Time to sit up and pay attention. I’m asking YOU a question today, so I want to see lots of answers and comments down below!
This is a question that my philosophy students at Utica College are pondering and discussing this week and I thought it would be fun to put it before you.
I was having lunch at a cafe yesterday when someone walked up and handed me a religious pamphlet that asked whether I knew for sure that I was going to heaven when die. This is an interesting question.
It’s even more interesting that so many in the fundamentalist camp choose to start their evangelistic pitch with this question. If one’s faith is based on fear for the ego’s survival in an unknown afterlife, then it doesn’t seem to be qualitatively different from the dog-eat-dog drive for survival in this world.
I’m not trying to disparage eternal hope for anyone, but during Holy Week, Christians celebrate the death and resurrection of Jesus. Jesus was willing to sacrifice himself. His vision and ultimate concern was much larger than his drive for egoic survival. He embraced death willingly and so became the primary model by which Christians measure their faith.
There is an extent to which I believe we Christians are called to do the same. Jesus said, “Take up your cross and follow me.” Christians like to remind each other that Christ died for us, but there is also a very real sense in which we are called to die with Christ. We are participants, not merely consumers, in the unfolding drama of eternity.
Friedrich Schleiermacher said it like this in On Religion: Speeches to its Cultured Despisers (1799):
Religion is the outcome neither of the fear of death, nor of the fear of God. It answers a deep need in man. It is neither a metaphysic, nor a morality, but above all and essentially an intuition and a feeling. … Dogmas are not, properly speaking, part of religion: rather it is that they are derived from it. Religion is the miracle of direct relationship with the infinite; and dogmas are the reflection of this miracle. Similarly belief in God, and in personal immortality, are not necessarily a part of religion; one can conceive of a religion without God, and it would be pure contemplation of the universe; the desire for personal immortality seems rather to show a lack of religion, since religion assumes a desire to lose oneself in the infinite, rather than to preserve one’s own finite self.
The question I am putting before you, superfriends and blogofans, is taken from chapter 9 of William Rowe’s Philosophy of Religion: An Introduction.
How important to religion is the belief in personal survival after death? Do you think that religion must stand or fall with this belief? Can you imagine a viable religion which accepts the view that death ends everything? What would such a religion be like? Explain.