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I remember a time when “Heaven” was the lens through which I saw all of life. I was taught, as were many of my peers, that life here on Earth was a test. Nothing mattered except getting into Heaven. Nothing. Suffering was fine, as long as we ended up in our mansions in paradise after we died. Having no friends because we had to weed out all the cool ones who said dirty words? No problem. We’d have Jesus to push us on the celestial swing set. Dismissing all that inconvenient “scientific data” because our book of spells told us God made us “zap zap” style? Piece of cake. We knew the truth. Everyone else was just a sucker sippin’ the worldly “cool-aid”. In the meantime, we were to sit still and vote Republican (because the Democrats would usher in the reign of the Anti-Christ, just like the… Bible said would happen… which is what we… wanted… since it was God’s will… but, never mind that).

Over the years I would finally succumb to the irresistible seduction of education, people with different opinions, and the ministry of common sense. Whether you believe in God, or whether you only believe in Oprah, I think we can all agree that Heaven… at least as traditionally promoted… is for suckers. If you feel a sudden urge to defend your very own pie in the sky, that’s cool. Save it for the bloodbath, I mean “comments section.”

You may think you want to live forever, but you don’t. You really, really, really don’t. Don’t believe me? Well, let’s play this out logically. If you live forever, there’s only three possibilities: Conscious eternal existence, unconscious eternal existence, or reincarnation where you only remember one lifetime as a time. Which do you prefer?

Conscious Eternity

To infinity, and beyoooond!

To infinity, and beyoooond!


This is by far the most widely-held belief when it comes to Heaven. Somehow our consciousness will survive the death of our mortal bodies and be transported/sucked up into God/the Cosmos to some other dimension-ish place that somehow defies the known laws of physics, or at least operates on some plane of existence that is more or less magic by our standards. We all agree this place is supposed to be at least pleasant if not borderline orgasmic. And hey, while that sounds all good and reasonable at first, let us consider just what “eternity” would mean.

Imagine the longest day you’ve ever had. Maybe some of us have been awake for a couple days, maybe even more than that. Most of us start feeling really weird when we have stayed up all night. I personally feel like I’m in a time-warp. Other people have started their new day when I’m basically still working on finishing up yesterday. It’s just not right. We all need closure on our days. We are supposed to have a beginning and an end. In an eternal Heaven scenario, we would have no need for sleep. It would be just one, super long, endless day. If we did sleep, it’d be an insult to conscious Heaven since we’d be choosing unconsciousness. What would we be dreaming about? Heaven? Nope, we’d be awake. Forever.

Okay, I know what you’re thinking. It would be Heaven, so we’d have some kind of super Heaven-brain that didn’t get all weirded out by how long our day would be. I’m sure we’d also have God-bodies that never got tired. We’d also never be bored. Ever. Why? Because Heaven is about being content. This means that either Heaven would give us an unending supply of entertainment options, or we’d be forced to like everything we would be doing. Therein lies an interesting point to ponder. What if Heaven couldn’t please everyone?

Now that we can imagine what it would be like to simply “exist” in a conscious way in this Heavenly realm, let’s revisit just what it would mean to be there forever. Humans, accustomed to living lives of roughly 70-90+ years, would never die. One thousand years would pass by. One million years would pass by. One billion, one trillion, one hundred trillion, ninety-nine trillion-trillion, and on and on and on.

Try to perceive that quantity of time (impossible, I know. Just try).

What if I said something like “And after all that time, you’re no closer to _________ (fill in the blank) than when you started.”

Did you think of the word “dying”? Did you think “being done”? Did you think “Not existing anymore?” Did you think to yourself, “Wow, eternity does kinda sound like overkill, or at least a little unnecessary.” Honestly, I think a number much, much lower would sound reasonable. Can you even imagine living for a few thousand years? Really, think about that. Isn’t that long enough? Maybe today you think you need more time to make things right. But who needs eternity? That’s like saying I need Unlimited Data from my cell phone carrier, when realistically I only need like 20 Gigs a month.

(I actually need much less, of course. But give me this one thing!)

So, why would you want to live consciously forever? If it’s anything like consciousness as we know it, it would be Hell. If it’s something completely different than consciousness as we know it, then we have no basis to judge its benefits. “I can’t wait to experience the joys of something that is completely unlike joy as I know it! Hooray!”

Unconscious Eternity

I so sweeeepy... I sweep for-wever...

I so sweeeepy… I sweep for-wever…


This one is interesting because… we’ve already done this one. All those trillions of years that the universe existed before the earth was made? Yeah, that’s what unconscious eternity feels like. I mean, it’s not like you were sitting around bored out of your mind waiting to be born. You were totally okay with it. Now, imagine that you die but some part of you lives on, maybe “with God” or in some type of “soul sleep” setup, but you’re not conscious of anything. Honestly, it doesn’t matter if you’re unconscious for a minute or for twenty-eight universe lifetimes; unconscious existence is all the same to you. Your atoms and/or soul-stuff are free to float about deep space or the tenth-dimensional soccer field as long as necessary. Maybe you’ll get a new skin suit, maybe you won’t.

So, while there’s not a huge downside to unconscious eternity, there’s not really any difference between this idea and simply dying. If you’re not conscious, you’re pretty much dead. If you’re not dead, it’s still (like conscious eternity) a way of living that’s so unlike human life that it’s not anything to “look forward to”.

 

Reincarnation

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I think this is the most intriguing perspective on living forever, because in a way you get three-in-one. If you perpetually reincarnate, you may indeed be more or less “stuck” in a loop of death and rebirth “forever.” The difference would be that instead of existing on a linear timeline, you’d be existing in a circular one. For example, you could possibly be stuck in a loop that is primarily happening during the 18th Century over and over and over, but it could go on and on seemingly forever if you reincarnate into a new 18th Century human (or insect, or blade of grass, or American Flag) each time. That hundred years might resemble thirteen billion before you’re done with it.

What is very interesting about reincarnation is that you don’t remember your previous lives. In that way, it is no different than living once and dying once. (Wait, maybe atheists are just pissed off Buddhists?) And if there is even one second between your multiple lives, that one second was most-likely an unconscious second. So, you might as well have never existed at all before your new (and hopefully improved) upcoming life since you’d have no recollection of that second you didn’t exist.

And when you do reincarnate, are you really you anymore? If you are Jim in this life and Pam in the next (ponder THAT one, fans of NBC’s The Office), then is it really you at all? Maybe we’re all the same person, or the same universal consciousness making the rounds to everyone (kinda like Quantum Leap, perhaps?)

So why would you want to live a reboot-style life forever? Do you really want be the main character in Bill Murray’s Groundhog Day, without the benefit of the information learned from yesterday? I mean, isn’t the whole purpose of reincarnation to break the cycle of suffering and death, i.e. TO FINALLY DIE AND JUST STAY DEAD?

