Friday, November 27, 2020


I have this weird thing where if I have blood drawn while sitting up I am likely to pass out. It isn't an aversion to blood; it's something to do with the fact that I have rather low blood pressure. So I've learned that if I'm having blood drawn it is best for me to be relatively supine. The last time I passed out while having blood drawn I didn't realize it had happened until I was coming back around to consciousness. One moment I was chatting away to the phlebotomist and the next moment I was being revived and offered juice. In between those two moments was a gap of time in which there was nothingness. When I sleep, I dream. But this was simply... nothingness. Or, at least, nothing I remember.

That experience changed the way I think about the existence of an afterlife. Maybe there is an afterlife, maybe not; I don't know (nobody does). But if death equals nothingness--a complete extinguishment of consciousness--then why fear it? It's only natural. And if there is something more, I guess (like everyone else) I'll find out when I get there.
Schopenhauer wrote, "After your death you will be what you were before your birth." But what was I before I was born? Scattered atoms? A spiritual being? A thought in the mind of God? I don't remember.

Wednesday, November 25, 2020

I sometimes joke that I entered seminary as an evangelical Christian and departed as an agnostic Buddhist. It's an oversimplification, but in large part true. I think of myself as a Buddhist in the sense that I recognize the genius of the Four Noble Truths and the Eightfold Path and the other practical teachings of the Buddha, as well as the transformative power of meditation, but I don't believe in rebirth or other speculative spiritual components of Buddhism. I think of myself as a Christian in the sense that I try to live my life according to the values and teachings of Jesus--particularly as laid out in the Sermon on the Mount--but I don't believe (any longer) in most of the tenets of the classic Christian creeds. In seminary I learned to appreciate things about all of the world's religions, but I also came to the conclusion that the most honest religious view is agnosticism; to simply be able to say "I don't really know."

Jesus was, I think, a remarkable person who made a significant impact during his life. He lived during a time of tremendous socio-political upheaval, under a repressive religious system that was under a corrupt and tyrannical kingdom that was under an oppressive empire (which also provided benefits like capability of long-distance travel, communications, preservation and transmission of philosophy, religious plurality, and relative peace).

Jesus's teachings, and the movement he led, cut like a laser through the multi-layered systems of oppression in which he found himself. He challenged their authority, pointed out their hypocrisy, and highlighted how badly they had missed the mark in their claim of being God's (or, the case of the Romans, the gods') authority on earth. He taught that every person--no matter their gender or race or illness or socio-economic status or profession or how "other" they are--is worthy of care and kindness, deserving of respect and fair treatment, beloved by God. Clearly, what he taught, and the way he taught it, was profound and powerful to the point of being viewed as a threat to the civic and religious authorities. So they conspired to have him arrested, tortured and killed. And that was the end of Jesus the man.

But the effect of his brief life was so great that people continued to tell stories about him. And, of course, those oral tales and eventual written accounts became more and more exaggerated and weighted with symbolism. In trying to express the significance of his life and teachings, people incorporated popular Mediterranean tropes: surely he was sent from God; like others sent from [the] God[s] in Greco-Roman-Egyption-Persian theologies, he was born of a virgin; he performed authoritative miracles over sickness and nature; yes he was killed, but like Osiris and Adonis and Castor and Romulus and Heracles (etc.) he rose from the dead; he ascended to Heaven, like other Greco-Roman god-men had purportedly ascended to Mount Olympus; and his death carried a sacrificial reconciliatory significance. Jesus gradually became linked to Greek philosophical concepts such as the Logos, and Neoplatonic cosmology, and Manichaen dualism.

Jesus became a mythic figure and an object of veneration (the same fate that happened to the Buddha). The man who told people to follow him (not worship him) became an object of worship. The man who criticized the hierarchical and puritanical Jewish temple religious system became the diety at the heart of a hierarchical and puritanical gentile religious system (with temples of its own). The man who challenged the empire was appropriated and transformed into a god who endorsed the empire.

I could go on, but suffice to say that studying and pondering things like this is how I became a Buddhist who doesn't subscribe to Buddhism and a Christian who doesn't subscribe to Christianity and an Agnostic who has opinions but freely admits "I don't really know."