My life there and afterwards

Faith and Knives

I have written quite a bit about my life at the Community of Jesus. Check out the archived posts for all of that. For now, I am sharing some of my educational journey after I left.

In the summer of 2019 I took a class in comparative religion, comparing Christianity and Judaism.

Faith and Knives

What is faith? It is complete trust or confidence in someone or something. Faith can be secular or religious.

Most of us think of faith in the context of religion, as in, faith in God and what that god can do. Believing by faith in that which cannot be proved. But faith is a confidence, and that confidence is not confined to the religious sphere. One’s faith can be in science, in nature, in our fellow human beings, in my pet. Anything that I have complete trust or confidence in, that is where I put my faith.

Faith of itself is neither good or bad. I propose that what we put our faith in determines the goodness or badness of our faith. Again, it is not the faith that is good or bad. But we can say that our faith is well-placed, or mis-placed.

Faith is personal by its very nature. What I put confidence in is determined by me, and by no one else for me. Even if I am persuaded by others, it still comes down to where I have confidence, in whom or in what. So, faith is not the sole purview of religion, and non-religious people can be examples of a wholesome and strong faith, also.

Whatever venue our faith is active in, it truly can be “…a marvel or a horror,” depending on how it is used, for faith itself is just the context from which a person chooses to act. It is the “reason” behind the choice of action.  I don’t think the faith that flies planes into buildings is any stranger than the faith that spends all to feed the poor. I think it is the same action of faith at work, it is just the direction of the work that is different, diametrically opposed to each other.

“…€very day religious faith is used to justify atrocious behavior around the world”, as is non-religious faith. Faith in money drives the oil wars, faith in competition drives the sports industry, and faith in only one way to reach salvation (and that salvation is attainable) drives religious fervor, arguments, and even wars. I propose that it is not religion that is basically at fault, but the mis-use of religion for personal agendas, personal gain, that is the evil, and evil it indeed is. Using religion, mis-guiding someone’s faith, is perhaps the greatest manipulation, scam, and betrayal that exists today.

If children represent all that is good in life, the very continuation of life itself, then to kill children is perhaps the greatest evil of all. To even consider killing children for the sake of faith is the height of mis-guided fervor. It is well that God spoke to Abraham at the end, charging him to not lay a hand on Isaac, for that is the message that needs to be proclaimed. Do no harm to one another, and especially to the defenseless. All tales of heroism and chivalry raise that banner high. But it does beg the question of why the story has Abraham being instructed to sacrifice his son at all. Why does God even speak that atrocity to him? Is this god made in the image of man? Is this the epitome of the mind sickness that seems to afflict humanity?

When the California courts ruled that the Wentlands and the Church of Science were innocent of the Wentlands’ son Andrew’s death, they were allowing for a faith that values the spiritual life above the physical life. They were giving permission for people to let children die for the sake of saving their eternal souls.

This is a debate that has gone on for generations, and continues to this day. Who is responsible for children? There seems to be a consensus that the parents are the primary agents of responsibility for their children. There are exceptions to this. When a parent is causing physical harm to the child, or is neglecting the child to the point of physical damage, then the state has taken the right to step in and protect the child, and to provide its basic needs. However, in this country especially, the freedom of religion is such a strong value, that it takes precedence over child protection. The story of Abraham underscores this hierarchy. God told Abraham to kill his only son, the son he loved. Abraham takes steps to do so, up to binding his son and placing him on the altar on the wood. He reaches for the knife and takes it up. Only then does God stop him, and God praises Abraham because he IS WILLING TO KILL HIS SON. This obviously teaches that children are expendable, and God comes first. If this is the model, then the Wentlands were obeying God as they understood him, and the courts were right to allow them to do so without punishment. They were following in the footsteps of Abraham. However you want to interpret this scripture, that is what it says, and if a Christian is going to believe the Bible as the word of God then how can they judge others who do the same?

Now, I do not agree with this. I think the story of Abraham is wrong, and I think the Wentlands were wrong. I think the courts of California were wrong. I agree that people should be free to worship as they please, unless it brings physical harm to someone, including their own children. There are groups of Christians who run totalitarian churches, subjugating their members to strict controls and unreasonable practices. I know because I was a member of one of them. These churches should be held accountable for the harm they do, and they are not, because of freedom of religion.