Conclusions:

I don’t know if there is an afterlife, or what it would look like. I don’t. But I do believe in Heaven.

I honestly think humans gets so hung up on living forever because we feel like we don’t have enough time. We think that one lifetime just isn’t enough. We cling to the idea of eternity because it feels secure. I’ve had that same feeling multiple times during this finite life though. Have you ever felt the embrace of a loved-one who kindly whispered to you “You’re safe now” or “You don’t have to be afraid ever again”? In that moment you didn’t need reassurance that trillions of years would pass without a moment of discomfort. We can experience the miracle of that moment in the temporal way it was meant to be felt, eternity or not. I think many of us equate Heaven with such a feeling, like a hug that’s waiting for us on the other side to say that everything will be okay, the pain is over, you’re safe now. Who wouldn’t want that?

I don’t ridicule the idea of Heaven in gerneral, or think those who seek it are merely small people looking for a way to cope with the fear of death. I do, however, believe that Heaven isn’t cheap. It goes much further than the superficial themes of pleasure and reward. Heaven is when you carry your kid on your shoulders after a sports game on the way back to your car. Heaven is when you walk across the stage to take your diploma from the president of the university. Heaven is emerging from poverty, or lowering ladders for others to climb out. It is a baby’s laughter, a negative cancer screening, or marriage vows renewed.

No, I do not believe what we seek is life eternal. We simply want to leave here on our terms, when we are good and ready. Are you ready to die? It’s okay if you’re not. Just stop waiting for Heaven.

It’s been waiting forever for you.

——–

brettBrett Gallaher is founder of We Occupy Jesus, pretty much the best blog like ever. He resides in Chattanooga, Tennessee, the place they wrote that train song about. Once he shot a squirrel, but he felt really bad about it afterwards. When he’s not changing the world, Brett also enjoys paying way too much for coffee.

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Don’t Should On Me!

Brett Gallaher —  January 20, 2014 — 5 Comments

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So I went to see an R-rated movie the other day. Well, first I sat through the forty-five minutes of commercials about buying the giant discount popcorn bucket, and then I watched an R-rated movie. Wait, I’m getting ahead of myself again. After the popcorn propaganda came the previews (including the preview for that upcoming Coca Cola bears movie, aka the upcoming 90 minute commercial about Coca Cola). Since I had paid to see an R-rated film, the previews were for many R-rated films as well. One time I read the description of the rating itself, being told that minors must be accompanied by an adult. For some reason, it made me laugh. I mean, the content of the film doesn’t change simply because your parent is sitting next to you. Obviously the message is “We don’t care if your kid should see decapitations and raunchy sex scenes at age nine. We just want to make sure you don’t mind if your kid sees it. And don’t sue us by the way.”

Can't beat the real thing!

Can’t beat the real thing!

~

I had to catch myself, because my inner monologue had begun should’ing all over the place. You see, I think one of the un-evolved elements of humanity is our propensity to tell other human beings what they should and should not do, think, believe, or feel. We do it all day long. It saturates every conversation from religion to politics to education to… who should see an R-rated movie. I mean, I was sitting there in the theater thoroughly enjoying the adult humor and language used in the film. Honestly, a few years ago I would not have felt comfortable with such content, but I have changed. Depending on your own beliefs you may think I made a change for the worse, letting my morals slowly decay and allowing my mind to be infected with unholy influences. Maybe not. Maybe you think R-rated movies are more in-line with the real world, unfiltered and consistent with our modern society.

What really struck me was the fact I couldn’t simply enjoy the show without first dealing with these kind of thoughts; I was somehow compelled to entertain fabricated debates in my head regarding the nature of morality. That’s annoying. I mean, I paid $10 (plus the nearly $15 for the giant discount popcorn bucket) so I could yell internally at my third grade Sunday School teacher (who was a lovely woman by the way). Why was I letting people “should” on me from the past? From decades ago?

"Brett! Stop reading Song of Solomon out loud!"

“Brett! Stop reading Song of Solomon out loud!”

~

I observed the actions of the characters on screen. The uncensored tone of the dialogue was refreshing, but it reminded me of how any truth or lesson lying behind the film would be totally lost on certain individuals. The unmarried couple laying in bed after sex, having a real human conversation filled with laughter and joy and hope… none of that would come across to those only preoccupied with condemning the “sin” of premarital sex. The woman abused by her husband of fifteen years shares a dance and a kiss with a younger man in a bar… but she’s an adulteress whore and a drunkard to some. You see, characters in films may not be real, but they represent very real ideas, people, situations, etc. Movies are truly art imitating life.

So, who is to say how we should live? What should we do? What shouldn’t we do? It’s easier for us to get those answers from other people. For some that is as easy as picking a religion. Right and wrong are able to be defined, creating a framework for living. In such a scenario, one must simple do all they can to avoid what is wrong and pursue what is right. This creates a tendency to dismiss “gray areas” as confused or twisted logic, created by dark forces conspiring to trip you up at every turn. Reality is only black and white to many people, therefore anything gray is to be met with suspicion at the very least.

That reminds me of another R-rated movie coming out soon...

That reminds me of another R-rated movie coming out soon…

~

While I won’t fall into the verbal trap of attempting the phrase “You shouldn’t tell people what they shouldn’t do” …I’ll propose what I see as an obvious downside of should’ing on people. To define life (and particularly your life) as existing within any pre-defined framework is to reject the experience of life. If you tell someone else how they should feel, who they should love, what they should do, etc., you are telling them that their own experience, their own journey, their own path is pointless. Their unique existence? Meaningless. And worse, you are tell them that your unique existence isn’t unique either. You’re kindly (or often unkindly) breaking it to them that life isn’t about doing the work of discovering your own place in the universe; you’re saying life is already decided to be [fill in the blank]. Get use to it.

And much worse, you can rob people of some of the most beautiful moments. You have the power to take something miraculous, or freeing, or life-giving, and write it off as selfish, sinful, or even demonic. Any particular brand of happiness not grounded in your particular worldview can be met with ridicule, dismissal, or scorn. And again, the real tragedy is that you reject the truth behind the packaging. You miss out on life, trading it for a concept you’ve elevated to the place of God.

Obviously we can have our convictions. We can believe strongly in principles that guide our lives. We can fight for what matters to us. But it must be the fruit of our own labor, to work out who we should be as individuals. It will involve trial and error. You will mess up. You will get discouraged. But if you pull through, if you discover what is good and pure, what is dark and empty, what gives you meaning and what poisons your soul… if you experience pain and rebirth, if you conquer yourself and find who you really are…

…No one should ever be able to define life for you ever again.

