Sunday, August 14, 2011

Death... and faith

    The fear of death follows from the fear of life. A man who lives fully is prepared to die at any time.
    —Mark Twain

Two weeks after my grandma's passing, I am still thinking about death. Not in a grieving way, for I'm not sad about her -- just relieved that she had felt no pain, died peacefully, was free from the weak body that I felt had stripped her of much dignity in her old age. No, I've been thinking about it in a wondering way.

Anyone who has looked upon a lifeless body lying in a coffin surely must have the sense that what remains there is merely an empty shell. I don't know how atheists explain it, but when I looked at my grandma's body I was pretty certain that she was gone, the essence of her. She was no longer here. What was there bore no resemblance to the grandma I knew, except that it had her face and form. But the vital spark was missing. The soul.

I think I understand now why so many religions believe in life after death, whether it is reincarnation, heaven and hell, or some other philosophy. When you look at the body lying there, you just know that the soul has left; hence it must perforce go somewhere, even if that means it is to roam the earth in invisible form among the rest of us. That's why we say the body is "lifeless": the life has left, it is now... somewhere else. Where, we may not know for sure, but definitely not here!

Death is, of course, the Great Unknown. Religions try to comfort us by putting names and descriptions to this Unknown, but intellectually we can't ever be sure that any one of them are the truth. This is why it's called "faith"; as defined in the Bible, "Faith is the confidence that what we hope for will actually happen; it gives us assurance about things we cannot see." (Hebrews 11:1) And so I believe that it is impossible to argue anybody into any religious faith, nor can you necessarily convince them that yours is true. Faith is not something that one can reason out or be intellectually convinced of. We are talking about things that are unseen, mysteries that are veiled. It may be that we will never have incontrovertible proof of our faith, yet millions around the world still cling to their own deities and personal beliefs.

To say that faith is a crutch, a way to explain the inexplicable, to comfort ourselves by saying "This person is now in a better place," is... well, perhaps there might be a grain of truth in that. However, ruling out the unknown or the unfathomable simply because one cannot understand it or does not have any concrete proof -- that, too, is either a form of faith, or denial ;)  I respect the agnostic, who simply says, "I do not know." That is honest.

So if you ask me, I don't know why, but I do believe that my grandma is in a better place; that she is free of her weak and ailing body, free from pain and suffering, and that I will meet her again one day. In the end, I can't explain my faith, because it simply is.

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