Atheism/Resurrection and the promise of afterlife
QUESTION: Dear Margaret,
5 years ago my wife passed away. Christian mythology, which has lasted 2000 years and been supported by some very wise people, promises if I only believe Jesus was God and rose from the grave I will be able to join my beloved in the afterlife and be with her forever. What does atheism have to offer that is even close to that? Nevermore?
That is quite a tempting carrot!
ANSWER: Hi Charles,
I am so sorry for your loss of your wife. You must love her very much to be still hoping to meet with her in the afterlife.
I am neither an apologist for atheism, nor for Christianity or any other religion. What light I try to shed on the matter is that truth requires we examine belief issues with a larger lens. If the teachings of Christian mythology bring you comfort in life, that is a very good thing. But it does not make them any more true than the teachings of any other religion. How do you know your wife has not already been reincarnated, and is living right under your nose as one of your grandchildren? (Look around. You may be surprised.) That thought might bring comfort to someone in the Eastern religions. Does the fact that it might bring them comfort make it true? Could one answer about the afterlife be true for Buddhists, and another be true for Christians? I don't know the answer to that.
Humanity is way older than 2000 years, and what would have been the source of comfort for people born before Jesus? Has none of them been saved - if in fact "salvation" is necessary? How about all the people born in parts of the world where Christianity is unheard of? Would you even want a God that would exclude all those other people from the same benefits you claim to deserve?
The point is, some atheists are way too simplistic in their refutation of religion. Every civilization in every century, in every part of the world has sought to connect to something greater than themselves in some way or another - every culture has formed some kind of religion. We should have some respect for this very human need, and not make fun of people for their beliefs.
But - far, far too many religious people are what we call "triumphalist" about their beliefs: "Ha! We have the right beliefs, and all the others don't." This is also far too simplistic. And because its in the Bible doesn't make it true. You can't justify an existential truth with logic or "proof" that comes from within one religion, and that only applies to a relatively small part of humanity.
If there were only one "right" answer, there would only be one religion the world over. The more we interact and communicate globally, the more access we all have to information from religions all over the world. The more we come to recognize individual religions as localized expressions of a universal human need, the less we view any individual one as the "one, true religion." Instead we recognize each one as a localized cultural "tradition," of value for the sense of community, continuity, and coherence it brings into the lives of its adherents, not as a statement of existential truth.
I wish you well on your religious and spiritual journey. Peace and blessings to you.
---------- FOLLOW-UP ----------
QUESTION: Dear Margaret, thank you for answering my question. I have a suspicion if God exists he or she or it is inconceivable and far beyond our wildest human imagination. Certainly this reality we know is wondrous and mind boggling. It is difficult to accept this fantastic universe created itself, even if it is so. If there is an afterlife it seems likely God exists, maybe. Christianity and other human religions are a confinement to marked times, places and social and intellectual development. Existential truth escapes us. And always will. I think. Saying that I feel better.
Thanks for the response, Charles. I am glad you feel better after your response. You are right we will probably never have all the answers. Having done a lot of work in spiritual development, I want to point out that it is actually a growth step to be able to accept some doubt in terms of religious belief. Maybe even to approach the point where fixed and unchanging answers seem shallow, and continuing to live in the questions is considered exciting.
If it is ok with you, I may try to work some of this discussion into a blog post - either for my Patheos blog or the Huffington Post. No names mentioned of course.
All the best to you,