——–

brettBrett Gallaher is founder of We Occupy Jesus, pretty much the best blog like ever. He resides in Chattanooga, Tennessee, the place they wrote that train song about. Once he shot a squirrel, but he felt really bad about it afterwards. When he’s not changing the world, Brett also enjoys paying way too much for coffee.

blue-heaven

~

Heaven. That place beyond this world. Not the overly humid one I’ve written about before. The other one. You know, that place where God, Jesus, their friend Casper (i.e. The Holy Spirit), and all those people who abstained from sex get to party for all eternity. That place. For many I would expect it means everything. It is the only reason they get out of bed, endure a job they hate, volunteer in the church Easter production, or whatever else it is that they’d rather not be doing. It is all going to pay off one day. It has to. Otherwise, wouldn’t life be one big waste?

Let’s forget about the implications of that last sentence for a moment. Let’s just assume there is a Heaven. Let’s assume that you and I are going there, whether it be due to old age… or a very unfortunate and catastrophic roller-coaster failure. Let’s first consider some basic questions. As is customary, questions have a way of challenging your neat and tidy reality built out of rainbows and smores. It sucks, but we have to do it. Why? Because I don’t want you getting to Heaven and then be tragically disappointed by all the Mormons running around.

Anything is possible, folks.

Anything is possible, folks.

~

And I mean, haven’t you ever wondered where exactly Heaven would be? If it was a planet? Maybe you have never considered Heaven to be a real place in our physical universe, and that’s a damn shame. Just think of the implications! We’d be living on an alien world, essentially making us aliens. We’d be immortal, ruling the universe alongside our extremely powerful, loving, sometimes-jealous Lord and Master Overlord of the Galaxy, Hey-Zeus… err… I mean, Jesus Christ. Somehow on this magical planet everything would be perfect and sustainable. Somehow this planet would never even be destroyed, not even in the wake of a localized Supernova event. Jesus would beat back the shockwave with his telepathy, then create a new type of perpetual fusion to warm the planet, powered by his love for you and me. In the evening he’d fight off that trickster Devil who always tries to ruin the fun.

Of course I'm talking about Loki.

Of course I’m talking about Loki.

~

As awesome as this sounds, I think it is safe to say that Heaven is not a planet. Perhaps the majority of Heaven-believing readers are thinking, “Of course it’s not a planet. Heaven is beyond time and space.” I’ve even heard folks say “Heaven is outside of existence.” While most people would interpret such a statement as saying “Something outside of existence… doesn’t… exist” …many people think it is very reasonable to imagine Heaven as being completely reserved for a reality separate from our own. And there’s almost universal agreement that Heaven is somewhere “out there” …somewhere we go. Somewhere that’s not… here.

Well, that’s fine and dandy, but there’s a problem.

The Kingdom of Heaven Is Not A Kingdom!

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When Jesus talks of the Kingdom of Heaven in the book of Matthew, he is really speaking of the Kingdom of God. The author of Matthew was writing to a primarily Jewish audience, so he swapped the word “God” (which they believed should never be spoken out loud) and replaced it with “Heaven”. While the difference may not seem all that significant at first, my trusty Seminary education begs to differ. Let’s look at the other word in the phrase. What about the word “Kingdom”?

The Greek word for Kingdom being used in the Gospel of Matthew is Basileia.

Definition:
royal power, kingship, dominion, rule
not to be confused with an actual kingdom but rather the right or authority to rule over a kingdom
of the royal power of Jesus as the triumphant Messiah
of the royal power and dignity conferred on Christians in the Messiah’s kingdom
a kingdom, the territory subject to the rule of a king
used in the N.T. to refer to the reign of the Messiah. [per The NAS New Testament Greek Lexicon]

So you can see how things get all wacky when you don’t have the above definition. If you’re imagining a Kingdom named Heaven, or a Kingdom in which God rules, you’re expecting a literal country, realm, or perfect place. But that’s not what the text is suggesting. The Kingdom of God/Heaven is the place where God is present, where he is ruling.

Now, we could spend all sorts of time delving through scripture after scripture to build a case for what Jesus was talking about, to refute the popular view of Heaven, but seriously…
Who wants to do that? Let’s go back to that first question.

If there’s no Heaven, is life meaningless?

Perhaps, in a very Jesus way of answering a question, another question would help.

Why would we need the promise of an eternal reward to find meaning?

This is what drives atheists crazy (along with those Seventh Heaven marathons). So many Christians think that nothing has any meaning without God, or Heaven. It’s not inherently good to rescue an old woman from a burning building; it’s good because it’s the Christ-like thing to do. It’s not good to have personal integrity and be a person of your word; it’s good because the Bible says lying is wrong. And worst of all, God isn’t good because he is actually a noble being who cares for us; he’s Good because he’s God, therefore anything God does is good by default.

That’s like saying Zeus would be a good god because he’s a god. If he killed your son and took your wife back up to Olympus, that’s good, because Zeus is good.

So, why is it that Heaven means so much to us? What if we got there (or it came to us) and it was really filled with egocentric pricks who didn’t give a damn about us. Would it be Heaven then? What if your soulmate didn’t get in because she wasn’t a Christian? Would you really want to spend eternity without her? How could that be Heaven? And what if Heaven was a place filled with all the superficial things God specifically told you not to do on Earth? Isn’t that what you’ve been hoping for all long, that Heaven would be somewhere you get to over-sleep, over-eat, play on your smartphone, and watch football 24/7? Is that really Heaven? An extended edition of your day-to-day gluttony?

Heaven isn’t out there. It is closer than you think. It is within you. It is for believer, atheist, agnostic, muslim, Jew, buddhist, gay, straight, black, white, man, woman, and child. Heaven is harmony, balance, and peace. The Kingdom is a rebuttal to this world that says “Get the hell out of my way.” The Kingdom says “There is a better way.” Heaven is a son reconciled to an estranged father, it is a slave forgiving his master, it is a girl who finally stops cutting. Heaven is a mother who holds a laughing child, it is that first moment of Summer, it is the negative result on a cancer screening. Heaven is…

…a blogger from southeast Tennessee who made a post about Heaven that he gets to share with his friends, and it helping even one reader feel better about something in their life.

If you ask me, Heaven is gray. Let me show you what I mean.

#weoccupyjesus

—–

bretttttt1Brett Gallaher is founder of We Occupy Jesus, pretty much the best blog like ever. He resides in Chattanooga, Tennessee, the place they wrote that train song about. Once he shot a squirrel, but he felt really bad about it afterwards. When he’s not changing the world, Brett also enjoys paying way too much for coffee.

signheavenhell

~

This may come as a shock, but despite what your ex says about you, you’re probably not going to Hell. Relieved? Good! But I hate to break it to you that your ex isn’t going to Hell either. What was that? Will you both spend eternity in Heaven? Of course not! Then you’d both be in Hell! Are you paying attention at all?