Advertisements

Ethics, Jephthah

I have written quite a bit about my life at the Community of Jesus. Check out the archived posts for all of that. For now, I am sharing some of my educational journey after I left.

In the Spring of 2019 I took an Ethics class. This is a reflection on the stories of Jephthah, Brutus, and Abraham, and comments by Kierkegaard.

Jephthah, Abraham and Kierkegaard

When Kierkegaard recounts again the story of Jephthah in Problema I, I can’t help but think that the faithfulness of Jephthah to keep his promise was based on a false assumption. He assumed that it was his prayer and his promise of sacrifice that turned the tide of the battle. (He had prayed that if God would give him the victory in this battle, he would sacrifice the first person who came out of his house when he returned. That first person was his only daughter) I doubt very much that this was cause and effect. When you believe in a god who directs the affairs of men, then the burden is laid on you to plead with that god and to convince him to act in your favor. When events do go your way, then you attribute those events to the power of your prayer, that god “heard” you, and you reinforce your personal relationship with this god. You also put yourself under the fear that if you displease this god, then you are in for punishment. If this is the relationship you have with your god, then any sacrifice is deemed noble in order to preserve god’s favor, including your own children. This puts the universal higher than the individual, and becomes the reasoning behind all kinds of violence. It is the dangerous tipping point that brings this kind of reasoning to support terrorism and murder “for a good cause.”

In the case of Jephthah and Brutus, their idea of ethics supported their actions. “The tragic hero stays within the ethical.” (pg. 87) Kierkegaard is saying that ethics based on reason binds you to laws, even when the outcome is murder, and that mankind applauds this kind of commitment. (If it includes murder, I do not call it ethical.) He is saying that Abraham went beyond ethics, that faith is some level of existence above and beyond the realm of ethics. “In his action he overstepped the ethical altogether, and had a higher telos (purpose) outside it…” (pg. 88) I am personally still wary of this kind of religious fervor that looks above and beyond logical human ideas of care and love, because even though the story of Abraham came out “good,” I have seen too many examples of harm being done through the lens of “giving all for God.”

I guess the point of looking at ethics and faith is, as has been said before in our posts, to be aware that there is no “black and white” “set in stone” set of ethics. Faith can open us up to being humble and flexible in our ethics. If God is beyond our understanding, then we have to always be open to being taught, in the moment, about what we should do. I guess that is the lesson from Abraham. Although started out ethically following what he perceived as God’s command to him, but he was humble enough to hear God’s voice changing his direction. For me, the bottom line remains to do no harm, as far as it is possible, to no one.

I also want to put in a word for those who do not have a religious faith in a God. The meaning of life and the ethical framework from which to love others does not have to have a religious bent. A highly moral and ethical life is possible without a religious faith. Humility and an open mind are needed whether you are religious or secular.

Ethics and Kierkegaard

I have written quite a bit about my life at the Community of Jesus. Check out the archived posts for all of that. For now, I am sharing some of my educational journey after I left.

In the Spring of 2019 I took an Ethics class. In it  we were reading some of Kierkegaard. He expressed this about people who do not believe in a God…

“…if an eternal oblivion always lurked hungrily for its prey…how empty and devoid of comfort would life be!” (Kierkegaard.) I am not really a disagreeable person, but I have to disagree with, or at least question, this statement of Kierkegaard’s. I have heard this before, that unless you believe in an after-life your present life is full of despair. That is not necessarily so. To the contrary, how sweet our present life is, since it is the only one we will have. How precious is every moment, how full of life and joy and pleasant surprises each day and each vista brings to our senses. If we cease to exist when we die then how much more should we drink our full of all experiences while we have the live senses to know them. If death brings oblivion, then how much more responsible we are to care for others, to be a bearer of love and comfort in the now. If we will not know what the future will bring to the generations that follow, how much more is it laid upon us today to care for this earth, to preserve its abundance and beauty, to leave behind a legacy of life for others. If we know that this is our only chance at life, then how much more important it is that we live it well. I do not begrudge anyone their belief in an after-life, but neither should anyone assume that if someone does not believe in an after-life that their life now is full of misery or despair.

