My Dawkins Mood (and It’s Unrelated to Dating)

Source: Malcom Schofield, “The Presocratics,” The Cambridge Companion to Greek and Roman Philosophy, ed. David Sedley (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003) 52:

“One clue to the distinctive focus of the Pythagorean way of life is the fact that Herodotus associated it with the rites and writings of Orphic religion. By the fifth century BC the name of Orpheus had become attached to the doctrine that the body is a prison in which the soul serves out its punishment for sin, and to practices designed to purify initiates and ensure their happiness before and after death (these included renunciation of animal sacrifice). A similar belief as to how and why the soul must be purified if it is to achieve ultimate escape from the cycle of reincarnation is what seems to have animated Pythagoreanism.”

That’s one view of life and the afterlife. And how do we know it’s wrong?

I’m sorry. I’m in a skeptical mood today.

I was thinking today about different beliefs about the afterlife. To be honest, none of them really satisfy me. I’ll state my reason before I go into them: there are people who die at birth. Infant mortality exists here and in other parts of the world. Okay, now let’s see how this poses a problem for various views on the afterlife:

Evangelical view: God either sends the babies to hell, or he lets them into heaven because they didn’t reach the age of accountability. Why would God create them if they were going to die so quickly?

Armstrongite view: God will give them a chance to receive salvation after their resurrection. Why couldn’t God have given them a chance the first time around–by allowing them to grow up?

Reincarnation view: The souls are in the body to learn lessons, and their afterlife depends on how they do in this life. Well, well, well. The souls sure had a short stay when they were in the bodies of the babies who died. They’re in, then they’re out. Hasta la vista!

No afterlife religious view: Here, I think of Ben Sira, much of the Hebrew Bible, and various strands of Judaism, which don’t really believe in an afterlife. According to this view, God created human beings and rewards or punishes them in this life. But why would God create someone who would die at birth? It makes absolutely no sense!

I just feel sometimes that religions try to get around the absurdity of life. They act like they’re making sense of everything, or that they’re needed for life to make sense. Actually, it seems like they’re trying to add meaning to a reality that’s absurd.

That’s my first point. Here’s my second one:

You know, people for generations have had various ideas about life and the afterlife. Why should I assume that they’re wrong, while embracing a belief system that is 2,000 years old–Christianity? I get so sick of Christian dogmatism, when it seems that Christianity is one belief among many in the history of ideas. And its ideas are historically placed. You don’t see much about bodily resurrection in many parts of the Hebrew Bible. But Daniel talks about it, the Pharisees picked it up, and the belief formed part of the cultural context in which Christianity emerged. Christianity looks like it was floating on the currents of its historical context–at least in this case. It absorbs an idea from its time, which wasn’t held in every era of biblical composition. What’s that do to the idea of the entire Bible conveying one absolute truth from beginning to end?

Don’t worry, folks. I’m not an atheist. I just have questions every now and then.

About jamesbradfordpate

My name is James Pate. This blog is about my journey. I read books. I watch movies and TV shows. I go to church. I try to find meaning. And, when I can’t do that, I just talk about stuff that I find interesting. I have degrees in fields of religious studies. I have an M.Phil. in the History of Biblical Interpretation from Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, Ohio. I also have an M.A. in Hebrew Bible from Jewish Theological Seminary, an M.Div. from Harvard Divinity School, and a B.A. from DePauw University.
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2 Responses to My Dawkins Mood (and It’s Unrelated to Dating)

  1. Russell Miller says:

    Come tooo the liiiiiiight…


  2. James Pate says:

    It blinds me!


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