Allow me to expose you to a bit of Americana. Most evangelical protestants have participated in the religious experience called the altar call. After preaching about the prodigal son, the clergyman implores his congregation to come forward to the altar and dedicate their lives to Christ, to repent of their sins. The transient nature of life is emphasized. Now is a unique occasion to renew ones relationship with Christ. Such an opportunity may never present itself again. Death might strike one down before he has another chance to renew his vows. A swell of musical chords and sentimental hymns augments the ministers exhortations. The congregation sings, “Come home, come home, Ye who are weary come home.” Often the congregants manifest tears and quiet emotional outbursts. An amazing number of the parishioners will respond to the preacher’s call to the altar. A powerful preacher such as Billy Graham was able to persuade thousands to come forward and accept Christ.

What causes a person to respond to a religious plea highly charged with sentiment and emotion? One might dismiss it as a minor manifestation of mass hysteria. No doubt it has some features in common with teen agers swooning at a rock concert or a million people coming to see the pope. However, I believe there are other forces at work. From time immemorial humans have learned to appease the gods. This may take forms ranging from the sacrifice of virgins to ripping out a beating heart from the chest of a living victim. The apparent purpose of these rituals is to alleviate the terror humans experience when facing their own death. The promise of living forever and joining Jesus in paradise is a very powerful and reassuring message. The corollary experience of spending eternity in the fires of Hell is both frightening to the worshipers and most unpleasant.

Many of the hymns sung during altar calls implore the sinner to come home. It is as if the true home of the believer is not in this life but in the next. Do humans have an innate longing to return to paradise? After all, life is short, nasty and brutish according to Hobbs. The Buddha agreed when he postulated that all life is suffering. Do we have unconscious longings to experience the peace and serenity of Nirvana? Is it our lot to feel an existential void that can only be remedied by the bliss of returning to our heavenly home?

The genesis story suggests that when Adam and Eve bit the fruit they were expelled from the garden and could never return. Their punishment would be sorrow and death. This allegory also suggests that once we bite our mother’s breast (are weaned) we never can re-experience the unconditional love that was ours as infants. We are expelled from Eden. Christianity promises that a return to ecstasy and perfection is possible if we follow its creeds and demand.

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One Response to COME HOME

  1. robert levis says:

    As many of you know, my wife, Sylvie, died almost two weeks ago. During the final weeks of Sylvies’ life she had expressed concern, multiple times, about the suffering that she would experience during her “transition phase” and also expressed concern with the impact she would have leaving her loved ones behind, especially for myself. Another aspect that was very important for her was to have her family and loved ones around her as much as possible. Therefore, Sylvie extended her visitations throughout the day and evening with friends, family, and collegues to keep her mind occupied on something else rather than merely believing that her life was already over, which was not the case in terms of her spiritual aspect. In terms of her spirituality, the major influence on her religion was the instruction she recieved as a young girl in the liberal branch of the Protestant Reforme Church in Paris, France. She was definitely fearful of dying. At first, getting her to take her medications was difficult but in due time she seemed to realize that they were perscribed by the doctor to in fact comfort her as much as possible, which essentially helped to ease her discouragement. On another aspect , thus the reading, over and over, of the 23rd Psalm, in French, by Alan’s wife, Nathalie, which seemed to also comfort her! On that final Tuesday, we were all surprised when Nannette, one of the nurses, had spontaneously noticed during our conversation that Mrs. Levis’s respirations had came to a hault. To our amazment, she was still warm as we held her hand and kissed her for quite a time after that. And this my friends we can conclude that we all have a fear of death but we still seem to surround our mind with the understanding and seem to question our life until the very end. Despite that aspect of fear to understand, Sylvie continues to be a beautiful presence in the hearts of those who knew her!!!!

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