CHAPTER THREE – THE RELIGIOUS MODEL AND THE MONOTHEISTIC TRADITIONS
With this chapter we will examine the ideas that shape several monotheistic religions as part of our look at the religious model that will undergird our presentation of death to youths for the purpose of helping them to make their own life-meaning.
Religion is a useful model for this purpose because it encompasses theology, tenets, tradition, and communal relations, among other features, which will lend form to the religious model. We might also add that, except perhaps for theology, this is true of all religions, not just those categorized as monotheistic. Even when a religion has no theology, per se, it will have a philosophy of sorts. This is an important point in the US, because of the pluralistic nature of religion in the nation. If death education is to be implemented in US high schools, the fact that commonalities exist in the various religions, both monotheistic and eastern, will be very helpful. To illustrate just how pluralistic the US is, it might be of interest to note that the Claremont School of Theology, a United Methodist Church funded seminary, became interfaith in the fall of 2010 (Christian Century, July 13, 2010). This did not happen without some protest, but its very inception points to the current nature of religion in the US and the way it permeates society in its myriad forms. In case this event should appear isolated and unlikely to recur, the Christian Century, one week later, (July 27, 2010) reported that, …Andover Newton Theological School outside Boston and Meadville Lombard Theological School in Chicago announced that they have agreed in principle to form an interreligious theological institution. (Century July 27, 2010, p. 14)
While it may be that the general population of the US believes the country began as a religiously monolithic collection of colonies, it would be more accurate to say that the colonies were separate, independent units of many different, mostly Protestant Christian, “stripes.” That is to say that within the largely Christian colonies, there were many varieties of Christianity. Yet, this was not the limit of the already pluralistic nature of religion in the part of North America that would eventually become the United States.
Long before Europeans landed on North American shores, the natives of that land practiced their own religions. These religions of the tribes that came to be called first Indians, then Native Americans, were both diverse and similar (Gill 1994). Christian missionary work and Christian influence over the years has greatly changed Native American spirituality. This situation has given Native American religions a monotheistic flavor, and sometimes a monotheistic association, but Native American religion also retains much in common with eastern religions, like the notion of reincarnation for example. Therefore, with this chapter, we will first look at Judaism and follow that up with the Christian religion which it birthed. After that, we will look at Islam, which incorporates some things that appear to mimic Christianity and Judaism. Next, we will spend some time working out what these religious traditions have meant to the way people view life, death and afterlife. It is then that we will move on to discuss Native American religion and how it exemplifies religion in the US as it has to some extent adapted to the changes taking place all around it. This story of religion in the US is in many ways the story of US history in general. Because the US claims so many religious traditions as its own, we wish to insist that the religious model of death education is therefore particularly useful in this context; and since Judaism is foundational to the monotheistic religions that followed it, we begin here with a broad discussion of the Jewish experience.
Who is God? How do the people relate to God? What does it mean for the community, and hence the world, that the Jewish people follow this God? How do some of the tenets, Jewish tradition(s), and community rituals set the stage for Jewish action in the world and Jewish understanding of death as well as life beyond death? All religions are built on theology or philosophy. Judaism is no exception. Thus we begin our discussion of Judaism with a look at its theology.
The Hebrew people are not only monotheistic, but their religion is among the very first religions to be recognized for this feature. The well-known Shema – “Hear O Israel, The Lord our God, The Lord is one” – points to this very fact. This is the fundamental and the foundational point to the Jewish view of God. Because God is transcendent, humans can know of God only that which God reveals of God‟s self. Besides God being “one,” two other major characteristics of God are that God is holy and that God is sovereign. Accordingly, the name of God is so holy to Jews that those of the Orthodox school of Judaism, as well as many who belong to the Conservative school, will not write the word as we use it here. We have had a succession of students who did not write the name out, but instead listed it thusly: “G–,” or sometimes, “G-d.” Finally, God is sovereign. It is also true, however, that some Reform1 Jews will now write the name of God out in full. For all, though, nothing happens outside of God‟s knowledge and without God‟s consent. Thus, God is One, God is Holy, and God is sovereign. In fact, God IS. When Moses asked God who he should say sent him to the Hebrew slaves in Egypt, God said, “Tell them, „I AM has sent me to you‟” (Exodus 3:14, partial, NAS).
