Monday, 11 September 2017

The Irrelevance of Life After Death

An aspect of diversity of belief among British Quakers, that we discuss less than most others, is the question of what happens after we die. There are likely several reasons for this, including that, for some, that belief is very important, and challenging it strikes deeply at their life and, perhaps, what helps them to maintain hope.
However, it strikes me that the greatest reason is a distinction in the Quaker motivation to right action. In rhetoric at least, many mainstream – especially, but not only evangelical – Christian churches, it is common to talk about the promise of heaven as a motivation to right action, or at least avoidance of wrong action, or at least for full and frank confession. In my time among Liberal Quakers, I have not seen or heard that used, rhetorically or conversationally. Rather, we see that we should do what is right, what the spirit urges, what love requires of us, simply because it is right – or indeed, that we cannot do otherwise, when the leading is sufficiently strong. We do it because of our conviction that it will lead to a better world, and that if all acted as we did, it would be a wonderful result. We do this because if we will not, who will?
I do not mean by this that we are morally superior to mainstream Christians. I don't even know what it would mean to be “morally superior”. It is, however, a difference, and one not unique to us; there are certainly those among many denominations, and many other faiths, who see right action in this way, as do many humanists. It is, however, more consistent among Quakers than any other faith group I have known.
Thus, the idea of what happens after we die, of life after death, of eternal reward and punishment, is something we do not speak of much – simply because it is seldom of relevance to our decisions and actions.
Written September 2017
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