Showing posts with label life. Show all posts
Showing posts with label life. Show all posts

Wednesday 8 May 2024

Midnight's Journey on Frosted Rails
Beneath the twilight's velvet hue,
Where mist and mystery blend anew,
A path of iron, straight and true,
Leads to horizons kissed by dew.

In silence deep, the night’s embrace,
With moonlit shadows intertwined,
The tracks converge in ghostly grace,
As dreams and darkened skies are twined.

A crimson orb hangs low, aflame,
A sentinel in the sable night,
Its glow a soft, ethereal frame,
A beacon of unwavering light.

Beside the path, the trees stand guard,
Their gnarled fingers stripped and scarred,
By time’s relentless, ruthless mar,
Yet under starlight, standing hard.

The frost adorns each steely line
With silver threads of cold, divine,
A winter's quilt of crystal fine,
Where frozen whispers dreams define.

Oh, carry me, this spectral track,
Through realms of thought, and time, and lack,
To lands unknown that call me back,
Where future’s hopes no longer black.

This journey on the night-bound train,
Where hearts may heal and souls regain,
The love and loss, the joy and pain,
As tracks unroll beneath the rain.

For in this quiet, serene expanse,
Each rail and tie, in their steadfast dance,
Hold the weight of my advance,
Guiding me by fate's own chance.

So let the night enfold its wings,
Around the world as the darkness sings,
The track to unknown futures brings,
A rail-bound soul where hope springs.

Sunday 7 May 2023

My religion is love and kindness

In a world where beliefs divide,
I found solace in a different stride.
For I, a wanderer in this vast expanse,
Dared to question the gods' eternal dance.

Religion's chains no longer bind,
Yet kindness and compassion I still find.
In the depths of my skeptical soul,
A spirit of benevolence takes its toll.

No rituals or doctrines to guide my way,
But empathy remains, come what may.
For in the absence of divine decree,
Love's essence still resides in me.

I cast away the dogmas and creeds,
Embracing the plight of those in need.
With open arms, I lend a listening ear,
To stories untold, to hearts that fear.

No prayers or hymns adorn my lips,
But words of solace, like gentle ships,
Sail through troubled waters, seeking peace,
Bringing comfort and granting release.

I reject the notion of a higher throne,
Yet kindness in my heart has grown.
For in the absence of heavenly might,
I choose to be a beacon of light.

In every action, a testament I weave,
That one can care without belief.
My purpose forged in the love I give,
A testament to the way I live.

Though faith may falter, my spirit's pure,
A testament to love that shall endure.
No religion binds, no creed to tether,
For kindness is my bond, now and forever.

Wednesday 3 July 2019

Now it is time to de-normalise yourself!

Have you every wondered why explorers and discoverers are a special type of hero in our history?

Columbus, Magellan, J C Bose, Marco Polo... they were the pioneers that expanded their existing world. They broke through the existing boundaries to bring in new knowledge and opportunities. Their discoveries were turning points that completely reshaped the world and the horizons of everyone in it.

I bring this up, because just like the idea of independence, this idea also has very personal applications to each one of us.

If independence is about the privilege of choice, what if you don't even know you have better choices than the ones at present?

What if we've grown so accustomed to living and accepting what this present situation has to offer... the same loop, same problems, same opportunities day in and day out that it's become normal to you? That's your world.

It's too easy to fall into the everyday loop, where your habits and routines become so normal that you accept them, or when everyone around you is going through the same routine, that you accept this reality...

But, the truth is, the world is much much bigger than that!

If this resonates with you, it might be time to "de-normalize" yourself. It's time to find your inner explorer.

There are many options and opportunities out there that can change your circumstances... that can give you new life to your stagnant or unhappy situation.

It's just that your perception and habits have made it an invisible prison, blinding you from seeing past it.
How aware are you right now of the breakthroughs you can be making?

If you recognise that you might be feeling this way, here is a quick 2 minute self assessment that you can take to discover your strengths and weaknesses so you’re more ready for change in the right direction.

Tuesday 16 April 2019

Waking up!

When waking up is one of the hardest things to do 
And the first sound you make is a despairing groan 
When you don't want the pain of another day 
And just want to stay in bed and sleep, to tell the world to go away. 
Look outside and see the life around you 
A flower, a bird, even the tiniest insect has its own beauty 
Just sit and watch, take a moment for yourself 
Allow the wonder and magic of life to consume your mind 
Let that pretty flower, or bird, or insect become your reality 
As you sit there in awe of what you see 
Thoughts may wonder if someone will ever truly understand you 
And want to be part of your life 
At these times remember, in this world, you are the only you 
You are unique, and your wonderful qualities are ready to shine 
And somehow, at some point, probably most unexpectedly 
You will find someone out there who believes in you 
Who wants to share your pain, to take part of the burden 
And you will find joy that was once unimaginable!

