Christian apologists often take for granted that there is an afterlife in which all rational people would want to partake. But such an assumption is often mistaken. In a recent conversation with a skeptic, I was reminded of how differently such questions can be viewed depending on one’s frame of reference.
I had asked whether eternal life was something she desired, because she seemed rather ambivalent to the concept. Since she didn’t know for sure that there was such a place, or condition, she didn’t see much point in thinking about it. So, “desiring” that destination just wasn’t resonating with her, in much the same way as if I had asked whether she would like to visit the first Moon colony someday. I tried to describe the afterlife in rather positive terms – time without limitation, life without pain or deprivation, relationship without conflict – hoping to pique her interest. Unlike a moon colony which may never exist, death and whatever lies beyond is a certainty for every mortal. She then countered with what I considered a puzzling question: “Why is it that you get to decide what eternal life is? Who put you, or Christians generally, in charge? Why can’t my view be right, that everyone ends up in the same place when they die?”
“As I see it,” I eventually responded, “eternal life isn’t something any of us gets to define. That it exists, I have little doubt. But what it entails? For that I need a source of knowledge. It cannot be reached through reason, because reason unaided has no access to it. Jesus is that source of knowledge, as his life, death and resurrection give him both the power and the authenticity to be able to speak about such things. You, by contrast, have only your own intuitive sense to base your views on. “
“Okay, so let’s assume you’re right, how can you be so sure you will achieve this ‘eternal life’?” she countered.
“Actually, it not something that I will ‘acquire’ or ‘achieve. ‘It’s something I already have and that I will participate in, in some form or another, whether I want to or not. That’s both good and bad news. The good news is obvious: this feeling that there is never enough – time, love, satisfaction, pleasure, that constant desire for “more” or for “better” – will eventually be fulfilled. The bad news, at least potentially, is that I may not like where I end up.” Scare tactics, her look betrayed. I pressed on. “Consider it this way: if I embark on a life of crime or drug addiction, I will eventually reap what I sow – nature has consequences built into it. It doesn’t really matter whether I think I can beat the addiction, or beat the odds. Once set in motion, I may have little say in how things end up, and the place I find myself might not be pleasant. The same is true of eternal life, in my view. Why should there be an exception to the “you reap what you sow rule” for what lies beyond? And if Christians are right about what they believe, then you’ll be trying to make up for having ignored your future host for the major part of your life.”
I could see that this was not persuading her, so I tried one last time. “The ‘I’ part of me is eternal, even though my current body is not. That’s why I say that I ‘have’ a body and not that I ‘am’ a body. Even linguistically, we realize that the ‘I’ part of us is something different – something ephemeral – than the physical part of us.” So, I asked again, “How can you be indifferent about such a question?” I knew what her answer would be: “no one has the answers, and you are fooling yourself if you think someone does.” So, I tried not for the first time to personalize it: “But don’t you think it’s worth an investigation by you? To satisfy yourself that you – I mean you yourself – really can’t know?”
“Take my drugs example,” I said. “Since you’re young and healthy, you might be able to abuse drugs for quite some time without being harmed. You might be indifferent to whether using drugs is a good or bad idea. But how smart a move would it be for you to say that you really don’t care what effect it will have on you in 20 years? Looking down the road to the consequence of our choices is something we all really need to do.”
Her smile told me that she was still not buying it. Perhaps she never will.
Posted by Al Serrato