Why bother with a religion, the religion, any religion at all? What value has it?
Years ago, in Ghana, my guide took me to a lovely beach. White sand, trees with drooping limbs, huge view of the mighty Atlantic, azure skies above smashing waves; the sight took my breath away.
In fact, if my guide had not caught me before I got to the water, it would have taken my breath forever. No one inhabited this beach, or swam in the ocean there or launched a boat from it. The ocean here offered a rip-tide just feet from the shore. Once in its grip, the tide would take its victim down to the bottom and far out to sea. You might see a broken body bob to the surface, if you could see the miles out to sea where the water might release it, crushed by the ocean pressure, insides jellied, lungs pumped full of salt water; dead, dead, dead.
For all the beauty of the place, there was no safety there in the waters of the cove. A pilgrim without a real guide, like mine, would have been gone before he could realize what took him.
Is this world, is this life, is the breath in our collective lungs any different? For all the beauty of the earth, death, death, death awaits in places lovely and low. No rational being disagrees. In fact, as churches stopped talking about what comes next, other sources began to offer opinions for us.
Secular apocalypticism says our race has about a century to find another planet to colonize. After that, presumably, it will be too late. Here is a startling fact to combine with the hundred year warning. If our grandchildren find a planet to fill, not all of them are going. Earth is our space ship, the only one for most of us.
Some of the secular watchmen tell us the human race is a toxin this planet cannot survive. We will, they say, murder this planet. They even have a time limit set; about a century before we tip the world over and spill into space.
There is going to be a lot of dying between now and then. There will be a ton of dying thereafter. The hard sciences can tell us how certainly we shall die. They will not claim to tell us what comes next.
A system of thought that does not take up death is like a guide who will let you wander into the ocean on a rip-tide beach. He does you no favors to bring you there for a momentary glimpse of the beauty at hand. I would not have thanked my guide for a look if it cost me my life. There must be some one who can
We should make no mistake about this fact. The Secularists do not help us after it all ends.
We could stop here and talk for hours about the despairing nihilism that results in an end without a new beginning. Without the hope of at least a benign materialism and with no adequate understanding of life to come, all of this, all of us, all of now, just seems worthless,
The Secularists, who do help in so many ways, cannot help us an instant after death. Research into the second after death is limited. Science tends to leave death itself alone, though, certainly, libraries fill up with literature on the subject. It is all speculative. The inability of any hard sciences to dip its toe into the after-life does not reduce their worth.
The Secularist just does not have an answer. At least, he has no insight about what comes next.
So, we are left with the other side of it all; the psychic research teams who go seance to medium, channel to spirit. There is even a thing called Kirlian photography, making visible the psychic aura emanating from a human being during life and leaving the body at death. Even the psychic researchers have little to say about the life the aura lives next; about reward or punishment, or consciousness, or annihilation.
If you can strain your credulity just far enough, to believe just a bit, you can see the Psychics, even taken at face value, do not show us what is next. If you believe at all (I don’t) you are still left at the water’s edge, watching with understandable trepidation at the certainty of death below the waves.
Between the Secularists, who won’t and the Psychics, who can’t, might there not be the Religionists, who will and can? Yes, I know the old canard about the various persons representing the sciences, the psychics and the theologians who are all locked in separate rooms deep below the earth with no light, bound, gagged and set in this darkened space to find a silent, motionless black cat.
The difference between all the others and the theologian?
The theologian says he caught the cat.
I know that one. Is it possible there is a cat yet to be caught?
Is the intrinsic value of all religion this one thing; it offers a life of meaning for now and hope for later? The Secularists tell us we are all going to die. They Psychics tell us we are all going to die. The Religionist is left alone to tell us we will die but there is something other, invaluably more.
And if (or since) this Perfect Villain (the Common Man) of whom we write has been to earth, in heaven and down to hell, what better guide to show us where the water is deepest and most dangerous? He spends a great deal of time telling us the kingdom of God is a pearl of great price; there is no other like it, nothing worth quite as much. Is the Christ not our good guide, or could he not be that guide, at least, for you, as for me?
Years later, I am grateful for the man who took me to the beach, showed me all the beauty of the scene, but refused the ocean its ignorant victim. I suppose the beach is still there, pacific and serene, but opened to a certain, crushing death, hiding, as it surely does, a force far beyond the human body’s ability to preserve itself. I did not die there because of my guide.
Decades later, I am still grateful for the day the Perfect Villain took me to the water and showed me how to live at its edge. I did not die there, but I will, one day, perhaps soon, and I will need this guide to show me where to step next. I do not think he will disappoint me.