Living in Light of Eternity

by Dan on September 21, 2009

For people not on a spiritual search, much of what a seeker does seems pointless.  My mom cannot understand why I get book after book on the topics of self-help and spirituality.  They all look the same to her.  At one point she asked me, “What is the overall goal of reading about spirituality?  In the end, it doesn’t really get you anywhere.”

I had another conversation earlier with a friend who said she thought that when I became an old man, I’d find that I’d just wasted my time and not truly lived life.

I can’t assume she’s wrong, but in all honesty, I can’t be sure what things will actually make you feel you’ve lived life, and if anyone truly has the answer to this.  Is it travel and diverse experience?  Maybe having a great spouse and kids?  Leaving your mark and making the world a better place?  I’m not sure.  No one really wants to say wealth is part of a life well lived, though I’m pretty sure it doesn’t hurt.

And more importantly, are those last few years of non-regret and satisfaction what we’re really working towards?  On your death bed, is your view of your life more accurate than when you’re healthy?

And if you live 88 years of your life in joy, and your last year alive is full of regret and despair, does that mean you lived your life the wrong way?

I’m on a mission for spiritual enlightenment.  I’ve found  that if you truly take a logical mindset, this is the the most worthwhile longterm  goal, no matter how spiritual or unspiritual you are.

From what I’ve read and who I’ve talked to, there is a point in a spiritual seeker’s journey where he reaches totally freedom.  This is when absolutely nothing can bother him or her again.  The seeker becomes a master and life flows effortlessly with beauty and ease.  Does everyone reach it?  Of course not.  Most don’t, but I think most people have no desire to reach this state, and of those who do, few have the courage and commitment necessary to get there.

Maybe we have one life to do this, or maybe we get reincarnated numerous times over uncountable time periods.  The spiritual masters I’ve read claim that most people take millions of years to reach enlightenment, but it’s inevitable to happen.  I have no real evidence for the truth of this claim at this point, but if new information comes in, I’ll definitely let you know.

One thought that atheists and theists (Jews, Christians, Muslims) share is the idea that “You only live once.”  You only live once, so make this life count.  Interestingly, this agreement leads to very different conclusions based on your worldview.

To the atheist, “You only live once,” means that you should live for the sake of experience.  Do whatever you desire, as long as it fits into your moral code.  Obviously, if you only live once but do immoral and illegal things, you will spend much of your one life in a prison of either your state government or your own guilt.

The liberation of having just one life ends up forcing you into some tough choices.  You only have so time in this life to eat custard pie, but you also only have so much time to build an impressive beach body.  Do you live in culinary bliss or aesthetic marvel?

What about for the theist?  You only live once, and if you screw it up, you could be facing painful consequences for eternity.  If that’s not a damper on the party, I’m not sure what is.  I know plenty of Christians who claim to be secure in their place in the afterlife, but upon a closer look, their doubts surface.

In Biblical Monotheism, your afterlife reward is like a diploma for passing your life class.  However, there are some extra rules you have to deal with.  This is a required course that decides your eternity and you can only take it once. Not only that, but you get no indication of how well you’re doing until Graduation time.  You have a syllabus in the beginning telling you what is expected, which is some mix of “Have faith,” and “Be a good person.”  Some religions lean on one more than the other.

You never get a report card, and the teacher never lets you know if you’re failing.  You could think you’re fulfilling the requirements, but it’s always ambiguous, and on some level you know that.  To make matters worse, if you’re a Christian, the Bible makes it explicit that you can be 100% sure of your salvation and still be on a highway to Hell.

Let’s look at Matthew 7:21-23

“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’”

So you’re a believer in Christ, and spend your free hours driving out demons in the name of God.  Doesn’t matter.  You have to live the right way, and you will never know what exactly that “way” is supposed to be until the end, when it’s too late.  Go browse your local churches of different denominations and you’ll have a number of equally confident members explaining what the salvation “deal-breakers” are, and they’ll all be different.

There’s no security in Christianity.

None.

This takes a lot of joy and freedom out of life, but I do think some devout Christians manage to compartmentalize scripture enough to feel like they’re going to heaven no matter what.

I can’t really comment on Judaism, because there are so many diverse views of the afterlife within that religion.  As for Islam, all I can say is that the threat of Hell in the Koran is very real, and that Allah does not give you a free pass just for believing in him, so Muslims are in a similar boat as the Christians.

Luckily for me, I’ve done enough research on the issue to know to my own satisfaction that the chances of Judaism, Christianity, or Islam being true are too small to worry about.  The historical evidence for any of them is scant, so I’ve just about put those spiritual possibilities completely behind me.

