This phrase recently appeared in the Ottawa Citizen in an article on the greening of death, a quote from Susan Koswan, a Waterloo writer and environmental activist. It is not my intention here to judge anyone’s particular religious beliefs, but to point out how far we have drifted from the Christian belief in the resurrection of the body, and to explore some of the consequences of different views of the after-life that seem to be resurging in our culture, such as materialism, re-incarnation, and dualism.
The above citation reduces the hope of eternal life to pure materialism. All that will be left of us is ashes, which, as the writer exhorts, can be put in the ground, mixed with soil and fertilizer, to help give rise to a tree. So we – or at least our molecules – would continue to exist in the form of a maple or an oak tree. For people with beliefs in materialism, I don’t know if we can convince them otherwise with a top-down approach, trying to persuade them to accept Christian revelation on the resurrection of the body. But we can experiment with a bottom-up approach, exploring the deepest desires of the human heart. Let us ask them, “If you could be and have anything you wanted in the next life, what would it be?” I find it hard to believe that one’s greatest ambition would be to be a tree. It is an extreme case for settling for less, out of a lack of hope and belief in something better.
The Vatican II Pastoral Constitution on the Church, Gaudium et Spes, touches on the mystery of death, observing that in the face of death, people can be tormented by the dread of perpetual extinction. However, “(Man) rightly follows the intuition of his heart when he abhors and repudiates the utter ruin and total disappearance of his own person. He rebels against death because he bears in himself an eternal seed which cannot be reduced to sheer matter.” We rightly follow the intuitions of our heart when we believe in eternal life. We all have a desire to live forever — for our being, consciousness and personality to continue to exist. Accordingly, at some level, those who believe in materialism are denying the inspirations of their own heart.