Two different perspectives on the Hereafter 

60 Minutes recently did a story on the monks and monasteries of Mount Athos in Greece.  Mount Athos is a mountain and peninsula in Macedonia, Greece. A World Heritage Site, it is home to 20 Eastern Orthodox monasteries and forms a self-governed monastic state within the sovereignty of the Hellenic Republic.  It is an amazing place with huge monasteries and breath-taking landscapes.  The architecture is intrinsically beautiful.  Art is everywhere.

The Monks live very simple lives: no electricity, telephones, computers or even radios.  They work hard making cheese and other foods.  They are also artisans and woodworkers, sculptors and artists.

And they mainly pray.  They pray all day long, continuously.  When asked by the 60 Minutes journalist Bob Simon why they pray so much, the Monks stated they are preparing for the next life after death when they will come face to face with Jesus. 

These men give up everything to prepare for death.  A death that their faith assures them will be in heaven in communion with Jesus Christ and the Christian God. To them the ultimate reality is not the here and now.  But the future, after death.

Mount Athos monastery

Monks of Mount Athos

One of the greatest physicists of the modern world takes a different approach and understanding.

The Guardian

A belief that heaven or an afterlife awaits us is a “fairy story” for people afraid of death, Stephen Hawking has said.

 In a dismissal that underlines his firm rejection of religious comforts, Britain’s most eminent scientist who passed away in 2018 said there was nothing beyond the moment when the brain flickers for the final time.

 Hawking, who was diagnosed with motor neurone disease at the age of 21, shared his thoughts on death, human purpose and our chance existence in an exclusive interview with the Guardian back in 2013.

The incurable illness was expected to kill Hawking within a few years of its symptoms arising, an outlook that turned the young scientist to Wagner, but ultimately led him to enjoy life more, he has said, despite the cloud hanging over his future.

“I have lived with the prospect of an early death for the last 49 years. I’m not afraid of death, but I’m in no hurry to die. I have so much I want to do first,” he said.

“I regard the brain as a computer which will stop working when its components fail. There is no heaven or afterlife for broken down computers; that is a fairy story for people afraid of the dark,” he added.

Hawking’s latest comments go beyond those laid out in his 2010 book, The Grand Design, in which he asserted that there is no need for a creator to explain the existence of the universe. The book provoked a backlash from some religious leaders, including the chief rabbi, Lord Sacks, who accused Hawking of committing an “elementary fallacy” of logic.

The physicist’s remarks draw a stark line between the use of God as a metaphor and the belief in an omniscient creator whose hands guide the workings of the cosmos.

In his bestselling 1988 book, A Brief History of Time, Hawking drew on the device so beloved of Einstein, when he described what it would mean for scientists to develop a “theory of everything” – a set of equations that described every particle and force in the entire universe. “It would be the ultimate triumph of human reason – for then we should know the mind of God,” he wrote.

The book sold a reported 9 million copies and propelled the physicist to instant stardom. His fame has led to guest roles in The Simpsons, Star Trek: The Next Generation and Red Dwarf. One of his greatest achievements in physics is a theory that describes how black holes emit radiation.

In the interview, Hawking rejected the notion of life beyond death and emphasised the need to fulfil our potential on Earth by making good use of our lives. In answer to a question on how we should live, he said, simply: “We should seek the greatest value of our action.”

In answering another, he wrote of the beauty of science, such as the exquisite double helix of DNA in biology, or the fundamental equations of physics.

Hawking suggested that with modern space-based instruments, such as the European Space Agency’s Planck mission, it may be possible to spot ancient fingerprints in the light left over from the earliest moments of the universe and work out how our own place in space came to be.

So here we are. What should we do?

We should seek the greatest value of our action.

The Monks are preparing for the next life.  That is the ultimate and greatest reward for their actions.  Stephen Hawking is living in the here and now.  The only true reality that we really do experience according to Hawking, the infinite moment as the Zen say.   And Hawking is seeking the greatest value of his actions in this immediate moment. 

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