As for the other spiritual disciplines, such as Buddhism, Hinduism, and Taoism, we have a much more relaxed situation to consider.  If you screw up this life, there will be other opportunities.  However, this does not make this life a free for all.  You have every right to live your life playing video games or being a workaholic if you’d like, but there is a cost.

Throughout the varied stages of our lives, we have different levels of awareness.  Not every minute, month, or even decade will give us an easy opportunity to look within ourselves.  This can depend on our family situation, our geographic location, and our socio-economic status.  I can’t deny that I have a much easier time to go for spiritual goals than most people.  I have a relaxed work schedule, no wife or kids to take care of, and live in one of the best major cities in the United States to find peace.  Even beyond that, I have an intense force guiding me to pursue spiritual goals.

Now, suppose for a moment that reincarnation is true.  What are the odds I’m going to get an opportunity like this the next time around?  Much of the world has to struggle for their next meal or avoid being killed by a rival clan.  If we are living in a universe that rewards attaining enlightenment, this is the time for me to do it.

This is not to say that if you have a family to take care of and live in a bad part of town that your hands are tied.  It will just be harder.

Eckhart Tolle talks a little bit about spiritual procrastination in his books.  “Reincarnation won’t help you if you don’t know who you are.”  Assuming you will work on enlightenment in your next life is like saying you’ll quit smoking next year, or start eating healthy next year.  If you can’t make your first step today, it’s unlikely you’ll make that step in the near future.

Ok, now what if there is no reincarnation or afterlife?  What if this is all we have?

Well in that case, 100 years from now, nothing I accomplish or don’t accomplish will matter.  I won’t be conscious to regret doing or not doing anything in this life.  As I said before, this isn’t a free pass on morality because living in guilt or living in prison is so unpleasant that I don’t need belief in God for me to behave.

I see the time closing in on when I will not be in this body anymore, whatever that means to you.  I’m 27 right now, and I expect to live to 96.  I don’t have a reason for that number, but it sounds right.

However, to be fair, I filled out the multiple page life expectancy questionnaire at LivingTo100.com, and my score came back at 90 years, so let’s go by that number and be a bit more conservative.

That leaves me 63 years left of life.

I graduated college a little over 6 years ago.  That period of time has gone by pretty fast.  According to that report, I have ten of those post-college periods left.  Since the last one went by pretty quick, and every year seems to go by faster, I have every reason to assume that before I know it, I’ll have four more of those periods flown by, with little to show for it.

We’re all slowly dying, and this isn’t good or bad.  It just is, and maybe life would be better lived keeping the end in mind, rather than denying it.

It’s only depressing if you treat it as something tragic.  If you can accept your own death, which no one has put off past 120 years, then you are in a position of empowerment.  Living as if you’ll never die is the same as living as if the sun never sets or the seasons never change.

I’m a little hard pressed to conclude this blog post, so I’ll just end it on this note.  It is only healthy to periodically reevaluate how you’re living your life.  When you consider your limited time here, with your only guarantee being that you take nothing physical with you when you leave, maybe it’s time to rethink a couple things.

–Dan

{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

1 lindak November 3, 2009 at 3:48 pm

You are so wrong, there is LOTS OF JOY in CHRISTIANITY and it is the only way, there is so much peace, it is incredible, all makes sense when you are a Christianity and you begin to see how being here now, on Earth, this time and place, makes no sense at all. Heaven will be great!

2 Dan November 3, 2009 at 4:11 pm

Thanks for sharing, Lindak. :-)

3 Stephen December 28, 2009 at 2:47 am

You’ve overlooked the key phrase in the passage from Matthew: “only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.” The Catholic Church, the largest and arguably the oldest Christian denomination – whose body of teachings includes more than just the Bible – interprets this to mean that even non-Christians who do God’s will are assured of salvation, while nominal Christians who merely SAY they’re Christians, do not necessarily follow Christ’s teachings. Thus, the Catholic Church teaches that many Jews and atheists go to heaven, while many Catholics, including some Popes, can end up in Hell.

But the Catholic view of Hell is not a game of “gotchya”, it’s not an arbitrary trap for the unwary. It is, rather, the consequence of a willful choice to refuse God’s love and inexhaustible mercy. There is no such thing as a “deal-breaker”, except for willful despair.

