July 2018 – Can Life Be Meaningful If Death Is the End?

July 2018 Inter-Belief Conversation Café

Can Life Be Meaningful If Death Is the End?

  Monday, July 16, 2018
  7 p.m. – 9 p.m.
  Interfaith Action of Greater Saint Paul
1671 Summit Avenue, Saint Paul, MN 55105 (View Map)

Are we all like the atheist in the funeral parlor, “All dressed up and nowhere to go?” If this life is all we get, how do we find meaning? Is the afterlife promised in religious traditions something we should plan our lives around? Should we look to a perhaps unknowable future? Or live for ourselves, our loved ones, our country, our world, and our inheritors? Where does, and where should, our meaning come from?

Is immortality based on the memory we leave behind? Is it enough to be alive to family and friends after we are gone? Why not live for wine, debauchery, and song, and let posterity take care of itself? Are hedonists the only rationalists? Why help others unless there is a concrete reward? Why give to charity without a sizable tax deduction or a memorial plaque? Or perhaps, if this life is all we get, shouldn’t we be inspired to make the world a little better for our existence? Aren’t we made of the relationships we have with others? Don’t we owe a debt to Humanity — or to our own humanity?

Is immortality based on the “memes” we leave behind? Is it enough to have first voiced, “All the world’s a stage, and all men and women merely players?” Or if one’s not a Shakespeare, is it meaningful enough to have been the unknown creator of the “Hang in There” poster? Is our life meaningful if we cast a few pearls of homespun wisdom to our kids before exiting the stage? Or if we stand on a soapbox and try to make a difference? What if we just “chop wood, carry water,” and live in peace with the world? Would we, and the fallen sparrow, both live a meaningful life?

Existentialist philosophers speak of a life flowing from the choices we make. We create our essence from the fact of our existence. Are we then our own validation of meaning? Does anyone actually live that way? At decision points aren’t our actions predictable? Can they really give us meaning? Besides isn’t life something that happens to us, not something we control? Is this a vision of a cold, arid universe for loners?

Is the religious afterlife so wonderful? Is Christian Heaven a place to play harps all day? Are the delights of Muslim Paradise just the Playboy Mansion in the sky? Who gets to go there? The prudes, prigs, and self-righteous with whom we wouldn’t want to spend an eternity? If most folks go to Hell, why bother being good? Reincarnation may include coming back to live again as a cockroach — inspiring? Would death be more meaningful than this type of afterlife? (Or maybe cockroaches have gotten a bad rap?)

The Sufi saint, Rabi’a al-Adawiyya is claimed to have walked the streets of Basra with a pot of fire in one hand and a bucket of water in the other, saying, “I wish to put out the fires of Hell with my water and burn up Paradise with my fire-pot.” The fear of punishment and the promise of reward were, to her, obstacles to simply loving Allah. In Judaism there is a concept of healing the Earth of the harm we do it and walking with the Divine on His path. In this conception of religion, is life meaningful even if death is the end?

Who gets to have meaning? The regular worshipper? The good deed doer? The friend in need? The diligent family member? The celebrity? The ascetic hermit? The pioneer? The hoarder who dies with the most toys? All, or none of the above? It’s said that none should be deemed happy before his or her death, because fortunes may change. Is meaning the same — applied to our lives only in retrospect? Is it unknown whether we live a life of true meaning until after we die and our life is weighed in the balance, whether by God or by History?

On Monday, July 16, from 7-9 PM at Interfaith Action of Greater St. Paul, 1671 Summit Avenue, St. Paul, Inter-belief Conversation Café will ask for meaning in this life (if not the next). Our reasoning dialogue’s agreements of acceptance, open-mindedness, curiosity, discovery, sincerity, brevity, and confidentiality will hopefully help us steer a worthwhile course. But even if we decide life is meaningless; there will be treats!