Time For the Truth About Truth
Religion is about transformation; by ritual and ethical practice we become fundamentally different. Religion is not about preparing for the beatific vision in Heaven; it is also about living a fully human life in this world… Like any other religious truth, immortality must become a present reality. It is liberation from the constraints of time and space, and from the limitations of our narrow horizons. It involves a profound realization that the deepest core of our being is inseparable from what has been called God, nirvana, Brahman, or the Dao. … Immortality is not a matter of waiting for the next life, but in perfecting our humanity here and now. – Karen Armstrong, Harvard Divinity School
All religions hold some form of doctrine concerning life after death. The concept of the immortal soul is described by Hindu and Jain doctrine as the divine Self, by Buddhism as “the product of conditions and causes,” and by Judaism, Christianity, and Islam as the core of the individual person (World Scripture). Though the name given to this state of being varies between religions, to all of them it is an essential part of the understanding of what is to come. In no religious doctrine does the soul ever die—it is universally considered to be what carries us forth into what comes next, however that may be imagined.
In addition to the unanimity concerning the idea of an eternal soul, all religions are also in agreement on the point that belief in a life after death is not limited to comforting or relieving those who are having a hard time living now. The main purpose of a belief in the afterlife is to help people realize the importance of the time that that they have on earth. A Nupe – who are an ethnicity now living primarily in Nigeria –Proverb from an African Traditional Religion states, “You can climb up the mountain and down again; you can stroll around the valley and return; but you cannot go to God and return” (World Scripture). This illustrates the same idea that everyone only has one life to live, and we should strive to experience it to the best of our ability while there is a chance—while we still have time. Regrets are perhaps the worst things to have, for time can never be rewound.
No religion attempts to claim a definite, geographical location for where the afterlife is going to take place. On the other hand, all religions assert that at the time right after death, the individual undergoes a period of judgment, a summary of his or her life analyzed with total honesty. After this point, however, each religion takes a slightly different path toward explaining the next step. In Christianity, the soul is sometimes considered to join with the cosmos, while in Hinduism there is the possibility of rebirth on earth; what you become depends upon how good you were—what your karma was—the first time around.
The Amish, due to their faith, have developed a somewhat cloistered lifestyle that has almost taken them out of the hands of time completely – at least as far as what is economic, technological, and social progress is concerned. There are over twenty Amish groups, including the Mennonites and the Brethren, who live in Lancaster and Dutch County, Pennsylvania. Horse drawn carriages and plain black and white clothing are common. Among the more strict groups, electricity of all kinds—phones, televisions, radios, and automobiles—are forbidden. These worldly goods are viewed as potential threats to the close relationship with God they covet, which is achieved by following his word quite literally and abstaining from anything that might lead them astray. The result is a closely-knit, private, rural community of people who have seemingly been passed over by time; hardly anything has changed in the last two hundred years—not even the one room school house.
Considering all of the many different religious establishments there are, what exactly is supposed to be encompassed by the term “all religions” used earlier? It is a far too common misconception that “all religions” are hopelessly incompatible. Quite to the contrary, religions such as Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism Taoism, Confucianism, Jainism, Sihkism, and various African Tribal Religions not only tend to have the same origins, but also preach virtually identical truths, including those concerning how we should spend our time on earth and what might happen in the time to come. Perhaps it is the passing of time itself that has caused the development of cultural differences, racial discrimination, the quest for political power, and doctrinal disputes, which have in turn led to rifts between these otherwise kindred groups. It is interesting to wonder how much more time will be needed before such superficial quarreling will collapse in the face of the underlying, uniting qualities which are already present in us all.
The Golden rule became central to all the great traditions, not simply because it sounded good, but also because people found that it worked. It compelled them to "step outside" themselves, and this brought them intimations of immortality. The practice of the Golden Rule, according to Confucius, would not bring practitioners to a place, such as Heaven, but to a state of transcendent goodness, which he called ren, the characteristic of a fully mature human being. Ren, which later philosophers would define as benevolence, was difficult because it required the eradication of vanity, resentment, and the desire to dominate others. It was a lifelong struggle that would end only at death. Confucius, as we have seen, did not encourage his students to speculate about what lay at the end of the Way of ren. You were not going to a place, like Heaven, or to a personal God. Walking along this path was itself a transcendent and dynamic experience, an end in itself. – Karen Armstrong, Harvard Divinity School
- Armstrong, Karen. “Is Immortality Important?” Harvard Divinity School. Winter 2006.. March 16 2007.
- Goudsmit, Samuel A and Robert Claiborne. Time. NY: Science Library, 1980.
- International Religious Foundation. World Scripture: A Comparative Anthology of Sacred Texts. Minnesota: Paragon House, 1991.
- “The Amish And The Plain People.” Action Video, 1995. . March 16 2007.