Friday, September 15, 2006

Religious atheism: life after death

Life and afterlife: quote and reflections

The thought of death and life after death is ambivalent. It can deflect us from this life, with its pleasures and pains. It can make life here a transition, a step on the way to another life beyond - and by doing so it can make this life empty and void. It can draw love from this life and deflect it to a life hereafter, spreading resignation in 'this vale of tears'. The thought of death and a life after death can lead to fatalism and apathy, so that we only live life here half-heartedly, or just endure it and 'get through'. The thought of a life after death can cheat us of the happiness and the pain of this life, so that we squander its treasures, selling them off cheap to heaven. In that respect it is better to live every day as if death didn't exist, better to love life here and now as unreservedly as if death really were 'the finish'. The notion that this life is no more than a preparation for a life beyond, is the theory of a refusal to live, and a religious fraud. It is inconsistent with the living God, who is 'a lover of life'. In that sense it is religious atheism.

Jürgen Moltmann, The Coming of God, 49-50.

I've posted the end of this quote before. I thought I'd re-post a fuller version as I get into this series on heaven. While this life remains filled with frustrations and futility, if we think the solution is to slander or ignore it, we've missed the point. Sure, there will be radical discontinuity (see also a future post on 2 Peter 3), but it is this world that was declared good, very good. God has not given up on it, as is clear from Jesus' resurrection.
Series: I; II; IIa; III; IV; V; VI; VII; VIII; IX; X; XI; XII; XIII; XIV; XV; XVI. Ten points for pic (hint).

9 comments:

One of Freedom said...

Ahhhhhh Moltmann. What a poet! Great way to keep your bearings in this series!

Ray Anderson said...

Brian: Reminds me of what Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote: “The earth, which nourishes me, has a right to my work and my strength. I have no right to despise the earth on which I live. I owe it loyalty and gratitude. It is my lot to be a stranger and a sojourner, but this cannot become a reason for evading God’s call so that I dream away my early life with thoughts of heaven. There is a very godless homesickness for the other world which is not consistent with really finding one’s home there. I ought to behave myself like a guest here, with all that entails. I should not stay aloof and refuse to participate in the tasks, joys and sorrows of earth, while I am waiting patiently for the redemption of the divine promise. I am really to wait for the promise and not try to steal it in advance in wishes and dreams.” Meditating on the Word, Cowley Publications, 1986, p. 139.

Anonymous said...

Sorry, Byron, have a friend whose name is Brian. Hope I now have two friends!

byron said...

Ray: thanks for the quote - I hadn't seen it before -apology accepted!

Bonhoeffer reminds us of the very real possibility of living in a dreamworld, being so caught up in our imaginings of the promised future that we fail to respect our present situation.

However, I wonder whether the theme of being a sojourner is related more to Abraham's experience than Israel in Egypt. Abraham was an alien while in his homeland, rather than having to make do elsewhere. There are of course ways in which we parallel Israel's exodus experience, (though Israel in the wilderness rather than still in slavery in Egypt). This reading has a long history and much to commend it. However, as this series will (hopefully) go on to argue, I think that we live as aliens and stangers on an earth that is indeed our homeland - or will be once God makes his home here. Thoughts?

byron said...

I'll include a future post on this theme.

Ray Anderson said...

Byron: The quotatation from Bonhoeffer is in his commentary on Ps. 119:99 "I live as an alien (stranger) in the land." He refers both to Abraham and the 'pilgrim' journey of the people in Egypt and even in the promised land. He quotes 1 Chron 29:15, "For we are aliens and transients before ou, as were all our ancestors, Our days on earth are like a shadow.. . " I rather think that Bonhoeffer identified his own situation with that of Israel in the O. T. I do not think that he had any view of a permanent 'homeland' here on earth. At the same time, he took life on earth very seriously and even the earth itself. "Where the Word is at home with me, I am able to find my way in the strange land--to find what is right where there is injsutice, a place to stand where there is uncertainty, strength for my work, and patience in time of sorrow." (Meditating, p. 140) His eschatology of the ultimate, did not cause him to minimize or despise the penultimate (Ethics, Chapter IV).

byron said...

Thanks Ray - another great quote. I agree that it's quite possible to hold a ultimate eschatology that doesn't despite the penultimate, and all the more impression for Bonhoeffer to do so at such a time of critical pressure. I imagine it would have been easy in such circumstances to write off the present out of resentment and take refuge in dreams of the future. Something I'm very interested in are the theological resources that enable such a focus. For me, it is the resurrection that lies at the heart of this issue.

Martin Kemp said...

Venice. An obvious guess, given it looks like I'm looking at a canal. But I fear that it's not like Byron to put an obvious pic in such a competition.

byron said...

Sometimes the obvious can be the most confusing. But not in this case, I guess... another ten points. Did you check the hint, which made it even more obvious? I had been feeling that few people were making guesses, so I'm glad my recent post has got things rolling.