This is interesting for two reasons. First, “I AM” suggests, among other things, that God exists in some mysterious „am‟ ness. God just is…uncreated, yet existent. God is eternal and transcendent, yet somehow involved with the people of the creation in doing God‟s will on earth. I AM, coupled with Genesis 1:27, which says, “God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them” (NAS), places humankind at the center of a great drama. It is a drama which points to the goodness of life (see Gen 1:31) as it was created. It is a drama which indicates, that despite human disobedience to the will of God, humans are somehow second only to God. Now, because humans are created in God‟s image, and because they are second only to God, and because they (i.e., the Hebrew people, in Jewish thought) are in some way partners with God to affect the purposes of God in human history…because of all of this, humans also have, in some inexplicable way, an am “ness.” Humanity exists. Humanity is. What is does not cease to exist in the usual sense of annihilation, but remains in a more eternal sense.
Bowker (1991) elegantly argues that while the Hebrew people did not always believe in eternal life in the company of God (today, some still do not think this way), there developed at some point an idea of some sort of continuation as expressed in the “shadowy” nature of Sheol. Then later still, the notion that because God gives and takes life, the end of life is in some way a return to God‟s company. Of course, then, the next logical step in this conception is that this self-aware soul would eventually be thought of as pre-existing (Bowker 1991, 53). This idea of continuation, whether in a self-conscious, or an unconscious state, is related to the science of energy, wherein everything material (and possibly also immaterial – like soul) is made of energy, and whereby there is only so much energy available. This means, says Bowker, that something must die to make room for change, newness, better things, etc. If we wish to take this idea to its logical conclusion, it will be necessary to consider the full nature of energy.
Science insists that energy cannot be destroyed; only changed. If energy does not cease to exist, and if there is a limited amount of it, then as people die, making room for new and better things and beings, the energy that was someone, is still that someone, but also not that someone. Hence, it is not surprising that some Kabbalists came to believe in a type of reincarnation (Bowker 1991). Only, their idea is that only those in need of punishment are reincarnated. Others who die are reunited with God. This, of course, presents obvious problems with regard to indestructible energy as it is connected to evolutionary thought.
Death, in this evolutionary way, is a sacrifice by living things to the benefit of the new, the better, the other. This is so for the Jews because of two things: 1. God created life by breathing into it, and 2. The life of the creature is in the blood. Therefore, blood sacrifice, as Bowker points out, is a way of giving back to God what is God‟s in the first place.
Even so, Judaism values life highly and those of the Jewish faith are not in a rush to die. Life is good as God created it. For ancient Jews of the biblical period, death meant separation from God in Sheol. Many scholars believe that this idea was only challenged by the hardships and oppression endured by the ancient Hebrews. When the Temple in Jerusalem was destroyed and the people were dragged off to slavery in Babylon, the people were forced to reconsider their place in the world. How was it possible that God would choose them as God‟s own, then turn and abandon them to slavery and hardship? This, say some scholars, is why for some Jews life after death became part of their reality. For, if God did not redeem the people in life, certainly God would do so after life. After life the people would receive their reward and their enemies would be punished.
Between the time of the Babylonian exile and the Maccabean revolt, the people awaited a messiah. While this figure can stand for several meanings and have assorted purposes, “he” is mainly seen as a future king and warrior who will free the people from political oppression. With the Maccabean revolt there comes more of an idea of afterlife vindication (Bowker 1991, 60). The Maccabee books, much influenced by Greek philosophy, tell the tale of life after death and the importance of the soul over the body (Bowker 1991, 64). However, the rabbinic period finds Jewish thinkers returning to scriptural theses and insisting that resurrection is important because life as God created it is good. This means bodies as well as spirits.
Ancient Judaism maintained the significance of blood sacrifice because life is in the blood, and life is given by God. Therefore, it was deemed that blood sacrifice was the only way to effect reconciliation. The fact that life is in the blood would mean the necessity for the people to be bodily resurrected. As for reward and punishment, only God may seek vengeance, according to the Hebrew scripture, so it stood to reason that God would punish the offenders in the “hereafter.” Closely, and even obviously related to the idea of reward and punishment are the tenets, or laws of Judaism.
Major tenets of Judaism
The Jewish law is extremely important to adherents. The reader has already had a taste of this truth with the Shema (see previous section). This is the first of the commandments, which states one must love the Lord with all one‟s heart, soul and mind, and then, one must love one‟s neighbor as one‟s self. It could be argued (as Jesus does in the Christian New Testament) that the Decalogue contains all of the laws. This means, say some, that if one were to keep all Ten Commandments, one would find one‟s self following the sundry and various laws listed in Deuteronomy. We would here suggest, however, that it was never imagined by the giver of the law that humans would be capable of such a feat. Instead, we maintain that the law was always about cultivating a state of being that is at heart compassionate and self-sacrificial. If we are right, then Jesus was really talking about the spirit rather than the letter of the law.
