CAN MODERN MAN BELIEVE IN IMMORTALITY?
Sermon preached by
Rev. Robert E. Romig
Broadcast over WSYR
My subject this morning is, Can modern man believe in immortality? As Christian theology has presented the question, life after death came to this earth because Jesus arose from the tomb. Christian theology has maintained that life after death for you or me depends upon our belief in Jesus as our resurrected Lord. This theology was all right for the middle ages. It seemed reasonable in those dark ages when everybody believed in spirits, devils and angels. But in this age of scientific discovery, many of us, who want to be intellectually honest, cannot truthfully believe in the Traditional Easter doctrine.
We are not going to spend our time this morning debunking ancient mythology. I do not know, and nobody else knows, what happened to the man Jesus after he was taken from the cross. The legendary accounts in the bible do not tell the same story. The first account is in the Gospel of Mark which was written some thirty years after the event. The older manuscripts end with the 8th verse of the 16th chapter. If you pick up your American Revised Version and turn to the 16th chapter of Mark you will find a break in the text between verses 8 and 9. A footnote says, “The two oldest Greek manuscripts, and some other authorities, omit from verse 9 to the end of the chapter.” Verse 8, which was the end of the story as Mark wrote it, and remained so for bout 100 years, says: “And they (referring to the two Marys who to the tomb) went out and fled from the tomb; for trembling and astonishment had come upon them: and they said nothing to any one; for they were afraid.”
Now apparently for the first thirty years after Jesus died, up until the Gospel of Mark was written, people did not believe that Jesus arose from the dead. The reports of him appearing and talking to the disciples, and physically ascending into heaven, were all additional after Mark was written. Certainly if the author of Mark had believed that Jesus arose from his grave and appeared in the flesh, he would not have concluded his story with the two Marys going into the tomb, and being astonished that it was empty and running away in fear and trembling.
We might speculate until doomsday as to what happened to his body, but we simply do not know. The significant thing is, it doesn’t make any difference.
The Christian Theologians, who wrote the doctrine that immortality came to the world through the resurrection of Jesus, were writing personal opinions only. Immortality has nothing to do with theology. If immortality is a part of the universe it is conditioned by universal laws which control the issues of life and death.
Let us make this point perfectly clear. Many modern men and women have the idea of immortality tied up in their thinking with the theology. If you say to them, “I believe in immortality,” they may say, “then you believe that Jesus arose from the dead in a physical resurrection?” But that has nothing to do with it. Jesus either experienced immortality or he did not, because the survival of man’s soul is either a part of the grand scheme of things, or it is not. We are born into this world in physical form according to certain definite, fixed laws of biological growth. If we are born into another realm in a more spiritual form upon the death of the physical body, it, too, is regulated by laws that are universal, eternal and not controllable by theologians. These laws were just the same before Jesus lived and died as they are today. The world hasn’t changed during these centuries. Man’s ideas about the world have changed. When it was thought that the world was flat, that didn’t flatten the world. The belief that lightening and thunder were manifestation of wrath of the gods in no way affected the natural laws causing lightening. The belief in angels and miracles was man’s attempt to explain the phenomena that he saw about him, but we know today that his explanation was faulty.
Many people today who want to do their own thinking have turned away from the belief in immortality because they cannot believe the Christian mythology; but since the two are entirely separate, this is not sound thinking.
My thesis this morning is that immortality is the fundamental and basic reality of life, and that it is a thoroughly reasonable belief which is supported, not by mythology and theology, but by modern science.
To begin with the sciences have discovered the laws of cause and effect. Everything that is, was preceded by direct cause. That which is, is the cause for that which follows. New values are created as new effects come into being with greater reality. Hydrogen and oxygen, for example, are two invisible gases that unite to form visible liquid, water, which satisfies human thirst and sustains human life. These new values and properties that emerge in the creation of water disappear in the process of electrolysis through which water is broken down into hydrogen and oxygen. The law of cause and effect establishes the law that energy is not lost or destroyed. It is transformed, creates new values, extends reality – indeed is constantly changing and flowing. Nothing in the universe is static. Change and Flux and Flow are the Law. Science has proved the immortality of energy, which is the basic substance of material form. Matter, we know today, is reducible to atomic, electrical energy.
Does this concept not thrill your imagination! Science proving the immortality of the essence of physical being has discovered an Infinite Law and interpreted it to human thinking. This Law shocks the thinking of man in a mighty revolution of thought. It overrules the ideas we held fifty years ago. We have not realized its implications. The scientific description of the immortality of energy becomes poetry and song.
Think of the radiant energy of the sun, for instance. That gigantic sphere of super-hated fire throws off tons of radiant energy every minute – casts it off into space. If we could imagine a wiseacre sitting on the sun, we would hear him say, “These tons of radiant energy are being thrown away, lost.” How could he think otherwise? He would be more positive if he knew that millions of miles away from the sun these rays would be “lost” in space where the temperature is absolute zero and where darkness is as absolute as the cold.