Doubts can be instructive. Doubts are often my subconscious’ way of trying to tell me something, and I should take the time to seriously consider them. In his Preface, Kierkegaard is complaining that modern philosophers doubt everything. He goes on to say, “…we must trust to this natural light only so long as nothing contrary to it is revealed by God himself…Above all we should impress on our memory as an infallible rule that what God has revealed to us is incomparably more certain than anything else…”

I would like to take this quote and look at Abraham again in light of my other post that God was tempting Abraham with the instruction to kill Isaac. I would like to look at the whole process of God revealing Himself to us, and the place of ethics in our lives and thinking as we try to interpret God’s will for our lives. Abraham was sure he heard God telling him to take Isaac and sacrifice him. He took the steps to obey, right up to the last moment. If he had really believed that it was a revelation from God, and infallible, he would not have heard the change of plans at the very end. Since he did hear God telling him to change course, is it possible he had a corner of questioning in his heart and mind all along, and was looking for another possible answer? When he answered Isaac’s question, saying that God would provide the sacrifice, was he hoping that he had heard God wrong, and that an alternative would be provided? I think so. I think he was not 100%, absolutely sure that he was doing the right thing, and that is why he was able to hear God at the end. (If you do not believe in a god, just substitute the word conscience instead)

Is Kierkegaard referring to the Bible when he says “…revealed by God himself…”, and if so, what has God revealed? There are so many interpretations of the Bible, and the debates continue. These writings are still through men, so it depends on whether you think the scriptures are the infallible word of God, or have come through people’s minds and are therefore up for interpretation. Certainly, we each have our own convictions about the will and Word of God, and we trust our own interpretations and understandings, perhaps influenced by our parents, or a teacher or clergy whom we trust. There are radical people out there, and if we have a strong ethical basis, based on both reason and faith, it will help us to distinguish what is God’s will from what we may be tempted to think is God’s will. This is why I think ethics can play an important role, for if we are concerned with ethics, we will be concerned about not hurting others, and will question any action or philosophy that leads to hurting others.

Kierkegaard, S. (1985) Fear and Trembling. Penguin Classics, London, England.

Religious Identity, 3 of 3

I have written quite a bit about my life at the Community of Jesus. Check out the archived posts for all of that. For now, I am sharing some of my educational journey after I left.

In the Religious Quest class, summer of 2017, we were asked to write a paper about our own personal religious identity. It is in three parts, this being the third part.

Religious Identity, part 3

I suppose my own religious quest began in my teen years. I was unhappy at home. My parents had many good qualities, but overall it was stressful and fear inducing. I intuitively felt there was something good I was missing, something worth my attention and effort. I was bored at school, and then some friends introduced me to drugs. LSD opened my mind to increased sensual experiences and an awareness of a spiritual realm. Four years later that honeymoon was over, the drug effects were turning bad, and I met some charismatic Christians. Their joy and certainty seemed to be the answer to my confusion and unhappiness, and I accepted their teaching and became a Christian. I was looking for stability and answers because I had not found happiness in my family or in drugs; I had accumulated some bad experiences along the way, and was now newly married and pregnant. Our local pastor introduced us to a newly formed Christian community and we joined.

This next phase in my religious quest started out mostly positive and I threw myself into learning how to obey God. I read the Bible, went to all the teachings, confessed my sins, and worked hard to be obedient in every way. There is a statement in Irreconcilable Differences? that sums up for me what I got caught in. “For Bonhoeffer, there is a clear sense that the truest mark of discipleship is suffering; in other words, suffering is a sign of faithfulness. This is a somewhat dangerous path to embark upon….”[1]. In the church I was in, this approach was hidden under the guise of obedience, and it was both extreme and invasive. I was no longer picking up my cross, but the one the leaders had put on me, and their teachings covered every detail, from how to fold towels to marriage relationships in the bedroom. I reached my limit when I could no longer endure my personal mental suffering and began to realize I was not experiencing the “resurrection life” as preached. This was coupled with the observation that we were not treating each other with the love that Jesus taught. There was a decided lack of forbearance, patience, or the other virtues. Each time I voiced this observation I was shot down and humiliated. In short, I became aware of the hypocrisy of our lived life, first inwardly, then communally, and I was shunned and punished for this awareness. Since leaving, as part of my path of healing, I have learned to not be hard on myself about having needed that framework of faith, and if I do not judge myself, I cannot judge others. Faith does give a sense of security, and a vision for the future. My view of life now is informed by what I have experienced, as it is for any of us. I have come to a different understanding of life without the religious framework. That does not mean religion cannot be beneficial to those who want it. What I object to is abuse; in any form, in any system, in any relationship.