Friday 12 April 2019

Life is nothing but a Dream!

Lost in tears, 
I did not notice, 
Dusk descending
Petals dropped, 
And piled up on my robe
Dull white rag 
Laid over my dreams.
The sun goes down
Behind the mountain peaks
The moonlit valley of Calder
Last night I watched its lure
From the windows of dome.
Darkening shades of trees
Falling on the walls of Church
Like shapeless ghosts, 
The acquaint myth of Dharma,
Retold stories of Fate.
Winds passing 
Through the shaded grove
The birds have gone, 
And people too are few
The One I cared for
Standing in the midst 
Sobbing softly, 
Can't hear the words…. 
There's no death, 
Just the dream 
That touches your heart
And it fades for ever
Before long, leave 
No trace behind. 


The Meaning of Life and Death !

Why do people worry about the meaning of life and what happens to them after death? 

The weakening of religious beliefs changed man’s outlook concerning his idea of death and its significance. Increasingly, the focus switched to life ‘here and now’ as man became more preoccupied with the material side of the world at the expense of the spiritual. 

I amazed how much time is spent on these two points, but no one asks or worries about pre-birth, where or what was I before my birth, everyone seems happy to accept they didn't exist before birth but can't comprehend you just stop existing after death, making room for a new crop of humans to mess up the planet, and worry about the meaning of life rather than living it.

Life is tragic simply because the earth turns and the sun inexorably rises and sets, and one day, for each of us, the sun will go down for the last, last time. Perhaps the whole root of our trouble, the human trouble, is that we will sacrifice all the beauty of our lives, will imprison ourselves in totems, taboos, crosses, blood sacrifices, steeples, mosques, races, armies, flags, nations, in order to deny the fact of death, which is the only fact we have - James Baldwin

Death has always been inevitable, but the idea that science will eventually conquer death has taken root—achieved through some combination of future technologies like nanotechnology, genetic engineering, artificial intelligence, and robotics. Some think the possibility of technological immortality renders human life meaningless, others that life can only attain its full meaning if death is overcome.

But whatever view one takes about the relationship between death and meaning, the two are joined. If we had three arms or six fingers, our analysis of the meaning of life wouldn’t change; but if we didn’t die our analysis would be vastly different. If our concerns with annihilation vanished, a good part of what seems to undermine meaning would disappear. To understand the issue of the meaning of life, we must think about death. 

Imagine a number of men in chains, all under sentence of death, some of whom are each day butchered in the sight of the others; those remaining see their own condition in that of their fellows and looking at each other with grief and despair await their turn. This is an image of the human condition. – Pascal

Facing one’s own death is radically different from being concerned with the death of others. My own death means the end of my possibilities, the total disintegration and the end of my world. The fear of my own death comes from the fear of my extinction as a human being. This causes me a great deal of anxiety. I may be able to face other people’s death but may find it virtually impossible to come to terms with my own death. Death is existentially significant when one perceives one’s existence in the light of Being, not if it is merely taken as an empirical event that will happen someday. 

The aftermath narrative is not just a personal view, it is part of an organisation of power “so called RELIGION” attempting to prevent us from using our minds rationally. Denying the existence of an afterlife doesn't have to be about cowardice as opposed to courage – after all, everyone's going to make this journey one way or the other. And some of the many different visions of what the afterlife might be like may be more reasonable and more persuasive than others. 

Sunday 16 December 2018

Moonfire Circus

Voices speaking from the piano's soul  
Is reaching out for anyone to be heard  
It's a simple composition  
Full of sounds with not a single word  
The signpost says "Hurry! Before it's too late!"  
But the eyes of the many won't reciprocate  
There is a skull to remind us all  
That our lives will leave soon  
For castled dreams and sunbeams  
For those with a good attitude  
A fortnight of passion to wrangle peaceful whims  
So tear up the contract and then we'll begin  
Read the banner and you'll  
Know where I got my name  
Several miles high we can see  
Exactly where they came  
Waste me in reason  
'Cos you know it's plain to see  
We never got as far  
As we really wanted to be  
And so now the circus begins    
She said "This ain't a sin  
From day to day it can change  
It'll pass in the picture frame."  
Born in a house  
Of esoterical thoughts  
The voiceless are many  
A plan has been bought  
They're dreaming in comfort  
To help heal the wounds  
The treasures are many  
And ours will come soon

Saturday 28 April 2018

The Age of Earth and Adaptation of Life

For the first four billion years of Earth's history, our planet's continents would have been devoid of all life except microbes.

