Monday, January 10, 2011

Part III: Eternity???

Alright, a few weeks ago, we began looking at how a skeptic or an atheist might have problems with belief.  The third idea we came to was that people come to a point of faith because they see what they want to.  Last time we looked at how believers find meaning in faith because they want to have a purpose to their lives.  Christians find meaning because they want meaning.

However, the idea falls short from the skeptic’s side because you have to apply the same idea to the idea of the skeptic.  If believers find meaning because they are looking for meaning, what does that say for the person who finds nothing that leads them to believe?  Are they looking for nothing?  Or perhaps is it the fact that the idea of no God agrees a lot more with their sense of ‘fairness’ or ‘justice’ or whatever other word you can use that would describe how God should act.  In other words, since the Christian God doesn’t act in the way that a skeptic likes, it is easier to not believe in this God and so they find exactly what they are looking for as well.

So today, lets look at the second thing that believers see because they want to – an afterlife.

First, its not just Christians who want an afterlife – I think everyone is pretty amped about the idea that this is not all there is.  Lets face it, the termination of the self is kind of . . . depressing.  That great black void at the end of your days (which could happen tonight or 40 years from now).  We’d love to keep things going, so heaven is something that exists across most religions that acts as a pacifier for the intimidating idea of death.

It also helps with the inconsistencies here on earth as well.  All the people in the world who do wrong and get away with it – they will get ‘justice’ (whatever that means).  The little kid who gets her life abruptly cut short by an accident – the fact that heaven awaits them and we will one day be reunited is a soothing thought.  And since these ideas agree with our sense of what should happen, we put our faith in it. 

But where do we get this idea of forever? 

If I were a skeptic, I think this is one area that would bring me one step closer to some sort of belief system.  Where does the idea of ‘never-ending’ come from?  Of course, at its most simple, the idea comes from the question, “what if it just kept going on and on and on?”

In fact, in most religious traditions, the idea of eternity is loosely developed.  The Egyptians had an idea that the gods resided in a place where time was inconsequential and their behaviors were part of a larger cycle of good/bad; light/dark; winter/summer and on and on.  Eastern religions have the same sense married with the idea of ‘nothingness’ and the ridding of the illusion of permanence.  Essentially, freedom from life’s cycles means that you get your candle blown out and you join the great and impersonal, eternal one. 

Then, from out of left field, we have the idea of permanence over extinction.  Jesus enters the field talking about time in new and different ways.  He mentions things before His birth as if He was there.  At one point, Jesus mixes tenses and gives us this nugget:

“before Abraham was, Iam”

Now Abraham was a few thousand years before Jesus and he presents Himself in the present tense without regard to the factor of time.  Some theologians have termed this the “eternal now” meaning that God is not so much in the past or the future, but right now.  His now sees creation and destruction in one sweep as a person might see two pages of a book at once.

So we find a reality that is presented that could not have been cooked up from a ‘felt need’ for fairness or a sense of harmony.  It simply is – without much explanation. 

God is. 
I am. 

Like God is saying, “I don’t need to explain it to you and you wouldn’t get it anyhow – it’s a God thing.”

So kudos to the skeptic that sniffs out the apparent duplicity in the believer – looking for something that is soothing to him or her.  But Christianity’s idea of eternity comes from something outside of the traditional channels of religious expression and is not especially soothing to anyone.


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