While I was preparing the sermon, friends would ask me what it was about. I consistently stumbled over the explanation. I referred to it as "my afterlife sermon", which set up the expectation that I was going to give my theory of the afterlife. That's not what it's about -- which is good, since I doubt that such a sermon would be all that meaningful or transformative, either for me or for the people who heard it.
Instead, "How Can You Stand Not Knowing?" explores why an I-don't-know position on the afterlife is so hard to sell as a genuine religious alternative. In general, even people who aren't sure what's going to happen when they die aren't all that eager to join a church that isn't sure either. Why is that? What are they expecting from religion that they don't think a church can deliver without a clear vision of the afterlife?
I start in the readings with two wildly contrasting views:
- MacBeth's. Here the denial of an afterlife leads to the nihilistic conclusion that "Life ... is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing."
- Forrest Church's. Church is a well-known UU minister who has terminal cancer. He doesn't claim to know what will happen when he dies, and yet he is facing death with an enviable serenity. The reading is from his talk "Love and Death" to the UU General Assembly in June. (In the sermon I also briefly mention another UU who died well without referencing a vision of the afterlife: Randy Pausch, whose "Last Lecture" has been seen by millions.)
The bulk of the sermon, then, is spent listing all the things that a Heaven-and-Hell view does for a believer, and describing how an agnostic vision of life has to be different if it's going to achieve comparable results. The key image here is the contrast between a worldview that is supported by guywires attached to Heaven, versus one supported by a foundation dug into the Earth.
Hope you like it. Love to hear your comments.