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The Reason Driven Life, Chapter 4

April 27, 2011

In chapter 4 of The Reason Driven Life, Robert Price tackles the question of mortality. Is there anything beyond this mortal life. For many theists, the answer seems to be: without an immortal existence, there is no purpose to our mortal existence. Aside from being a logical fallacy, this belief fails for many reasons. My own view on this matter is that it is equivalent to saying: if there’s no dessert, there’s no reason to eat dinner in the first place. Yet it this fear of death that drives people into religious fold. The great promise (and delusion) of religion is that believers will be saved so they can live forever.

Price, who is a theologian himself, rightly points out that the Bible is extremely inconsistent in its view of the afterlife.

  • The earliest writings seem to indicate that there is nothing at all awaiting us after death: Genesis 3:19 and Psalm 90.
  • Or maybe we live on in a vague and ill-defined underworld: Job 26:5-6, Job 7:9-10, Job 10:21-22 and Genesis 44:29.

The problem of why good people are allowed to suffer by a just God seems to argue against the existence of any benevolent divinity. In order to get around this, religions often invent concepts such as heavenly rewards, resurrection and reincarnation. None of this is new to Christianity. But nowhere in the Bible does it explain what form an eternal life might take. There are just vague promises with no details. And what is a heavenly reward without some sort of punishment of the damned? Christians vary on this issue, with some choosing to ignor it, others regretting that people would consign themselves to such torment (but exonerating God, the ultimate perpetrator of this atrocity) and still others taking a kind of  perverse glee in the suffering of their neighbors for all eternity. This isn’t justice; it is the very definition of injustice.

I wasn’t aware of this fact, but Price makes it clear that Paul never once mentions that anyone is consigned to hell. It would appear that this concept is yet another Christian myth (this time not even based on their own book). Of course, if there were no punishment for the unbelievers, there is no stick to go with the carrot.

As Price puts it, “I would submit to you that the Bible just does not supply a single, definitive answer to what, if anything, comes after death.” He’s more knowledgeable than I on this subject, but even my own brief checking confirmed this statement. He also says, “I don’t see how an inspired but ambiguous book is more helpful than an uninspired book.” I couldn’t agree more. My own view of the Bible and religion is that it is supremely irrelevant to how I live my life.

The message of many Christian pastors is that the life live, the only life we know for a fact exists, is irrelevant. It’s nothing more than a prelude, an exercise in waiting for the big event to come later. Price points how it would likely make these same theologians squirm to think that they have just embraced Buddhist philosopy – that the material world is nothing but maya, illusion; or that of Shankara, the Vedanta (Hindu) mystic. How much more satisfying and real it is to embrace the real life that we enjoy, rather than to pin all of our hopes on wishful fantasies of life after death. The trap of the theistic way of thinking is that no matter how successful we become or how pleasant our life becomes, it too will always remain unsatisfactory. Is it not also just a placeholder for the real event to come later? If this life is but a prelude, why bother living it?

Point to Ponder:

Maybe I really am mortal.

For me this is the underlying truth to existence. We all have a single lifetime to live, and there is nothing wrong with that. Instead of focusing on the bad stuff and hoping that it will all get better when we die, why not just concentrate on actually living our lives, enjoying the world around us, the pursuits of oour minds and the love and companionship of our friends and family?

Quote to Remember:

As for the days of our lives, they contain seventy years,
Or if due to strength, eighty years,
Yet their pride is but labor and sorrow;
For soon it is gone and we fly away.
Who understands the power of your anger
And your fury, according to the fear that is due you?
So teach us to number our days,
That we may present to you a heart of wisdom.

Palsm 90: 10-12 (NASB)

I believe that numbering our days here refers to living them as best we can. In the end, there is nothing more.

Question to Consider:

Would I bother with Christianity if I knew there were no life after death?

For most people, I would presume that the answer to this question is no. That’s why this particular theistic myth is so important to theists. Without the promise of eternal life, there is nothing in Christianity to attract followers. The club is made onerous to join on purpose. Afterall, what is the purpose to getting a heavenly reward if it’s open to everyone?

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