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Death and the Meaning of Life

Different understandings about what happens to us at death embody and promote different views about what we consider to be the ultimate reality of life, what it is that we think — at the deepest level of our being — provides meaning for our existence and makes sense of the world we encounter while still breathing.

I have given four examples from the ancient world.  Each of them portrays a different sense of ultimate reality, of one thing, in each case, that establishes, determines, and directs everything that finally matters for human existence in general – for all people who have ever lived – and for our specific existence in particular.   All four involve trips to the realms of the dead, in order to see what happens for those who are no longer living.  Each is meant to show what we should live for now, based on what the ultimate meaning of life is, what the very root and fabric of human existence consist of.  In this post I’ll talk about two of them.

When Odysseus travels to the underworld in Homer’s Odyssey book 11, he finds that virtually everyone who has ever lived for all eternity (he sees four, count them, four exceptions) has exactly the same fate.  Death is the great Equalizer.  It comes to everyone and after it happens, all differences are leveled out.   At death there is no more life.  Nothing to enjoy.  Nothing to look forward to.  The past doesn’t matter.  The future doesn’t happen.   There is no pleasure and no pain, and there never will be.  At that point, it is entirely over.  Forever and ever and ever and ever.

Homer imagines that the soul of the person does continue to exist, in some sense.  But it can’t be said that they still “live.”  There is nothing there for them.   They are “shades” or “shadows” of those who once lived.

This is comparable to the view that many people – an increasing number of people – continue to have in our world today, although …

Each of us has to decide what we value in life.  Do we value the meaning of life and death?  Join the blog!

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Why Christians Needed an Old Testament: Pagan Attacks on the Faith
Paul in Hell. The Apocryphal Apocalypse of Paul.

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Comments

  1. Avatar
    Judith  April 30, 2019

    And all-time favorite. And I have lots and lots of favorites.

  2. Avatar
    AstaKask  April 30, 2019

    What do you think of Epicurean philosophy? The real kind, not the “grab everything pleasureable at once” kind?

    • Bart
      Bart  May 2, 2019

      I’m a big fan, actually, at least when it comes to ethics and how one should live. But the “physics” behind it is fascinating. Hard to believe that ancients could figure that much out….

      1
  3. Avatar
    cmdenton47  April 30, 2019

    Yep, you got it there … before your cat stepped on your keyboard.

    5
  4. The Agnostic Christian
    The Agnostic Christian  April 30, 2019

    The Denial of Death by Ernest Becker is a modern classic on this topic.

  5. fefferdan
    fefferdan  April 30, 2019

    Bart
    Your essay reminds me that even though I am a believer in life after death, people who don’t share that belief are often the truly courageous ones.

  6. Avatar
    godspell  April 30, 2019

    Not to quibble, but Plato was really only talking about educated men like himself. The poor, the enslaved, and especially women–there is no life of the mind for such as they.

    Perhaps there could be (for men) if a Philosopher King empowered an autocracy of Guardians to impose a rigid order upon humankind, educate those who are educable (by forcibly taking them away from their parents), but somebody who hated Democracy as much as Plato famously did is hardly advocating for equal access to the joys of philosophy and worldly contemplation. Nobody ever embodied the term ‘elitist’ more than Plato. I know that’s not all there is to him. But that’s definitely there.

    All philosophies I’ve encountered tend to fail on a specific point–they refuse to take into account that we’re not all alike–the philosopher (or political theorist) imposes his or her (usually his) preferences upon all humanity. But in reality, we don’t all want the same things, we don’t all react the same way to the vagaries of life, and there’s really no predicting from such variables as race, class, sex, etc, the ultimate variable that is personality–character, if you prefer. (Sheep or Goat? Something in-between?)

    There is something to be said for living life as if you’d be judged for it at the end–and knowing the end can come at any time. I think the afterlife has receded a bit in the developed world only because mortality has been delayed for most of us. We still know we’re going to die, but we’re much less likely to die prematurely. (If anything, we linger on too long, and what we really fear now is the infirmities of old age–which can be a hell in itself). Most of the world still lives with the knowledge that life can end at any time, and therefore most people still hold to the hope of a better world to come, or the chance to try again in a new life.