All of this changed with the origin of land plants from their pond scum relatives, greening the continents and creating habitats that animals would later invade.

The timing of this episode has previously relied on the oldest fossil plants which are about 420 million years old.

New research, published today in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, indicates that these events actually occurred a hundred million years earlier, changing perceptions of the evolution of the Earth's biosphere.

Plants are major contributors to the chemical weathering of continental rocks, a key process in the carbon cycle that regulates Earth's atmosphere and climate over millions of years.
The team used 'molecular clock' methodology, which combined evidence on the genetic differences between living species and fossil constraints on the age of their shared ancestors, to establish an evolutionary timescale that sees through the gaps in the fossil record.

Dr Jennifer Morris, from the University of Bristol's School of Earth Sciences and co-lead author on the study, explained: "The global spread of plants and their adaptations to life on land, led to an increase in continental weathering rates that ultimately resulted in a dramatic decrease the levels of the 'greenhouse gas' carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and global cooling.

"Previous attempts to model these changes in the atmosphere have accepted the plant fossil record at face value -- our research shows that these fossil ages underestimate the origins of land plants, and so these models need to be revised."

Co-lead author Mark Puttick described the team's approach to produce the timescale. He said: "The fossil record is too sparse and incomplete to be a reliable guide to date the origin of land plants. Instead of relying on the fossil record alone, we used a 'molecular clock' approach to compare differences in the make-up of genes of living species -- these relative genetic differences were then converted into ages by using the fossil ages as a loose framework.

"Our results show the ancestor of land plants was alive in the middle Cambrian Period, which was similar to the age for the first known terrestrial animals."

One difficulty in the study is that the relationships between the earliest land plants are not known. Therefore the team, which also includes members from Cardiff University and the Natural History Museum, London, explored if different relationships changed the estimated origin time for land plants.

Leaders of the overall study, Professor Philip Donoghue and Harald Schneider added: "We used different assumptions on the relationships between land plants and found this did not impact the age of the earliest land plants.

"Any future attempts to model atmospheric changes in deep-time must incorporate the full range of uncertainties we have used here."

Story Source:
Materials provided by University of Bristol. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.

Thursday 5 April 2018

The inner beauty

We all know the simple truth that a person's inner beauty is so much more important than their outer beauty, but over the years most people have been 'trained' to judge a person by their appearance and to focus on their own appearance as a means to be accepted by others.

It is such a shame that so many people feel inadequate because of the emphasis that is placed on looks, especially for the youngsters growing up with all the hype. 

If the mass media put as much attention and money into grooming our Spirits instead of our bodies we would live in a totally different world, in fact, all they would need to do is STOP putting the attention on physical beauty to make a big difference.

Monday 2 October 2017

Matters of Life and Death

 (This is an accepted Manuscript of a chapter published by Anna Strhan in Anthony Carroll and Richard Norman (eds) Religion and Atheism: Beyond the Divide, London and New York: Routledge, 2017 - Available in public domains but use only for Educational and Research purpose) 

In his 1909 essay ‘Bridge and Door’, the sociologist Georg Simmel describes the human being ‘as the connecting creature who must always separate and cannot connect without separating … And the human being is likewise the bordering creature who has no border’ (1994: 174).[1]We are beings who make sense of the world through our capacity to connect and to separate things, and Simmel argues that this guides all human activity, shaping our physical, symbolic, emotional and imagined spaces and leaving material marks in the world around us. Exploring the nature of modes of connection and separation is perhaps particularly pertinent to understanding the relations between ‘atheism’ and ‘religion’, or between ‘non-religion’ and ‘religion,’ as it is indexed in the very act of naming these as fields of exploration. In my writing ‘non-religion’, for example, what modes of uniting and disuniting shape my instinct to hyphenate the word (or not)? As the prefix ‘non’ carves out a space of separation from religion, it also draws attention to the doubled nature of lines of division: ‘the separation of objects, people or places is always shadowed by the idea – the “fantasy” or the danger – of their connection’ (Tonkiss 2005: 31). Drawing out deeper understanding of the (simultaneous) practices of connection and separation between religious and non-religious cultures can enable us to develop more nuanced understandings of the everyday realities of members of these groups, which move beyond common assumptions that their interrelations are necessarily antagonistic, and instead open up common grounds of human experience, as well as the lived experience of modes of difference.

