1-00. The Reality of Life and Death
When I think back to my dream of the mother weeping over her dead child (alas, an all too common sight in real life, and not just in a dream such as this), I am reminded of a completely different reaction I have seen when men and women react to the death of a loved one. Though there is, with few exceptions, a deep sense of loss and heart-wrenching, there is no presence of desperation. There is an inner peace - an inner assusuredness - that somehow, inspite of loss, whether through natural causes or tragedy, is not disturbed. I have seen it - I have seen that deep, inner peace.
Though I do not wish to be morbid, it is a fact that death - and especially of a loved one - tends to jolt the more sensitive of us to seriously reflect on the meaning of life. There are very many people who believe that departing souls come back again as someone else - to get "another chance", in fact, as many "chances" as they need to "get it right" in life - rather like someone returning to school to reset an exam again and again until he passes. Others believe that death marks the end of everything, so they attempt to "live life" as "fully" as they can, knowing that their time is short. The more selfish of these people try to get as much for themselves as they can, not caring whether they walk all over others in the process, even if this means destroying other's lives. The more altruistic wish to leave a legacy of good behind them, bettering mankind, as they hope, by selflessly engaging in what they believe is a worthwhile cause that will make the human race a happier one. So even those who do not believe in an afterlife prepare for death somewhat differently. No matter whoever we are, we ALL have to prepare for death in some way, even though I know many people who refuse to think about it and try to pretend that the awful day will never come. But as it approaches, as I have observed all too often, they become GRIPPED WITH FEAR. And who can blame them? For death is a fearful thing, especially if you believe you are about to become permanently extinct.
I think it is fair to say that those who do not know what is going to happen to us at death have much to think about. That there is no more important question is proven by the fact that (a) everyone dies, whether they want to or not, and (b) everybody is forced to think about it at some point, since it can't be avoided. Whether death is a signpost or marker on part of a continuing journey, or whether it is the end of the journey, only a fool would not begin to make preparations for that journey, whether it is to provide for loved ones after one has gone or, if one believes in life after death, to make sure that we have understood, and correctly responded to, the purpose of life while we are alive. Every journey has a purpose - a destination - and what can be more important than understanding what our life's jouney is and making sure that we successfully complete it?
If you ask people of many different belief systems what they believe the purpose of life is, they will usually tell you that it is to raise a family, pursue a career, survive, better mankind, do whatever makes them personally happy and fulfilled, or to prepare to meet God. There frankly aren't that many different things that one can do in life in terms of the broad goals we set ourselves. Everybody has a life philosophy of sorts though there are some - probably many - who find themselves in such terrible circumstances (such as grinding poverty) whose ambitions extend little further than simply surviving. Most people will, at sometime in their lives, speculate as to whether there is something greater than themselves - God - and will define this Deity in many different ways. Many will reject the notion of a God altogether and others will continue to seek to try and understand Him (or Her or It). From the very beginning of humanity questions about "God" have been asked and as a result of these questions many religious systems have evolved. In every system (and that includes atheism and agnosticism) man must operate, more or less, by FAITH. He simply doesn't have all the data on the universe and its history so he cannot know by any "scientific method" whether God actually exists or not. You cannot "prove" that God exists (Theism), you cannot "prove" that He does not (Atheism), and you cannot "prove" that you cannot know (Agnosticism). Both the theist and the atheist, after all is said and done, must rest their belief structure on FAITH.
About the only things we can be 100% sure of on this world is that we are alive and that we will one day die (unless you belong to that tiny minority of people who think that everything is illusion and that we have no objective existence at all). Everything else depends on FAITH, even the rising of the sun the next day. Some faith is more PROBABLE than other forms of faith - thus I am pretty certain that the sun will rise tomorrow (since it has happened so many millions of times in the past) though there is a small probability that the sun will explode tonight and everything will end. Some very silly people believe the earth is flat even though we can prove scientifically it is not. And yet if you believe everything is "illusion", it is possible that we are being deceived by what we see.
There are many bizzare philosophies about life to be sure but the vast bulk of mankind throughout the ages has agreed that there is what one might call a "collective experience" which tells us what is reality and what is not, even though there may be exceptions that may upset that experience. We all know about gravity and yet there are claimed instances of people levitating - defying gravity by floating off the ground. The exceptions excepted (and they are notoriously hard to document or film with witneses), there are (surprisingly, perhaps) alot of things about which nearly everyone is agreed. We have a general "knowing" that love is better than hate both for the individual and for society as a whole and yet we are astonishingly careless in our law-making when it comes to protecting that which we instinctively know is in our best interests. And one of the greatest difficulties people have is knowing where to draw the boundary between the interests of the individual and the interests of the community. We have discovered that freedom for one can be bondage for the other.
For instance, there is no doubt that in western thought emphasis has been placed on the freedom of the individual. In the east there is more emphasis on family and society as a whole. Experiments with communism and fascism have been disasterous for these systems were built upon the belief that the state was more important than the indivuidual. The result was security in one area and fear in another. Liberal democracy has very much been shaped as a counter-reaction to these totalitarian ideas and has laid stress on the freedom of the individual. This has led to the disintegration of the family and progressively moved society towards anarchy. And so, in the history of nations, we see this ping-poing reaction as an oppressive totalitarian society is replaced (often violently) by a liberal democratic one as people crave the pure air of freedom, and as chaotic liberal democratic societies are replaced by totalitarian ones as people crave order and safety. Society tends either to be liberal, anarchistic and "immoral", or totalitarian, orderly and "moral".
We have been experimenting with political systems for millennia and nobody is going to agree what the best is. With the advance of technology which will inevitably lead to the end of the nation state and one world state, people are anxious about what will come. Will the world become one giant liberal democracy or one giant dictatorship? What sort of freedoms will we enjoy and what sort of "morality" will prevail? Will mankind truly become emancipated, learning from the mistakes of the past, or will he again become the victim of his own short-sightedness and folly? What will he believe in? Are we all headed towards a kind of global atheistic humanism or will some sort of concensus be arrived at leading to a one world religion? Or will the whole world become Christian, Moslem, Hindu, New Age, Buddhist? Will we discover the true God or go and make another one up, fashioned in the image of the vocabulary, experience, and hopes of our own era?
Most people on the street aren't too concerned about these bigger questions in life, and you may be one of them. But the rulers of the nations, and especially those who want to see a one world government, most certainly are, and since they are the ones who create the law of our countries, what they believe is of the utmost importance, especially if their beliefs are imposed on us.
For now, though, I am more concerned about you as an individual. Individuals make families, families make nations, and nations make up the world. If there is an absolute truth, then, given the historical divisiveness of man and his tendency to resolve differences by force (militarily or psychologically through propaganda), then the chances are we are going to have to begin looking for it amongst individuals who have experienced it and are clearly deriving a healthy benefit from it. We are the building bricks of society, and society is made up of many types of brick, some good for society, and some not. I am going to look at one kind of building brick for now and then look at the other kinds afterwards. I am going to look at the life of one man who claimed to be God come in a rather special way because I believe His life was more wonderful than any other that has been lived. Many have tried to emulate Him - many have failed and given Him a bad reputation - others have found the path He taught and stand as living witnesses today of what a happy, hopeful and eternal life can be like. I would like to show you that path now if you would be so kind as to accompany me.