Some believe souls survive death, and some don’t. The two premises are nakedly adversarial assertions: “there is life after death”, and “this is all there is”. These two religious positions are so far apart that discussion cannot bridge them. These are the two camps that make up the human race, and many moral and political disagreements are really these two opposite visions warring with each other from guerilla disguises.
This gulf is hard to overstate. The believers and the deniers can’t finally even talk about the meaning of any particular death. Despite the millions of words that will be spent today arguing over the meaning of suffering or of untimely death, none of this argument is of any value. The premises are too far apart. It’s like one person barking, then the other responding with a meow. No communication has occurred, though both may leave ruffled.
Of course, what is really happening in these conversations is both parties are arguing cloaked premises, which are impossible to reconcile, and always make conversations painful, even for the good-hearted.
You’d never evaluate the morality of any event while intentionally blinding yourself to the sequelae. You’d never reach a final conclusion on a scene or character without seeing it all through to the curtain. The ending colors the beginning and middle.
Yet these debates attempt to stop the play, have one viewer say “nothing comes next” and another say “there is an infinite number of scenes left” and then intelligently discuss the play. They’re literally talking about two different stories. Shall we blind ourselves to the state of a person a minute after death, then try to talk about whether that death was good or bad, fair or unfair? For believer or skeptic alike, this is stupid logic.
The only hope to make such conversations productive would be to actually talk about life after death. But this is seldom the topic, because there isn’t actually much material. Christians accept a written report, skeptics do not. That simple.
Of course, even the believer doesn’t know enough about the condition of the individual dead to talk about it, even to himself, and for the purpose of talking to the unbeliever he knows nothing (though he may believe much.)
In fact, the believer is rendered silent about individual deaths precisely by his belief in an undetermined eternity. He can repeat what his scripture teaches about eternal states, but since the skeptic doesn’t accept his scripture this is futile, and often insulting to the skeptic.
I say “silent about individual deaths”….what we believers believe is that the dead behold the Creator an instant after death, and that beatific vision subsumes the entire life leading up to it.
I’m not objecting at all to traditional Christian comfort at funerals. “She’s in a better place…her suffering is over…etc.” These are believers talking to each other. Within their common vision their words make sense.
It’s just that non-believers can’t be expected to do other than scoff at assertions of “God’s will” or paradise after death.
But, by the same logic, believers will just never see the same meaning, or lack of meaning, in any moment of suffering. Even when your faith is strained, when suffering is no longer a word in a blog post but is your child in pain – even then you can’t pretend not to see the story continuing after death. It may be no consolation, you may even hate your own dogma, but you’ll still see the play from the balcony seat, while the skeptics are at ground level.
My point here is not about comfort or emotional truths at all. All the emotional days and nights we roll through, all the scenery in the story, is all hung on logical scaffolds, which are usually invisible. Those who believe the stage is infinite and those who believe it is not could save lots if time.
Either argue about the size of the play, or just hush.