beth – Yeah, I know what you mean about the randomness of some secular services. Some of the more religious folks in attendance were bothered by the informality at the gravesite “service” for my paternal grandmother, who was quite anti-religious for reasons she never shared with anybody. We took turns telling funny stories abut her, then dropped the urn into the pre-dug hole and shoveled it in. The religious folks were bothered when a couple of us jumped on the filled-in hole to tamp it down.

I do like the idea of a regular liturgy; I realize that planning out one’s funeral is an enormously self-indulgent exercise, when, as Dale says, the concern should really be for the survivors.

dale – I don’t agree – but then I’ve never had kids, so my opinion isn’t worth much here. I’d like to think I’d never lie to kids about Santa Claus, etc., but maybe I would.

Karl – This was meant as a fun, if slightly morbid, way to get people thinking about the Bible and how we use it or abuse it. I’m always looking for ways to try and get people who like poetry to give the Bible another chance. It is the foundational text of Western civilization, and I find the general loss of familiarity with it alarming.

Of course in a certain sense all religious ritual is, as Qoheleth put it, a grasping at the wind (a shame the KJV forsook that image and chose to gloss with “vanities”). That such clinging is a pitfall especially for those with religious impulses is perhaps the point of the commandment against graven images, too.

there is the strong possibility that the truth is that we all are immortal souls, and the choices of our mortal lives are meaningless, except that they are precursors that will lead us to eternal bliss or eternal agony
It seems to me that there is a vanishingly slight possibility of this, and that by reducing all of life to such a rehearsal, you risk demeaning the wonder of Creation, whose purposes can never be fully known to us. Any God who oversees such a cosmic torture chamber as you describe is nothing but a tyrant, against whom we would have a moral duty to rebel.

But I doubt this is a point on which we will find much common ground, since our worldviews are obviously so fundamentally opposed. To me, life with an afterlife is just as potentially meaningless as life without it, and I’m far from alone in feeling this way: to millions of Hindus and Buddhists, the prospect of unending rebirth is terrifying, and their religious behavior is largely shaped by the desire to escape personal immortality. Saivites, for example, seek the complete dissolution of their identity in the Godhead, which they compare to a drop entering the ocean. Of course, some Christian mystics have sought similar goals over the centuries.

Feel free to leave additional comments if you wish, but please realize that I will eliminate any that don’t seem intended to contribute to the give-and-take of genuine conversation, which I define as an exchange in which all parties are willing to admit the possibility that they are wrong.