Life After Death in the West / Exclusive interview with FATHER FRANK GELLI

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SHAFAQNA-

Father Frank Gelli is an Anglican priest and cultural critic and commentator. He has a BA in Philosophy, MA in Christian Ethics, MA in Islamic Studies, PGCE in Religious Education and Oxford Certificate in Theology. He has been a journalist & drama critic in Italy and England.

Life After Death in the West
For a Muslim the belief in resurrection and the day of judgement are fundamental principles of their religion. ‘Every soul shall have a taste of death: and We test you by evil and by good by way of trial. To Us must ye return.’ (Surah Al-Anbiya, 35). For the People of the Book, too, it is a core belief and in particular for Christians Easter is a time of the year where the issue of life and death becomes most poignant. But while Islam, of course, refutes the idea of Jesus or Hazrat Isa (as) and the Christian belief that he was resurrected there is little or no interfaith conflict or tension between Muslims and Christians over the issue in Britain.
Rollo Romig sums the Islamic take on Jesus (as): ” Jesus didn’t die on the cross. He was born of a virgin, but he isn’t the son of God. He did not redeem the sins of humankind. He healed the sick, gave sight to the blind, and raised the dead. He spoke complete sentences even as an infant in the cradle, announcing to his mother, Mary, that God had granted him the scripture and made him a prophet. Jesus is neither almighty nor eternal. Jesus is the Messiah. Jesus is a Muslim. This is the Jesus of the Koran. Ninety-three of its verses refer to him—more than any other prophet save Muhammad—and the Koranic account of Jesus’ life harmonizes with the Gospels in more particulars than even many Muslims realize.”
In 21st Century Britain today whilst the issue of afterlife, resurrection and judgement day is less about Muslim-Christian polemics but instead majes way for a more subtle phenomena – the cold war, and chasm that exists between monotheism and atheism with the rise of both passive-aggressive and outright militant versions, both of which argue aggressively that children in British State institutions should not be influenced by the religious community to believe in God, the Day of Judgement or Life after Death.
In a discourse with Church of England Minister, Father Frank Gelli, some of the fault-lines between believers and non believers were explored and he began with a hard hitting real life question : ” ‘What shall I be when I am no more?’ The heart-rending question a child dying of terminal cancer put to a carer at Helen House, Oxford. How to answer it? Children are very perceptive, not easily fooled, the carer knew. ‘Dealing with death is part of my job. I am used to it but that little girl’s direct question floored me’, she confessed.”
Father Frank Gelli adds philosophically ” ‘What will you be when you are no more?’ A question not just for dying kids but for all human beings. Because, as Seneca said, ‘Cotidie morimur’ – we die a little bit every day. Every day after you are born, death gets a day nearer. Life is a race towards a finish line, an end whose name is death. A statement whose certitude cannot be gainsaid. But, unlike the little girl who knew her days were numbered, most people do not think about death. Or they think about it in abstract, non-personal ways. Like the example of impeccable reasoning in the old logic books: ‘All men are mortal, Socrates is a man, therefore Socrates is mortal’. A cold, universal truth. But people refuse to draw its concrete implications. Like dying Ivan, the sad hero of Tolstoy’s haunting story, ‘The Death of Ivan Ilych’, they find the truth of their own finitude unbearable. They fool themselves and behave as if they were immortal. The old syllogism is there to remind each person of their mortality. Death is the destiny of every mortal, i.e. you and I.
‘What will you be after your death?’ Atheists of all ilk, from atomist materialists like Roman Lucretius to Scotch sceptic David Hume to contemporary Richard ‘Deluded’ Dawkins, scoff at the question. Death is an absolute end. There is no soul, no self. With the dissolution of the body you cease to exist, period. And they claim that non-existence is no problem. Do you worry about not having existed after you were born? Hardly. Why then fear your post-mortem non-existence? Irrational, eh? Unbelieving philosopher Thomas Nagel exposes the fallacy in Lucretius’ claim. His asymmetrical argument doesn’t work. Not being born is not a misfortune – the time before your birth is not something your non-existent self is deprived of – but your death robs you of a time in which you could have been alive.”
Reverend Frank Gelli adds though that “philosophical arguments only exercise a few oddballs… . The majority of mankind hide from the little girl’s pressing question through multifarious stratagems, the most common quoted by St Paul: ‘Eat, drink and be merry, because tomorrow we die’. (I Corinthians, 15:32) Hedonism, in fact. The pleasure pursuit, to forget death’s impending maws. Hypocritical to pretend that earthly pleasures do not matter. They do. Every time you eat your dinner, you instantiate the relevance of pleasures. Yet, they still do not suffice answer that gnawing existential question: ‘What will I be after I am no more?’ …The Qur’an, though opposing Christian asceticism, attacks hedonism as a distraction from the real issue: ‘And the life of this world is nothing but play and amusement.’ (Sura 6:32)”
