Tracy's blog

I’m Tracy Au and I have graduated from the Professional Writing program from university. I am an aspiring screenwriter, so this blog is used to promote my writing and attract people who will hire me to write for your TV show or movie. I write a lot about writing, TV, movies, jokes, and my daily life and opinions. I have another blog promoting my TV project at

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

"Life and death in 140 characters?"/ "Belief looks for common ground"

Apr. 5, 2015 "Life and death in 140 characters?": I cut out this article by Douglas Todd in the Edmonton Journal in Apr. 25, 2011.  This is a religious article, about what people believe in what happens after death.  There are lots of stats.  Here's the whole article:

Texting. Tweeting. Exercising. Emailing. Googling. TV watching. Working. Downloading. Driving. Facebooking. Partying. Doing.

Given the myriad things vying for our attention each day, you might wonder if North America’s famously busy inhabitants are finding time to sit back and ponder existence’s deeper themes.

Such as: What is the purpose of life? What may happen after I die?

Indeed, some researchers are concluding that the world’s many multi-taskers are in danger of losing the art of focusing on anything but what is immediately in front of them.

This culture of distraction is the subject of the best-selling book The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains, by Nicholas Barr. It warns that our psyches are being structurally changed by the instantaneous World Wide Web.

The Internet is constructing an artificial existence in which “we are becoming ever more adept at scanning and skimming,” Barr writes, “but what we are losing is our capacity for concentration, contemplation and reflection.”

The Canadian sociologist Reginald Bibby has quantified the downside of our increasingly unreflective lives.

When Bibby’s pollsters asked Canadian teenagers, “Do you ever take time to sit and think?” he has found the proportion who answer “No” has doubled since 1984 — to 26 per cent today.

In addition, Bibby has discovered a growing cohort of adults, 30 per cent, admit they no longer think about “the life after death question.”

These trend lines have to do in part with the weakening in Canada of organized religion, which has long provided a forum for engaging the big questions, including what happens when this brief earthly span is over.

Death, and the possibility of an afterlife, are key, for instance, to Christianity’s Easter, which is marked this year on April 24. And the threat of death is a key aspect of Jewish Passover (April 19), a sacred festival that doesn’t necessarily hold out the promise of heaven.

The different scenarios that religions offer about survival after death are many and vast.

That’s in part because the subject of what happens after death remains highly speculative, despite scientific research into such things as near-death-experiences.

The lack of reliable empirical evidence about what occurs after the human body decays is just one of the things that makes it so frustrating, and fascinating, a subject.

Although some Canadians dismiss out of hand the notion of individual existence after death, 67 per cent of Canadians believe it’s likely.

Even atheists do not walk lockstep on this ultimate question. Bibby found only 57 per cent of Canadian atheists are confident there is no continuity after death.

The rest of those who don’t believe in a God either believe in existence after death, or acknowledge they aren’t sure what to think.

At the other end of the spiritual spectrum, there is anything but consensus among followers of various religions about personal continuity after death. More than one out of 10 people who regularly attend a religious institution, Bibby found, don’t believe in survival after death.

In addition, 37 per cent of Canadians believe they’ll be reincarnated, a concept associated with Eastern spirituality, which is making inroads in the country.

A colourful range of beliefs are on display in the book Life After Death in World Religions, edited by Harold Coward, former head of the University of Victoria’s Centre for the Study of Religion and Society.

Life After Death in World Religions, written mostly by B.C. and Alberta scholars, is especially valuable for multi-faith Canada.

It outlines how death is approached by people who are highly likely to be our neighbours, whether Jews, Christians, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists or followers of popular Chinese religions.

The convictions about life after death put forward by these major religions are all over the celestial map — ranging from beliefs in immortal souls to heaven, reincarnation to ancestor reverence.

Short and readable, Life After Death in World Religions spells out how there is not only disagreement between faiths about life after death, but among followers of the same tradition.

With Easter approaching, for instance, it’s safe to say many Canadians believe Christians all think the same about life after death.

But Bibby’s studies suggest a minority of Christians aren’t convinced there is a heaven, despite accounts of Jesus’s resurrection. Such Christians concentrate on making things as good as possible in this world.

Terence Penelhum, author of the book’s chapter on Christianity, adopts a classical church position on the issue. He won’t accept that people can call themselves Christian if they don’t believe in life after death.

However, Penelhum does readily admit Christians don’t have to agree on their “understanding of what sort of afterlife awaits us,” whether it involves an immaterial soul or some sort of transformed body.

Judaism, meanwhile, is known for not placing a great deal of emphasis on individual survival after death.

