“Anthropologists report that every human society discovered believed in an afterlife.
I started wondering what a society might look like if it did not believe in an afterlife.
I let my imagination run, and came up with the following conclusions. For the sake of a convenient label
(and with apologies to Samuel Butler, author of Erewhon), I’ll call my mythical society the backward-spelled Acirema.
Aciremans value youth above all else. since for them nothing exists beyond life on earth, youth represents
hope. As a result, anything preserving the illusion of youthfulness flourishes. Sports is a national obsession. Magazine covers present wrinkle-free faces and gorgeous bodies.
Naturally, Aciremans do not value old age, for elderly people
offer a distasteful reminder of the end of life. The Acireman health industry thus promotes cures for baldness, skin creams, cosmetic surgery, and other elaborate means to mask the effects of aging, the prelude to death.
callous parts of Acirema, citizens even confine the elderly to their own housing, isolated from the general populace. Acirema emphasizes “image” rather than “substance.” Such practices as dieting, exercise, and body-building, for example,
have attained the status of pagan worship rites. A well-formed body visibly demonstrates achievement in this world, whereas nebulous inner qualities—compassion, self-sacrifice, humility—merit little praise. As an unfortunate side-effect, a disabled
or disfigured person has great difficulty competing in Acirema.
Acireman religion focuses exclusively on how one fares in the here and now, for there is no reward system after death. Those Aciremans who still believe in a deity
look for God’s approval in terms of good health and prosperity on earth.
At one time, Acireman priests pursued what they called “evangelism,” but now they devote most of their energy to improving the welfare of
Aciremans spend billions to maintain elderly bodies on life-support systems, while they permit, even encourage, the abortion of fetuses. This is not as paradoxical as it seems, for Aciremans believe that human
life begins at birth and ends at death.
Just thinking about such a society gives me the creeps. I sure am glad I live in the good ol’ U.S.A., where, as George Gallup assures us, the vast majority of the population believes
in an afterlife.”
(pages 215 – 18 in “I Was Just Wondering”, a collection of columns by Philip Yancy, first published in “Christianity Today”, said collection first published
in 1989) as excerpted in “Grace Notes” (p. 385). Zondervan. Kindle Edition.
It seems many songwriters who are lyricists, while being amazingly talented craftsmen and -women, skilled in navigating
the intricacies and disciplines of both musicality and poetry, are, nevertheless, and to varying degrees, intellectually deficit in analytical thinking and emotionally-arrested in their development, locked in childish or juvenile self-centeredness and “wishful
I say that because the majority of popular songs and music are almost devoid of rational discourse or attitudes concerning love and the
other critically important aspects of human existence. Most so-called love-songs express a near- or completely pathological level of what psychologists and other counselors recognize as co-dependency or unhealthy “enmeshment”.
Other songs about other topics are often merely specious word-riffs amounting to nonsensical assessments or commentary on cultural and societal standards, events, or trends, or the consistent vagaries of existence, overall.
would argue that the songs of any era are not popular because of anything other than a “catchy” tune and memorable lyrical phrases, whether those lyrics or sensible and reasonable or not, and there is indeed, something to that argument, since most
of us couldn’t even accurately sing or recite the lyrics of most of our favorite songs, except for short “snatches” of words.
The point of the preceding is this: a culture’s most popular entertainments and
music are important reflections of the culture’s way of looking at the world.
And one of the most popular songs of the 20th and all other centuries, from one of the most successful singer-songwriting duos of all time, John
Lennon, was Lennon’s song “Imagine”.
It’s probable that if you’re an English-speaker of a certain age, or older, that song came to mind when you read the title of Yancy’s essay, above, since
it’s the first line of that song. It is also one of the most exemplary songs of a nonsensical mindset now dominating first-world culture.
It attempts to blame mankind’s woes on societal structures and purported
defects, such as religion, nationalism, private property, and capitalism. Closely related ideologies and ways of thinking about the world, such as “Critical Race Theory”, “Democratic Socialism”, and “prosperity cults” are
being taught by professors and other educators and thought leaders across the first world.
The true test of what people really believe out of what they’ve been taught or told is in how they act, not in what they say. While
more recent polling than the Gallup poll Bro. Philip mentioned still reports the majority of Americans say they believe in some sort of an afterlife (62% do; 17% don’t; 20% are “unsure”, according to a 2017 Rasmussen Reports online and Telephone
survey*), common behaviors show the dominant belief system is a fatalistic YOLO one, with consequences as imagined by Yancy, not Lennon, and demonstrated all around you, perhaps even in your own life.
Yes, I say Lennon was a dreamer,
and sadly, not the only one. The nightmarish effects of so many joining in his delusional-imaginary vision of a dream-world without a heaven or any religions**, are being played out in anti-social and self-destructive behaviors everywhere you look.
It is, in fact true, that you only live once (YOLO).
However, If that part of your one life that you live here, in this mixed up and crazy and broken world, is lived in positive and obedient response to the truths
of the Gospel of Jesus Christ as relayed by His apostles and disciples, that life can be eternal and far better than any but the most Holy-Spirit-inspired song-writers have or ever could imagine.
It is also true that whatever your
religion and beliefs about religion or the afterlife, all changes in your life, now and forever, and for better or worse, begin in the beliefs and the actions of individuals, which add or subtract to our cumulative woes or advancements according to their selfish
or altruistic nature. It is as some wise man said: "You must be the change you wish to see in the world". Be the believer in eternity, for it's obvious that those that don't aren't helping make things better.
*Full disclosure from a polling and statistic professional – me – such “surveys” are not especially accurate – historically there’s a high margin of error and an enormous refusal rate, meaning the sample
of responders is probably not representative of the true majority of the population).
**Actually, if “religion” is accurately defined as being, fundamentally, a set of usual practices based on
the beliefs of an individual or group, “no religion” is logically impossible, since no person or group of persons is without beliefs or actions and practices based in those beliefs.