Saturday, September 19, 2009

Life Beyond Death

By Ramon Martinez de Pison, 267 pages, Novalis.

This sweeping introduction to an often-ignored topic takes us through thousands of years of theological reflection on life and death in the Judeo-Christian landscape. This includes interesting discussions on the important Greek contribution, especially in its dualistic, body-soul mindset.

De Pison shows how Catholic theologians can borrow not only from many eras of our tradition, but also from Protestants. He notes the important Protestant contribution to a more experience-based theology, something that happened in fits-and-starts in Catholicism until finally embraced in a more complete way in the 1950s and '60s.

The author also takes us through the agonizing of the biblical Job, who couldn't accept his friends' explanations for his terrible experiences. He finally had to let go of his attachment to health, wealth, and planning, and more deeply relate to God.

Life Beyond Death follows the path of Pope John Paul II's New Evangelization, for which we “need to develop a more imaginative interpretation of the Christian faith as well as traditional Church teaching regarding our ultimate destiny. We have to use our imagination, as our sisters and brothers of the past did, in order to present in a creative manner the essence of the biblical message along with the dogmatic pronouncements of the Church on what lies beyond death.”

This statement, by honouring the imagination of the past, reflects how this book follows Vatican II's embrace of certain aspects of modernity, such as a more historically-sensitive view, but only within the confines of a robustly developed tradition. Again, de Pisan's following words mirror John Paul II's mindset:

“However, to be creative does not mean to be unfaithful to our credo. It involves, rather, interpreting creatively our Christian heritage in such a way that we may continue to present its deepest meaning to the faithful.”

De Pisan offers a forceful theology while warning against dogmatism and moral or biblical rigidity. He spends a lot of time on hermeneutics, which is the science of interpretation. This is one of the greatest issues facing Christians right now – how to revere and follow the Bible without falling into the literalist trap?

De Pisan makes the interesting remark that the Bible itself is a series of interpretations, or hermeneutics, of what people were living. They were continuously interpreting and analyzing their journey with each other and with God.

Thus when the author discusses life after death in the biblical tradition, he says that the Book of Revelation spoke more to the ancients than it does for us today, because it was written in a kind of code for certain believers. In order for us to continue a Christian belief in the afterlife, we have to re-adapt these symbolic teachings, bringing their spirit into the post-modern world.

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