I'm not religious (obviously), but I still could sign up on the faith dotted line if I was assured of getting a good deal on death.
Which would be, basically: living forever. That's the worst part about death for me, not existing. I can handle the dying part. It's the likelihood of an eternal non-afterlife that sort of bugs me. (Actually, quite a bit more than "sort of.")
So I decided to read "How Different Religions View Death and Afterlife" to get a better idea of what sorts of salvation bargains are out there.
I've only read five chapters so far. Each is written by a expert in that religion, so it's nice to get the straight scoop from a true believer. The faiths I've learned about are: Assemblies of God, Baha'i, Baptist, Buddhism, and Unitarian Universalism.
As you can probably tell, the nineteen faith chapters are presented in alphabetical order in the book. I jumped ahead to Unitarian Universalism for a couple of reasons.
One, when I took the Belief O'Matic test a few days ago, I scored 100% on Unitarian Universalist – probably because I answered "don't know" to many of the questions. This bothered me a bit, because I used to be solidly Pagan, and that's a cooler-sounding faith.
Two, my wife's sister and her husband go to a Unitarian fellowship, and I like the sound of it. I could probably become a Unitarian if the group in our area didn't have such Christian overtones (every Unitarian group has its own style, I gather).
Unfortunately, I didn't find a whole lot reassuring about my death and afterlife in the Unitarian Universalist chapter, which, not surprisingly, is one of the shortest in the book.
Unitarian Universalists accept a scientific view of life and see life as lived in the here and now rather than in the hereafter. Whether or not Unitarian Universalists are agnostic about the existence of God, they tend to be agnostic about the existence of an afterlife…We simply admit that we do not know whether or not there is an afterlife.
Well, that's no fun. True, but not very helpful for my aspiration to eternal life at the right hand of Whoever or Whatever. So I went back to the beginning of the book. There I learned about two Christian faiths, Assemblies of God and Baptist.
It's easy to see why Christianity has taken off, believer-wise. Christians get a damn good deal on the afterlife, for not much cost. Basically you just have to believe in Jesus.
Assemblies of God: Death for us is simply transition into the presence of our Lord Jesus where we will share the joys of heaven…The believer who accepts and follows Christ is saved for eternity and retains his same personal identity…From the Bible we see also that we will recognize each other there [in heaven]. We shall know our friends and relatives. We shall enjoy fellowship with the saints of old time.
Baptist: Heaven and hell are conceived of as places where the redeemed and the damned either receive their rewards and undergo eternal felicity or are alienated from God. In one, there is the fellowship with God; in the other, the possibility of fellowship does not exist. The one is characterized by mansions, golden streets, home and reunion with loved ones; the other by outer darkness, fire, torment and isolation.
Hmmmm. Which to pick? Again, I can understand why so many people jump on the Christian train, since supposedly it's headed straight for the promised land – and it doesn't take along anyone but believers.
But, it's not for me.
So I moved on to the Baha'i faith. This felt quite familiar, as Baha'I is based on the teachings of a modern day incarnation of God, just as the Sant Mat faith that I followed for about thirty-five years is. In the 1800s Baha'u'llah revealed the way it is, death and afterlife wise.
There is, from a Baha'I view, but one physical experience for each soul – Baha'is do not believe in transmigration or reincarnation.
By becoming a Baha'I, one is not necessarily assured of salvation or of becoming more spiritual than someone who is not a Baha'i. But Baha'is believe that God has designated Baha'u'llah's teachings as the source of salvation of mankind for this dispensation, a period which shall endure for at least 1000 years. Therefore Bahai's also believe that the best means for the transformation and ascent of the human soul can presently be found in recognizing the station of Baha'u'llah and in following the guidance he has revealed.
I spent more than three decades following the teachings of another messenger of God, and now I learn that I picked the wrong one. Plus, I'm never going to have another physical existence, so I'm screwed unless I get on board the Baha'I ship pronto.
Problem is, how do I know that Baha'u'llah is the real deal? He makes the same claims as Sant Mat does for their gurus, and also pretty much as Christianity does for its "guru," Jesus. How to choose?
Buddhism offers a pleasingly universal conception of the cosmos. But it sure requires a lot more brain cells to comprehend. Compare this excerpt from the "Buddhism" chapter with the pithy Jesus saves.
Selflessness, in both sutra and tantra, does not mean persons do not exist at all. "Self" here does not mean the "you" or "me" of ordinary language but refers to an overly concrete and otherwise misconstrued existential status. Nothing – neither persons, places, Buddhas, nor enlightenment itself – exists inherently. But they do exist. Only the inherently independent existence attributed to them does not.
Well, Buddhism, I want to exist as me! Otherwise, what's the point? (Guess if I understood that point, I'd be enlightened.)
So the search continues for a religion or faith that (1) makes sense to me, and (2) offers up a terrific deal on death. All offers considered.
I've got fourteen more chapters to read. Maybe Zoroastrianism…