Knowing that I am going into the Counseling profession, I need to deal with my own hurts where religion is concerned if I am going to be able to help those who have a strong religious faith. This class has helped me to see the good in both Christianity and Judaism, as well as their weak points. It has given me a better understanding of what draws people to them, and what dangers to be aware of. For instance, Christianity has a strong vision of life after death, based on the story of the resurrection of Jesus. This gives a strong sense of peace, knowing that your life will not end, and that there is something good in the future. However, the strong structure of authority is a danger, and it would be good if individual thinking were more encouraged. Judaism has a strong personal and communal connection with God, and this gives a sense of security, knowing that God is always there to talk with, and that you are never alone, you a part of a solid community of people. However, the effort to obey all 600+ laws is a danger and can lead to stress and guilt.

Your last two questions on my first reflection are harder for me to answer. How do I describe my journey of the last eight years? I have been in therapy, I have talked through my life and in the process have dismantled the fears and restrictions my life had layered onto me. Those that were artificially imposed on me are dropping away (present tense, as I am still in process). Through all this, I am realizing, bit by bit, what I feel, believe, think, and want. I am not a finished product, and I will not be as long as I am living (and maybe after, too). When I look at how I was deceived, how can I judge anyone else and what they believe? The journey to truth is an individual one. I cannot dictate to anyone else what truth is, and it might even be different for each person. I cannot be certain that what I believe today is the whole truth, and I might change my mind tomorrow. However, having said that, what I believe today is my life, and I chose to take responsibility for, be in charge of, and take the lead in my own life. I live each day as best I can with two criteria; try to love and care for myself, and to be as loving and kind to others as I am capable of being. That is what gives me joy and peace.  I think there is some truth in utilitarianism, and that framework can include being loving to others.

I had a harder time in the second semester than in the first. It was hard to read the details of the rites and I felt bored by it. Again, this is bias from my past. I lived a monastic lifestyle and was immersed in daily ritual for years. It lost its meaning for me and became a burden. I already know a lot of this material and did not want to waste my time with it (harsh words, but hang on). What it has clarified for me is that I think ritual can be meaningful, if it has meaning for the individual. I have seen too many people go along with what they are told without seeking for what it means to them.

I am glad to have a clearer knowledge of where the two religions stand on issues like reproduction and gender. Whether I agree or not, what matters is that I know where other people are coming from when I talk with them, what their beliefs are. I feel more peace about discussing religion, now that I have stuck my foot in the water, so to speak. I also feel this course has prepared me to explore the positive aspects of my past life, which has been an emotionally difficult task to begin.

Thank you for your provocative questions and for guiding the class discussions in a productive and open way.

[1] Sanmel, et al, p. 126

Religious Identity, 2 of 3

I have written quite a bit about my life at the Community of Jesus. Check out the archived posts for all of that. For now, I am sharing some of my educational journey after I left.

In the Religious Quest class, summer of 2017, we were asked to write a paper about our own personal religious identity. It is in three parts, this being the second part.

Religious Identity, Part II

This class has taught me that I can engage in religious studies without being a theologian, and without being afraid. I am learning how to dialogue with my questions and objections without offending people, at least as far as I can tell, and without triggering adverse reactions within myself. With my background experience, I was not sure I could do this. A little explanation for my doubt is that I have come from a very strict Christian community where questioning was a sign of doubt or rebellion, both of which were grave sins. It has been very refreshing to learn that Judaism values and encourages “arguments”, in the sense of questioning and debating. I am beginning to realize that some people in the Christian tradition, at least in modern times, also welcome this kind of questioning and debate. It seems this is particularly the Jesuit tradition. It was also a relief to learn that serious Christians are willing to view the Scriptures as moral lessons and not necessarily literal, accurate, historical records.

