I’ve been thinking about the afterlife these days.
It’s frankly not a subject high on my radar most of the time – it’s hard enough for me to be grounded in the present without woolgathering about the future. But recent discussions on Beliefnet, a couple of recent dreams involving my dead parents (in one rather humorous dream I’m trying to break the news to my mother that Cody, our Maltese, has finally passed on; she responds that she knows he has; when I ask her how she could possibly know that, she responds -- with some impatience -- “Because I’m dead! ”)and a recent afternoon half-listening to an A&E program about folks who claim to see dead people got me to thinking about the Great Beyond.
It’s fashionable in mainline circles these days to note that belief in an immortal soul is a Greek, not a Hebraic, concept; that in the Hebrew way of thinking about death, once you’re dead you’re dead – reduced to nothingness – until/unless God remembers you back into existence at the resurrection.
While there is something poetic and evocative about this image of ceasing to exist altogether, then being remembered back to life, it’s also pretty damned frightening, at least to someone who has, throughout her life, been variously forgotten – left on a schoolbus as a small child; left waiting for rides that failed to show up; left without an official office plaque like my coworkers, presumably because I was such a faceless office drone that no one remembered I was there. I’d like to think that God has better recall than my kindergarten bus driver or my former supervisor; and could I dare imagine that God might actually want to remember me?
And I’ve known people – sane, smart people – who’ve had memorable encounters with what they were certain were the dead. JB Philips, the Bible scholar, author and pal of C.S. Lewis, recounted in his memoirs what he believed to be a genuine visit from his deceased friend, at a time when Philips was despondent and contemplating suicide, offering needed comfort and advice.
So I have mixed feelings about my religious confreres getting all fundie and literal about the “biblical” view of death and the afterlife. To me there’s a hint of practical atheism in latching on to the “remembering” metaphor, as in, “Yeah – that’d be nice. But, anyway…” On the other hand, it's hard to harmonize popular concepts of the afterlife with Christian doctrines like the resurrection and judgment without mentally navigating through the space-time continuum until you accidently hit a curb or burn your last batch of cookies or otherwise get disengaged from present reality.
I guess I prefer the view that there are more things in heaven (also an “imported” idea, by the way – and this is a bad thing because?...) and on earth than are dreamt of in our philosophies. And I need to get back to work.