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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.

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“We are the 99 percent.”  How many of us identify with this slogan and with the Occupiers?   Perhaps when we hear it we burn with righteous indignation and raise our fists at the lack of justice in our society.  The richest one percent owns 40 percent of the country’s financial wealth.  Meanwhile for the rest of us things can get really scary, really fast.   If we are lucky enough to have a job, many of us are just one pay check away from financial ruin.  Therefore, we can identify with our sisters and brothers here at the bottom, and perhaps we even revel in that (at least a little).  There is a dignity in being in the 99, but as for the other one percent we know where they stand.   But before we start beltin’ out the Internationale, the Billy Bragg version of course, let us take a swig of reality.

Let’s widen the lens a bit. As Americans, how much wealth, opportunity, and resources do we claim in comparison to the rest of humanity? Instead I want to expand our lens even further. Let’s consider life forms on earth, and let’s just consider animals. A cursory examination of the web reveals that around 80 percent of the total number of animals on the earth are insects. If one also calculates the number of rats, bunnies, fish, snakes, elephants, and all the other non-human animals on the planet, it would be easy to say that we must make up, at the very most, one percent of the animal population on the planet. The question then is how are the one percent of animals, us humans, treating the 99 percent, the rest of animal life on earth?

Think this is a ridiculous question? Remember back when you were still in the 99 percent? Were your concerns trivial or ridiculous? Back then didn’t you think that 100 percent of people deserved equal consideration? Surely justice did not merely apply to a small fraction of the population. And yet we the 99 percent, even as crappy as things are down here, rarely want to consider in what ways we are the 1 percent in the grand scheme of things. But I still want to ask you, how are we treating the 99 percent?

Again, I will pass on the opportunity to speak of the mountains, the rivers, the polar ice caps, and stick with animals. How have we treated our fellow creatures? First, we often refuse to identify with them. No matter what science tells us, many in our society STILL refuse to call ourselves members of the animal kingdom. (The Scopes Monkey Trial, anyone?) Secondly, we lay waste to their resources as we pillage Mother Earth. Sadly we have not really learned the lesson that their fate is ours as well. Thirdly, we divide animals into categories and we call them “pets,” “wildlife,” “endangered,” “livestock,” and even “pests.”  We protect some and harm others.

There are four animals in my household, and I consider them family. Judging from the photos on all the social media sites, I am not alone in my affections. And yet, as a society we allow one cat or dog to be euthanized in US animal shelters every 11 seconds.  We consider this a “necessary” evil. But we still must wonder why these particular animals are so expendable. Additionally, we draw up animal welfare legislation to protect animals, but only certain species.  As of this writing there are virtually no such laws that protect “livestock” even though they feel the same pains as our beloved cats and dogs we call “pets.”  Therefore, the agriculture industry subjects millions of animals to frequent torture, mutilation, and stifling confinement before they end up on our dinner plates. Look it up. The information is out there, if you dare!

And so it seems that when the tables are turned, we are not as fair-minded as we would like to believe. Therefore, as we call out for justice for ourselves, it behooves us to widen our lens and consider the meaning of the word. It means that we need to ask how we’re treating the 99 percent.  So, how do you think we’re faring?

“The more you are motivated by love, the more fearless and free your action will be.” – Dalai Lama

—-

ImageBryan Gillette lives with his husband, three rescue dogs, one crafty kitty, and his mom in the mountains just outside of Asheville, NC. When he’s not situated in the midst of frequent awkward social scenarios, he takes great pleasure reading Merton, spending time with family (both two and four legged), British comedy, and in the contemplation of nature. Although he has always felt like a religious “outsider”, he will soon be trying his hand at Chicago Theological Seminary. (“May God bless her and all who sail in her.”)

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Brett Gallaher —  January 30, 2013 — Leave a comment

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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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Being right…

Brett Gallaher —  July 2, 2012 — Leave a comment

Many people are obsessed with being right. For them, their answers and opinions are the core of who they are, and to come up against an opposing view is to walk into a bar fight. Sadly, these same people may feel a sense of duty, answering to a higher calling, whether divine or terrestrial origins. 

When it comes to the issue of God, I’m afraid the argument itself is missing the point. One cannot disprove God (in the same way one cannot disprove a multitude of other ideas) nor can one prove the existence of God (in the same way one cannot prove definitively other ideas).

There is no right, at least not in the way we’d like.

There is, however, a right way and a wrong way to go about said conversations. There are, of course, less probable answers, and bad theology can make one’s case seem ludicrous (just as easily as one’s biased philosophy can make one’s case more cynical than objective).

Do I believe in your particular idea of God? Most likely not.

Do I believe in the possibility that there is something that transcends the 1’s and 0’s, something mysterious that binds everything together, something that has the ability to reveal itself through narrative, through history, through love, through self-revelation?

Sure.

Do you have to believe in such an entity? Of course not.

Does the fact you have yet to find evidence strong enough to make you a believer make you right that there’s not one? Of course not.

While some go about this argument spouting reasons why they are right, there is nothing wrong with a little honesty…

There are limits to “knowing.”

Now, what we choose to center our lives around based on what we DO know, that’s something else entirely.

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