I have appreciated seeing each faith tradition through the Master Story lens. This was an excellent way to look at the beliefs; how they developed, and what the core stories are. It deepened my understanding, not only of Judaism, which I had not known much about, but of Christianity and its roots. Studying Matthew was an eye-opener for me. I had not realized how much of a Jew he was, writing to other Jews. It especially struck me that the teachings of Jesus were not that new, that he was teaching within a tradition that was well established by some of the Jewish rabbis.

I have lived the darker side of Christian misinterpretations. As I learn about and look at the history of how people have used the Church to persecute others throughout the centuries, especially the Jews, this solidifies my personal feeling that the Church needs to do some serious changing, that my doubts about God are validated. Concurrent with those negative thoughts, however, I feel very positive that dialogue about religion and its place in the world is not only needed, but possible.

Religious Identity 1 of 3

I have written quite a bit about my life at the Community of Jesus. Check out the archived posts for all of that. For now, I am sharing some of my educational journey after I left.

In the Religious Quest class, summer of 2017, we were asked to write a paper about our own personal religious identity. It is in three parts, this being the first part.

Religious identity, part 1

I was raised by an atheist father and an agnostic mother. My father especially liked the quote from Karl Marx, “Religion…is the opium of the people.”[1] My mother had been raised a Christian, but no longer believed in what she called “fairy tales.” In my high school years, I began to search for spirituality through drugs as a way to escape the tension and verbal abuse at home. After four years of that, I hit a low point and experienced a wonderful conversion to Christianity through interactions with some kind and helpful people. In my enthusiasm, I soon joined a new Christian community which seemed very normal and mainstream. I was ignorant of what Christianity was supposed to be and was swayed by the charisma of the two women leaders. They had strong ideas about what it took to live a Godly life, and I was seeking answers and stability to counteract what I had experienced in life so far in my family and with the drugs. Their practices became more extreme over time, harming me, my marriage, my children, and finally my faith. After much pain and internal agony, I left, and have rebuilt my life over the past eight years, searching for what I believe, not what others tell me to believe. This was most important to me because I had spent so many years trying to mold myself to the beliefs of the group I was in.

The aspect of that tradition that I will focus on in this piece is obedience. God requires obedience,[2] and the biblical heroes like Abraham are praised for their obedience to God.[3] However, when man interprets this requirement, he can put meanings into it that were not necessarily required by God. It was taught in the church I was in that in order to be obedient to God, you had to express that obedience to the human authorities placed over you. That also has biblical injunctions and church tradition to uphold it,[4] but how far should this be taken? In my group, it was taken to an extreme, where the leaders dictated every detail of your daily and personal lives, from folding towels to marriage behavior. It was so invasive that over time I lost the ability to question and debate and make my own decisions. This was an intended outcome of the teaching. Obedience without question was the highest virtue, and the only road to sanctity. I was even told to lie to the police on one occasion, and I obeyed. When obedience is taken to that extreme, in the name of serving God, it has gone beyond the will of God and is an expression of man using religion to control man.

I was finally able to leave when my inner pain forced me to start being honest with myself and reassessing my life. Although I have left that religious tradition and am without one at the moment, I do not judge others for their traditions and beliefs. Having needed and embraced the security of a religious framework for so long, I fully understand the need and the attraction of that way of thinking. I understand the role faith and religion have in our lives. We all need support, security, and a system of understanding our world. I believe religion is one way to meet that need. I think it provides answers for the questions many people have, although it can act as a panacea for some, and it can be destructive when used by unethical people, as ongoing scandals and reports and my own experience show.