    I like what Trollope’s Duke of Omnium says on his deathbed–“I hope for nothing–but I fear for nothing either.” There is a certain grandeur to that. However, The Duke is presented as an old roué who squandered the wealth and rank he inherited, left nothing of any substance behind him. A glorious facade hiding a barren interior.

    • Bart
      Bart  May 2, 2019

      That’s why they needed to be ruled by Philosoher Kings!

      • Avatar
        godspell  May 2, 2019

        Like Marcus Aurelius! Whose son made Rome nostalgic for Nero. (At least Nero was musical).

        To paraphrase Jesus, a man cannot serve two masters–in this case, Stoic philosophy and politics.

        • Bart
          Bart  May 3, 2019

          Yeah, succession was a problem in the empire. But I’d say Marcus’s Stoicism worked extremely well for him. Commodus wasn’t a Stoic!

          • Avatar
            godspell  May 3, 2019

            I’m sure on a personal level it worked fine for him, but while he was a reasonably effective Emperor, his reign was marked by constant warfare, and followed by rapid decline under his chosen heir. I think you’d have to rank him below Vespasian and Constantine in terms of his political achievements. Neither of them were Stoics.

            Why wasn’t Commodus a Stoic? Wouldn’t he have been carefully inculcated in the ideas of Stoicism, by both his father (who went out of his way to spend time with him as a young man), and before that his tutors? If Stoicism is such a convincing system of belief, why did it so famously fail to convince Commodus?

            Plato’s idea of the Philosopher King was that he would appoint Guardians who would then see to it that every child (probably just every male child) would be educated properly, and this would lead to the Perfect Utopian State (yes, my use of the word Utopian is anachronistic, and I believe Sir Thomas would approve).

            Marcus had the option of rejecting Commodus as his heir, adopting someone else–did his fatherly pride in a talented (but unstable) boy blinded him to the dangers until it was too late? Or did he simply wish to reinstate the old system of legitimate heirs from a selfish desire to found a dynasty? Either way–it seems that Stoicism was no help to him there. It seems he was just a man blinded by vanity. (Feel free to quote Ecclesiastes here.)

            His ideas live on–there was a copy of his Meditations in my very Catholic household. But he should have meditated harder on the very problem Jesus addressed in his Parable of The Wheat and Tares–you have to wait and watch, before you can distinguish one from the other, and then uproot the Tares before they strangle the Wheat.

            You must admit–Jesus was better at choosing his successors. Or we wouldn’t be having this charming discussion. 🙂

          • Bart
            Bart  May 5, 2019

            Well, put roughly, why does Stoicism not appeal to most megalomaniacs?

          • Avatar
            godspell  May 6, 2019

            Because it’s not a useful tool of deception–it only appeals to a very small part of humanity, usually people who are well-off and highly educated. Not even to most who are well-off and educated (as Commodus shows), but please note–it had a huge influence on later Christianity. On Christians who were themselves well-off and educated, and found no contradiction between the ideas of Jesus and the ideas of the Stoics–one strength of Christianity was its ability to assimilate other systems of thought and belief.

            Are there fundamental contradictions between the two systems? (Or are you sick and tired of telling people what is a contradiction and what isn’t?) 🙂

            In a world where lots and lots of people were Stoics, I feel quite certain that megalomaniacs would be as well (Trump would be mangling the ideas of Seneca as we speak). They go where the power is. Sadly, there’s none in Stoicism. Because it isn’t a satisfying system for most people. Because we’re not all alike. And never will be.

          • Bart
            Bart  May 6, 2019

            There are many similarities and interesting parallels to be sure. But at heart, I would argue that (ancient) Stoicism and Christianity have a key and insoluble difference. But in the most blunt (simplistic) way: The Stoic is his own master. The Christian emphatically is not his own master. Christ is.