Matters of life and death have often loomed large in oppositional modes of relationship between the religious and the non-religious. Religions are often stereotypically characterized by their critics as immortality cults, attempting to escape or deny the inevitability of death through focusing on a putative transcendent realm that is perceived to diminish the fullness of this life. The question of life is also a key source of tension, for example, in the culture wars clashes, as life has become caught between technocratic explorations (for example, of the human genome) and religious oppositions to abortion and stem cell research on the basis of ‘sanctity of life’ (Bennett 2010, Pyyhtinen 2012, Thacker 2010). Concepts of life reverberate throughout religious traditions. In Christianity, this is expressed in Jesus’s telling his followers, ‘I am the way, the truth and the life’ (John 14: 6) and ‘I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly’ (John 10:10), while in Hinduism, Shakti represents the creative, all-pervading life force. The idea of life also resonates throughout non-religious cultures. Olli Pyyhtinen suggests that if in the Renaissance, the decisive form of reality was ‘mechanism’, for the modern era it has been the category ‘life’ (2012: 79). He notes that French vitalism, under the influence of Bergson, and German Lebensphilosophie were among the most influential philosophies in Europe in the early twentieth century, to the extent that Simmel wrote in 1916 that ‘the concept of life now seems to permeate a multitude of spheres and has begun to give, as it were, a more unified rhythm to their heartbeat’ (cited in Pyyhtinen 2012: 79). While these ideas languished under the taint of Nazism for much of the latter twentieth century, ideas of vitalism and philosophies of becoming, emphasizing the vibrancy of life, are firmly back, under the influence of Deleuze, and permeating a wide variety of disciplines (ibid.).[2]At the same time, a different inflection of life is given in the form of Michel Foucault’s concept of ‘bio-politics’ (1990) together with Giorgio Agamben’s (1998) concept of ‘bare life’. Agamben deployed the concept of ‘bare life’ to address the fact that biopolitical states can strip someone to bare or naked life, which produces bodies that can be killed with impunity. This approach to life has expressed (and perhaps intensified) the gloomy spirit of political diagnoses in the ‘post-9/11 era’ (Singh 2015: 55), as Agamben’s analysis has been used to try to articulate that which in life is irreducible to either social processes or living biological organisms. 

The concept of life – and life’s interrelation with death – are of course implicated both in metaphysical orientations and also in existential and ethical questions about what it means to life a good life, or a life filled with meaning, as opposed to bare life, and it is beyond the scope of this chapter to provide an exhaustive survey of how these ideas figure across religious and non-religious traditions. While questions of life and death might appear perennial concerns for religion, in what follows, I explore the particular contemporary significance of ideas of life and death within the moral landscapes of different religious and non-religious groups. I draw here on qualitative sociological research I have conducted, which is largely in the field of contemporary Christianities, with the hope that these ideas might find resonances beyond the contexts I address here. The chapter considers the significance of the idea of ‘life’ for an ‘open’ evangelical church, the Sunday Assembly, and the School of Life, and practices of reflecting on ‘death’ in Death Cafés, drawing this together with Simmel’s writing on life and its interrelations with death. I conclude by suggesting that attending to modes of practical engagement with ideas of ‘life’ and ‘death’ across these different religious and non-religious groups, rather than focusing solely on the propositional content of beliefs about life and death, opens up opportunities for reflection on common existential grounds of experience, moving beyond assumptions that relations between these groups are necessarily antagonistic.

What do we do when we ‘do life’?
I have been conducting ethnographic fieldwork with different kinds of evangelical[3]church in London since 2009, and through this, I have often been struck by both particular affinities and acts of distancing from non-religious and other religious groups that members of these churches engage in across different contexts. At an open evangelical[4]church where I carried out fieldwork from 2013-14, which I call ‘Riverside’, for example, one Sunday morning, the minister said to the congregation that some of them may have heard about ‘atheist churches that have started meeting to celebrate life together’. He said that one of these was having a harvest festival, and would be giving the food they collect to Riverside’s food bank, and so a member of the Riverside staff was visiting them that morning to collect the food ‘and to build links with them’. This incident not only reveals the friendly institutional relationships between atheist and open evangelical churches; the description of the atheist congregation as gathering together ‘to celebrate life’ also opens up a wider point of connection in relation to the contemporary significance of life for both. 

The Sunday Assembly is perhaps the most notable contemporary example of a network of ‘atheist churches’, which seeks to ‘replicate the “positive” aspects of regular churches’ – such as the sense of community belonging and rituals – but without the belief in God (Alexander 2014). The Sunday Assembly describes itself as ‘a secular congregation that celebrates life’ and as having ‘a mission to help everyone live life as fully as possible’. Its website sets out its ‘charter’, stating ‘We’re not here to tell you how to live your life—we’re here to help you be the best version of you you can be’, and its charter includes the ideas that it is: a ‘100% celebration of life. We are born from nothing and go to nothing. Let’s enjoy it together’; ‘has no doctrine’; ‘is radically inclusive—this is a place of love that is open and accepting’; ‘has a community mission. Through our Action Heroes (you!), we will be a force for good’; and ‘we won’t tell you how to live, but will try to help you do it as well as you can.’