Now I know what some of you may be thinking (and that’s precisely why I won’t be replying to every comment). How can I, blogger-person, know with certainty who is and isn’t going to Hell? How can a mere mortal know such mysteries of divine judgment? Easy. I used the word probably in the title. If I’m wrong, I’m off the hook (and your ex is going to Hell. It’s a win-win). So let’s not get too hung up on “me playing God” and let’s just enjoy the show. You might learn something. Or not.

So, of course when I say the word “Hell”, a lot of images come to mind. Let’s just focus on the basic Hell for now, the one with the fire and the brimstone and the screaming and the pitchforks and the Mormons. You may edit out the fire, or imagine it’s invisible so Hell can be “dark as Hell” too. Maybe it’s just really really humid, or really really smelly. Imagine that place that is just so terrible that the only thing worse is staying in that doomed-from-the-start relationship with your ex, whose very memory is preventing you from enjoying a simple blog post.

MY GOD! LEAVE US ALONE!

Where were we? Oh yeah! The blog post!

So, yeah. I’m just not buying the whole Hell thing. It just doesn’t add up. Not that everything adds up in life, but this one really takes the “not adding up” cake. I can give you four good reasons why you can just rest a little easier tonight. You’re probably not going to Hell because…

 1. INTERSTELLAR SPACE TRAVEL

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If we’re going with the model that involves fire, or at least really really hot stuff like plasma, then stars create an awkward dilemma for eternal Hellfire. I personally grew up hearing that Hell was in the center of the earth. This is by no means a universally accepted location, but it emphasizes the notion that Hell is really really hot, much like the center of our planet. But we all know that there are much hotter places than Earth’s core. While our pale blue dot’s center tops out at about 5430 Degrees Celsius (or 9806 Degrees Fahrenheit for all you folks from ‘Merica) which actually matches the surface temperature of our Sun, it’s snow globes compared to the solar core sporting a whopping 15,000,000 degrees Celsius. (If you’re waiting for the Fahrenheit amount, you’re missing the point).

So, there’s no way God would choose Earth as the host for this party. He’d go big. He’d really show off how bad he wanted us to burn by putting us inside of a star. But if you think the Sun is the logical locale, think again.

Meet VY Canis Majoris…

If you look closely, you can actually see the Sun crapping its pants.

If you look closely, you can actually see the Sun crapping its pants.

~

Stars get larger and larger. Therefore, if Hell exists anywhere in this universe, it must be in the largest star. Well, we don’t know which star that would be, or where it is exactly, but we know that any of these stars are going to be hella-far away. When your ex dies, they’d have to travel there. There’s only two viable methods of interstellar space travel. Light speed wouldn’t work, because the next closest stars (Alpha Centauri A, B, and Proxima) are still over 4 light years away. Ain’t nobody got time for that! God would have to use wormholes to transport us to his abode of infinite justice. He’d be bending space, just for us. Isn’t that sweet?

That sounds like an awful lot of trouble for God. Why didn’t he just put us closer to Hell? He’s basically deferring to his magic teleportation powers to bypass the scientific limitations (the very limitations that he… set up… himself). In Scripture, God rarely allows such wormhole teleportation. Obviously we remember when Jesus floated up in the air and waved goodbye to the audience, saying really profound stuff before he disappeared. You think he’s letting you cruise the cosmos like his own kid? Fuggetaboutit. And just think, even if God somehow did transport us to his flame of choice, he’d have to teleport us every time that star burned out. That’s a lot of effort to punish us for keeping Playboy magazines under the mattress.

Okay, so we’re only on #1 and we’ve already concluded we’re probably not headed to any Hell located in this universe. You’d think that’d pretty much cover our bases right? But I bet there’s at least a few of you out there who believe there’s a spiritual world, all misty/spooky and shit. Well, I didn’t forget about you folks. Don’t worry, because you’re probably not going to that Hell either, because of…

2. CENTRAL NERVOUS SYSTEMS

Ouch500

“Thank you for physical pain, Jesus!”

~

Have you ever undergone a surgical procedure where anesthesia was required? In other words, were you ever unconscious while someone cut you open and tinkered around inside of you? Luckily for you, you didn’t feel a thing. Well, if you did feel anything then you’re probably the proud recipient of a large medical malpractice settlement and you’re too busy drinking champagne from golden chalices to remember the unpleasantness. When you die, you don’t feel anything anymore. Nothing. There’s no central nervous system to send those “ouch” signals to the brain. Heck, there’s no brain activity when you die either. There’s not a whole lot of anything going on in the “you” department after it’s all over.

Now obviously many of you may be worried about “spiritual fire”. Your body may be gone but your soul remains, right? God is pissed and wants your soul to suffer for all that crap you did with that filthy body of yours. Well, think about what “spiritual fire” would mean. If you are a soul and you can still feel pain, still have thoughts, still experience suffering and all the stuff that comes along with a spiritual Hell, then…

C’mon, people… you know this one…

If your soul provides all the comforts and discomforts of a body… then you never needed a body in the first place. God made the Earth for a bunch of meat-sack soul-containers to bump into each other and start wars and buy over-priced health insurance, for no reason. If God wanted you to suffer after you die, then why make a physical you at all? Why make a physical universe at all? If the universe matters at all, it matters more than our own physical presence within it. That’s right. If there’s a spiritual Hell, if there’s a Hell somewhere on “the other side”, then that’s like God giving this side a big middle finger.

Now I know this is only #2 and we’ve put together a decent case against Hell existing in either this universe or some spiritual realm, but if I know Christians (and boy do I ever), I suspect that a few are reaching for their trusty dusty Bibles right now. I’ll get mine out too. But guess what? You’re still probably not going to Hell because…

3. FOREVER AND EVER ISN’T ALWAYS “FORVER AND EVER”

FOR-E-VER

FOR-E-VER

~

“If anyone worships the beast and his image, and receives a mark on his forehead or on his hand, he also will drink of the wine of the wrath of God, which is mixed in full strength in the cup of His anger; and he will be tormented with fire and brimstone in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb. And the smoke of their torment goes up forever and ever; they have no rest day and night, those who worship the beast and his image, and whoever receives the mark of his name.” – Revelation 14:9b-11 NIV.

Pretty heavy stuff, right? The smoke goes up forever. Eternal torment, right there in black and white. At the end of time, God kicks some serious human ass. But that verse… it sounds familiar. It reminds me of another verse, an earlier verse.

Edom’s streams will be turned into pitch, her dust into burning sulfur; her land will become blazing pitch! It will not be quenched night or day; its smoke will rise forever. From generation to generation it will lie desolate; no one will ever pass through it again. – Isaiah 34:9-10 NIV.