          • Avatar
            godspell  May 6, 2019

            Just searching around for people today who claim Stoic influence, I found Tom Brady and Arnold Schwarzenegger, so there goes your “No megalomaniacs” assertion out the window. I doubt either of them understands it very well, but the same is true for megalomaniacs who glom onto a religion. There is no ‘ism’ that can’t be corrupted, or used for cynical ends (and of course, cynicism was a philosophy too–I seem to remember Ambrose Bierce saying something about how the Scythians would pluck out a cynic’s eyes to improve his vision).

            The ultimate megalomaniac, who ran Germany a short spell, and was raised Catholic, was determined to wipe out Christianity (that Jewish corruption of the pure Aryan spirit). No mention is made of any animus he had towards Stoicism. Because it’s such an individualistic system, it doesn’t really pose much of a threat (Nero didn’t like Stoics, but he didn’t blame them for that fire). And the powerful themselves often gravitate towards it, and alter it to suit themselves, as always happens. No perfect system. Not that you said it was.

            While Christians are supposed to say Jesus is their master, since he’s dead and can’t give out instructions, how is that different from saying you’re obeying the Logos, the Demiurge, or whatever? If you’ve attached yourself to any system of thought, you are less free, I’d say, than someone with no system at all. We spend too much time obsessing over the perfect way of life–life is flux–so what’s right at one moment in time, or one place in the world, is wrong elsewhere or elsewhen. Jesus was obeying his muse as much as any Stoic–he was no Christian. And Jew though he was, he still felt free to change what he felt was wrong in the system he inherited.

            Socrates was an influence on the Stoics, and what did Socrates do? Teach a bunch of aspiring megalomaniacs who tried to overthrow Athenian Democracy–which is the primary thing Socrates was executed for. And he didn’t seem very penitent about it. “How would you like to be punished?” “Let me eat free in the public dining hall.” Spoken like a true Stoic. 😉

          • Bart
            Bart  May 7, 2019

            Yes, if we extend the topic to people whose lives are quite contrary to stoic and yet who claim to be stoics, it’s a very big net!

  7. Avatar
    wostraub  April 30, 2019

    Thank you, Bart. Two very different questions:

    1. If Plato believed in rewards or punishments in the afterlife, he must have attributed to it some kind of agenticity that provides them. Does this mean Plato believed in a god or gods?

    2. The principle of unitarity in quantum mechanics says that information cannot be destroyed, raising the possibility of quantum immortality. Is this principle too far afield from conventional Christianity to gain any traction?

    • Bart
      Bart  May 2, 2019

      1. It’s not clear if he believed his myths or not; if he did, yes he did believe in the gods. He probably did anyway, in some sense, But my sense is that he did not mean his myths to be taken literally. They were describing what it means to lead the good life — what brings ultimate rewards and punishments (it’s not seeking out pleasure and prestige and power!)

      2
      • Avatar
        Hon Wai  May 6, 2019

        Here’s the thing I am always perplexed about: do we have reliable knowledge, as distinct from speculations, whether ancient writers of creation accounts (e.g. Genesis, Epic of Gilgamesh, Greco-Roman stories of origin of the gods) or of the afterlife, intend their works to be read literally and seriously, or as pious fiction. Here you are suggesting that in the case of Plato’s accounts of the afterlife, scholars of classics take him to be consciously writing myths. However, he has a philosophically elaborate account of the Forms – Beauty-in-itself, Justice-in-itself – about which humans gain knowledge via their immaterial souls which pre-existed before these souls became embodied in our current bodies, and our past lives as souls retained memory of the platonic realm. Plato took theory of forms seriously.

