Dying as fulfilment of life

It’s hard to be old. Many people told me so and I believe them.

In spite of that, some people seem to be able to deal with old age better than others. A peaceful old face is a delightful sight. It’s a sign of a wise soul, one that learned to live with pain, with loneliness, with fear.

Other faces tell about people who are bitter and resentful about the cards they were dealt. I’m not sure if they are this way because they are afraid of dying or if they are pissed off that after all this misery they endure they’ll have to die on top of it.

We often say about people who suffer for a long time on their deathbed that their passing was a relief, a gift.

I have this crazy notion that our life is a gift that we are meant to nurture, enhance, perfect and, at some point, give it back as a gift. Dying becomes, thus, the fulfillment of life.

On second thought, I can see this for someone who dies of old age, in their sleep. It’s harder to imagine  someone whose life was reduced to suffering being able to treat life as as a gift to offer. Add to that the fact that decline is the last segment of the life curve and it might not make such a great gift to give anyways.

Maybe if we make our life outstanding early one, there will be enough left to give after the decline.

Judging by what some people go trough in their last years, maybe we have to strip away everything (possessions, loved ones, our minds, and our bodies) and leave the soul hanging by itself, an open book ready to be judged.

There is no secret handshake with God, there are only open arms greetings.

Everything we ever did left a mark on our soul, for better or worse. Action, thought or feeling, they all shaped our essence. The only way I can imagine judgement day is the measurement of that essence.

This proposition doesn’t necessarily make morality an exclusively internal matter. Right or wrong can still be learned from external sources like religion, can still change and evolve.

Spiritual life can be a constant evolution culminating in death.

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Do we need faith?

I think people need to search for something. Our profound need for meaning might only be fulfilled this way.

We look for meaning in our work, in our relationships, in our beliefs. If we find it we look for more of the same. Then comes a day when we lose our job or our loved one or maybe our most solid belief gets shattered by a random event. Then what?

I was never sure what this non-attachment principle, that Buddhists talk about, meant until I looked at it this way: it’s O.K. to be attached to my loved ones, to my work, to my convictions as long as I keep in mind that none of them is the ultimate meaning of my life. They are, all, part of it.

Could the act of searching, alone, bring us the meaning we are looking for? Keep searching and your work will never be done, your life will always have meaning regardless of what happens around you. Even if it’s only good for your mental health, it’s worth pursuing.

Searching for the “truth” (whatever that means) has been the path chosen by many, trough science, art or religion.
These ways work well for a few chosen people who go in all the way: the knowledge pursuing scientist, the true artist, the mystic.

For the rest of us, less gifted people searching for meaning in our lives, religious faith could be the complement we need.

Having faith is easier on the mind than rational thinking. Or so it seems before you try it.

In some special moments of our lives we get a glimpse that there is more to life than what we perceive with our senses. Our questions cannot be answered by what we know, despite all our efforts to learn what others have discovered.

Hard as we try to figure it out, there comes a moment in our learning journey when we realize we can’t know everything. The final truth eludes us.

In many mundane situations we rely on an educated guess, on a gut feeling. Sometimes we know without knowing and for some reason we tend to trust that knowledge. We have a good feeling about someone and decide to trust them.

Sometimes our belief that we can do something is so strong that we do it against all odds.

This is as close as it gets to faith.

For fatalists, having faith means not being attached to the outcome. What needs to happen will happen and everything will be OK in the end. Or not.

Do all paths lead to the top of the mountain? Should we make a u-turn if we realize early enough that we are on the wrong path? Can it be too late, too far along the wrong path?

When we go back to the original path we stand on the shoulders of our ancestors and their collective wisdom. It is hard for someone who was exposed to religious teachings to ignore them completely. For me it would be easier to embrace them critically.

Deciding to go back is the result of assessing rationally if we are on the right track which takes faith out of the equation. What if we were only steps from the top? There were no signs that we were on the right path? What about that gut feeling, does that count? But true faith doesn’t need signs, doesn’t need confirmation, does it?

“Faith: not wanting to know what is true” says Nietzsche.

How about if we want to know the truth but we can’t access it just by our rational mind? Maybe faith can open that closed-door.

I believe we all need some validation and certainty about our worldview, whatever that might be. Only faith can do that.

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Do You Believe?

One of the excellent Psychology Today’s collections is called “Do You Believe?

The theory of cognitive dissonance shows that it would be as hard for someone to abandon faith and admit it’s irrational as it would be for someone else to trow rationality out of the window and start believing. Why It’s Hard To Stop Believing In Santa Claus. “It’s uncomfortable to express something you don’t believe, or perhaps don’t want to believe” concludes  Joshua Gowin in “Why It’s Hard To Stop Believing In Santa Claus“.

Gad Saad argues that “a belief that would otherwise be considered a sign of mental illness is perfectly ‘logical’ when it applies to one’s religion”. (Religious Beliefs: Divine Revelations or Mental Disorder?)

“One can hide or misrepresent one’s real beliefs, but one cannot change those beliefs on command” says David Niose in “Disbelief Is Not a Choice“.

