It’s a joke without anyone around to hear the punch line: “Did you hear the one about the people who based their lives on the assumption that God was real and there was life after death? Then they died, and…”
If there is nothing after death, ha ha! Jokes on them. Except, they won’t be around to be part of the laughter. Neither will I. Neither will any one of us.
Which isn’t all that funny. Nor, all that serious. It’s just what it is: a likely reality.
What’s disturbing is the prospect of so many true believers giving up the chance to fully live what may well be the one and only life they’ll ever get. That’s tragic.
I’ve known quite a few people who lived with one eye focused on their afterlife. Not surprisingly, this left them unable to focus properly on the presentlife. They would forego natural enjoyments—sex, having a child, drinking a glass of wine, movies, sleeping late on Sunday instead of going to church—because they expected the next life to be better than this one if they did the right things.
Well, anything’s possible. But the more churchless I become, the more precious each moment seems to me. If this is all there is, then it deserves to be deeply appreciated. And even if life goes on after death, it won’t be this life, which never will come again.
Either way, life is astoundingly precious. It’s to be savored, not chewed hastily while looking ahead to the anticipated next course.
It seems to me that whatever form of spirituality we choose to practice, it should be life-embracing, not life-denying. This might include shutting yourself up in a cave or a monastery, so long as you feel more alive that way, not less. However, for most of us this means living a natural life, enjoying natural pleasures, doing natural things.
Fundamentalists have a strange notion that if you don’t believe in God, you’re not firing on all of life’s cylinders. My experience is exactly the opposite. The more I accept that I don’t know what happens after death, or what the nature of ultimate reality is, the more vivid and divine life appears to me.
Many times a day now—almost continuously, in fact—I’m blown away with a sense of “Wow, I’m here, doing this, experiencing this, though it didn’t have to be this way, and fairly soon there’ll come a time, after I’m dead, when there won’t be any this to do or experience.”
So I disagree with the whole Christian mindset of “What if the cosmos is all that there is?” The proffered answers to this question reveal a complete lack of understanding of what a considered churchless life consists of (by “considered” I mean thoughtful, consciously chosen, sensitively embraced—not just fallen into for lack of an alternative).
To someone who believes that this is all there is, everything in the cosmos appears infinitely valuable, infinitely worthy of reverence, infinitely marvelous. For so far as he or she knows, there is nothing else to which it can be compared.
To someone who believes that this is all there is, life is of infinite value. Life is to be preserved and enhanced whenever possible, for death is considered to be the stopping point, not an avenue to somewhere else. To die for a higher cause may be admirable, but it isn’t expected to bring any reward other than death.
Thus genuine morality, in my opinion, begins and ends with an acceptance of life as it is known to be, not surmised: short, one of a kind, irreplaceable, a gift from an unknown giver.
Drink deep from this present moment. Intoxicate yourself. The wine of life doesn’t flow from a bottomless bottle. It will run dry one day. Wet your lips while you can.