The ways in which ‘life’ figures here in many ways mirrors how members of both Riverside and the charismatic evangelical churches I have studied in London talk about life. These different congregations name their small group study and discussion meetings ‘life courses’, and ‘life groups’ is commonly used as a title for small group meetings across global evangelicalism. The leaders of Riverside describe the materials developed for use within the life courses, ‘Life Resources’, as intended ‘to enable you to become the best possible version of yourself’, resonating with the Sunday Assembly’s aims.[5]The Riverside leader who developed these resources introduced them to the congregation one Sunday morning. Her first slide posed the question, ‘how do I become the best version of me I can be?’, and she asked the congregation to consider who it was who looked at them in the mirror that morning, adding that when she looked in the mirror that morning, she had thought ‘when did I become so old?’ She repeated the question from the slide, and added ‘How do you become the best version of who you are and who you are created to be?’ She said that this question was what they were going to be focusing on that year in their services and small groups, and said ‘it’s something we need to be intentionalabout’. She said that when you learn to drive or swim, you initially have to be ‘really intentional about what you’re doing, and then it becomes second nature… It’s the same with being the best we can be. We need to practise it for it to become second nature to us.’ She said that we become like the people we follow, and added that when she was young, she had wanted to be like Kevin Keegan, and said that as a church community, ‘our intention is that we become like Jesus, so that the loving our enemies, forgiveness, love, joy, and tenderness that Jesus displayed become second nature to us.’ She said that over the coming year, ‘we’re going to take time to focus on being like Jesus. I’ve called it LIFE’. Her next slide had LIFE in bright yellow letters in the centre against a black background, together with other concepts that would form their focus over the course of the year. These concepts included: following, rhythm, belonging, giftedness, resources, ritual, wholeness, transform, image, inclusion, connection. She said that they were going to begin with the question of ‘following,’ and asked everyone to turn to the person next to them to ask ‘what footprints are you leaving behind you at the moment?’, and allowed some time for everyone to chat about that, before the service moved onto the Bible reading, and then the sermon that morning, which was on the theme of ‘bringing hope to local children and young people … so that they live well in this journey of life.’

Riverside’s elaboration of what ‘becoming the best possible version of yourself’ as a central aim of LIFE means includes, like the Sunday Assembly, a strong focus on ‘inclusivity’ and ‘community’. There is a particular emphasis on the inclusion within the church of those who have been socially excluded through categories such as race, sexuality, disability, or social class, and Riverside repeatedly emphasizes that their vision is to ‘build inclusive communities’, where ‘everyone has hope, feels they matter, and is given the opportunity to achieve their potential’. Members of both Riverside and charismatic evangelical churches I studied also frequently spoke about ‘doing life’ with each other. When I asked my informants what ‘doing life’ meant, they said it was about seeing faith as not just about being in church, or reading the Bible, but as something found in everyday moments of relationality, just hanging out with each other and doing very mundane things together, and implying a sense of ‘building community’ through these interactions. 

The idea of ‘doing life’, ‘life courses’ and ‘life resources’ that we see in these churches resonates not only with the Sunday Assembly, but also with another non-religious organization, the School of Life. This was set up in 2008 by the philosopher Alain de Botton and others with the aim of ‘putting learning and ideas back to where they should always have been – right in the middle of our lives’, and ‘runs courses in the important questions of everyday life’.[6]The School of Life runs a shop selling books, clothes, e.g. ‘The Philosopher’s Shoe’ and ‘The Philosopher’s Jumper,’ and a range of other items, such as ‘Philosophical Honey’ (priced at £20, which the website tells us ‘is food for the soul – connecting us with history and culture’, and is ‘sourced from the birthplaces of great Greek philosophers’),[7]a ‘Comfort Blanket,’ and a ‘Writing as Therapy Journal.’ 