Other posts from the collection explore the effects of doubt, ponder if faith is a choice or try to make peace between science and religion.

I want to believe that we all have freedom of choice, that most of us are sitting somewhere between science and religion (even if we would never admit it or are too close to one to see the other), and, even if we have doubts sometimes, most of us believe in something.

I hope you enjoy the series as much as I did and that it inspires you to dig deeper.

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Divine relationship

There are accounts from people who went trough the experience of being clinically dead and came back to tell about the light they saw and the unconditional love they felt.

We all felt this as infants, but as we grew older it changed.

We had to prove ourselves worthy, we had to obey rules, we had to become civilized and do what others were doing in order to receive the same love. Some of us might’ve been luckier, but for most this is the model. It becomes a model for everything: from work relationships to intimate relationships to spiritual relationships.

There is no way that I should only experience God’s unconditional love if I obey all rules. This is something made up by church leaders that had a sad childhood.

There is no way that Church should be able to excommunicate someone who doesn’t agree with the dogma. Not to mention burn at stake.

There is no way that you should need a middleman to facilitate an intimate relationship with God. Well, Jesus might be one exception from what I hear.

There is no way that only one religion is the right one.

“I want to know how God thinks; the rest is a detail.” Einstein was absolutely right and I bet he would be very happy to know that I agree with him.

Platitudes aside, if you want to have a meaningful relationship with somebody, a little empathy helps and the best way to get it is by exploring the other’s perspective. Trying to understand how other people think brings us closer and makes us grow.

Trying to understand how God thinks makes us human.

Intimacy will happen with first-hand experience. In any relationship.

I think the Church should only assume the role of a coach and maybe provide the playing field. Unfortunately it wants a lot more than that and has taken it for centuries.

Intimacy will also happen when we are ready. Simone Weil says that the soul might not be ready for the divine visit before being filled with the three objects of love available in our reality: religious ceremonies, the beauty of the world and the people close to us.

If prayer and meditation qualify for religious ceremony I’m willing to give them a try. Actually, I was really pissed when I first heard about christian meditation. Why was this never mentioned in church?

Was it because we shouldn’t be encouraged to do any exploring on our own, apart from church and it’s teachings, or was it because it would unveil to us a common ground with other religions that should not be mentioned?

In all fairness, it may be just because I didn’t stick around long enough to be ready for such news.

Such is my conundrum that I’m trying to fix my relationship with God and the only counselor that’s available I don’t care for: the Church.

Back to the library it is then, the wise old guys seem to have gotten pretty close to the truth but somehow we lost interest or we were not smart enough to continue their good work.

What I may lack in smarts I’ll try to make up in interest…

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Religious symbols and multiculturalism

Religious symbols have been around forever, but never before this age of multiculturalism have they created so much controversy by competing against each other.

It used to be simple. There was one set of symbols for a village, a country, a kingdom or an empire. One religion. Imposed, by force if necessary, within the borders and sometimes beyond.

Nowadays it’s a tad more complex. The display of religious symbols in public places is a hot subject that, paradoxically, can alter our position in a time when we care less about them.

That is, we care less about our own symbols. How else would we even contemplate taking down a cross that’s on display on a public place. Sure, the Western culture was supposed to have become secular some time ago, but there are some symbols that are ingrained in us.

Not to worry though, the very symbol that lost its meaning and importance, for most of us, becomes a symbol of our identity the moment another religion’s symbol enters the arena.

In our diverse society we are asked today to make a choice between accepting the display of religious symbols foreign to us and taking down our own symbols.

The argument that the symbols that we used to display no longer have the same religious meaning, but rather have a cultural and historical meaning, is buying us some time. However, we’ll have to make that choice soon.

We already started backing off when we started using Happy Holidays in place of Merry Christmas. And this was done under no pressure at all. It was just the homework assigned at the political correctness class.

So, should we display religious symbols in public places?

I feel that the NO side will be helped by this kind of thinking: “If we can’t have monopoly then we’ll have nothing, no symbol at all”.

And then the battle will move to the semi-private arena:

  • Jesus fishes on the car, bumper stickers, toys on the dashboard or hanging from the rear-view mirror.
  • Wearing religious symbols as jewelry. The crosses were getting bigger and bigger for a while, but now I see more and more teenagers wearing rosaries.
  • Religious clothing.

The saddest thing is to see people wearing clothing specific to a religion that evidently is not theirs. Well, maybe not the saddest thing. It’s even sadder to see people get offended by this.

But seriously, why would you wear clothes that have religious meaning to people you know very little about. Just because you’re stretching in $50 Yoga pants doesn’t mean you have to put on a sari and go to the temple.

If you have no idea what I’m babbling about it means that you live in one of the few places that hasn’t been touched by multiculturalism. You won’t have to wait long.

I don’t know how long this battle will be and how it will end, but if we continue to evolve the way we do, we should all be wearing Chinese working uniforms and dollar sign pendants pretty soon.

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