Sunday, 9 April 2017

On Eternity and Things Interesting.

In one episode of Father Ted, Dougal asks ‘Ted, do you believe in life after death?’ The audience roars and Ted rolls his eyes because everybody knows that this is one of those typically dim moments which define the character of Dougal. That’s because everybody knows that a belief in life after death is a 100% given for anyone claiming to be a Christian. And that’s because there wouldn’t be any point to Christianity if there wasn’t life after death.

Well, it seems that not everybody does know it. In a recent poll in Britain to mark the Easter season, 31% of people claiming to be Christian said they didn’t believe in life after death. This is where the American expression ‘duh’ comes in useful. It seems that a third of British Christians are Dougal McGuires when it comes to understanding the fundamentals of their faith.

(And can I just butt in here and say that I hate the expression ‘life after death.’ It speaks of tunnel vision and muddled thinking, and is largely confined to the Judaic orthodoxies and heterodoxies. Followers of the Vedic and Pagan schools would be more comfortable with my preferred phrase ‘persistence of consciousness’ [or soul or spirit if you prefer] which permits the concomitant notion of independence from all things physical, including the body. But ‘life after death’ is the phrase used by the pollsters, so I’m stuck with it.)

The same pollsters went on to express their surprise at another little discovery they made. It appears that 21% of people who claimed to have no adherence to any religion did believe in life after death. Why is that surprising? Religions are belief systems created by people intent on establishing a particular approach to the meaning of life, and arbitrarily codifying the details so as to establish a homogeneous movement. The debate around persistence of consciousness has at its route a universal concern which has nothing to do with religion, but simply with the nature of existence. Ergo, while adherence to a religious belief system predicates a belief in life after death, it would be absurd to claim that the converse is also true. It would be like saying: ‘If I jump off the top of the Empire State Building I will die, therefore if I die I must have jumped off the top of the Empire State Building.’

If I were the sort of person to say ‘I believe’ I would be prepared to say ‘I believe in persistence of consciousness even though I follow no religion.’ But, as I’ve said here before, I don’t do belief; I do levels of credence based on a combination of instinct and evidence. And that’s what I would say to any pollster who asked ‘Do you believe…’ But then I have often declined to answer a pollster’s question because it was unanswerable without first debating the axiom underpinning it.


Question: Do you believe in God? Yes or no?

Answer: First you’ll have to tell me what you mean by ‘God.’

Questioner: A supreme being who created heaven and earth and everything in it.

Answer: Not enough. Do you mean a transcendent and therefore individualised being, or some immanent form of energy of which everything is composed?

Questioner: Erm… both?

Answer: Still not enough. If it’s both, then the transcendent form must be subservient to the greater whole and cannot be described as supreme.

Questioner: Is that a yes or a no?

Answer: It’s a don’t know.

… or something like that. I’m bored now.

*  *  *

Today I sowed spinach, chives, spring onions, radishes and nasturtiums. I saw a smart grey Mini parked in somebody’s paddock behind the hedge so it looked like it was hiding. And I made friends with a dog while talking to its human with whom I didn’t make friends. That’s much more interesting.

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