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It is a rare thing to hear the truth in church.  It is a rarer thing to see the truth on a church bulletin board.  However, just the other day I happened upon this jewel:

“Eternal life: an offer you can’t refuse.”

Very true, but for different reasons than the church member who arranged the letters on the marquee would like to realize.

Before I explain why, suppose for a moment that “eternal life”, as marketed by several world religions, is a reality: that by believing in their mutation of god and dedicating your life to his/her/its service, you can earn eternal life in a virtual utopia.  If this were actually the case, then it would, sensibly, be very difficult to resist the urge to join that faith so as to guarantee your ticket into such a paradise.  However, back in reality, buying the argument in favor of eternal life is much more difficult.

It seems to me that eternal life is the nail on which the whole of (western) religion hangs its hat.  To demonstrate this, ask yourself the question, “What’s left of religion if you remove eternal life from the equation?”  The answer is that if eternal life disappears, so does everything else.  Dietary guidelines?  Gone.  Behavior restrictions?  Gone.  Moral codes?  Gone.  Why?  Because there is no longer any reason, outside of pure, stubborn, personal commitment, to follow the laws laid down by religion.  What former believers would then discover is that there are and have always been reasons for getting along with others and having a moral code that are better than the reasons supplied by their discarded deities. Can it realistically be argued that the millions of Muslims and Christians in the world would stay true to their respective faiths if they did not think that there was a glorious reward waiting for them at the finish line?  Pausing for a moment to consider human nature, I think not.  Certainly, if eternal life were removed from the dogma of these religions, you would find some individuals who could not bring themselves to abandon their beliefs; perhaps pastors and imams would be saved from apostasy by the fear that they would not know what else to do with their lives.  But, to combine Hume and Occam, which is the easier argument to accept: (1) there is one god who is understood in many different ways and has devised a number of systems with which to test the mettle and commitment of humans to find out who is fit for heaven, (2) there are many gods, all of whom have designed their own gauntlets for humans to run to see who can get into the respective paradises of the respective gods, (3) there is a god(s) but no eternal life, (4) there is no god(s) and eternal life is simply a grandiose fabrication formulated by the founders of world religions to capitalize on humanity’s fear of death and keep the seats filled?  For anyone who picked (1) or (2), think about what you are asserting when you claim that there is a god(s) and that there is eternal life.  I’m going with (4), though I have not here argued against the existence of god (don’t worry, that post is forthcoming).

So, back to our church marquee.  (Which said, in case I’ve been rambling too long and you can’t remember, “Eternal life: an offer you can’t refuse.”)  True, you cannot refuse the offer of eternal life.  But neither can you accept it.  Why?  Because it is not being offered.  Indeed, the only form of an even extended life that I can think of is that which is being enjoyed by Einstein, Ol’ Blue Eyes, and Honest Abe.  And even this must be granted to us by others, not attained by completing a cosmic evaluation.  Perhaps, instead of longing for the eternal life of fairy-tales and mythology, we should strive to leave such an indelible mark, to contribute so much to our world, that we cannot simply be forgotten after our deaths.  That seems to be an afterlife worth pursuing.

Void damn the distance.

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