notion that we should adopt the accoutrements of a dead God reminds me of the anatomist Dr. Gunther von Hagens, the creator and promoter of “Body Worlds,” who uses a plastic method to make cadavers look alive. I never used to be offended by stuff like this, but I now find both projects utterly objectionable or juvenile or both.

It is if they are both scooping out the spirit that contains the life, and celebrating the body; and this is something that now bothers me about Christianity: its focus on the body—the body and blood of Christ, the body of my aunt whose spirit had long departed her, and, yes, even the body of a two-month-old fetus, whose spirit exists within the mother. Nevertheless, it is the ritual of baptism that moves me towards my Christianity, just as John the Baptist moved Jesus. Baptism represents my Christian commitment to and total immersion into the new world order. This all gets me back to my brother’s ashes on the desk and whether my rationalizing has really changed anything for me.

Obviously I have also spent a great deal of time imagining what it would have been like living as one of the prehuman species. We must realize that studying the prehistory of primitive human hunter-gatherer tribes offers no insights for us in conceiving what prehuman inner life was like because Homo sapiens were burdened with the mixed blessing of an individual ego and self-awareness from their inception two hundred thousand years ago. Prehumans had no such awareness of themselves as individuals, but existed as a single collective consciousness. They spent every moment of their lives seeking from one another that which was for the good of all of them, and not just their own group but the groups all around them in which they had blood relatives. They would not fear death as we do because their awareness of their own life was indistinguishable from the life that would continue living. Surely a wife or husband would mourn the loss of the other, but the children and the relatives would all remain part of the same single living organism which was the same as in all other groups.

Inherent to my mythos is that the single consciousness in which our ancestors dwelled for six million years remains the core of who we feel ourselves to be, and indeed is the very source from which we are aware of ourselves—aware of that singularly conscious human part of us that strives to be loved and admired—to play games and seek power—and, in the process, awakens the fear and trembling of emotions created in us by a God who, in this way, continues to nudge us in the right direction—toward the abatement of these awakened sentiments.

It is common for the modern mentality to rely on the conscious memories of the deceased person as the element that lives on in others. However, as I go on with my life, I feel the discreetness of the memories I retain of my brother fading, melding all together and sinking into me. But then, sometimes surprising at moments, I find myself experiencing him, or, more precisely, I suddenly feel the vibrant life that existed in our relationship when we were together as we daily talked. That is the life that I feel still lives on within me, or, perhaps, it’s outside of me.

2 Comments on “Okay, So God created me. So What? —#3: Death (see categories for other “God’s Meaning” posts)”

  1. Beautifully stated testament, John. Very wise and moving. I am sure you are correct, and in the first wave of a new understanding that will grow as the years pass. We do not yet know how to be human and slowly are learning.

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