        • Bart
          Bart  May 7, 2019

          I suppose there is no way to know for sure; but since early readers can be shown to have taken these account literally (think Genesis) as conveying historical information, the most plausible explanation is that this was simply what was assumed in antiquity, and if in antiquity in general then by the authors living in it, unless there are compelling reasons for thinking otherwise (in a particular case)

  8. Avatar
    flshrP  April 30, 2019

    The mistake that’s been made since our human species developed enough brainpower to think rationally is to confuse agency with process. Agency is the ancient explanation for all movement and change that our primitive ancestors experienced. Since these early humans knew practically nothing about the natural world, they connected movement and change with living things that moved and changed. This led to animism—the idea that invisible agents (spirits, gods, etc) cause this to happen. Animism is at the root of all religions like DOS is at the root of Windows. And animism is at the root of belief in an invisible, immaterial, immortal human soul that causes movement and change in the human mind and body.

    The confusion here is between the invisible, immaterial, immortal human soul (which does not exist) and human consciousness (that actually exists). Human consciousness does not exist without a living, functioning human brain. Consciousness is brain activity, i.e. a blanket term for brain processes. Consciousness is not a thing like air, water or DNA. It’s a process like fire. When you blow out a candle, the flame doesn’t go anywhere; it just stops happening. Likewise when a human dies, the consciousness doesn’t go anywhere; it just stops happening.

    I tend to lean toward the Epicureans: Non fui. Fui. Non sum. Non curo. I was not. I was. I am not. I care not.

    People who live their life fixated on the fantasy of an eternal afterlife are in error. Michael Shermer calls this “Alvy’s Error”, named after Woody Allen’s character “Alvy” in the film “Annie Hall”: assessing the purpose of something at the wrong level of analysis. The correct level of analysis is the timescale of a human life (70 years +/-) not an infinity of years in the future. That mistake leads to another error: arguing that without something external our world (a supernatural regime) as the foundation of morality, meaning and purpose, then nothing really matters. If morality were not innate to humans, our species, that relies on solidarity and cooperation between humans, would have gone extinct a million years ago. The claim often heard that without organized religion there would be no morality is just plain bogus.

    7
    • Bart
      Bart  May 2, 2019

      Yes, I resonate. It’s not clear, I should add, that nf. f. ns. nc was specifically (and only) Epicurean, although it certainly encapsulates their views.

      1
  9. Avatar
    fishician  April 30, 2019

    One of the things I have encountered among believers is the difficulty in accepting that the wicked of this world could escape judgment for their actions; they might die in peace and never pay for their crimes. So, there must be some sort of after-life justice, there just has to be. But what we want to be is not necessarily what is. There are people who want their beloved pets to be with them in heaven, but that doesn’t mean it’s going to happen! (Now there’s an idea for a future blog post: do all dogs really go to heaven?!)

    2
    • Bart
      Bart  May 2, 2019

      Well, since I’m not a theologian, I can’t make any universal claims. But my dog did.

      9
      • Avatar
        flcombs  May 2, 2019

        I wonder….. do dogs in heaven get to chase rabbits? I can see how that could work: Doggy heaven has rabbits to chase, that is rabbit hell. Good rabbits have a heaven, probably with fields of clover. But that would be clover hell, so…. 🙂

        • Bart
          Bart  May 3, 2019

          They do, but the bunnies never get hurt…

          5
          • Avatar
            godspell  May 4, 2019

            Palhalla.

            This is cute and all, but It is interesting how there is archaeological evidence that as the dog/human relationship developed (during the same time we developed our ideas of the afterlife), the notion that they might follow us even there took root. (This wasn’t always a good thing for the dogs).

            https://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/people-buried-their-dogs-them-4000-years-ago-180971502/

            Perhaps my favorite story in all of mythology comes near the end of the Mahabarata, when Yudisthira refuses to enter paradise unless a dog that has followed him on the dangerous trip is allowed entry as well. It’s a trick–if he agrees to abandon the dog, he’ll have proven himself unworthy of entering the celestial realm in his earthly form. The dog is in reality the spirit of Dharma. This got adapted into a Twilight Zone episode, where an old hillbilly refuses to enter what he’s told is heaven if he can’t bring his hunting dog, who died the same time he did. The twist is that it’s actually hell, and the devils are trying to tell him leave the dog behind so the dog won’t warn him. The real heaven is further on down the road, and all dogs are welcome there. Translated from Hindu to Christian by Earl (The Waltons) Hamner, it’s a lot more dualistic, and much less sophisticated. But the same basic idea. If you’d leave a dependent companion behind to go to heaven, you don’t deserve heaven.

