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OK, I admit it. I'm a major hypocrite. I attend Church with my wife's family, but I identify myself way more as a "spiritualist" than as a mainstream Christian. If I'm a Christian at all it's only nominally. That being said, there's a whole lot about Church that I like. I like singing, praying, the people & socializing, church dinners, heck even the sermons aren't too tedious. Our preacher is pretty cool. He even told me about an out-of-body experience he had one time when he got electrocuted, and he told me about another guy at our church that had a full blown near death experience when he was eight years old when he got hit by a car. Our preacher even preached a sermon recently entitled "it's OK to be not OK," which I thought was pretty cool. So, even though I'm not anywhere nears a mainstream Christian, there's some good stuff about Church (and even the New Testament) that I uplifting.

It’s important to understand the difference between a Church as a community organization and its theology. That goes for all religions, but specially for the Catholic Church. It’ s the Catholic theology with its outdated dogmatic concepts about the afterlife was does not make much sense. They will have to change that soon if they want to continue being a significant spiritual force in the world as they have been in the past.

It seems clear to me that heaven and hell as taught by religions are primarily social control mechanisms whose purpose is to compel obedience to religious authorities through fear.

Michael,

The discussion you link to could be viewed as a little silly. But concentrating on the quotations you provide, I think the ideas seem meaningful and coherent. I am not religious and have no idea if survival is a fact (despite being familiar with the evidence).

It seems to me to make sense that the state of one's soul could determine one's after death state. Compassionate souls could somehow participate in a wider reality of which compassion and love are of ultimate importance (i.e. they could live in the presence of God), whereas immoral selfish souls may not have the spiritual development to do so, thereby separating themselves from the ultimate good (Hell). It would seem to be a question of attunement rather than atonement.

It also seems to make sense that the afterlife is not a physical place but more akin to a state of mind. In a mind dependant environment state of mind would equal state of being. To use a terribly pretentious example; perhaps a 'sinner' could not stand the sight of God just as a philistine could not stand the sound of a Mahler symphony!

Having read the whole discussion I don't think Pope John Paul II was making quite these points (he is more interested in urging people to accept salvation through Christ). But the few paragraphs you provide do not seem to me 'almost totally bankrupt of meaning' but rather sensible.

But perhaps I have totally misunderstood?

I probably overstated things, but to my mind, the quoted passages are not very meaningful. The average person wants to know, "What will happen to me when I die?" To be told that he will achieve "fullness of communion with God" if he's been good, and "definitively separate himself from God" if he's been bad, and maybe or maybe not end up in purgatory if he's in-between, strikes me as pretty uninformative.

On the other hand, the writings of Swedenborg (for instance) or the channeled communications in Testimony of Light or Oliver Lodge's Raymond are admirably clear.

>It also seems to make sense that the afterlife is not a physical place but more akin to a state of mind.

I agree with this, and so do the sources listed above, as well as (notably) the Tibetan Book of the Dead. But I find the Church's theological discussion peculiarly deracinated and abstract. People want to know what it's like to die, and phrases like "neither an abstraction nor a physical place," while technically accurate, are not very helpful in that regard. A good book on near-death experiences would give the reader a far more intelligible idea of what to expect than this overly intellectualized material, in my opinion.

Your mileage may vary, of course. But if I were dying, I would derive more comfort from NDEs and spiritualism than from vague papal pronouncements.

Unfortunately I don't have time to go in depth on this, but at least I wanted to point out that the article in question is atrociously written and makes a total mess out of the issue. It even contradicts its own opening line, for crying out loud! IOW go elsewhere if you want the true story.

It is of interest to me that an all-knowing infinite God of love would create a world then give its inhabitants something called free will so that about 2/3 of them could end up in a place for eternity called hell. Could it be that somehow we have failed to seek and then understand the origin of our ignorance?

We may be dealing with a problem of vocabulary. There are many different vocabularies we can use to describe the world and our experiences of it;- humanistic, religious, poetic, etc. But like the philosopher Richard Rorty tells us, nature does not have a preferred language.

I agree that the literature Michael mentions may provide clearer guidance for the average man. But the theologians seem to be covering similar ground in their own turgid vocabulary. Taken too literally their beliefs may come across as absurd, but even if they are meant literally we are still free to treat them as metaphors and look for wisdom or foolishness within them.

One point I was trying to make originally was that at least some of the language used provides a more plausible presentation of Catholic beliefs than a literal presentation of heaven and hell as physical places (of course there is some literalism in the discussion).

Regarding a statement like

'God had given men and women free will to choose whether "spontaneously to accept salvation...the Christian faith is not imposed on anyone, it is a gift, an offer to mankind".'

I don't think that one can only enjoy heaven if one accepts Christ as Saviour. But it does make sense that to develop spiritually (i.e. Save ourselves from our natural pettiness and selfishness) we need to release ourselves from the grip of the ego and achieve transcendence through spiritual love (Christ can be seen as a metaphor for 'love incarnate' and we achieve our salvation through accepting him).

And I also do think it makes sense that we have free will to choose our path and form our characters. And that this could determine our place in any possible afterlife. Of course quite why God would make human nature as flawed as it is, is a little more difficult! Perhaps it is because the metaphor of God as a Grand Architect is the wrong one, and instead maybe we should be thinking in terms of a transcendent and immanent spiritual reality in which we all participate.

Has anybody read John Hick? He has spent his life developing an interpretation of religion/spirituality that is acceptable and plausible for 'modern man'. There are some good articles on his website.

http://www.johnhick.org.uk/articles.html

I would recommend 'Who or What is God?' and 'On Doing Philosophy of Religion'.

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