Thus, at least from a Catholic perspective, you are incorrect when you write: “the Bible makes it explicit that you can be 100% sure of your salvation and still be on a highway to Hell.”
This is your misunderstanding of what Catholics call the “sin of presumption”, which means that the fact of being able to trust God to save us, does NOT give us license to do evil. It means we remain obliged to continue reforming ourselves until our end, instead of sitting back and saying “I’m alright, Jack.” But as long as one continues to strive toward God, one IS ASSURED of salvation, 100 percent. And that includes atheists too, as long as they sincerely strive toward truth and charity.

4 Dan January 1, 2010 at 11:19 pm

Thanks so much for your thoughtful comment, Stephen.

Catholicism is similar to Judaism in that there are external “softeners” added to troubling bible verses. Jews have the Talmud and Mishnah, which explain why we dont’ have to kill everyone who works on the Sabbath. Catholics have the teachings of the popes and church fathers. This is why I don’t talk about Judaism (or Catholicism) very much for that matter. Most of the time when I talk about Christianity, I focus on what’s in the bible itself.

By the way, the key phrase “only he who does teh will of my father who is in heaven” still makes sense with my interpretation. You can easily think you’re doing God’s will, while doing the opposite. There are Gay Christians, who think the Conservatives who Judge them are going against God’s will. There are also the Conservative Christians that think you preaching against Atheists going to Hell is going against God’s will.

The point of the matter is that according to the bible, the people who get cast into hell will be SURPRISED that they’re there, considering they thought they were good Christians.

That being said, you sound really kind in your spirituality, and it’s nice to see that you have such and open welcoming of other faiths and non-faiths in who you believe is under God’s love, so I your post was pleasant to read.

5 Stephen January 3, 2010 at 10:38 am

Dan, thank you for your friendly and charitable reply!

With your permission, I will critically “fisk” your reply. You wrote:

“Catholicism is similar to Judaism in that there are external “softeners” added to troubling bible verses. Jews have the Talmud and Mishnah, which explain why we dont’ have to kill everyone who works on the Sabbath. Catholics have the teachings of the popes and church fathers.”

The purposes of those two interpretive traditions are similar but not identical. The Catholic Church does NOT consist of a set of rules of conduct and how to interpret them; it consists only of a traditional theology of the nature of God and His relationship to Mankind. The only absolute truths of the Catholic Church, are those concerning the nature of God and His relationship to us; all other temporal “rules” of Catholic authorities are subject to questioning and repudiating according to individual conscience.

And you wrote:

“This is why I don’t talk about Judaism (or Catholicism) very much for that matter. Most of the time when I talk about Christianity, I focus on what’s in the bible itself.”

But as I’ve said, Catholic Christianity consists of more than the Bible, so if you only read the Bible, you will never understand Catholicism.

And you wrote:

“By the way, the key phrase “only he who does teh will of my father who is in heaven” still makes sense with my interpretation. You can easily think you’re doing God’s will, while doing the opposite.”

You are only half-correct, if you believe (as I do) in “natural law”, or in any kind of universal, natural Human morality. One might CONVINCE himself, lying to himself, that he’s doing “God’s will” (as Hitler believed), but the natural heart of Man knows better. But that’s assuming that you share my belief in some kind of essential Human nature, upon which some kind of Natural Law is written.

And you wrote:

“There are Gay Christians, who think the Conservatives who Judge them are going against God’s will.”

As a Catholic I believe that those Gay Christians are correct, insofar as they believe only God can ever judge them. But “judging” someone personally, is NOT the same thing as acknowledging that some kinds of conduct are against Nature and against God.

“There are also the Conservative Christians that think you preaching against Atheists going to Hell is going against God’s will.”

Obviously I am not one of them, and neither is the Catholic Church’s teaching. So, what’s your point? By making this point, you have not made any argument against the Catholic Church at all! ;- :-)

“The point of the matter is that according to the bible, the people who get cast into hell will be SURPRISED that they’re there, considering they thought they were good Christians.”

This is NOT what the Catholic Church teaches! The Catholic Church (whose teachings differ considerably from many Protestants) teaches that NO ONE will ever be “surprised” by going to Hell; we Catholics believe that the ONLY people who ever go to Hell, are those who CHOOSE to STAY there!

And so, Dan, it seems that you know a lot less about Catholicism than you thought you did. :-) But at any rate, I thank you for your courtesy and your charitable way of disagreeing with me, which tells me you are a Christian in spirit!
So I close with a wish of friendship to you, and to your Mother too. ;-) :-) (I think I might have something in common with your mother… ;-)

Again, email me if you might want to argue more.

6 Anthony January 24, 2012 at 8:38 am

Good stuff , but I can see your enlightened yet ?

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