As Eliezer Segal writes in a chapter on Judaism, the Torah is full of terrible things that will happen in this world to those who are disobedient to God. “Yet nowhere do we encounter any mention of the fate that awaits the sinners upon the conclusion of their days on earth.”

Despite the contents of the Hebrew Bible, Segal writes, many Orthodox Jews in the 20th century have come to believe in what he calls “physical resurrection.” And contemporary Jewish mystics, followers of the Kabbalah, hold to the “transmigration of souls.”

However, Segal writes that most Reform Jews, like some liberal Protestants, have in recent decades downplayed the afterlife to focus on their obligation to serve humanity in this world.

In the chapter on Islam, Hannah Kassis, a retired UBC professor, describes Muslim convictions about how humans’ behaviour on Earth determines whether they will suffer eternal judgment or enjoy heavenly paradise.

It’s unfortunate, Kassis writes, that many non-Muslims have “distorted” the passage in the Koran that paints a picture of paradise containing virgins, or, as the holy book says, “maidens restraining their glances, untouched before them by any man.”

A more important thing about the Koranic passage, Kassis writes, is that it is similar to the way Christian poets have symbolized heaven: as a lush garden full of earthly delights. Muslims embrace such images of the afterlife, Kassis says, to convey their trust in God’s mercy and compassion.

What happens to beliefs about life after death in religions that are not so monotheistic?

Eastern religions, which are becoming increasingly influential in Canada, especially in high-immigrant cities such as Metro Vancouver, take a contrasting approach to existence after death.

Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism and Sikhism all emphasize various forms of reincarnation, the ongoing cycle of birth-death-rebirth.

In the book’s introduction, Coward explains how the laws of reincarnation and karma are based on a “well-worked-out-theory that follows with clear logic once its basic assumptions are granted.”

In Eastern religions, past lives influence future reincarnations through karma. Good actions and bad actions in this life, Coward says, are believed to leave traces in our unconscious, which are carried over to our next lives.

What of Chinese religions and the afterlife? It’s an important question in Metro Vancouver, which has more than 400,000 people of Chinese origin.

Gary Arbuckle writes of Chinese-run Vancouver shops that sell mock banknotes, “drawn on no ordinary account, but rather on the Bank of Hell, as proclaimed in both English and Chinese across their tops.” The banknotes are often placed on Chinese graves to help the deceased in the next world.

Even though popular Chinese religious views of life after death are “extremely flexible,” Arbuckle emphasizes they are “alive and well” in their diversity in both East Asia and Metro Vancouver.

They often include belief in ghosts, ancestral spirits and an “otherworld” that Arbuckle says is remarkably like imperial Chinese society: orderly and bureaucratic.

The over-riding sense one picks up from reading Life After Death in World Religions is that, no matter what one’s convictions, the nature of the next realm is a multi-various and demanding subject, well worth facing.

The lack of consensus on what occurs after death is part of what makes it endlessly interesting. However, in this harried world, we shouldn’t be in a rush for a simplistic answer.

As with most rich philosophical and spiritual topics, clarity can come only with time and reflection.

Nov. 11, 2015 "Belief looks for common ground": I cut out this article by Alicia Rancilio in the Edmonton Journal on Oct. 16, 2015:  

NEW YORK (AP) — Oprah Winfrey is hoping people will find common ground, no matter what or who they believe in, with her new documentary series "Belief," about how religion is viewed across the globe.

"We live in a world where when your belief isn't the same, you literally can get your head chopped off," she said at the series' premiere Wednesday in New York.

"What I know in my maturity is that the real purpose of being human beings on the planet, we are all different in search of the same thing," Winfrey said. "We're all yearning for the same thing but we have different ways and different approaches to doing that. That's what being a human being is."

"Belief" premieres Sunday at 8 p.m. EDT on Winfrey's network OWN. It took three years to produce as filmmakers trekked to various countries to capture people with varying perspectives and experiences with religion and spirituality.

"It's like a big ole community gathering around the world in a way that people just don't do on television, so I'm pleased that I was able to get it done," Winfrey said.

The event was attended by many of Winfrey's supporters and collaborators such as director Ava DuVernay, actor and recording artist Common and "CBS This Morning" co-host and Winfrey's long-time friend, Gayle King.

"This is a landmark series. It did for me what happened for me the first time I watched 'Roots,'" said DuVernay. "It changed what I thought my position was in the world. ... It really got me thinking about things and trying to understand things that I hadn't really delved into myself."

Mar. 23, 2016: I'm sending this email now because Easter Sunday is coming.


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