Of all the things I find seriously hard to accept about religion (at least the top three–Christianity, Judaism, and Islam), this is the one I have the hardest time with. Three things seem to be going on here, as far as I’m concerned. One, we just can’t believe that a person as unique as ourselves–there will never be another person like us–can simply disappear. Second, we want to believe that we will be reunited with the people we love. So the afterlife will be just like real life, except better somehow. (I wonder if Heaven has Facebook?) Third, we need to believe that our suffering meant something. That we will be rewarded for it.
I say, what is so bad about disappearing?
When my friend Art died (friend being not quite the right term) in October of 2005, I went to a New Year’s Eve ceremony with my friend Judith at her church, the Unity Church. Technically, I think the term “church” here is used very loosely. But I wanted to go because they have a traditional ceremony called The Burning Bowl. It’s to leave behind things you want to…leave behind. So I wrote a very long letter to Art, which I intended to burn. But it turned out that due to restrictions imposed by the Fire Department–because the Burning Bowl was inside the building–you had to write one word, in pencil, on a small piece of onionskin paper, which whooshed itself out in a matter of seconds. Kind of like life, on a shorter scale.
However, they had created a bonfire in the back yard, so I was able to burn my letter to Art in the bonfire. When I threw it in, someone said, What is that? And my friend Judith said to him, Shhh.
My dog had died earlier that year. He was 13, and I’d had him for 12 years. My letter said something like this: Dear Art. You and Troy Russell are now both part of the universe. Neither you nor he will ever be “you” again, but you will be part of something new and amazing. You will be part of a flower or a star.
So I guess you could say I do believe in an afterlife, but it’s an afterlife of atoms.