How Important is the Afterlife?

Ok class,

My classes will never be as cool as this guy's.

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.

Post your answer in the comments below!

Who Wants To Be A Jedi?

Star Wars as a Modern Myth

Yesterday, I was having a lively after-class discussion with my students in the coffee bar at Utica College.  The topic: Star Wars as a modern myth.

While I have nothing but disdain for George Lucas as a megalomaniac and director, I have to tip my hat to him as one of the most brilliant cinematic storytellers of the 20th century.  He intentionally wrote Star Wars according to the mythical pattern laid out by Joseph Campbell in The Hero With A Thousand Faces.  Campbell applied Jungian archetypes to the study of comparative mythology.  He argued that all the major myths of the world’s religions conformed to a pattern that he called the monomyth.

While Campbell specifically mentions the stories of Prometheus, Osiris, Buddha, and Christ, we can identify the monomythical pattern in the more recent works of L. Frank Baum, J.R.R. Tolkien, J.K. Rowling, and yes, even George Lucas.  Thus, Dorothy Gayle, Frodo Baggins, Harry Potter, and Luke Skywalker are all basically the same character.  What makes Star Wars different from the others is that Lucas was directly inspired by Campbell and intentionally wrote Star Wars as a “modern myth” according to Campbell’s pattern.

The Jedi as a Religion

Given that Lucas intentionally designed Star Wars as a myth, it shouldn’t be surprising that an actual religion has arisen around it.

The Jedi have been objects of admiration by many (including myself).  Part monk, part Samurai, and you get to carry a lightsaber.  Who wouldn’t want to convert?

In fact, you can.  The Universal Life Church will gladly ordain you as a legal minister over the internet and, for the low price of $10.99, you can order a certificate that identifies you as a Jedi Knight.  I’m not kidding.  Click here if you’re interested.

For those who are looking for a little more commitment, check out the Jedi Church website.

Around the time that Revenge of the Sith was released, science fiction legend Orson Scott Card published an article on the Jedi as a religion.  The question that Orson Scott Card asks is, if we take the Star Wars movies as the foundational texts for the Jedi religion, what kind of religion can we expect to emerge?  Are the Jedi, as presented in the films, the kind religious order that we would actually like to see?  Card has some fascinating things to say about it.

Click here to read his fantastic article, No Faith in this Force