I met with the hospital chaplain today to get my end of life directive in shape. She told me that the hospital is under new management and there is an increased emphasis on having such documents on hand and in good shape.
Among many people I know, religion has dropped in importance and emphasis in life. But many of the questions that prompt religious thought and practice still loom large in life: Am I a bad person? Will I be punished or pleased in an afterlife? What is life about? Do I deserve the life I have? Have I lived as well as I could have?
Philosophy, modern and older, has wrestled with these questions for millennia and no doubt will continue to do so. But modern communication and knowledge storage and science alters the situation quite deeply. We can find answers to questions in more places and in more forms and from more sources and thinkers and traditions than our grandparents or their grandparents ever could.
Whether it is legal prompting, or medical discoveries or scientific theories or advances, the natural questions that an inquiring mind comes up with about our lives, our purposes, our pasts and our futures still get raised. Rising levels of education, better methods of inquiry, competition among scientists and between commercial organizations and between nations all push for new answers and re-examination of old answers.
No matter how comfortable a person is with their thought and religious position, it is possible that when disease or accidents or warfare or crime happen, we can suddenly be gripped by big terrors or little niggling fears. We may find comfort in some of the same rituals and practices and words that previously comforted people. We may find comfort in modifications of what was done before and we may well find new ideas, new words and new methods to face doubts and confusion, loss and pain.