I was disappointed that my local church, when advertising the Alpha Course this year, didn’t use its usual poster. You know the one – and if you don’t it’s like the one above – that asks ‘Is this it?’, meaning both, ‘Is this all there is to life?’ and ‘Is this life all there is?’ Every year, I so much want to answer the question by scrawling ‘Yes’ on the bottom of the poster. I don’t, of course, because I’m too law-abiding to deface someone else’s property. But ‘yes’ really is the answer to the question ‘Is this it?’ and to the other two questions it suggests. This life is all there is. What you make of it is also ‘all there is’ (so better make the most of it).
Of course, the Alpha Course and Christians in general want to persuade you that this life isn’t all there is, that a better life awaits you after death. They want to tell you too that there’s a life that’s better than the one you’re currently living, however interesting, challenging, fulfilling or unhappy that might be. All you have to do to have this better life – and have it last forever – is to give yourself to Jesus. Oh, yes, and sign up for the Alpha Course too, of course.
Will your life really get better if you decide to believe in a mythical figure who magically sacrificed himself to himself to save you from yourself? It might, but not because you’ll have bought into this particular delusion. If it happens at all, life will be better because you’ll have become a member of a community (a church) and will enjoy the support of others who share the delusion. It might seem better too because your church will tell you what to think about particular issues – morality, abortion, homosexuality, evolution, for example – and you will be freed, should you want to be, from the burden of thinking for yourself.
But your life will not assume any cosmic significance, because nothing human beings do, say or believe ever has cosmic significance. Humans, whatever your church or the Alpha Course tells you, simply do not have cosmic significance. So, your decision to follow Christ won’t mean you’ll live forever (because, however much they might wish it, human beings don’t live forever.) It will not transform you into a ‘spiritual creature’; won’t make you beloved of the Creator of the universe; won’t transform you into the likeness of the mythical Christ. You will not have a hot-line to either the Creator nor to this Christ and so you won’t find them answering your prayers. You will not be part of any cosmic battle between God and the devil. You will not have God’s Son or the Son’s Spirit (which is it, Christians?) coming to make their home in you. You will no more be living in the End Times than you were before your conversion and the world will, though you will fail to recognise it, make even less sense than it does now.
What Christianity offers is pure fantasy, the same sort of fantasy that Mormons, Muslims, Moonies and all manner of other religious believers claim as their Truth. The only difference between your fantasy and theirs will be in the detail. Of course, as a Christian you’ll be told that your set of superstitions is the real and only Truth and that all of the others are false (or the lies of the devil, or whatever.) But in reality, yours will be just as absurd, just as impossible, just as disconnected from reality as theirs. And, what’s more, you’ll go on facing the same problems, the same joys, the same pain, the same short lifespan and the same opportunities that your culture offers you, that you’ve always had.
So give the Alpha Course a miss. Give Christianity a miss. Give all religion a miss. Give anything that tells you this life isn’t all there is a miss too, because this IS all there is. And thank God for that.