            There’s always somebody trying to put no dogs allowed signs up in heaven. (And everywhere else.)

            So this begs the question–did Jesus think there’d be animals in the Kingdom?

            1
      • Avatar
        Bewilderbeast  May 2, 2019

        Mine too. A black labrador 12yrs old, died January, and St Peter said Good Girl!!

  10. Avatar
    Apocryphile  April 30, 2019

    Can’t wait for your book on the afterlife to come out – really looking forward to reading it. One book I would highly recommend you read if you ever get a little free time 😉 is: The Non-Local Universe: The New Physics and Matters of the Mind by Robert Nadeau and Menas Kafatos. It’s written for the non-scientist, and explains Bell’s theorem and the experiments that have since confirmed non-locality and its pretty radical implications for epistemology and the scientific paradigm in general. (bottom line is that matters of the mind cannot so easily be dismissed)

    2
    • Bart
      Bart  May 2, 2019

      Wow. Sounds mind-blowing.

    • Avatar
      Nexus  May 6, 2019

      Hi Apocryphile,

      I’ve looked at the second author’s views (he is the physicist) and read the summary of this book. I would describe his views as being in the extreme minority of physicists. In fact, his views are likely aligned with Deepak Chopra’s since, as I just found out, they wrote a book together.

      My guess is that when he talks about nonlocality he gets it right, but when he transitions to consciousness it’s not going to be rigorous. When we write down the math of quantum mechanics there is no special operation, function, or variable for ‘consciousness’.

      1
      • Avatar
        Apocryphile  May 7, 2019

        Well, there is no substitute for actually reading a book to find out what it says. Forget the consciousness speculation if you like – no one understands what consciousness is or is likely to for a long time to come, if ever. My point is that, as a scientist or just a thinking lay person, just the experimental confirmation of non-locality itself should be enough to blow your mind. Einsteinian epistemology is no longer tenable, no matter how grounded we seem to be in the classical world.

        My subtler point is that anyone who wishes to hold an educated opinion on any part of the physical universe needs to be familiar with the basic outlines of quantum physics, for the simple fact that it is the foundation of reality, whatever we mean by that term.

  11. Avatar
    darren  April 30, 2019

    Really enjoyed these last two posts. I think one of the reasons I’m so interested in ancient Christianity is that I want to understand how the Christian definitions of the meaning of life and morality evolved, as I struggle to find a new understanding of things in my post-Christian life. A question about Plato — he wrote a lot about societies and how they should be structured and ruled by philosopher kings, etc. Broadly speaking, how important (if at all) were his theories in influencing how ancient religion evolved away from cults only requiring sacrifices to keep the gods happy, to a much more comprehensive system in Christianity that sought to control over individual behaviour and beliefs?

    1
    • Bart
      Bart  May 2, 2019

      In antiquity I don’t think his views affected *religion* so much (the cultic worship of the gods); but they certainly affected human thought, massively.

      1
  12. JulieGraff
    JulieGraff  April 30, 2019

    Mr. Ehrman, have you received the email I sent you with the pictures of the 5 people, of us then lifetime and now lifetime? (I sent you the email via your .edu email)

    When you have lived something like that, their is no more question about the soul living past death… and back… You Just Know!

    The tricky thing about knowing is that you know that you are accountable for you actions! … some people don’t like that! 😉

    • Avatar
      chixter  May 2, 2019

      Julie I would love to see this…..gcirillo@comcast.net

      • JulieGraff
        JulieGraff  May 14, 2019

        Hi Chixter, sorry for the late reply, I thought I had activated the notification for replies, maybe I forgot!

        Please undersdand that I do not send these pictures at large for many reasons… least of them is to respect the privacy of the people involved.