The School runs courses (with costs from £20 for ‘Secular Sermons’ to £700 for week-long intensive courses) about ‘things we all care about: careers, relationships, politics, travels, families’ and describes itself as ‘a place to step back and think intelligently about central emotional concerns. You will never be cornered by dogma, but we will direct you towards a variety of ideas from the humanities ... that will exercise, stimulate and expand your mind.’[8]Riverside, the School of Life and the Sunday Assembly all present themselves as concerned primarily with away of life, not the way of life or the meaning of life: they offer a way of ‘doing life’ that seeks to find and acknowledge meaning in life. While religious groups are often presented by those outside them as offering authoritative moral teachings about life and death, at Riverside we can see a more subjunctive mode of address that resonates with the turn away from ‘dogma’ that we see at the School of Life and the Sunday Assembly. There is little stated emphasis on ‘inclusion’ at the School of Life (and the costs of their courses and products would be prohibitive for many, with the ‘Comfort Blanket’, for example, priced at £170), yet we can see the focus on reflexive self-awareness and intentionality that permeated Riverside’s life courses as also present in these School of Life courses. The promotional material on the class on ‘How to Manage Stress’, for example, states that through participating, ‘You’ll become accurate in pinpointing the causes of your anxiety. You’ll tame your unhelpful inner voices – and internalize better alternatives. And you’ll discover how to spend time worrying about the things that really matter, rather than those that don’t.’[9]

We might interpret the emphasis on reflexive self-awareness permeating these ideas of life as bound up with wider social processes of individualization. While both Riverside and the School of Life emphasize the communal nature of their Life courses and classes, there is also an emphasis on the individual’s responsibility to shape herself or himself in order to ‘become the best possible version’ of themselves. While Riverside does also place an emphasis on forms of political and civic engagement in order to ‘build more inclusive communities,’ such that this individual responsibility for transformation is also bound up with the communal and political, at the School of Life, the focus is much more squarely on learning individual techniques to ‘manage stress’ or to deal with ‘imposter syndrome.’ 

Sociologist Zygmunt Bauman argues that with the retreat of formerly dominant ‘heteronomous’ modes of addressing suffering and mortality, there has been a rise of ‘autonomous’ means, which are self-contained and self-directed, and aim to engage resources within the self’s actual or potential possession (Bauman 1999: 42). We are unable to manage our recalcitrant existential fears in their ‘pure and unprocessed form’, and so we 

slice the great, overwhelming fear into smaller and manageable bits – recast the big issue we can do nothing about into a set of little ‘practical’ tasks we can hope to be able to fulfil. Nothing calms better the dread one cannot eradicate than worrying and ‘doing something’ about the trouble one can fight (p. 44). 

Whilst the School of Life is not necessarily focused on either ignoring or staving off existential angst, there is nevertheless a sense that individuals should seek to manage themselves better to deal with the struggles they face in life. While people have always faced struggles and problems in life, these, as Ian Craib (1994) notes, might once have been seen as moral choices in the context of a larger community or as religious struggles with the forces of destiny, or as political problems to be solved through collective action. The cultural shift, Craib argues, was to start ‘seeing them in terms of individual morality with individual solutions’, as the modern person as an autonomous individual became perceived and experienced as increasingly isolated from wider society (pp. 98-99). In many ways, the idea of ‘life’ across these groups is inflected with this sense of individuals managing themselves better to deal with the struggles and disappointments of life, although we also see at the Sunday Assembly and Riverside a sense that this is inextricably bound up with a desire to work to help others also live flourishing lives, and Riverside encourages and enables different kinds of civic and political activism to these ends. 

These connections across religious and non-religious organizations are in many ways not surprising, as both the Sunday Assembly and the School of Life situate themselves as drawing on aspects of religious traditions while ‘free from dogma’. But what might lie behind the specific contemporary prominence being accorded to ‘life’? We might interpret the pervasiveness of concepts of life as a strategy of differentiation from religious – and especially other Christian - cultures that place significant theological emphasis on life after death. Thus, in many ways, the identities of the open evangelical and non-religious organizations are both shaped through their acts of distancing from other, more conservative, religious traditions. The celebration of life and idea of ‘doing life’ can be seen as a means of finding modes of transcendence, enchantment and wonder in everyday, immanent life, rather than locating transcendence in some other-worldly realm. Simmel’s writings also capture this sensibility, presenting transcendence as immanent within life, as he describes life as ‘that which at all points wants to go beyond itself, reaching out beyond itself’, a form of pure potentiality, that is always not yet, being made and re-made (cited in Pyyhtinen 2012: 84). This dynamic sense of life-as-becoming is emphasized across Riverside, the Sunday Assembly and the School of Life. At the same time, Simmel also argues (1997) that the experience of fragmentation in modernity intensifies a desire for coherence across all spheres of social interaction. We could perhaps thus locate this sacralization of ‘life’ as also bound up with an existential desire to see all – even the most mundane, everyday details of our lives – as ultimately connected as part of ‘life’. This is not so much about finding a transcendent vantage point from which to understand life and death, but about finding the transcendent within the ordinary. Simmel describes how Rembrandt’s paintings vividly evoke this illumination of everyday life: ‘Light does not come from outside (such light would inevitably fall unevenly); rather, in order to illuminate its ordinariness, from within, shining through equally in each path that leads from the core of life to life’s appearances’ (2005: 116).