Edom is still burning? Really? I mean, it is the Bible. And the Bible is the source of authority on all the Hell-talk anyway, right? But we don’t have to simply trust Scripture this time. I’m sure we can just confirm this ourselves by finding a recent image of Edom. Get your popcorn, grab a couple loved-ones, lower the lights, and let’s enjoy the never-ending carnage together!

Maybe it's "spiritual smoke".

Maybe it’s “spiritual smoke”

~

Hmm. This is awkward. Maybe the Bible just likes to talk a big game. Maybe the Bible uses terms like “forever and ever” to emphasize the extent of the destruction, not the duration of the destruction. Maybe Hitler doesn’t need to boil in lava for eternity; maybe God just wants to look down ominously from the ledge inside Mount Doom as Hitler grasps the Ring of Power in a moment of evil defiance before he melts. There’s actually a whole neat theology about this called Annihilationism. If you’re interested, check out this article.

I don’t know about you, but I’m just more smitten with this God fellow than ever!

Still worried you might find yourself in a leaky rowboat in a lake of fire? Don’t be! Because…

4. MOSES WOULD NEVER LET GOD LIVE IT DOWN

moses460

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I’ve mentioned this before, and I’ll never cease mentioning it. Moses totally schooled God in Exodus 32. Here’s the Biblical proof, if proof is the right word.

The Lord said to Moses, “I have seen this people, how stiff-necked they are. Now let me alone, so that my wrath may burn hot against them and I may consume them; and of you I will make a great nation.” Exodus 32:9-10 NRSV.

Okay, so God was like “Leave me alone. I’m pissed. I don’t even want you to talk sense into me, Moses.” But then Moses does the righteous thing by disobeying God and giving God three reasons why he’s wrong to be so bitchy.

But Moses implored the Lord his God, and said, “O Lord, why does your wrath burn hot against your people, whom you brought out of the land of Egypt with great power and with a mighty hand? Why should the Egyptians say, ‘It was with evil intent that he brought them out to kill them in the mountains, and to consume them from the face of the earth’? Turn from your fierce wrath; change your mind and do not bring disaster on your people. Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, your servants, how you swore to them by your own self, saying to them, ‘I will multiply your descendants like the stars of heaven, and all this land that I have promised I will give to your descendants, and they shall inherit it forever.’” And the Lord changed his mind about the disaster that he planned to bring on his people. Exodus 11-14

Oh, Burn! (pun intended).

If this verse tells us one thing, it’s that God, even Old Testament pre-Jesus God, had mercy. He never stays mad. He goes for a drive, gets a drink, watches the game, and then comes home ready for love. Plus, he knows that if he really goes over the edge one day, he loses. If there is a God, he’s not interested in losing. Have you ever wondered what it would look like if he really tortured conscious souls for eternity? He’d literally become more cruel than any notion of Satan we’ve ever heard of. If you happen to believe in Satan, and if you even attribute every crappy thing that ever happened to his doing, none of it could ever compare to God creating a Hell. If Satan had a good 5 million years of chaotic fun with humanity, that would never come close to God’s eternal reign of terror, confining countless souls to a fate much worse than death, with no chance of learning their lesson, with no chance of redemption, for crimes they may or may not have been aware of.

Honestly, if Hell is real then God should give every newborn baby a birthmark across their forehead that spells out “Hell is real. That’s why I’m giving you this very clear birthmark because I’d be a big jerk if I didn’t tell you directly. Sincerely, God, Your loving cosmic overlord.”

IN CLOSING: Obviously these four reasons I have given are really four cans of worms I have opened up for you all to enjoy. I do not pretend to know what actually happens when we die, but my studies and sarcasm lead me to write on such topics for educational and entertainment purposes. If you’re an Atheist, God bless you for reading this far. I find myself between agnosticism and pantheism, terms you should know if you want to know anything about me. Having grown up in a fundamentalist home (in the South), this discussion never stops. Hell is a topic that influences everything from who we vote for to how we talk to our parents at Thanksgiving. Hopefully this article has helped you smile a little more and fear the flaming abyss just a little less.

——–

brettttttBrett Gallaher is founder of We Occupy Jesus, pretty much the best blog like ever. He resides in Chattanooga, Tennessee, the place they wrote that train song about. Once he shot a squirrel, but he felt really bad about it afterwards. When he’s not changing the world, Brett also enjoys paying way too much for coffee.

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If you know anything about Christianity, you know that beliefs vary. We use terms like left-wing and right-wing, conservative evangelical and liberal protestant, Calvinist and Arminian, Orthodox and progressive, and the list goes on. Oh, I guess there’s a few “Catholics” out there too.

If you felt the urge to correct me by saying “Catholics aren’t Christian!” then you’re one of those special folks who will hopefully benefit greatly from this post. There exists a vocal faction within many religions, especially Christianity, known as “Fundamentalists.” These people tend to gravitate to extreme positions on religious issues, usually without the college courses to make them sound all smart-like. But deciphering exactly who is a fundamentalist (or fundie) is tricky. I have known progressive folks who just love them some homophobia and some racism. I have also known some elderly “give me that old time religion” types who are vocal about how Pro-Choice they are. Obviously the 700 Club sprinkles some magic hallelujah powder in all of our cereal once in a while. Some of us are just more bullshit intolerant than others.

Oh by the way, some fundies are easy to spot.

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The purpose of this post is not to lump you or anything else into a neat little (crazy) box by describing what a fundamentalist always believes or does not believe. I simply have the blessing (and fiscal curse) of 3/4ths of a Masters Degree in Theology. I have witnessed fundies shaken to their core, not knowing if God’s lack of male genitalia was a game-changer for their lives or not. I’ve often wondered what would happen if average people (and by average I mean mere mortals who aren’t as educated as us superior grad school drop outs who now work in warranty sales) knew all this cool stuff about Church history and theology that we had learned. For your benefit (if you’re a fundie) and/or your entertainment, I thought a list of some of the more awesome-er contemplative issues I’ve come across would make for a smashing good time.

5. GOD IS NOT A MALE.

Jesus spelled backwards sounds like sausage.

Jesus spelled backwards sounds like sausage.

~

Despite how much we may want to see God as a dude, he just isn’t. (And for all you lovely atheists reading along, of course I mean “the God of Christian Tradition” is not nor should have ever been thought to be a dude, in theory). God is described throughout the scriptures and church history to be a spirit, to be wholly (holy) other than us (i.e., God doesn’t have a body). Both Thomas Aquinas (part 1, question 3, article 1) and Saint Augustine (Confessions, book 7) will back me up on that one. The use of masculine verbiage is often allegorical. Feminine, or motherly traits are also attributed to God in Scripture. Psalms 123 uses the term mistress, Luke 15 describes God like a housewife, Hosea like a mother, and so on.