        I sent them to Mr. Ehrman knowing he is a lifetime scholar carefull about integrity (not that I think that you are not). Also having gone through the painfull experience of having my fundamental beliefs crushed, and knowing he went through such a grieving experience, I was hoping to give him some new light on things that you cannot find in the books.

        Some things are ment to be shared, and some not… and I’m learning to make the difference, even as we speak!

        • JulieGraff
          JulieGraff  May 14, 2019

          oups… pardon mon français… *not the least of them! 😉

  13. Avatar
    Judith  April 30, 2019

    An all-time favorite!

    2
    • Bart
      Bart  May 2, 2019

      Thanks. Every now and then — maybe three or four times a year? — I write a post and think to myself, now *that* one is important. And this was one of those times….

      5
      • JulieGraff
        JulieGraff  May 14, 2019

        Yes because your North Node (North Star, the futur) is Sagittarius, and your South Node (the past) is Gemini… look at both archetypes and you’ll know what I’m talking about!

        Ok ok were in a blog studying history of the bible and all that… Isn’t “Rosh Hodesh” an important day in the Torah?

        Gemini, you’ve been there, done that…that’s like you slipers, you’re comfort zone… Sagittarius is an other game, it’s new, not as comfortable, but one where you’ll have fun, like a kid in the park!

        Just saying! 😉

  14. Pattycake1974
    Pattycake1974  May 1, 2019

    “There is nothing there for them. They are “shades” or “shadows” of those who once lived….This is comparable to the view that many people – an increasing number of people – continue to have in our world today.”

    I’ve seen statistics that people are becoming more nonreligious, but I haven’t seen anything that suggests there’s a spike in the belief that there’s no afterlife. What makes you think so?

    • Bart
      Bart  May 2, 2019

      The polls! Gallup, e.g. Today 72% of Americans believe in a literal heaven; 58% in a literal hell. Compare that with forty years ago! And over the same period, secularization and “nones” have been growing (just over the past decade). And in Europe, of course, Christianity is widely swinging down. It’s hard to find many Christians/believers/advocates of afterlife in England, e.g.

      2
      • Pattycake1974
        Pattycake1974  May 2, 2019

        Yeah, I think I’ve read that poll (it’s the most recent if I’m remembering correctly) and a couple of others that give similar percentages. There’s also this study from 2014 that was conducted by a team of 3 universities with 58,000 participants. An interesting find with millennials—
        “In 1998, 49 percent of 18 to 29-year-olds said they were moderately or very religious in 1998. By 2014 this had dropped to 38 percent.
        And while 15 percent of adults said they were “not religious at all” in 1998, 20 percent did in 2014.
        Yet 80 percent of Americans said they believe in an afterlife in 2014, up from 73 percent in 1972-74.”

        https://www.nbcnews.com/better/wellness/fewer-americans-believe-god-yet-they-still-believe-afterlife-n542966

        I don’t know if that percentage still holds true today, 5 years later. The increase in belief for the afterlife is just for this particular age group. It’s too bad the article doesn’t show the percentages for other age groups.

        • Pattycake1974
          Pattycake1974  May 2, 2019

          “Our soul or mind or spirit doesn’t somehow survive. It’s over. It’s done. There is nothing more, ever again. Some people – most people in America – find this view either too terrifying or depressing or unfair/unjust to accept”

          I’m one of those people. It makes me so sad to think about it!

          • Avatar
            hoshor  May 3, 2019

            I see it as somewhat the opposite. I see eternal life (of any kind) a much more terrifying outcome. After the billions and billions of “years” one is bound to get bored.

            2
  15. Avatar
    Beegowl  May 1, 2019

    Dr. Ehrman, thank you for this piece. When I overcame my childhood religious indoctrination and understood that I am a creature of this Earth, from this Earth, like all other living entities that inhabit our planet, and that we are truly alone with ourselves, it was, at first, disconcerting. Then, it was clear to me that life’s meaning comes from the cooperative relationships that we establish between and among Earth’s living things. It is an appreciation for our fleeting existence. I know from personal experience that childhood indoctrination can be a combination of good and evil. Superstition and lies are evil. A grasp of reality and truth are good. We will survive as a species if we choose the pursuit of truth.