Whatever the case, it is true that the law is important in Jewish thought. It means a way of life which is obedient and which honors God. This is the people of God keeping their part of the covenant entered into with the creator. God‟s side of the covenant is to take care of the people, to make them a nation that grows, to give them a long, healthy, and prosperous life. So when they were conquered by the Babylonians, and again, much later, when six million of them were killed by Hitler and his minions during World War II, they were left to ask what had happened that they should lose God‟s favor.
Others, perhaps naturally, concluded that God would take revenge on the enemy in the afterlife. Still others concluded that they had somehow sinned and wronged God, thereby breaking the covenant, and so were abandoned by God. Then there were those who shook their fists at God and demanded an explanation that did not come. Finally, some reckoned that God did not really exist…that their ancestors had been wholly deluded by the stories begun in ages past and were handed down through each successive generation. God was dead, and for these people, death means non-existence.
Today there are three main schools of Judaism: Orthodox, Conservative, and Reform.2 There is some disagreement between the schools on a number of doctrinal issues. It could even be contended that there are serious doctrinal arguments between them. Nonetheless, adherents of all schools of Judaism are historically and communally connected.
The chief reason for this ability of the Jews to be a community despite their differences is that they are more concerned with actions than with beliefs. Chosen by God, the people are now responsible for carrying peace and justice to the world (Smith 1995). Being chosen carries some benefits: a good, long and pleasant life and a close relationship with God. Yet being chosen also carries great responsibility. The command to love God with all one‟s being and to love one‟s neighbor as one‟s self means in a very real way that the people must do as God commands in all things. This is for the sake of both the Jewish community and the world at large, for in the latter case, the world is provided with a remarkable example when the chosen people are successful in closely following God.
To follow God closely means to keep mitzvoth, that is, to do one‟s religious duties. Such duties include taking part in communal ritual and holidays as well as doing good deeds. Both individual and community are strengthened by this. Community is so important in Jewish life that it is in some sense quite impossible to separate the “deed” from the person and hence the person from his community. Community here means the community of all times and all places…yesterday‟s, today‟s and tomorrow‟s – globally. All Jews are of one community in God.
It is therefore important for individuals to practice their religion (religious duty) amongst the community. Children become Bar and, in some schools of Judaism, Bat Mitzvah at synagogue. The family and others of the community gather eight days following the birth of a son for the circumcision. There is a sense that at every rite of passage and at every synagogue gathering is the entire community of Jews through the ages and in every location.
CHAPTER ONE – INTRODUCTION
1.1 The thesis
1.2 Who should receive death education?
1.3 Why death education? Or, why talk about death?
1. 4.1 The how of death education – the mechanics
1. 5 Methodology
1. 6 Summary remarks
1. 7 Bibliographic resources
1. 8 Chapter outline
CHAPTER TWO – PERSPECTIVES ON DEATH AND DYING: HISTORY /PSYCHOLOGY/ SOCIOLOGY
2. 1 Introduction
2. 2 Introduction to our brief historical overview of death attitudes and death education
2. 3 Psychology and death education
2. 4 Death and sociology
CHAPTER THREE – THE RELIGIOUS MODEL AND THE MONOTHEISTIC TRADITIONS
3. 2. Judaism
3. 3. Christianity
3. 4. Islam
3. 5. Native American Religions
CHAPTER FOUR – THE RELIGIOUS MODEL: “EASTERN TRADITIONS”
4. 1 Introduction
4. 3 Buddhism
4. 4 Final thoughts about the religious model
CHAPTER FIVE – STATISTICAL ANALYSIS
5. 1 Chapter Five organization
5. 2 The Method
5. 3 Respondent demographics
5. 4. 1 Results and research style
CHAPTER SIX – SURVEY RESULTS: DEATH IN THE DETAILS
6. 1 Introduction
6. 2 Student responses
6.3 Students, Faculty/Staff – and the question of parental approval
6.4 Faculty/Staff responses
6.5 Further and summary remarks
CHAPTER SEVEN – REVIEW, REFLECTION, AND RECOMMENDATIONS ADOLESCENTS AND THE MEANING OF LIFE/DEATH
7. 1 Introduction
7. 2 Purpose and findings
7. 3 The conversation as it stands today
7. 4. 1 Recommendations for approaching parents, teachers/staff, and school boards
7. 5 Death Education Syllabus:
7. 6 Recommendations for further research
7. 7 Final reflections and remarks
GET THE COMPLETE PROJECT
DEATH EDUCATION IN SECONDARY SCHOOLS IN THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: A RELIGIOUS PERSPECTIVE