A very interesting perspective on life and death comes from Yuval Noah Harari, an Israeli author whose books Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind and Homo Deus have received great critical acclaim.
In an article in The Guardian, Harari, who was raised in a secular Jewish family in Israel, provides this perspective on meditation:
AA: What does meditation do for you?
Above all it enables me to try and see reality as it is. When we try to observe the world, and when we try to observe ourselves, the mind constantly generates stories and fictions and explanations and imposes them on reality, and we cannot see what is really happening because we are blinded by the fictions and stories that we create or other people create and we believe. Meditation for me is just to see reality as it is – don’t get entangled in any story, in any fiction.
His view of life and death are quite interesting, if challenging. The Guardian article provides this summary of his idea of humanity:
At the centre of the book is the contention that what made Homo sapiens the most successful human being, supplanting rivals such as Neanderthals, was our ability to believe in shared fictions. Religions, nations and money, Harari argues, are all human fictions that have enabled collaboration and organisation on a massive scale.
In response to a question about death, arguably the central idea in most religions, he says:
Over the past three centuries, almost all the new ideologies of the modern world don’t care about death, or at least they don’t see death as a source of meaning. Previous cultures, especially traditional religions, usually needed death in order to explain the meaning of life. Like in Christianity – without death, life has no meaning. The whole meaning of life comes from what happens to you after you die. There is no death, no heaven, no hell… there is no meaning to Christianity. But over the past three centuries we have seen the emergence of a lot of modern ideologies such as socialism, liberalism, feminism, communism that don’t need death at all in order to provide life with meaning.
The article and the interview are very interesting and thought-provoking: Yuval Noah Harari: ‘Homo Sapiens as we know them will disappear in a century or so’.
I can’t believe he is so simplistic. There are millions of Christians who don’t believe in life after death or at any rate their faith is certainly not posited on that belief! Most Quakers for example don’t bother with discussions about heaven/afterlife! How we live our lives is the important thing. We can live unselfish lives without any religious belief or if we are religious without belief in an afterlife.
The fact of death seems the most important- at least for Buddhist thought.
He would likely ascribe all those current Christians you refer to, and most of us, to that modern effect of creating meaning without the necessity of an afterlife idea. Or even reincarnation. It’s surprising to me that most people think Buddhists believe in reincarnation, when the Buddha said only the karma passes from life to life…