The Anglican Priest argues “that the whole of Western culture is predicated upon ignoring the child’s demand for an answer. Call me a conspiracy theorist, this IS a huge, monstrous conspiracy, if there was ever one. Governments, legislators, economists, and the filthy media – they all conspire to make you forget the most urgent, decisive matter pertaining to your future. Immortality. Churchmen too shy away from it. Eternal life embarrasses them. It’s too countercultural, isn’t it? Safer to drone on about racism, anti-Semitism, migrants, Putin, Harry & Meghan, football, the Royals and similar edifying hobbyhorses. Anything but life after death. They occasionally mouth Bible passages but never dwell on them or affirm their importance. From Canterbury’s Welby to the ineffable Pope Francis, they keep irreligiously mum. Evangelical Christians and Muslims seem to be the only people who dare break this shameful conspiracy of silence.”
Father Gelli says “Easter (for Christians) is the right time to break the conspiracy. To show up its wicked, anti-human nature.” Many Muslims in Britain are, like their neoliberal atheist counterparts, ambivalent to connecting their own traditional commemorative, celebratory religious occasions to challenging contemporary social injustices or materialistic movements so it is unlikely they will utilize Easter as point of interfaith social justice unitarianism. They do however need to consider what  aspect of Islam can provide the increasingly non religious British society, as Father Gelli puts it, ” a  supernatural rebuff to atheists, secularists, doubters, the pseudo-Christians, the squalid enemies of humanity.”
To Christians their belief in the resurrection of Christ was a divinely decreed event, testifying to the reality of immortality: ‘If the dead are not raised, then… O death where is thy victory? O death, where is thy sting?’ the Apostle exults. According to some hadith, sayings of the Prophet Mohammad  (peace be upon him), Jesus (pbuh) was assumed into heaven, and will return at the end of time in the east of Damascus, his hands resting on the shoulders of two angels. When it sees him, the Antichrist will dissolve like salt in water, and Jesus will rule the earth for forty years. What Muslims don’t believe, though, is that Jesus died on the cross. It’s spelled out quite clearly in the Koran’s fourth Sura, verse 157: “They did not kill him, nor did they crucify him.” The Bible is considered a holy book in Islam. How then can this verse in the Qur’an be reconciled with the accounts of Jesus’ death in the Gospels? Aside from the argument that the modern Bible is not the Injil of Isa (as)  Muslim scholars say the key is in the phrase that follows “nor did they crucify him”: “though it was made to look like that to them.” Muslim scholars, he explained, interpret this passage in a range of ways. Some believe that someone was, in fact, crucified, but it was not Jesus; maybe it was Judas. Whoever it was, they say, God changed his face to resemble Jesus, and Jesus himself was spared. A slight variation posits that God changed the vision of all those who witnessed the crucifixion to make them think they were seeing Jesus. Others argue that it was Jesus who was nailed to the cross, but that he survived it; what happened on Easter Sunday was not a resurrection but a resuscitation. Some say that no one was crucified at all.
For Muslims, the specifics of the crucifixion are largely academic. The disagreement between Christians and Muslims on the nature of Jesus, though, is fundamental, no matter how many ways their understanding of him may correspond. To Muslims, Jesus is not, and could not possibly be, divine. He is a prophet but he’s still a mortal, and God is not his father.
What Father Frank Gelli astutely recognizes is that whilst the differences between Muslims and Christians on the nature of Jesus Christ (as) cannot be reconciled the monotheistic believers do have a more pressing and urgent common purpose in addressing a now majority atheist establishment and populace in the West – one which thinks all religions are myths and fairy tales, with no real place in a Western Europe that now follows a new religion – Secular Neoliberalism.
Father Gelli concludes his discourse  “And the little girl’s question? A passage in Dostoevsky’s Brothers Karamazov tackles that. After a youth I cared for died in a car accident years ago I conveyed the story to his family. A schoolboy, Ilusha, has tragically died. His friends, their eager, shining faces demand answers. So they gather around teacher Alyosha Karamazov. Little Kolya asks: ‘Can it be true what they teach us in church, that we shall all rise again from the dead and shall live and see each other again, all of us, Ilusha, too?’ Alyosha does not hesitate: ‘Certainly we shall all rise again, certainly we shall see each other and shall tell each other with joy and gladness all that has happened!’ “
As for Muslims in the West they must beware that they like the Christians before them do not lose their faith in the pillars of Islam in the face of a narcisstic and seductive new age materialism that promises heavan on earth with hedonism, gadgets, entertainment, and physical illusions.
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