Monday, September 05, 2005

The hereafter and the here and now

A week ago, I got into an argument as I began my Monday night bartending shift. (There are disadvantages to being disagreeable and having spent a lot of time thinking philosophically, when it comes to working in a service job.) A friend of a coworker was surprised to learn that I taught philosophy and so began to regale me with stories of the philosophy classes she took in college. In particular she wanted to tell me about her philosophy of religion class and how she couldn't understand why they even taught such a class, since it was all just belief anyway.

I went through my normal spiel about how even beliefs, even unprovable and irrefutable beliefs in the realm of religion can be more or less rational. I told her how, for instance, the positing of a material God does less explanatory work than the positing of an immaterial God, if for instance you find the existence of the material world in need of explanation. Positing another member of the material set does nothing to explain the existence of the set. I left aside the problem of using more being to explain why there were beings in the first place.

Then our conversation turned to the overall value of religion. She argued that we need religion to give us morality. I countered that there were religions that had pretty bad moralities, for instance those intent on reestablishing the Caliphate. She replied that those were the bad ones. And then I asked how she knew. Of course because they are immoral. But since this just means that you have an independent grasp of morality from which to evaluate religions, I said, you don't need the religion for morality in the first place.

She moved to the role of religion in providing peace of mind and hope in the hereafter. Being disagreeable, I said I thought that having peace of mind was overrated--for instance, having peace of mind, while the poor are walking through dead bodies in New Orleans is not a good thing; one ought to be outraged, not happy--and I'm suspicious of too much concern with the hereafter. I love and miss my dead relatives and friends and part of me wants to rejoin them, but focussing on this goal to the exclusion of doing something about the situation of those still on the earth has always seemed one of the great failings of certain kinds of religion--the kind evidenced by those "I'm not perfect, just forgiven" or "Saved" bumperstickers and their ilk.

Now, I have my own religious side, as well, and I do sort of hope for something in the afterlife, but it isn't something I worry too much about. I can't live this life as if it were a practice for something else (presumably something very different). This is the game, here and now. And, if it turns out that my performance or luck or grace or whatever gets me into the playoffs, so be it.

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