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Saturday, June 28
I got two events behind in my coverage for the General Assembly (GA) website, so my blogging time has been limited. But I'm not complaining, because one of those events—Forrest Church's talk Friday about his new book Love and Death—is probably the event from this GA that will be most remembered and longest discussed. (It's Event 3012. Last I looked the video wasn't posted yet, and my report isn't up yet either, but you should absolutely watch it as soon as it is.)
You won't often see a religious leader stand up in front of a large group of people and calmly talk about his looming death. It's even more striking in a UU context, because we've probably all heard this criticism at one time or another: "You'll think differently when it comes time to die." There's a long history of conservative believers making up false stories about free-thinkers converting on their deathbeds; such a story circulated about Thomas Paine, for example.
Church talks freely about God and is in no sense an atheist, but he says that he is "agnostic about the afterlife" and his discussion of "salvation" and "redemption" are entirely centered on this world. The warning that he gives is not to prepare for Eternity, but to make sure that you appreciate the life you have now. He urged his listeners not to put off dealing with the major issues of their lives, to make peace with themselves and reconcile with their loved ones. "To be free to accept death is to be free—period."
Today is my day to catch up. I don't have any more events to cover until 5, when I listen to Eboo Patel, the founder of the Interfaith Youth Corps and author of the new book Acts of Faith. I'm looking forward to it. Patel is one of those tolerant Muslims that so many pundits think don't exist. One of the most forceful points he makes in his book is that the religious totalitarians have much better youth programs than the pluralists do. Bin Laden is counting on young people to play an important role as shock troops and suicide bombers. Pluralists ask less sacrifice from their youth, but conversely, we rarely give them anything important to do.
Reported by Doug Muder.