Sunday, June 13, 2010

What Happens When We Die

Setting aside politics for the moment, I’ve been having some interesting discussions with a few folks about that eternal human question: what happens when we die?

It’s one of those things I’ve always wondered about, even as a kid, which might have made me a weird kid but I suppose everyone has thought about this at some point. When I was a little I used to think you entered into some kind of void, “like when you go to sleep at night but don’t have any dreams,” I remember explaining to a friend when I was around 10. “You just wake up the next day and time has passed. Like that.”

Yes, I was a weird kid.

The thing is, I have never believed in heaven or hell. To be more precise: I’ve never believed in hell. Hell makes no sense to me, because I can’t imagine the world works that way. I can’t imagine a hell any worse than the one we humans create for ourselves right here, right now. I don’t believe the universe punishes you for being bad. Frankly, my dear, I don’t think the universe gives a damn.

I think the whole punitive thing is an entirely human construct, and while I do believe in the concept of Karma, that is an entirely different thing from a system of retribution and reward. I believe what you give out comes back, that nothing is created or destroyed it simply changes form, that the cosmos operates as a universal balancing act. There is no room for punishment for violating some Western society’s rules, which tend to operate in black and white when there are so many different shades of gray.

What this all means is that if I don’t believe in hell, I can’t believe in heaven, either. Because you can’t have one without the other.

This is completely at odds with my chosen theology, but the Presbyterians, God love ‘em, are pretty tolerant of the oddballs in their midst. I’ve had many pastoral conversations where I’ve been assured that my esoteric musings are in keeping with centuries of theological discourse.

Not so my evangelical Christian friends. The thing about the evangelicals and the fundamentalists is they’re always trying to rebrand the absolute worst deal as some kind of awesome new thing. No sex until you’re married! No alcohol! No gays! Um, no thanks! Sex, booze and gays are what make a party, people!

My evangelical friends tell me with absolute assurance that after we die we all Bible-believing Christians (oops) go to some heaven kind of place and worship Jesus for eternity. That’s it. They are dead serious about this, and they will tell you this like it’s the most awesome deal you could ever get.

I ask you: does that not sound like the most gawd-awful, boring way to spend eternity? Don’t you think Jesus would get bored with that deal, too? Once again, you folks have the clunkiest junker on the lot, which you are trying to convince me is a Ferrari. I ain’t buying.

I know quite a lot of people who believe in reincarnation and this makes a lot of sense. Recycling is built into every natural system, so it would be logical that our souls would recycle in addition to our corporal bodies. Ever the joker, Mr. Beale told me he thought he’d probably come back as a slug in a saucer of beer.

But I don’t like this idea at all. I see how we are destroying the planet and quite frankly I do not want to come back to this mess. Who wants to see the Gulf of Mexico in 50 years? Not me.

Talking about this with some folks I heard a story about a very unusual near death experience. This person had nearly drowned and was taken out of his body to a place in outer space. He was shown his next life there, where he’d have some kind of important role in establishing a space colony. However, he was told he needed to return to earth and continue to learn some things in his current lifetime that would help him in that future mission.

Now, that just really blows my mind. That indicates that all this stuff is already planned out, which begs the question: by whom? Also, outer space, people? Really? Could we be reincarnated as aliens? I guess if you think your dog could be reincarnated as a human, and a human could be reincarnated as a beetle, then surely we could be reincarnated as life forms elsewhere. It just never occurred to me to expand my questioning beyond Planet Earth.

Anyway, the more I think about this, the more I like the idea of an Endless Void.

I'm not planning on going anywhere any time soon. But I am curious what other folks think about this.