If your knee-jerk reaction is to say “Well, the feminine references are just symbolic, but the masculine ones are literal” then you might want to re-examine your relationship with your father… or mother… or whoever made you think invisible giant shapeshifting penises are somehow essential to your faith.

4. THE BIBLE IS NOT TO BE TAKEN LITERALLY.

Some people just "literally" don't read it.

Some people just “literally” don’t read it.

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Now here is a tricky one. So many Christians, and fundies especially, have a real difficulty understanding the difference between the words “literal” and “true”. (I’d suspect a few atheists share this tendency as well). If anyone reading this has such a difficulty and you come away from this post with even a slither more reflection on the topic than before, I will be ecstatic.

When we say the word “literal” we are speaking from a Western philosophical perspective. When we think of things literally, we are talking about “what actually happened”. When people ask us if a tree makes a noise when it falls in the forest, a Western view is, “Of course.” But then some Eastern wise-guy would say, “But sound can’t exist unless you’re there to hear it!” Both views can be considered “true” yet only one view is considered “literal”.

There’s nothing wrong with a Western view, but when applied to the Bible there is a HUGE problem. I think it would help fundies if they knew how Rabbis (you know… people like Jesus) interpret scripture. Judaism was an Eastern religion that focuses on the theological point of the story, not so much the scientific conditions surrounding the events. For them, verses should be interpreted on four different levels, not merely face value.

First is p’shat which means simple. (All you “average” people pay attention). This method is easiest for Westerners because it’s the plain saying of a verse. Sometimes when God says don’t eat rancid camel meat, that’s just him looking out for you.

Second is remez, which means hint. Jesus or other authors would use the remez technique to hint at an Old Testament reference to give a statement a deeper meaning. The deeper meaning may not be literal, like when Jesus was like “Hey, Peter! You. are. the. DEVIL!” That’d just be confusing for everyone, especially that new Pope we all like so much.

Third is midrash, which mean to search. This is the highly allegorical or homiletical application where we read our own thoughts into the text. Remember Pslams? Proverbs? Yeah, all of those. If you hate on midrash, rip out the middle of your Bible. Jesus used this method in Matthew when he said “you shall not kill” but expanded the commandment, saying to not be angry with anyone because this is still a form of spiritual violence.

Last is sod, which means secret. This is the idea that hidden in scripture are meanings placed by God only attainable by revelation, and this revelation is obviously on a personal level.

If you think to yourself, “Either believe all of the Bible or none of it at all,” then you are “literally” insane if you mean “believe all of the Bible literally.” But honestly, most fundies don’t actually think the Bible is to be taken in such a way; they only see the parts they want to see as literal. For example, they may be fine thinking God created the Earth in six literal days, but they interpret “Gog and Magog” in the Book of Revelations metaphorically as “China and Russia.” They may say homosexuals should literally be put to death (or at least be banned from their Applebees after church), but Song of Solomon is just a metaphor for Christ’s love for his church (and not about how awesome premarital oral sex can be).

The propaganda of Biblical inerrancy (fancy way of saying camels go through needle eyes whenever rich people go to heaven) is much more a political/social ideological phenomenon than anything else. If you fight for the bible to be literal only when you want it to be literal, you most likely are looking for an excuse to do, not do, like, or not like something or someone (e.g. science, women, other races, evolution, pre-marital oral sex).

~

3. THE BIBLE ISN’T ANTI-GAY.

That reminds me. I need to catch up on Project Runway.

That reminds me. I need to catch up on Project Runway.

~

For number 3, I’d love to expound on my own thoughts, but Matthew Vines from reformationproject.org has a video that verbalized this position perfectly. PERFECTLY. “Literally”. Watch it if you want to become a better human being. If you watch it and you have any doubts remaining, only God (or violent re-education camps) could change your mind.

2. GOD MIGHT NOT KNOW THE FUTURE.

angry-jesus

“I don’t know, Peter! Leave me alone!”

~

If this makes you uncomfortable, GOOD! I HOPE YOU’RE IN A CRAPPY CHAIR TOO! Just kidding. Where was I? Oh yeah! The blog post!

If you cannot fathom that your newly de-penis’d God also has no idea who you are going to marry, when you’re going to get a promotion, or exactly when then next tsunami is going to kill half a million people, then number 2 is for you!

DISCLAIMER: I’m not saying God doesn’t know the future. I’d never take that away from God. God hates it when my own beliefs mess with his abilities.

If you think God’s omniscience (all knowing-ness) is obviously a power God has, I’d venture to say you didn’t get that belief from your Bible. You most likely heard that from general church chatter over the years. Maybe it just makes sense to you. Why wouldn’t God know everything? He wouldn’t be very God-like if he only knew everything up to this second. He needs to know more than everything! Right?

Well, there’s this awkward thing we Seminary students learned about called “over-Hellenization”. Basically, Christianity got really Greek, really fast. Like, “omni-greek” (all Greek). So naturally, God got greek as well. We upgraded him to super knowledge (omniscience), super teleportation (omnipresence), and super… um… ability to do anything he wants (omnipotence).

We upgraded God.

God-Jesus-Robot

~

And now we’ve upgraded him so much that we’re scared to piss him off by… under-Hellenizing him. Christians have grown accustomed to kissing God’s ass. (You just got a little nervous I pissed off his omnipotence, didn’t you?) Those super powers we gave God actually contradict each other, rather blatantly actually. To question them is not heresy. In fact, it’s polite to actually think for ourselves. Let’s try it!

If God knows everything, he can’t change his mind. He “literally” can’t! But don’t worry! Moses changes God’s mind in Exodus 32. (Look it up. Moses schools that guy).

If God knows everything, he’s responsible for not using his omnipotence to stop disasters from occurring (like those tsunamis we were talking about). If you think God has to let tsunamis kill us, I wonder if Heaven has to have tornados made out of snakes for some equally logical reason of yours.

Basically, if you have a perfect God, you have no “relationship”. There is zero room for a personality, for a back and forth, for a give and take, for a… God who says “That didn’t work, I guess I’ll become a human now.”

Yeah… the Jesus thing doesn’t work well under that model.

It’s a good thing we have other theologies like Open Theism. (Sounds all liberal and hippie, doesn’t it?) I know you’re going to do a Wikipedia search, so I’ll save you the trouble.

In a word, open theism is the view that since the fact of human freedom means the future is partly a realm of possibilities, and God’s sovereignty means the future is partly a realm of determined facts, God knows the possibilities as possibilities and the determined facts as determined facts. While several versions of traditional classical theism could model the future as a singular linear necessity, open theism would do so as a plurality of branching possibilities. Thus, the future is pictured as open. -Wikipedia.org.

Now, if this idea makes you think any less of God, just ponder the benefits of a God who is just as bummed out about evil in the world as you are, a God who doesn’t have your future determined without your own free will, a God who is much more approachable than Omni-douche.

