Is there more that meets the eye? Is there a life beyond the material world?
There has always been a debate on the existence and relationship between the two dimensions of life: the spiritual and the material. For Christians, the material dimension is not the ultimate meaning and purpose of life. Christ said: “For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world, but loses his soul?” (Matt. 16:26). The Beatitudes also warn Christians that the poor in spirit are blessed by God, implying that accumulation of wealth can be dangerous to people’s salvation. A true Christian must be detached from material wealth and spiritually attached to God. But does this mean that one must be materially poor to be closer to God?
The word “detachment” from material wealth does not mean material deprivation. Material detachment is an attitude in life that sees wealth as a means to an end rather than an end in itself as many materialists and hedonists would believe. A person can detach from material things if his or her ultimate meaning or goal in life transcends the worldly life and anticipate the coming of the afterlife. The German sociologist Max Weber made an interesting study on the connection between religion and capitalism. To him, what drives the Protestant capitalists (especially Calvinists) in Europe in expanding their businesses is not pleasure or mere accumulation of wealth for fame or honor, but spirituality: becoming wealthy is a sign of God’s blessing and being predestined to be saved by God in the next life. The Calvinist Protestant theology that guides the spirituality of these capitalists views capital accumulation as means to an end. Thus, Protestant capitalists, Weber discovered, were frugal, determined to expand their business empires since they see the connection between accumulation of capital and salvation.
Whether we believe it or not, life has two dimensions: the material and the spiritual, the real and the ideal. Life is more than we eat. That is why religions are born to give meaning to the great tragedies and mysteries in life, such as death, oppression, or exploitation, and to the realization that there is more that meets the eye, that there is a reality “out there” beyond human experience.
Some people who believe in the afterlife theorize that our mind and memories continue to exist after death. Our mind is said to be a repository and recorder of our all experiences while we still live here on earth. To George Mead, our mind is a social product. What is registered there reflects our human experiences. The power of our mind is confirmed by the near-death stories of patients who briefly died but were able to revive, confirming that our minds are still active while our bodies are in coma or being declared clinically dead for a short while. If our mind is a recorder and continues to exist after death, we can hypothesize then that we can take a glance and review our entire life after death. We can then take a panoramic view of the quality of our entire life after death through our memories and consider it as one big dream.
What brings more happiness to our consciousness during this life review after death is probably not the wealth we have accumulated nor the fame and status we achieved in life as they are part of our past material life but the spiritual realities of joy and loving memories we have had with our loved ones, with people we sincerely helped, and with our God. Steve Jobs, the co-founder of Apple, who has achieved the pinnacle of success in the world of technology, business, and innovation, allegedly mentioned during his dying moments that what matters most in life is not wealth which can turn a person a “twisted being” but matters unrelated to wealth and memories precipitated by love:
… In the darkness, I look at the green
lights from the life supporting
machines and hear the humming
mechanical sounds, I can feel the
breath of god of death drawing
Now I know, when we have
accumulated sufficient wealth to last
our lifetime, we should pursue other
matters that are unrelated to wealth…
Should be something that is more
Perhaps relationships, perhaps art,
perhaps a dream from younger days.
Non-stop pursuing of wealth will only
turn a person into a twisted being, just
God gave us the sense to let us feel
the love in everyone’s heart, not the
illusions brought about by wealth.
The wealth I have won in my life I
cannot bring with me. What I can bring
is only the memories precipitated by love.
Whether these words were indeed uttered by Jobs or not, they, nevertheless, contain wisdom and insight on the limits of our physicality and material happiness.
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