AND WHEN I DIE...

May 2015

I believe in "God" (i.e., some entity beyond rational, analytical human thought) because:

    1. No matter how you think our earth, the galaxy, and the universe arrived at their present states, it all had to start with SOMETHING. Even a grain of sand had to be CREATED.

    2. My scientifically-trained, rational mind rebels against the idea that randomness, evolution, adaptation, and natural selection can - by themselves - account for the amazing intricacies with which life is endowed. Such extravagance of size, shape, color, texture, sound, etc., may begin in the realm of Practical Science, but ultimately demands input from an Artist.

   Can't prove it; can't disprove it. Just seems right to me. Moving on.......

*   *   *

  So, anyway - some way, with or without "God" - It Began. But how does It End? If there isn't A God, then the answer is obvious: ashes to ashes, dust to dust. We may have a Future as a little bit of nutrient for some plant, but our Role (if you can call it that) is just one teeny, tiny contribution to the happy (or unhappy) Accidents that created and maintain our Earth and the Universe. Since matter can't be created or destroyed, you might say that we will always Be Around -  being recycled from one organism to another, perhaps - but there is no more You, or Me, or Us.

 I don't know if accepting oneself as mere dust in the wind makes the current life easier, but it does free one from seeking Meaning in existence. For the rest who - for whatever reason - want to believe that their lives aren't entirely pointless,  they're almost forced to believe that Something follows death. They can't kid themselves that Death isn't inevitable. So, for three-quarters of a century or so, each individual uses remarkable ingenuity and inventiveness to help our fellow humans screw up the planet we live on, and then...  And then... NOTHING?? Talk about pointless!

 "Is that all there is?

Is that all there is?

If that's all there is, my friends

Then let's keep dancing..."

(Lyrics by Jerry Leiber and Mark Stoller)

 If this life isn't "all there is," then what might we have to look forward to? There seem to be lots of ideas - or, at least, wishes - of what the Next Phase might be. Probably, nobody wishes for (at least not for themselves) the really bad follow-up - Hell, eternal damnation, lakes of fire - although some believe in such a concept. Another possibility: at first blush, coming back as Something Else may have some appeal. But seriously, we're humans, the most advanced creatures in the Universe (according to us, and based on the best info so far available). Would any of us really want to be reincarnated as some inferior creature - to be squished underfoot like a snail, to be killed and eaten by a predator, or to be a small predator killed and eaten by a larger predator? That doesn't sound like any kind of reward; maybe it's the real description of Hell?

   How about the Good Possibilities? Are you looking forward to walking those Streets of Gold? Are you hoping to spend your whole new life fishing? Are you anticipating reading all those books you never got around to reading, or having all those high-minded discussions and debates that you always thought would be great to have? Are you anticipating lots of Great Sex? Are you a misogynistic, chauvinistic male looking forward to your "reward" of a bevy of virgins? Would you like to climb all those mountains you never got to climb? Maybe you'd just like a place where you can fire off 1000 rounds of ammunition from your assault rifle without a bunch of liberal pansies objecting. Or maybe you're just really ready for World Peace - or, at least, peace in your own life?

  Let's think about a few of those ideas. Do Streets of Gold really seem likely? It might be nice to think you'd finally "get yours" - and maybe not have to share it with the current Privileged Classes, who won't be able to negotiate that tricky eye-of-the-needle approach to Heaven. But the same traditions that have you looking forward to "pie in the sky by and by when you die" also point out how meaningless such riches will be in the Next Life. Those Streets of Gold may only hurt your feet and make your eyes water from their glare.

   Discussions, debates, good books: if the Next Life is nirvana (either as pictured by Buddhists or Christians), then in that land of perfect accord, what is there going to be to discuss, let alone debate? And will good books -- most of which are built around the trials, tribulations, joys and successes of our current world -- have any meaning at all?

   Climbing mountains? How many can you scale just "because they are there," before they become just more mountains to scale? Great sex? There are so many ideas about that in this world -- quite different between the sexes, by the way -- that the concept of Great Sex in a future life is best left to imagination, only. (Note: men dreaming of virgins should remember that virgins have definite expiration dates. What do you do with the rest of your Heaven?)

   Maybe your particular hopes for a next life concern atonement - doing it right the next time. Probably every one of us at some point has thought, "Boy, if I  had that to do over again..." But most models of the Next Life don't involve repeating our current existence. All those wrong (and right) turns are either forgotten, forgiven, or irrelevant. Anyway, those planning to "come back" as humans who remember their current lives (the only way that atonement would be at all meaningful) might think about the movie "Groundhog Day." Every time Our Hero came back, he remembered something from his previous existences, but he used that knowledge not for atonement, but to better his own situation. He learned, but it took a lot of Lives before he turned his learning to doing better. You might have a long wait  - and a lot of lives to live - before atonement.

*   *   *

Face it: nobody knows what (if anything) happens next, or even if there is a Next. As far as Getting There (wherever There is, if there is a There), those religions that predict a Next  don't provide very useful maps or directions. Do you work your way there, do you utter certain phrases, do you do "good works," do you do whatever you want as long as you Believe.....? There doesn't seem to be any certainty, and certainly no consensus.

 Whether life is a one-shot deal with no long-term relevance, or part of a progression to something else, the current reality is that we are what we are, and we have what we have. There seem to be three choices for what we do with that reality (and it doesn't really matter whether or not you believe in "God"):

 (1) We can do whatever we want for our own comfort and convenience, and seek whatever satisfaction life offers. We can (as the song says) "keep dancing."

 (2) We can pursue whatever course we think moves us toward the next life, considering the current world only as it affects the Path Forward. It doesn't matter that we are (as expressed by Adam Trask, in "East of Eden") "just taking up space where air would be." Everything is about The Future.

 (3) We can chose to make our current life good  -- not just for ourselves, but for everyone. John Steinbeck set the bar pretty low when he said we  should attempt to live our lives so nobody will be glad when we die:

  "It seems to me that if you or I must choose between two courses of thought or action, we should remember our dying and try so to live that our death brings no pleasure to the world."

 Robert Ingersoll had the same thing in mind, I think, but expressed it both eloquently and positively:

  "While I am opposed to all orthodox creeds, I have a creed myself; and my creed is this. Happiness is the only good. The time to be happy is now. The place to be happy is here. The way to be happy is to make others so. This creed is somewhat short, but it is long enough for this life, strong enough for this world. If there is another world, when we get there we can make another creed."

I'm with Ingersoll.


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