1. BEING “SAVED” ISN’T JUST FOR CHRISTIANS.

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If you’ve ever heard the following verse, raise your hand.

     “And there is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men           by which we must be saved.” -Acts 4:12.

(Now put your hand down. You look silly).

Sounds pretty straight-forward huh? Want some more?

     Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me.” –                 John 14:6.

Okay, without even delving into any academic mumbo jumbo, you should notice a couple problems if you take these verses to mean you must know of Jesus to be saved. If this is what you believe then you must consider the following.

Babies? Damned.

Everyone who has never heard of Jesus? Damned.

All followers of Judaism? You know, Jesus’ own religion? Damned.

The Good Samaritan? Screw that guy!

You get the idea.

When backed into a corner on this issue, fundies seem to pull out a bunch of exceptions. Babies get a free pass because they are innocent, even though in the next breath they resort to language of original sin and how we are all enemies of God until we accept Jesus.

Those people who never heard of Jesus? They might (keyword: might) get into Heaven because they are ignorant of the truth, therefore they are only judged by what they know. This creates the awkward issue where it’s actually beneficial to shut up and not tell them anything at all about Jesus. It might send them to Hell if they reject him. Even more awkward is that If you take away this exception then you admit Jesus’ very existence is an excuse for God to fry most of the world. Either that or God made the greatest logistical error of all time.

I don't wanna...

I don’t wanna…

~

People of other religions? Forget about it. Under this logic, God sure expects a lot out of people. Imagine if you were born in Iran. Guess what religion you’d be? You’d be a Muslim. I’m sorry. It’s true. But what if a pamphlet about Christianity falls from a plane and winds up in your front yard one day? You’d better convert to Christianity or you’re done for, pal! You just encountered the truth!

But besides all those… logical reasons to dismiss such a belief, there are several different ways to interpret those verses. And this isn’t cherry-picking. It’s just straight up theological precision, bro. I’m about to throw out some big words, so hold on.

The Eastern Orthodox Church holds to a theology of theosis, which basically means salvation has nothing to do with that whole “asking Jesus into your heart” business. Salvation is about God becoming human, healing our nature through the birth and life of Jesus, and offering the same healing and union with God that Jesus has attained. Salvation is a healing of the whole cosmos, not just us. We just happen to be apart of the cosmos, so we’re along for the ride. Some would say this theology hints at universalism (the belief that all be will saved).

I mean… at the end of time, do you really think God wouldn’t win?

Other views include Jesus saving us through his example of love which wakes us from our sinful sleep and shows us how to love each other. Just ask that medieval French scholar, philosopher, theologian, and preeminent logician, Peter Abelard.

“Our redemption through the suffering of Christ is that deeper love within us which not only frees us from slavery to sin, but also secures for us the true liberty of the children of God, in order that we might do all things out of love rather than out of fear – love for him that has shown us such grace that no greater can be found.”

Sounds like some religious asshole, right?

If you wanna get back to what the bible has to say about the matter, Romans lends some insight.

“For when Gentiles who do not have the Law do instinctively the things of the Law, these, not having the Law, are a law to themselves.” -Romans 2:14.

Basically, any potential complications about “knowing” the right thing, or the truth of Jesus, are ironed out nicely here. So, if God can save you without you knowing about Jesus… maybe Jesus isn’t such an egocentric power-hungry control freak after all!

IN CLOSING: Whether or not you believe in God, Jesus, or any religiosity whatsoever, I hope this post has given you motivation to look beyond the face value of the world around you. There is much beauty to be found. Be aware that your beliefs about religion or non-religion say a lot more about you than anything else. We’re all on this journey together. Just try to lay off of the fundie-juice when you can.

—-

brettttttBrett Gallaher is founder of We Occupy Jesus, pretty much the best blog like ever. He resides in Chattanooga, Tennessee, the place they wrote that train song about. Once he shot a squirrel, but he felt really bad about it afterwards. When he’s not changing the world, Brett also enjoys paying way too much for coffee.

Winter is over…

Brett Gallaher —  June 9, 2013 — 2 Comments

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I have not had the strength to write a blog post since it happened, since I separated from my spouse a little over two weeks ago. Obviously I know there is a time and a place for everything under the sun, yet it never seems the right time to write a blog post about something as sensitive a topic as this. I am someone who hates being hated, someone who avoids conflict at all costs. I did not want to use this blog as a means to bring more pain to those I’ve hurt or to garner increased support for myself. Yet here I am. Here goes nothin’.

First, a little backstory. I, like many others, am jaded by various individuals and circumstances from my past. The example I wish to use here involves another blog I used to follow. One day I opened my laptop and saw an intriguing article on the front page of MSNBC.com. A student pastor (who I will not name) was fired for his repeated blogging in support of progressive issues like LGBT rights and Christian Universalism. When I first discovered his blog I was still a United Methodist youth pastor. I was outraged that someone would be fired for expressing their personal theological views. I immediately “friended” him on Facebook and the two of us soon began sharing horror stories from our ministry years. It turned out that he had moved back to his wife’s hometown after his firing. That town was Cleveland, Tennessee. My hometown. After I left youth ministry, I moved back there as well to join him in planting a church. I had put all of my hope in this new venture. 

To make a long story short, it didn’t pan out. This “martyr” for progressive Christianity ended up being what I came to abhor about those who claimed to speak for the Christian left. He ended up being a self-adsorbed egomaniac who used progressivism as an excuse to live from the bottom of the moral dung heap, while still calling himself a pastor. After his many infidelities, he still went to his blog and spoke of his calling, of his role as a leader, as someone you should still send checks to. I was horrified he had used his blog to somehow appear noble in the midst of his rancid false piety.

Do I sound jaded enough yet?

Anyway, this individual became the epitome of everything I hoped I would never become. I knew I could never speak for God, for Christianity ever again. It was so stereotypical, the hypocritical pastor who drags the name of Jesus through the mud. I could never become that. It was too predictable. 

So I made We Occupy Jesus, an attempt to push the spotlight back to issues that matter, not about myself and my own Jesus-ness or lack thereof. I do not intend to speak for a religion, only for my own experiences. Yet the ghosts of my past return, telling me I’m just like that other guy, that phony, that charlatan, because I’ve missed the mark.

I know I have hurt people. I do not claim immunity from my actions. In fact, a friend told me not long ago that I had to own my decisions; I couldn’t hide behind my own confusion and apprehension. For once in my life I had to be honest with myself, and with those in my life, regardless of the consequences. I finally did tell my spouse I was unhappy and that I had broken our wedding vows. 

Now comes the long, cold winter. Now comes the self-doubting, the guilt, the fear of condemnation and shame. Here in the south it is especially difficult to live this down. Obviously I’m a monster. Obviously I must simply have a sexual addiction. Obviously I’m a sinner. Obviously I’ve been brainwashed by “the world.” Obviously I have no morality. Obviously We Occupy Jesus is a cult. 

