June 2016: What Happens After We Die?

June 2016 Inter-Belief Conversation Café

What Happens After We Die?

Monday, June 20, 2016
7 – 9 p.m.
Interfaith Action of Greater Saint Paul
1671 Summit Avenue, Saint Paul, MN 55105 (View Map)

Author Henry James reportedly said on his death bed, “So here it is at last, the distinguished thing.” This sounds encouraging, but what really happens? Is the afterlife a great place like inventor Thomas Edison hinted when he said, “It’s very beautiful over there.”? Or is it less cheerful per Sigmund Freud who said, “Now it’s nothing but torture and makes no sense anymore.”? Or does it depend on who you are? Beethoven felt, “I shall hear in heaven.” Author Victor Hugo proclaimed, “I see black light.” Maybe Steve Jobs said it best when he observed, “OH WOW. OH WOW. OH WOW.”?

Perhaps these statements are as reliable a report as we get. Scriptures promise pearly gates and streets of gold, virgin companions, a light show beyond belief, or rebirth as something else hopefully not a cockroach. But as those who don’t believe in divinity and even some who do argue maybe this life is all we have. When it’s over, it’s really, really over. Immortality such as it is consists of who remembers us which since they are mortal too may not be a great comfort.

Our most detailed description may be Dante’s Divine Comedy based on a supposed expedition accompanied by Virgil and others. Most readers focus on the ingenious tortures of the damned in Inferno, but Dante travels up the seven story mountain of Purgatory, and to souls happily existing on our solar system’s planets. Finally there is the great light itself. But since he put still living enemies in hell, Dante may not be reliable.

In the Tibetan Book of the Dead a handy guide to avoiding rebirth is chanted over the dead body to guide the floating spirit. The departed is reminded that scary she demons carrying bloody severed heads in her hands may actually be friendly and if one is dead does it matter if one’s form is shredded by dreadful creatures. The Egyptian Book of the Dead was more practical and told how to keep one’s soul from confessing all one’s misdeeds and having it eaten by a diabolical dog. In the Odyssey the hero journeys to Hades for advice and learns that being dead is miserable and even Achilles would rather be somewhere else.

Science may encase our consciousness in artificial bodies. Most literary accounts of living forever end with a wish for death. After a thousand years doesn’t all get old? Winston Churchill’s death bed remark was, “I’m bored with it all.” Besides as the 2,000 year old man complains in a comedy sketch, the kids never come to visit anymore. Is it just as Hamlet says that the alternative to living may be something worse?

On Monday, June 20 from 7-9 PM at Interfaith Action of Greater St. Paul, 1671 Summit Avenue (corner of Summit & Pierce), St. Paul, Inter-belief Conversation Café will consider the next step after life leaves us. Will a memorable quote be it? Our agreements of open-mindedness, acceptance, curiosity, discovery, sincerity, brevity, and confidentiality will be with us as we look for the other side. Treats will be available; enjoy them while you can!