I've struggled with a number of theological issues over the years, trying to apply reason to an area of life where a lack thereof seems most beneficial. Today while cooking some ravioli in the microwave, the pieces fell together in the back of my mind, and I might have officially wrecked my ability to be a believer.
Memory and the Afterlife
They say when you cross over and go to…wherever, you'll see friends and relatives who've passed before you, welcoming you and all that. This of course depends on your ability to retain any knowledge of who these people are.
If memory is stored biologically — that is, within the physical space of the brain by some organic means — when moving to a spiritual plane and shedding the physical form, you're dumping your memories along with it. So how would you know who these people are, where you are going, or how you got there? Without any recollection of your own commitment toward sin or purity, how would you benefit from reward or punishment if you haven't a clue what you did to get there?
Accepting this as given (and I'm sure many of you don't), every indication is that acquired sensory information is stored within the brain, which would imply that the soul isn't even sentient and depends on what it can derive via the body; if it were sentient, what would be the basis for its awareness? How would we be cognizant of anything happening in the afterlife? The common descriptions of what to expect seem fairly vivid, but are also written in language seemingly based off of sensory experience. Did someone see it with mortal eyes? If so, doesn't that sort of screw up the idea of it existing on an entirely different plane of being?
If memory is stored ethereally — that is, within the "soul" as it were — then why is it so drastically affected by physiological disorders like Alzheimer's, Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, or mental retardation? Do you get all your memories and brain function back when you die and/or cross over? The concept of Tabula Rasa (blank slate) explains why we don't know anything at birth, but sheds no light on the demise of cerebral function during or toward the end of life.
Some are horrified at the notion that when you die, nothing happens, like it's such a disappointment. For me, that actually better explains it than anything else, and makes me value my life and what I choose to do with it. Simple, logical. Nuprin.
God's Plan vs. Free Will
It also bothers me that people can look at a situation entirely guided by human choice and action (or inaction) and say "It's all part of God's plan, and we can't possibly understand his long-term agenda." I find this especially offensive in situations where people don't want to have to make a difficult moral choice, like forcing a rape or incest victim to have the child rather than abort it by saying that God wanted that child born so badly that he had to put the mother through such a horrible ordeal.
Bullshit. And yet, I've heard this very explanation from at least two "Christian" people I know in defense of a Pro-Life stance.
This (God) is the guy who knocked up at least one woman himself (debatably more) to make his son. If he wants kids born, he clearly knows how to do it himself, or if he doesn't, Christianity falls apart, since Jesus in that case was not "His." It's not like he learned and then forgot how to immaculately conceive; he's omnipotent, right?
Further, lust is considered a deadly sin. The attacker acted of his own volition, no? If you say he didn't and that he was merely an instrument of God, then God forced him into sin, removing the choice to commit that sin. The choice to act and the choice to confess or seek redemption are equally powerful, but without choice, neither can be achieved.
At that point, God is picking and choosing who's good and bad, not the individual, which seemed to me to be the whole point of religion in the first place, that you have to choose to live a good and proper life to earn salvation. God gave us free will to this very end, tested us to see if we'd use it properly, we failed, and were banished to this planet. That is, if you believe the spooky stories.
And once the perpetrator dies, sloughs off his physical body and mind and transcends, he'll theoretically burn forever for something he has no memory of ever actually doing. Wonderful, isn't it?
And In The End…
First and foremost, I'm not suggesting that anyone agree with me, nor am I telling anyone what to believe. There are plenty of others out there willing to do that, called preachers. This is what I think; you decide for yourself, but if reading this makes you angry or upset, maybe your faith's foundation has a few shaky blocks in it, too.
I'm still open to a notion of creationism — though nowhere near approximating the popular tellings of it — and an afterlife, though not the afterlife. What came from the Earth shall return to it. Ashes, dust, all that, regardless of your deeds. Even if I just spontaneously appeared here, the void from which I materialized equals God, if you have to slap names on everything. But I think I know where I'm going now and what to expect, and I think it's fair to say, while we might both be in the same place, I won't "see" you there. When you're awake, you know (or can at least assume) you're not sleeping, but when you're sleeping, you don't know you're not awake.