My views have changed over my lifetime. From not knowing what religion was all about, to seeking spiritual experiences by getting “out of my mind,” to immersing myself into a religious system that claimed to be “the answer,” I have gone from one extreme to the other. I am now more relaxed and philosophical about life than I used to be, and I concentrate on the task of living each day as best as I can. Having to rebuild my physical life from scratch after leaving the group gave me a good opportunity to think about every aspect of life, and to think long and hard about what I wanted my goals to be, about what was important to me. I view obedience to God as the search to know myself, and to discover the best way to live life, for me. This does include service to others, for in that activity I find peace and pleasure. I do not know if there is a God and I do not find that to be a relevant question in my life at this time. There is no proof that God exists or not, and I will not again easily believe in what I do not know for myself. Having been subjected to humiliation, degradation, and emotional pain in the name of religion, by believing what I was taught (against my inner conscious), it is not likely that I will repeat that error. Burned once, shame on you. Burned twice, shame on me. I know I am biased because of what I have suffered, and that is one reason I do not judge others. What did not work for me might work for others, as long as there is no harm involved. We all have different viewpoints.

 

[1] Marx, K. Introduction to A Contribution to the Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right, Collected Works, v. 3. New York: International Publishers Company, Incorporated, 1975.

[2] Exodus 19:5.

[3] Hebrews 11:8

[4] Romans 13:1

I have written quite a bit about my life at the Community of Jesus. Check out the archived posts for all of that. For now, I am sharing some of my educational journey after I left.

In the Religious Quest class, summer of 2017, we were asked to write a paper comparing the Christian and Jewish views of death and the afterlife.

Comparative Paper: Death and the Afterlife

Jewish beliefs and practices:

Jews believe that faith in a theist God leads naturally to the belief that after this life humanity will continue to live in relationship with the eternal God. That we have this relationship with the eternal God both informs our actions in this life and gives comfort and hope that life does not end with death. Though it is not specifically described in the Bible, that there is life after death is “…a basic principle of the Jewish faith.” [1] This understanding is slightly different from the usual Jewish approach, because there is not much information in the Bible about an afterlife, and the majority of Jewish interpretation is about what the Bible actually says. The immortality of the soul is a firm belief in Judaism, whereas the resurrection of the body is less firm, with some believing in it, and some not. There is debate on whether the afterlife is completely spiritual, or whether the body is included because it is part of the whole person. Although the Jewish belief about the afterlife is certain, it is not a well-defined belief. They speak of Sheol, a type of holding place for the dead. Heaven and Hell are not referenced clearly in the Bible, so the Jewish focus is on the coming kingdom where both the living and resurrected dead will live in peace with their Creator. They believe that the “New Jerusalem” can be a “heavenly” place, but will definitely be a physical place also, which is and will be a sacred territory. Therefore, the current land of Israel holds this sacred significance for some of them, but the emphasis is still on “…becoming Heaven rather than going to Heaven.”[2]

When a person is close to death, their “confession of sin” is general, and more of a praise and blessing of God than sorrow or repentance. Those in attendance do not have any power to give absolution for sins. Their role is to listen, and to comfort. In addition, the dying adult will often pronounce blessings on their family before they die.

When a person dies, the family (onein) notifies the family rabbi, and then the proper civil authorities. The body is lain on the ground (if not in a hospital) and a lighted candle placed at their head. Various other acts are done depending on how modern or traditional the family is, such as; all water vessels are emptied, the windows are opened (or closed), and all mirrors are covered. The onein will call the burial society to come take the body for purification (cleansing) and dressing in preparation for the burial service. They believe the person is a whole unit, that the soul and body are not separate parts, so as long as the body has not disintegrated, the person can still sense things. It is therefore very important that everyone completes their tasks with care and respect.

It is mitzvah for Jews to do what they can to comfort those who suffer. Visiting the sick, being with a family member near and at death, and comforting those left behind are all necessary duties that take precedence over other commandments. What is stressed here is simply being with the person who is suffering, not to try to “minister”. To give reasons for someone’s suffering is extreme arrogance. The role of family and friends is to comfort and in due time to help integrate the grieving back into life. They do not find false comfort in trying to know exactly where their dead loved one has gone, but rather focus on helping those still alive. They are comfortable in not knowing and leaving the details to God.