Remembering Death as a Way of Life
While the School of Life focuses on finding techniques to deal with the struggles of life, at the same time, there is alsoan acknowledgement of both the ultimate recalcitrance of life, and of the importance on reflecting on death as an everyday practice of life. The School of Life’s promotional blurb about its ‘Memento Mori’ paperweight states that ‘Many of the obstacles we face in our lives are rather like the waves of the sea: relentless, bleak, repetitive and, ultimately, not responsive to our wishes or longings’. It notes that this is ‘a basic premise of the human condition’ and we should not ‘be continually shocked and dismayed when life does not answer to our demands. We should learn to accept all we cannot change and face it with a degree of heroism and Stoic strength, as a sailor battling the waves might.’ The ‘Memento Mori’ paperweights are designed to be ‘vivid reminders of mortality and the transient nature of life’ and to ‘put our prosaic obsessions into question’ by measuring them ‘against the finality of death.’[10]Practices of memento mori– reflecting on the condition of mortality – were developed in Stoic philosophy, and were taken up in Christian Europe, circulating throughout the visual arts, for example, as symbols of death in still life paintings. Acknowledgement of mortality is likewise inextricably interwoven throughout contemporary Christian practices, such as in the Ash Wednesday liturgy, when priests sign a cross with ashes on the foreheads of those attending Mass or Eucharist with the words ‘from dust you came, to dust you will return,’ or in the celebrations of the Mexican Day of the Dead festival, which draws on pre-Columbian as well as Catholic rituals of remembrance.
            This idea of consciously reflecting on death is also found beyond the School of Life in other non-religious cultures, such as the Death Cafés movement, which was started in 2011 by Hackney-based former council worker Jon Underwood, inspired by the Café Mortelpioneered by Swiss sociologist Bernard Crettaz.[11]Death cafés are largely pop-up meetings, run as a social franchise rather than for profit, and have spread across Europe, North America, and Australasia, with meetings having been held in 29 countries. ‘At a Death Café people, often strangers, gather to eat cake, drink tea and discuss death’, the Death Café website states.[12]When I interviewed Jon Underwood, he described their shared objective as ‘to increase awareness of death with a view to helping people make the most of their finite lives’. He said that some of the people who attend the cafés do have a belief in life after death, but that the groups didn’t tend to focus on discussing those, as ‘generally, it’s fairly unproductive territory, because people have their view, it’s quite strongly held, and that’s that’. Resonating with the avoidance of ‘dogma’ in the approaches taken to life at Riverside, the Sunday Assembly and the School of Life, Underwood said that they don’t seek to offer one way of dealing with death: ‘We don’t have any answers… We might suggest some things, and we might know of resources, but the only answers are people’s own.’
            The popularity of death cafés might be seen as in one sense a response to a widespread cultural denial or avoidance of death in contemporary secular societies. Ernest Becker argued in The Denial of Deaththat death is so terrifying that we don’t want to think about it: ‘the idea of death, the fear of it, haunts the human animal like nothing else; it is a mainspring of human activity – activity designed largely to avoid the fatality of death, to overcome it by denying in some way that it is the final destiny for man’ (1973: xvii). Simmel likewise suggests that much of life might be defined as Todesflucht, a ‘fleeing from death’ (cited in Pyyhtinen 2012: 94).While religions have often been seen as denials of death, the acknowledgement of death – and of the fear of death – that animates many religious practices and the death cafés might perhaps also be seen as often bound up with the desire to become oriented towards the fullness of life, an inhabiting of and affirming of life in the present. Indeed, awareness of life perhaps requires, as Simmel argues, ‘death as its opposite, its “other”’ (cited in Pyyhtinen 2012: 87). While conflicting beliefs about death and teachings on the potential horrors or blessings of an afterlife tend to figure prominently in oppositional relations between the religious and the non-religious, practices of attending to the fact of mortality across religious and non-religious cultures provide an alternative mode of connection and a means of acknowledging shared existential grounds of what it is to be human. 

