||Keeping The Faith
by Michael Coren
THEOLOGIANS are not what they were. If, indeed, they ever were. What is certain is that this post-Christian age holds little brief for religious pundits, and instead turns to politicians and secular "experts" for explanation and succour. In the 14th, 15th, and 16th centuries it was the the, ologian who provided the panacea, propounded the ideology that divided the world into immutable camps. No longer. In the modern universe those who describe themselves as theologians are something of a fraud, exploiting a description that once carried enormous importance, but is today nothing more than an anachronism dripping with hauteur.
Tom Harpur, to his credit, does not give himself any such grandiloquent titles; and instead is probably one of the most erudite and empathetic writers on religion and the religious in Canada. Life After Death is his most valuable work to date. It is an exploration, an investigation, into the afterlife. "In this book, 1 am more interested in current phenomena and thought than 1 am with those of the far distant past," he writes. "But, unless we can see the matter in its proper context, unless we sense the longevity and the universality of the question, Is there life after death? we are destined to go badly astray."
This is the intellectual launching pad for Harpur`s search. The core of the journey is vital: not so much a desire to find out the truth about the afterlife, but the truth about various beliefs held about the afterlife. Such theories lie at the very epicentre of religion, and to understand them is to come closer to understanding faith itself. Nor does Harpur neglect the non-religious lust for eternal life. In a taut and sinewy initial conspectus he
analyses "The Secular Witness," writing of the near-death experience, reincarnation, channelling, dreams, and strange encounters. He treads a fine line between obliging credulity and pure cynicism. It is the only line on which to tread.
The bulk of this volume is dedicated to various religious perspectives on the question. The one fault of the book - and Harpur makes plain early on that this is by intention - is that Christianity is awarded centre stage, whereas other faiths rub shoulders with too much propinquity and far too much brevity in the final section. In Harpur`s defence, his expertise is mainly within the Christian context; and when writing of other religions, he does evince poignant objectivity and a sensitive openness.
The conclusions of Life After Death are as sanguine as they are authentic. There is far more to unite the diverse religions than there is to divide them, and a genuine belief in the afterlife precipitates, according to Harpur, "an intensified commitment to life!` That surely is the desire of any faith worth its name.