Nevertheless, the radiant energy proceeds and that which falls upon the planet Earth is picked up by the earth’s atmosphere and the earth’s surface, is absorbed and reflected, producing heat – heat that defied the cold of interstellar space! But the heat is the mere beginning of the exciting facts that follow! A brief prologue introducing the drama of life that plays upon the earthly setting. The radiant energy germinates seeds, stores itself in roots and stalks, becomes the food for animals and man, forms the tissues and stalks, emerges as strength of will and character. Every living thing on the earth is radiant energy from the sun transformed in multiple and varied forms! What mythology can equal this story? What poet matches this song? What dreamer of dreams could envision a comparable tale of immortality? The new world of our discovery has gained a thousand fold over the old world we thought we inhabited.
What else have the sciences to tell us? For one thing, that nature allows completion of her design. She makes possible the complete pattern. The pattern of the flower was latent in the seed that was planted, and the law of growth sees to it that the flower blooms. Under normal conditions that flower never stops growing until it has bloomed and ripened its seed.
The same truth is observed in
animals. Barring accidents, all living creatures complete their lives. They
mature, produce their kind, then their atomic energy is transformed through the
process of decay. This is the law of immortality applied to the species. It is
a form enjoyed by man. The human race, we see, has an imperishable quality.
Generation after generation the race continues, carrying with it customs,
memories, habits we call culture. Culture is a product of the law of
immortality. “The good that men do lives after them.” Our influence flows
through the centuries in widening circles. An
There is a deeper implication here, however. We hear an overtone of the law. Being of higher pitch, we sometimes miss it. Perhaps we should admit a change at this point in the sermon. We leave the solid ground to soar a little.
F. Parks Cadman was telling his granddaughter a story one day. After the child had listened intently for some time, she interrupted to ask, “is that really true, or are you just preaching?” Some may think that as we proceed, we are just preaching. In any event, the law which determines that the plan or animal shall fulfill its design, reach its fulfillment, achieve its inherent purpose, must also be operative in the realm of man’s spiritual nature. It operates through animal man, gives him immortality of the race. As we grow to maturity, reproduce our young, nurture them, contribute to he social needs of humanity, we fulfill the inherent purpose of the physical man. But not so with the non-material quality of life we call character, personality, spirituality. The seed potential of the spirit hardly begins to sprout until maturity is reached. In wholesome living the personality or spirit of a man gathers strength and purpose year by year, and is at the height of its speed of acceleration in old age. The spiritual self is just awakening when our material bodies are becoming senile. If death ends all, it is a violation of the general principle of the law as observed in other instances. It is comparable to the stopping of the lily at half-grown stalk, and denying the unfoldment of the flower. Nature doesn’t do that with the lily. It arrives at its conclusion, completes its design.
Is not man’s soul of more worth than the garden flower? Would we not expect the same law to apply to this greatest of all creations known to the Earth? The mind and soul of Plato was in vigorous growth when his earthly body was done. To assume that his mind and soul ended with it is an assumption contrary to the evidence established by the universal law of growth. It is more reasonable, and therefore more scientific, to assume that the soul freed from the limitations of the body moves on the faster to complete itself. And as it is with the greatest of us, so it is with the least of us.
There is another foundation for the belief of immortality found in experience. Our conduct indicates that our souls assume immortality by instinct. The quality of life we seek, the virtues of goodness, brotherly love, righteousness, loyalty to principles, and the ethical life we cherish for ourselves and children – they alone make living worthwhile; this is the only life that is food for the soul. There is something in us that reveres the devotion to principles. We pay our highest tribute to those persons who will sacrifice comfort, fortune, fame for high principles. Jesus was devoted to his principles to a degree that he would face death rather than violate his own integrity. That is, the life of his soul meant more to him than the life of his physical being. Thousands like him have chosen the martyr’s death to the life that would have been allowed them had they been willing to compromise the voice of conscience. These are supreme examples.
Lesser examples occur every day. Honesty, goodness, loyalty are everyday experiences that hold society together. They are examples of animal man restraining his animal desires because of demands of his soul. Why should we pay respect to character? You can’t eat it or spend it. Animals don’t have it. It is uniquely a man’s attribute. It is the instinctive demand of the soul that is more powerful than the law of self-preservation! Why should men be willing to give their lives in defense of country? Why should a mother be willing to sacrifice herself for her children? Why should anybody be willing to refuse material gain for the sake of his principles? It is because of the instinctive urge of the spiritual self craving fulfillment, even as the physical stomach craves food. How ridiculous this instinct of life would be if the soldier really lost his life when his body is killed, or the mother her life in protecting her children. The instinct of immortality in our souls whether we know it in consciousness or not, is the source of all justice, goodness, righteousness.
The voice of the soul spoke to Thoreau on the wind one day, he said, saying to him, “Bear in mind, Child, and never for an instant forget, that there are higher planes, infinitely higher planes, of life than his thou art now traveling on. Know that the goal is distant, and is upward, and is worthy all your life’s efforts to attain to.”
Thus are the foundations of immortality, based on the laws of the universe. When we absorb them in our conscious mind and grasp their implications, we may learn the true nature of our own reality. Building upon the rock of immortality we may erect a faith and a religion and a philosophy of life that feeds life from the Infinite and Eternal Life.
Give me, O God, to sing that thought!
Give me – give him or her I love – this quenchless faith
In They ensemble.
Whatever else withheld, withhold not from us,
Belief in plan of Thee enclosed in Time and Space;
Health, peace, salvation universal.
Is it a dream?
Nay, but the lack of it the dream,
And, failing it, life’s lore and wealth a dream,
And all the world a dream.
– Walt Whitman
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