  16. Avatar
    chixter  May 1, 2019

    I wonder if any religion has been built around the concept that claims after death we are in the same state as before conception ?

    1
    • Bart
      Bart  May 2, 2019

      That was the very strong claim of the Epicureans in antiquity; and anecdotally I can say it’s the view of lots of folk today. (It’s my own view as well)

      1
      • Avatar
        SScottb149  May 2, 2019

        Dr. Erhman,
        I would tend to agree with this view as well. I live my life as if it is the only life that will ever be. When I was once upon I time a fundamentalist, I would have been terrified to believe this is all we get in this life. Into my middle age, however, I started re-thinking this view and how brave and giving this life can make you. When I began waking up each morning, thinking this could be my last day…. Life became so much fuller… So full of beauty and love. Everyday became an exciting new adventure, not simply a moment or two to “smell the roses”…the roses smelled all the time in a more beautiful and meaningful way than I ever thought possible. I have bad times too like everyone, but I actually began grieving LESS when a beloved friend, pet, or family member died. Life is in the eye of the beholder I guess, but why not make the most of it instead of assuming that a supposed heavenly bliss awaits? I assume that many through the ages who denied the pleasures of this life and the good they could contribute to here and now…. Would love to have their money back! THANK YOU FOR YOUR COMMENTS!!

        1
    • Avatar
      JohnRedshirt  June 28, 2019

      Bede`s sparrow, except that not knowing what comes before or after is no reason to embrace religion.

  17. Avatar
    sjh0278  May 1, 2019

    “And so – it was thought (and still is) – that if there is no accounting after death for how we behave in this life, then there can be no societal norms, and only the rich, the powerful, the hedonistic get pleasure. The 1% get it all. The rest simply are tools to be used for the pleasure and enjoyment of others.”

    Hmm. There are two kinds of people. The ones that use and the ones that are used. So be clever to use more or struggle not to be used so much! Right-wing vs. left. Maybe politics have a lot to do with whether or not believing in the afterlife.

  18. Avatar
    Steefen  May 1, 2019

    Compared to the Kingdom of Herod the Great and Augustus’ Rome and territories, how realistic, practical, and feasible was Jesus’ Kingdom of God/Heaven/Righteousness? If it was too idealistic or even sophomoric, his enemies were justified in their claim that he led Jews astray with his political visions which also included the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Power?

    Jesus messianic city (partly fulfilling Zechariah’s prophecy) did not materialize in Jesus’ lifetime or within his 40 days of resurrection or with the extra day appearance to Paul, if there was a legitimate appearance to Paul.

    The political accomplishments of Augustus (military, transitioning Rome from a republic to an empire, ending Civil War, buildings and infrastructure, as pontifex maximus, building piety and moral character, etc.) and Herod the Great (being a leading and exemplary Hellenized client king, supporting the Diaspora, making Jerusalem great again with overtures to David and Solomon by way of successfully embarking on the construction of the Temple of Jerusalem, etc.) should have been the standards against which Jesus’ political initiatives should have been judged for endorsement or they should have paled against what God could do.

    Was the political presence of Jesus and his political aspiration to have his kingdom cabinet of 12 disciple-judges (Matthew 19: 28 ) his downfall?

    • Bart
      Bart  May 2, 2019

      I’m afraid realism is in the eye of the beholder. Jesus thought God himself would establish the kingdom, and make him king. Pilate and the Romans were not interested in theological nuances. You think you’re a king? OK, this is what we do to people who want to be king….

      2
      • Avatar
        Steefen  May 2, 2019

        Schweitzer said there was a successful phase of Jesus’ mission and a tragic phase of Jesus’ mission. You said Jesus was an apocalyptic prophet.

