I follow a lot of discussions and debates on the internet. People are continuously attacking each other over which theological principle is the right one, whether God exists, the age of the earth, the merits of the theory of evolution etc. Evident in these discussions for the most part is a focus on who is right in the here and now. I am often times guilty of that too.
But then there is the small matter of eternity. However we choose to define eternity, either as an unending succession of moments, or the complete absence of time as we know it, every single one of us will be spending a lot of time there. After our brief existence on this planet comes to an end, we are “there”.
There are not many that options for what eternity may be like.
If you are an atheist, then you believe that you will have no knowledge or sense of what happens in eternity. Your being will dissolve back into the nothingness it came from the moment your brain functions stop. The assembly of carbon and water molecules will rearrange themselves into some other form of energy and you won’t be there to know it. You will simply cease to exist, and therefore, meet eternity blissfully unaware of anything.
For new age spiritualists, it’s slightly more complicated, depending on their view of reincarnation. Some believe that you return to another body and continue to exist in a physical form, and this continues until you have reached a version of spiritual awareness, at which time your personhood dissolves into a oneness with the universe. Your essence, I’ve been lead to believe, will disappear and there will be no “you”, just the bigger universal consciousness. You will spend eternity as part of that bigger consciousness, which the new agers claim is “god”. I don’t quite get what remains of your personhood in such a scenario, but it seems similar to the atheist conclusion. You, the person reading this right now, will cease to exist at some point, even at a spiritual level and be absorbed into something else. You won’t be aware of things as you are right now.
The theistic religions mostly posit the same thing…the person is preserved with a similar consciousness after the physical body passes away. The spirit that is the essence of the person will live, feel and experience eternity in a similar fashion that it experiences life right now. But there is a catch, that experience can be really good, or really bad, depending on where you go. There is either unity with or separation from the Creator.
So why do we focus on each other an the here and now so much, instead of trying to figure out what eternity holds for us? It seems as if we have a couple of questions to answer:
- Is there some part of me that will continue to exist after death?
- If not, what meaning does life hold for me right now?
- If yes, will I know it or not?
- If I will know nothing, what meaning does life hold for me right now?
- If I will be aware in a similar fashion than right now, what will I experience?
For me, living without the purpose of a conscious eternal existence is rather futile. In the bigger scheme of things then, nothing really matters. My thoughts, actions, relationships and creativeness are all pretty much for nothing. In a few thousand years, heck, in three or four generations time, we may all just be gone and not a single thing we did will matter any more. Even if there is the possibility to become part of some eternal greater spiritual consciousness, it’s still rather abstract and quite meaningless.
The only eternal fate that bestows purpose on the here and now is the possibility to continue to exist as the person we are right now. If not, why bother? Things will be what they will be, a sort of fatalistic que sera sera.
But that is not what it will be. Our feelings, our moral intuition, our faith in something bigger that every human holds to is indicative of a personal purpose outside of future personal annihilation or descent into anonymity. Denying a future eternal personal existence does not do away with it, it’s like pulling the covers over your head to avoid seeing and hearing the oncoming thunderstorm.
What remains is to answer what the eternal future holds for you. And hope you get it right.