The internet is filled with stories of people who have died and come back to life. Many are second hand accounts from apocryphal sources. Many rehash the same vision; a bright light, meeting dead relatives or floating above one’s body. Many are unbelievable (I mean, quite literally, not to be believed). Some are terrifying, some comforting. All of them only lasted a few minutes at most. Apart from one famous case, never in recorded history has anyone been resurrected after days of being dead. However, because of this one, unsubstantiated rumour from ancient history, so many of us are willing to pay now and buy later.
We’ve all seen those flashy advertisements on television; where something is offered with a “buy now, pay later,” deal. We will give you the product now, but you don’t have to actually pay for it (or start paying for it) for six months, until next year, or whenever. These sound like a good deal and, if you can pay it off before the payments kick in, then it is. If not, you probably should have just saved up for the purchase and live without the product for a while because interest is often still being calculated and you will get clobbered once payments start.
Of course it varies and these aren’t the worst deals out there. How about this for a deal? I’m selling the ever popular “widget”; the hypothetical product used for economic discussion. Widgets are hard to make and take a long time, so here’s the deal: you give me the money now, and I’ll give you the widget later. Again, such deals do exist. Tesla automobiles, for example, have a waiting list and you need to front up some cash in order to put yourself on that list. But here’s the thing with what I’m selling: you can’t use your widget until after you’re dead. Then it will be the most fantastic thing you’ve ever experienced.
Does that sound like a good deal?
Of course not. Why on Earth would someone buy something that is only useful after they’re dead? I’ll tell you that you can use your widget after you’re dead. Would you believe that? Surprisingly, an overwhelming number of people on this planet do.
If we put on our time travelling shoes and take a walk back to around the year 33 we would find a world where there was no guaranteed afterlife. Even today, the concept of afterlife to the Jewish community is nebulous and controversial. In first century Judea, there is reverence to the Hebrew god and the overreaching authority of the Roman Empire.
Contrary to popular believe, life under Roman rule actually wasn’t that oppressive. The Romans encouraged free trade, maintained a balanced law and generally kept out of local affairs. The empire flourished under the Pax Romana. What the Romans couldn’t provide to their people, however, was comfort about death. The Romans appeared unfeeling about death with brazen displays of cruelty in the arena. What happened after these poor victims met their doom never really entered their minds. The more exceptional, such as Julius Caesar, were voted into the pantheon of gods by the Roman Senate – hubristically demonstrating a belief that humans had a voice in godly affairs – however, for the man on the street, there was no such reward after death. Death was undefined and, because it was unknown, it was was something to be feared.
In reality, no one fears death. The ancient Greek Epicurean sect maintained that the follow-up to life is complete non-existence, and that because there is nothing after death, there is nothing to be feared. Every night when you go to sleep you experience a period of minimal brain activity. There is no consciousness and most of us don’t fear sleep past childhood. People don’t fear death. People fear life after death. People fear pain while dying, but most of us probably don’t think much about the pleasantness or otherwise of non-existence. In our waking state, most of us cannot even conceive non-existence, and why should we? In our waking state we do, after all, exist.
As society advanced, so too did concepts of the ethereal. With this more advanced way of thinking came the need to address mortality. No one knew what happened after death, and that absence of knowledge was being brought to the general consciousness. Previously it was the domain of learned thinkers. What did lie on the other side? No one had ever been there and come back to tell about it. Hitherto, it had always been a one way journey.
It is important to remember that our ancient ancestors were very ignorant and very gullible. That is not a value judgement. That is a historical fact. They knew what they knew at their time. It made sense that a person could, indeed, come back to life and tell the tale. They didn’t know much about biology (medicine was very rudimentary and heavily based on superstition) and they certainly didn’t know about the nature of decomposition; it wouldn’t be until only two hundred years ago that the light would start to shine on that mystery. Therefore, in the minds of the ancients, there was no physical reason why a person couldn’t come back from the grave.
The time was ripe for Jesus, or whomever his character was based on, to solve the mystery of the afterlife. And, in the simplified fashion of the ancient mentality, it was a godly creature who would proclaim the kingdom of heaven. As the legend grew, there were many accounts. The four gospels which appear in the Judeo-Christian Bible are only a choice selection. Rumors spread. It would be years before any of this was even written down. Finally, the legend simmered to the preachings that we know of, today: that there is Earth, Heaven, a fatherly god, an evil devil and the threat of eternal damnation.
Why? It is the most effective. The true teachings of the “Christ” have been all but bastardized. I once saw a bumper sticker; it was a counter to the popular “coexist” bumper sticker that is created with religious symbols. It said “capitalist.” The S was a dollar sign and the Ts were Christian crucifixes, the implication being that Christ was a capitalist and espoused capitalist principles. Had this person ever even read the Bible? I suspect not. And, whomever designed the sticker, had they? Possibly, and it could have been that they were deliberately exploiting this ignorance, knowing that the purchasers of their product would be openly displaying theirs.
The afterlife has certainly been exploited. The might of the Roman Empire allowed the Christian faith to dominate and, once the Catholic Church had solidified, the will of the establishment could be one with the will of God, thus making its tenets indisputable – who would dare argue with God? Anyone who did must be aligned with the Devil. In order to get into heaven, one must ingratiate one’s self to the Church. As religion spread and diversified in the New World, this became more brazen. A sure fire way to get into the Kingdom of Heaven is to donate to the Church. You can now buy your way into heaven; a logical progression in the financially dominant Industrial age. The 1980 film In God We Tru$t (or Gimme That Prime Time Religion), satirizes this notion with Televangelist Armageddon T. Thunderbird, played by Andy Kaufman, heading up the Church of Divine Profit. In one scene a message on the screen asks you to send all of your possessions to God, c/o Armageddon T. Thunderbird.
Oddly enough, many of us do. Many in the western world attend church once in a while and believe that tossing a couple of bucks onto the donation plate will guarantee them a place in the afterlife. However, there is no proof of an afterlife. These people are buying widgets. They are spending real money on an intangible product; one that isn’t even guaranteed. The purveyors will argue that it is, but they can say anything. They will not be held accountable, at least not in this life. Once a person dies and discovers that the “salesman’s” claims are bogus (assuming they are), they cannot come back and demand a refund. It is, perhaps the greatest con ever perpetrated against mankind. Worse than the disclaimers on an airline ticket which, at least inform you that there is no guarantee you or your luggage will arrive at your destination, the Christian Church proclaims a guarantee; and yet, there is none.
At best one could argue that these people have bought a little peace of mind, perhaps some knowledge from the once-in-a-while sermon that they heard. That is my attitude when I visit a foreign church – and I do visit foreign churches. I will throw a couple of dollars onto the plate; not to guarantee a place in heaven – the Church of Solipsology does not allow for that – but to thank the pastor for sharing his or her wisdom. I know that this money will be used to bolster the unsubstantiated faith, but for all of the failings of the established churches, there are lessons to be learnt, everywhere.
This is why the International Church of Solipsology does not accept donations. We do not want you to believe that we are selling widgets. In order to keep the Church going, we sell mugs and t-shirts and bags. And, while our Church Merch bears the Rings of Being, an advertisement for the International Church of Solipsology, there is no single figure who accepts the profits. The Church profits and uses those funds to spread the ideals of peace and harmony, which means that mankind benefits. When you pay now, you should buy now, not when you die. The religion of Solipsology espouses the benefits of considering the tangible now, and not some impalpable afterlife. The use of the term in IT aside (meaning a small control on an application or website), there is no such thing as a widget.