In this brief sketch of modes of engaging with ideas of life and death, we can see that although the terms may carry different resonances in particular contexts, attending closely to concepts such as these that are prominent across religious and non-religious cultures may help deepen understanding of affinities between groups that we are often tempted to treat as separate. Although the discursive strategies of particular religious and non-religious groups are often acts of distancing from another culture, in each act of ‘othering’ there is also, as Simmel highlights, a haunting by the possibility of connection, and these modalities of otherness, separation, and desire raise important questions about the kinds of subjectivity and experience these relations enable and foreclose. Studying these modes of interrelationality can help us draw more precisely into focus the question of what is delimited as ‘the religious’ in everyday social life, in which engagement with ideas of life and death figure prominently, for example, and thus often continue to permeate non-religious cultures. 
            Theologian Philip Goodchild argues that the ‘death of God’ in contemporary society and culture affects the believer and unbeliever alike, and that the philosopher of religion therefore has to be concerned with the conditions under which the mind is set in motion. He questions whether the concept of life might set the mind in motion, and suggests that this would require ‘an attention to life… and the thinking of life would also be the life that thinks, the awakening thought that arises from the swirling depths of consciousness and expresses its vital power in thought itself’ (Goodchild 2012: 174). He goes on to question whether the concept of life might perhaps today fulfil functions formerly attributed to God:

it replaces God, or rather, as a biblical and philosophical name for God, the concept is one of the few acceptable names under which God can be thought outside of the confines of institutional religion, in all God’s transcendence, immanence and inspiration. If life does play such a role, then perhaps our sharpest divisions are not between theists or atheists, nor between participants and non-participants in religious practice, but would arise from the thinking that undergirds our ways of life. For the substitution of concepts such as ‘God’ and ‘life’ are less significant than our frameworks of thinking insofar as these constrain or enable us to perceive reality, to touch it, participate in it and live it. (Goodchild 2012: 174)

Following Goodchild, attending to different ways of engaging with life and death, and the existential and ethical effects of these, cuts across the religious/nonreligious and theistic/nontheistic/atheistic divides that have so often focused on the propositional contents of beliefs about life, death, and im/mortality. 
Attending to practical, lived engagements with concepts of life and death might open up not only modes of connection between the religious and the non-religious, but also more nuanced understanding of common human concerns with what it means to live a good life within the limits of human finitude, and of what it means to be human. The concept of ‘natality’ might here also provide a useful further point of connection. Hannah Arendt argues that it is natality, rather than mortality, which reorients our social imaginaries to fully perceive our human interconnectedness, as our being born means being welcomed into a whole ‘web of human relationships which is, as it were, woven by the deeds and words of innumerable persons, by the living as well as the dead’ (Arendt, cited in Jantzen 1998:  149).
 Exploring engagements with life and death might also entail, following Foucault and Agamben, examining the ways in which some lives come to count for more or less in specific contexts. As the anthropologist Veena Das describes, we can see the dangers of modes of dehumanization ‘as if stitched into everyday life when one withholds recognition from the other, not simply on the grounds that she is not part of one’s community but that she is not part of life itself.’ (2007: 16). In Europe, this is a question of particular contemporary relevance as we witness a proliferation of dehumanizing framings of migrant lives associated with the swelling of far-right political movements in Europe and elsewhere. And we can also see how the concept of ‘life’ can provide a means of resistance to such discourses, for example, in the Migrant Lives Matter movement. Further reflection on the varieties of ways in which people reflect on and engage with ‘life’ and its interrelations with mortality thus has the potential to help us understand better the kinds of practices and orientations that unite (as well as divide) us from each other across religious and non-religious cultures, and might encourage a deeper affirmation of, appreciation of and attentiveness to life and its wonders, as well as acknowledgement of its struggles and tragedies. As Mary Oliver expresses this in Red Bird:

Instructions for living a life:
Pay attention.
Be astonished.
Tell about it. (cited in Moody and Shakespeare 2012: 176).

This research was supported by the Leverhulme Trust, under the Early Career Fellowship Award Scheme [ECF-2012-605].

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[1]This chapter expands on themes which formed the basis of a post at the NSRN blog, available at 22 December 2015)
[2]Examples of work in this turn include: Deleuze and Guattari 1987, Deleuze 2001, Bennett 2010, Connolly 2011, 2013, Lash 2006.
[3]I use the term ‘evangelical’ here, following David Bebbington, to refer to the tradition existing in Britain since the 1730s, marked by the characteristics ofconversionismactivism, biblicism, and crucicentrism(1989: 3).
[4]I use the term ‘open evangelical’ to characterize a movement dissatisfied with dominant evangelical understandings of faith, in whose view ‘evangelicalism has suffocated itself through a tight hold on propositional belief, personal salvation, and overheated conviction’ (Engelke 2013: 20).
[5]This language pervades contemporary evangelical cultures, with US pastor Joel Osteen’s book Your Best Life Now: Seven Steps to Living at Your Full Potential (2004) having sold over 4 million copies. It should be noted, however, that not all evangelicals agree with Osteen’s theology (see, e.g. Strhan 2015: 127). 
[6]From 22 December 2015).
[8]From 23 December 2015).
[12]From 23 December 2015).