        Looking at the successful phase (the kingdom is at hand, the blind is given sight, the lame walk therefore the God of the Torah rejects no one because none have blemishes)

        as opposed to the later tragic phase (rejection of the one who comes to Jerusalem humbly on a donkey in the name of the Lord, premonition of the tribulation of the destruction of Jerusalem, capture, conviction, and crucifixion),

        we ask, Did apocalyptic prophet Jesus lead people astray from political realities to believe God would establish, not only Zechariah’s messianic city, but a kingdom of Israel.

        There is no question here as to whether or not Pilate and Emperor Tiberius were going to brake for Jesus,
        especially with Jesus not campaigning his kingdom prophecy to

        Philip the Tetrarch (of Northeast Palestine, Gaulantis, Batanea, Trachonitis),

        Herod Antipas (Tetrarch of Galilee and Perea), and

        Herod Archelaus (Tetrarch of Samaria, Judea, and Idumea; the three areas were later combined under the name Iudaea province and ruled by a prefect)
        Herod Archelaus was banished to Vienne of Gaul, so Jesus would have had to campaign his kingdom to Pilate after garnering the support of Philip and Herod Antipas.

        Political Realism is in the eye of the beholders or political realism: Herod Antipas in Galilee for starters, Philip, Pilate, then Tiberius as opposed to his god intervening, turning over the tables of empire/sponsor government of the client kingdom of Palestine and the management of Herod the Great’s successors.

        The question for Christianity in Antiquity and Christians today: do we endorse Jesus’ political vision. The answer seems to be no.

        In The Great Courses, From Jesus to Constantine: A History of Early Christianity, you approximately said after the exiles and defeats of the Jewish people, Jewish religion moved away from expecting God’s intervention (especially on the scale suggested by Jesus: God establishing and kingdom and making him king); and, the misfortunes that had been visited upon the nation of Israel were no longer due to their disobedience.

        For Jesus to lead people back to expecting God’s direct intervention on that scale is misleading, yes?

        • Bart
          Bart  May 3, 2019

          It’s misleading if it doesn’t happen. But Jesus didn’t know that it wouldn’t.

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    epistememe  May 1, 2019

    well said

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    Neurotheologian  May 1, 2019

    Hi Bart, now you are on my territory as well as yours! However, of course it’s everyone’s territory because at some point in our lives, we all think about these deep questions of the purpose or meaning of our lives (our consciousness) – what purpose am I here for? Is there a purpose at all? As well as: what is the pupose of the universe?, or more succinctly, why is there there anything? You mention that Homeric ideas about the soul have been ‘transposed into a modern key thanks to our understandings of biology and anatomy’ about which you vaguely (perhaps cautiously) implied that such understandings make you believe, like many today, ‘that the mind does not exist apart from the body, that there is no soul apart from the physical entities that comprise the brain’. I think your caution was wise, because, in my view, our understandings of biology and anatomy (neuroscience in short) have not gone any way to explain the existence of either life itself or consciousness. Despite what you may have heard about the secret of life having been ‘cracked’, it hasn’t and there remains a profund mystery – the mystery of how all the hundreds of thousands of components of a cell work together for a common purpose. Consciousness is a deeper mystery still. In an analagous way to how cellular biology has mapped out all the components of life, neuroscience has mapped out the anatomy and physiology of many of the components of conscious content, but it has not solved the riddle of how you get mind / consciousness / spirit from matter and energy. As you may know, this is called the hard problem of consciousness or the explanatory gap. The reason, in my view, of course is that consciousness does not come from matter and energy which, turn out, at the quantum level, to be simply bundles of rules and energy. …. just one look at these chinese children on a glass bridge https://images.app.goo.gl/hHFZ5yhDALhGWq9B9 is a clue that matter is 99.999999999999% empty and that’s counting the nuclei as solid, which they aren’t!, so matter is actually 100% empty – it’s just made out of mathematical rules &; information. Part 2 if you are interested, will bring me back from my digression to consciousness and purpose 🙂

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