By Martha Woodroof
Christopher Hitchens’ tussle with metastasized esophageal cancer has brought death back as a hot topic among those of us who are drawn to, or repelled by, organized religion.
Death is, after all, the Big Yikes, the ultimate Uncontrollable Event. We are so beyond clueless about what goes on after it happens, and we do hate being clueless. Not to mention that cluelessness scares us – particularly when it involves something as life-changing as our own death.
Reading Christopher Hitchens thoughts about dying, it occurred to me that accepting we don’t have a clue about what happens to us after death exemplifies life’s most formidable spiritual challenge: Facing reality as it actually is. And Mr. Hitchens appears, at least in public, to be doing a graceful job of doing this.
Organized religions, however, as I think Mr. Hitchens would agree, bet their considerable farms that humans are not up to the reality challenge, and so deliberately cultivate fear of death as a major recruiting tool.
It mystifies me whenever I realize that people have allowed themselves to be drawn into religions’ fold through the promise of some fantasy rescue from an imagined despair and/or torment. What makes them assume that death is something to fear in the first place? Most of us, after all, were afraid of first grade, and that worked out all right. Didn’t we learn anything from that experience about opting for curiosity over fear when facing the unknown?
Speaking of adventures, Mr. Hitchens has announced plans to die as he has lived, secure in his belief that there is no God, because organized religions have got God wrong. I agree completely with him that religions generally make a mess of God; but, to me, that’s a completely separate issue from whether God is or isn’t. If the great Whatever exists; It exists. Whether Mr. Hitchens or I believe It exists is vastly, supremely, even quite comically beside the point.
I term myself a person of faith who is not religious. I believe Mystery is; but that is the end of my intellectual understanding of the great Whatever. Just because I can’t explain this Mystery, however, doesn’t mean to me I shouldn’t avail myself of what It has to offer.
There have been things in my own life that I can only explain by accepting that I somehow hooked up with Something in me, that isn’t of me – the aforementioned Mystery – that leads me to live a much more useful and happier life. I can’t explain God, the great Whatever, to Mr. Hitchens’ (or even my own) intellectual satisfaction, but so what? The human mind can’t grasp everything, and to make explaining God a criteria for hooking up with God to my mind is shooting yourself in your spiritual foot.
If you have a problem with “God” because of the word’s heavy association with organized religions, for heaven’s sake use another identifier for the great Whatever. (Personally, I used Alice for years). Just don’t let semantics, the shortcomings and fear mongering of organized religion, and the limited reach of the intellect, rob you of the chance to live in connection with the great Whatever.
My quarrel with Mr. Hitchens is that he appears to throw out the Mystery with the myths when he claims there is no God because he finds religions’ takes on God (and on death) so intellectually offensive. What, I would very much like to ask him, does organized religion really have to do with God’s existence?
Martha note: This is round seven of Faith Unboxed, an ongoing, civil, respectful conversation about faith I invite you to participate by sharing your own ideas and experiences (either here or on the website), rather than by denigrating the ideas and experiences of others.