Sunday, January 14, 2007

Redheaded Rover Rambles about the Afterlife

A little candy before I get into the meat.

I've noticed lately, a specific adverb. I suppose it has existed for a while, but I can't recall ever having heard it in use. Or if I had heard it used - and I don't think I've ever read it anywhere - it was so infrequent as to leave no impression on me. Here's the word: "funnily" ... as in "funnily enough, someone thought of adverbizing the word funny."

What is most striking about the use of this word is where I've been hearing it. On NPR. At least once or twice on On the Media, and an another program. Maybe All Things Considered. Why "funnily?" Why not amusingly or strangely or oddly? "Funnily," though completely valid just hits my ears at a 90-degree angle. It feels almost sophomoric. Though I suspect there may be (drum roll, please) a phonological reason for my distaste for it. But you, dear readers, were already subjected to that crap in my last post, so I'll drop it. "Funnily" sounds weird to me and it cracks up my shit that the "wordinistas" on NPR are starting to use it.

Now, to the meat.
On my last post, I mentioned that I wanted to address the subject of perceived correct response of faith. That's probably not what the subject really is, so hopefully, while writing I'll come up with a better way of describing it.

VirginiaGal and I got to have dinner together with mutual friends last week. It was lots of fun, but she posed a question to me. Here was her scenario: VA Gal, who is Muslim, was in a situation recently where she was having a conversation with a Pentecostal military chaplain. Somewhere in the conversation she told him that she thinks God doesn't really discriminate who gets into Heaven based on religion. The chaplain disagreed and questioned her own religious loyalty if she didn't believe God only allowed Muslims into Heaven. Then she wondered if maybe he was right. She posed this to me. I basically said, "I can't judge that." That was weak. This is my attempt to elaborate.

During the holidays there was a radio ad that ran on a couple of stations, for a local church. "The only problem with religion is you don't know which one is right until you're dead."

Needless to say that's not the only problem. One of the big problems is I don't think anyone really agrees on what religion is. That's totally for another post which has been steeping in me for a few weeks. In reference to the above ad and to the chaplain's offense, though, the problem isn't you don't know until you're dead, the problem is making that item, that post-life certainty the core focus of religion and one's faith in God.

Like VirginiaGal and the chaplain, I believe in Heaven. Unlike the chaplain, but like VirginiaGal, if God is love and as my Muslim cousins pray, that He is benevolent, and like we are taught, that He is omniscient, I cannot imagine that God would reject the soul of one who has led a worthy life and who did good works just because she prayed to Jesus instead of 5X a day toward Mecca or drank Maneschevitz or because he wore saffron robes in Tibet. I tend to lean toward the Prayer of Thomas Merton school of thought: I trust my desire to please you pleases you.

Also, I would presume, unlike the chaplain, who gets into Heaven is of less concern to me. Largely because of what I stated above, but also because A) it's none of my business; I'm not the one making the guest list and B) when one focuses too heavily on the guest list per se, I suspect there's not enough focus on what needs to be done in this life. If we concern ourselves too much with the Grape Shasta and Fruit Roll-Ups at the end of the game, it really distracts us from the present, from what needs to be done to make this world a better place.

... besides, what if we don't know who was right at the end? And why does there have to be one who is right? At a Bible study one night years ago, I proposed the idea that maybe God speaks to us in the cultural vernacular we understand; maybe when Islam was ascending, the people of that region needed to hear God speak in an Islamic way. Maybe the dissenting Jews and the syphillitic Gentiles of the Roman empire needed the hippie reformer Jesus. Maybe the folks along the silk road needed Buddha. Maybe God is still talking and there's no terminal religion. (No better way to keep God in a box than to say you've got the only message forever.) Focusing on "who's right" is not only a distraction from what needs to be done in the present, it is a major hindrance in building community which not only seems spiritually shallow, but immoral in the modern world.

Ultimately, what the chaplain took issue with was the idea of religious identity. His sense of religious identity is tied heavily into Heaven and his perception of the one narrow path in. Islam, I think, has a similar doctrine and he didn't know how VirginiaGal could be a good Muslim and not accept every last scrap of doctrine. Maybe she can't. Maybe I can't be a good christian because I do not accept every last scrap of orthodox doctrine (though my preferred denomination's loosely official doctrine is "no creed but Christ," so I have some elbow room). Maybe my Jewish friends can't be good jews because they eat bacon. But maybe God cares less about the doctrines we impose than about us just having a relationship with Him and with those we come in contact with.

Really, we're all just doing the best we can during our short time on this spinning mudball, right? Then I'm back to my first answer: I can't judge that.


Virginia Gal said...

oh that is beautiful Molly - I love the Thomas Merton quote - I think it is apt, no more than apt, perfect.

I'm linking this and thank you so much for putting my emotions and my swirling feelings into something coherent - its like this great relief to hear what you have said, suddenly I realize I am right in my convictions, though they may be un P.C. to the mainstream Islam - like you said, I'm not concerned with the guest list : )

CS said...

Mind if a nontheistic Buddhist-Quaker first-time-visitor-to-your-blog weighs in here? I always have this thought when people insist that only the folks who believe just the way they do are going to heaven: that it wouldn't be a crowd I'd want to spend eternity with. I truly believe you find the path that fits for you and then how you live and how you treat others is what matters in the long run. You may say here, well if you don't believe in God or heaven anyway, what's it to you? Okay, granted. But I do believe in the sacred, and that the holy in each of us binds us to the other. Whatever language you wrap around your faith/practice, if it is rooted in compassion and peace and love, then I'd be happy to be on the same guest list.

Molly Malone said...

haha! CSL, yeah. I too have thought the same thing before. not the crowd i'd wanna spend eternity with.

reminds me of a joke: a man dies and goes to heaven. an angel is walking him around, getting him situated and he's noticing all the people of various faiths milling about and he comments that it's really great.

then he spots group cloistered in a private room. "who're those people over there? what's up with them?" he asks the angel.

"ssh," she replies. "those are the Baptists. they think they're the only ones here!"

... as an ex-Baptist, that's always really cracked me up.