Christian beliefs and practices:

       The belief in the afterlife permeates Christianity. This is a core tenet of their belief, based on the resurrection of Jesus. His resurrection proved to believers that there is life after death. It became a fact for them and was no longer a theory, although when personal resurrection would happen has been a subject of speculation ever since. This belief in the afterlife informs how they live now. The resurrection becomes the last event in world history, and personal plans in this life become secondary. The focus of life becomes a preparation for the return of Jesus.

There are four major approaches to Christian eschatology today. 1) Fundamentalist apocalyptic understanding that the Bible has given literal knowledge of events to come. 2) Existentialist eschatology, which focuses on putting complete trust in God in the present moment and becoming a new person in Christ. 3) Historical, this-worldly liberationist eschatology which hopes for “…a better future within time and space.”[3]  4) A symbolic interpretation “…that affirms both individual and communal hopes…”[4] Whichever approach is taken, they all include a desire for a fulfilled life beyond the grave. This hope helps the believers endure the sufferings of this world, and to surmount the fear surrounding death.

Christians believe in original sin, which brings both spiritual and physical death into the world. Only through a relationship with God can they have the faith needed to overcome the fear of death and to hope for a resurrection into Heaven. They believe that if you do not believe in God, you must be captive to the fear of death. They do not think that peace is available through other ways.

Christians have given a lot of attention to God’s judgement and that each individual has to face this after death. They also believe that there will be a final ultimate judgement of the world at the “end time”. They believe heaven and hell are physical places that you inhabit for eternity, but see them more as a spiritual state of being united with, or separated from, God. Hell encompasses both physical and spiritual torment. The belief in purgatory is for those who are not completely evil, but have sins from which they still need to repent. Sinners will go to a place of purgation until they are cleansed and able to enter heaven. The time in this purgatory is indefinite.

At the time of death, the priest gives extreme unction, an anointing with blessed oil, a sacrament that can forgive the dying person of any residual sins. Deathbed confessions are also important to cleanse yourself in preparation for meeting God.

Comparison of Jewish and Christian beliefs and practices:

Concerning the confession at death, Jews do not confess personal, unresolved sins and receive absolution. There is no one who can do that for them. It is a matter between them and God. The emphasis is more on the praise of God and blessing their family.[5] Christians see deathbed confession as very important and necessary for cleansing of any remaining sins.

Jews believe in the hereafter, but their focus is more on right living in the here and now, believing that will prepare them for heaven. They tend to leave the details to God. Christians have spent a lot of time and energy on contemplating the details of the afterlife. They believe that the only purpose of this life is to grant entrance into the next.

Jews put emphasis on the support of community for the one dying, and their relatives. Christians emphasize the individual’s relationship to Christ as the most important factor surrounding death.

Both Christians and Jews stress that a relationship with God gives confidence for entry into a good afterlife, and separation from God leads to fear and possible punishment in purgatory, Hell or Sheol/Gehenna, depending on your actions in this life. Both faiths also believe in a final, “end time”, judgement when the old world will be gone and the new kingdom will be established. Jews in Gehenna are there for only a year. Christians in purgatory are there for an undetermined length of time.

Insights gained from the comparison:

I have found it helpful to compare the approaches that these two religions have towards the meaning of death and proper rituals surrounding someone’s death. When I had only a vague notion of how they viewed it, I could not form my own opinion of agreement or disagreement. Reading a clear description gives me information on which to base an opinion. Personally, I align more with the Jewish understanding than with Christianity’s, but I can now appreciate where each tradition is coming from. My stand is that we cannot know for sure what happens after death. I do not know whether Jesus resurrected or not. I used to believe it without question, and now I do not think there is any way of knowing for sure. However, I also believe it does not matter. He died first. We have to die first. Therefore, we still have to go through death. What lies on the other side is an adventure. We will find out what is on the other side when it happens to us.

What I would have missed without this comparison would be the richness of the various approaches. I used to believe there was only one way to understand something like death. Now I realize there is a multitude of views, and they all have some merit. Comparison is important in our education because without it we are missing pieces of the puzzle. It can help me to identify my own beliefs by reading what others believe, and seeing if it “rings true” to me or not.

[1] Jacobs, p 301

[2] Sandmel, et al, pp 103-106 and Jacobs, p 319

[3] Hanson, p 344

[4] Hanson, p 346

[5] Marcus, p 199