• Thomas A. Wilson

After Life?

The world took another gut-punch on Sunday. With the devasting loss of 9 lives in a helicopter crash in the hills of Calabasas (California), family, friends, and fans are left without words. Kobe is gone. And so are John, Keri, Alyssa, Gianna, Sarah, Payton, Ara, and Christina.

The pain and the loss don’t make sense, and mourners join the never-ending procession of people who grieve. I confess, I wept for these strangers. I had not been so impacted—by such unexpected news—since the loss of Robin Williams. But here we are again, or yet still.

So, as I write and ruminate, I can’t help but reflect upon the meaning of life—what it amounts to, and what comes after, if anything. There are three possibilities, I think. Materialism, Theism, and metempsychosis. Most belief systems trace back, in some form, to these three.

Materialism states that consciousness and will are entirely dependent on material agency. That is, the natural realm is all there is. While the physics may be spooky—what with quantum entanglement and all—everything starts and stops with the scientific method. In this theory, when we die, we end. Humanists and atheists fall into this category.

Theism looks through another lens, one that usually includes a creator, a code, and an eternal condition. Adherents believe in a personal God, some idea of right and wrong, and an eternal consequence. Christians, Jews, and Muslims comprise part of this group.

Metempsychosis, or reincarnation, takes a different tack. In this model, practitioners believe a life force exists on a higher spiritual plane, and living things are on a pilgrimage toward that life force—toward enlightenment. That is, living things participate in a cycle of birth, life, and death until nirvana is attained, then they are released to join the impersonal life force. Hinduism, Jainism, and Buddhism are in this group.

Many producers on Home & Garden Television (HGTV) use a formula where prospective home buyers identify three choices. Then, toward the end of an episode, the buyers meet and eliminate their least favorite. I’d like to employ that same formula to my discussion of eternal dwelling places. My least favorite of the three possible theories of the eternal condition is metempsychosis.

With respect to those who choose this path, I can’t get past two things. First, with so many lifetimes to move to a higher plane, I’m distressed that humankind doesn’t seem to be on a higher plane at all. We are just as selfish, violent, and corrupt as ever. Granted, my view is filtered by bias and ignorance, but I’m not seeing any substantive change in the human condition in parts of the world where these ideas are most popular. You’d think they’d be doing better than the rest of us. No disrespect intended.

Secondly, I can’t get past the math. Since animals are included in this system of spiritual progression, and there are hundreds of billions of animals on planet earth, the number of total souls cannot easily be factored into the geometric progression of the human population curve. Why would access to kaivalya (detachment) be dependent on how fast humans can have babies? And, while I’m not sure humankind deserves to be the final stop before moksha (liberation), that’s what this school of thought teaches. To me, it doesn’t add up.

Of the two remaining choices, materialism leaves me cold—just like the universe will be when matter from the Big Bang coasts to a cold dead stop. Theoreticians call it the Big Freeze. Life and love and language and laughter won’t even be a memory. Just darkness and entropy, that’s all there will be. I’m aware that some think the expansion of the universe will reverse and matter will then collapse into a singularity about the size of a golf ball. (I wonder how in the world they came up with that estimation?) But in either scenario, the window for life is so small as to render it meaningless. That means the love you and I have for child, parent, or spouse is meaningless. Absolutely. Meaningless.

So, like it or not, I end up with what’s left: theism. There is a creator. There is a discernable right and wrong. And there is an afterlife. That’s what I believe.

Kobe did, too.

Requiem æternam dona ei, Domine

Et lux perpetua luceat ei:

Requiescat in pace.



Wherever someone lands on the topic, the central idea... is to live consistently with one’s professed belief. If Catholic, then be Catholic! If Dao, then go with the flow. Happy people avoid hypocrisy and the inevitable dis-ease that follows living in contradiction.

Affirmation of the Week: I take responsibility for my own spirituality, and I live consistently with what I profess.

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