Obviously life is more complicated than that. We are human. We are broken. We have to start over sometimes. We wish things weren’t so messy, but sometimes they are. Sometimes we have to hurt people, or risk losing our own souls. This is the deck life hands some of us. We wish we could go back and change it all, but in doing so we would unmake our own lives. 

Am I asking for anyone to forgive me because I admit my faults? Is honesty somehow a ticket to an admirable humility? Does it make me any less broken? No, not one bit. Yet I can say this. The truth does indeed set you free. Have you mistaken your cell for liberty? The darkness has a certain comfort to it, does it not?

Look deep within yourself. Lift the dungeon gates. Winter is over.
A new day is coming.

—-

ImageBrett Gallaher is founder of We Occupy Jesus, pretty much the best blog like ever. He resides in Cleveland, Tennessee, the second largest Cleveland in the United States. Once he shot a squirrel, but he felt really bad about it afterwards. When he’s not changing the world, Brett also enjoys paying way too much for coffee.

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The Meaning of Life…

Brett Gallaher —  January 9, 2013 — 4 Comments

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From time to time I have these epiphanies, these moments of clarity that cause me stop whatever I happen to be doing and simply breathe. It is in these moments that everything, at least temporarily, makes sense. Everything becomes clear. Sometimes they are merely my imagination having a bit of fun, but other times the thought stays with me, crystalizing into a new philosophical framework. Recently this was the case, yet it was not a fleeting moment of “Dude, that’s deep.” It was more of an “Oh, so that’s the meaning of the life.” It was almost awkward.

Now I know what you’re thinking (since I’ve attained enlightenment and can obviously read your mind now). Most likely you think there’s either no one true meaning of life (i.e. post-modernistic relativism), or you think the meaning of life is already obvious, perhaps by way of a personal religious belief (e.g. Christianity). I do not suggest either of these convictions to be “wrong” yet perhaps incomplete, or possibly missing a point or two (or seven). I also do not suggest I am by any means “done” reflecting and striving for greater truth. No journey is complete until the end, and we may never know just how long ours will be.

What was that? Get on with it? Tell you the bloody meaning of life already? Why should I? You won’t believe me anyways. You’re probably waiting to pick it apart, aren’t you? Okay, fine. I’ll tell you. But be warned, it is both very simple and very complex.

Simply put, the meaning of life is…

love.

If you feel this answer to be unsatisfying, cliche, or unhelpful, stick around. You just may be in for a surprise. Much in the same way that Douglas Adams, author of “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy,” offered us the answer to life, the universe, and everything (i.e. 42), the real answer is in the question! (Ignore the fact that the book never reveals the question). 42 is a great number and all, but it doesn’t do much without an explanation, now does it?

First we must break down the philosophical blockades. We must go back to what is basic. While many have differing opinions of how earth and humanity came to be, we can all agree that we are made of the same stuff. As Carl Sagan famously quoted…

“We are a way for the universe to know itself. Some part of our being knows this is where we came from. We long to return. And we can, because the cosmos is also within us. We’re made of star stuff.” -PBS, “Cosmos” 1980. 

Scientists have known for some time that humans, animals, and most all matter on earth are made up of the same basic elements: carbon, nitrogen, and oxygen. We are literally made of stardust. We are pieces of universe. Some would use the verbiage “We are the universe perceiving itself temporarily.” Whether secular or religious, there should be no point of contention here. However we came into existence, we are all connected.

Ashes to ashes. Dust to dust. We all give ourselves up to the elements upon death.

For the faithful, I make no insinuation that death is the end. I only mean to present the basic point that our bodies return to the same state from which it came.

The next barrier is the illusion of separation. We have this notion that “we” stop at our skin, that “we” are individuals contained in separate flesh pods, so to speak. But this is simply not the case. This next step in thinking may be more difficult for some than my first premise, but consider this…

We’re made up of living cells. These cells’ lives are dependent upon certain conditions. Your organs are dependent upon one another. Your continued life is dependent not only on your internal organs and systems, but your exterior environment. You are but a cell in a larger organism, dependent upon temperature, nutrients, etc. You continuously take in oxygen and other gases which pass in and out of your body. Your ecosystem is dependent upon several external factors, held in place by forces of nature, gravity, and cycles of life and death.

If you’re having trouble seeing the whole picture, imagine the air you breathe is a thick green liquid instead of an invisible gas. Imagine all of us under a giant microscope while a science lab filled with alien teenagers in a local galactic high school are examining our planet saying “Ew, gross. Earth cells are weird looking. Look at all the dots swimming around in there.”

There is no separation.

(At least not physically).

The only thing that separates is perception. We perceive our individual existences to be separate from everyone (and everything) else. There is, of course, some truth to this. We can choose to fight this shared unity. We can choose to splinter this cosmic communion. The very fact we perceive at all makes this choice essential.

Without perception we truly are atoms bound together. The universe (that’d be us) has always been united to itself, in the same way a rock has always been very “rock-like” and will continue to be so. But if the rock one day becomes self-aware, it can choose to believe it is not like its rock friends at all. It may create entire groups of superior rocks who shun the other inferior rocks. It may go to war against rock nations to secure its own modern rock national interests. It may elect extreme right-wing conservative rocks to rock congress to stop the evil socialist rocks from destroying all that’s good and decent about traditional Rockmerica.

(I really hope you’re good at understanding metaphors, people).

Here comes the more complex answer, which hopefully will not be so complex now that we’ve laid all the rock-language groundwork.

Since we are all pieces of conscious universe, we have a dual existence. We have our atomic-level existence and our perceptional existence. We are now (and forever will be) fulfilling our universal atomic unity whether we know it/like it or not. (We’re like the rocks, right?) But how does conscious universe fulfill itself? Before we started perceiving our existence, this was never a problem. Now it is.

The only way to consciously mimic our atomic unity, and thus fulfill our dual existence, is by loving one another. To love one another is to recognize the truth that we are all one. Without this recognition, we are forever incomplete.

After my revelation I felt relieved. This principle of oneness is present in many religions, and is also logically congruent with modern scientific thought. It also spits in the eye of any arbitrary demand to love one’s neighbor simply out of obligation. Love is not merely something we should do because it benefits us individually (since we’re all one), or because of selfish rewards or escape from punishment. Love is not the means to appease an angry and easily offended deity. Love is not just a warm and fuzzy neural process that curbs our sensitive egos. Love is the language of the universe, singing out in vibrating superstrings, in starlight, in sunsets, in the laughter of children, in the songs of the whales and roar of the oceans.

Love is the sacrament of the universe. It is the invisible sign of the very visible miracle of life.

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