I am currently working on a writing project with the tentative title "The Great Matter," which is a Zen expression referring to life and death, the ultimate concern of anyone who begins to probe beneath the surface of things in one way or another. I am comparing and commenting on the ways the following writers ask us to probe it: Sin-leqi-unninni, the compiler of the Akkadian Gilgamesh epic; the apostle Paul; the 13th-century Japanese Zen teacher Dogen; and, returning to Christian thought, Anselm (or some other medieval thinker).
Human beings have tried to understand and deal with the inevitable ends of their lives in many ways. My aim in this project (the current one, which will probably change as I go) is to put several of these ways to a kind of scrutiny to find out what they can teach us about our own lives and deaths. My own preference is for the Buddhist orientation, represented here by Dogen, but polytheistic world views (represented by the Gilgamesh epic) and abrahamic religions (represented, of course, by Paul and, probably, Anselm) certainly have their adherents, and I do not want to overlook them.
Along the way, I expect to be trying to clarify some important philosophical issues such as: what is science, and why should we accept what it tells us? What kinds of things are religions, which claim to tell us the truth about life and death, and should we accept what they say when they disagree with science? And what does picking over these sorts of questions have to do with how we should live?
The list of chapters I have in mind at this point is:
2. Starting With Prehistory
3. The Search for Immortality in Ancient Mesopotamia
4. The Beginnings of Scientific Research
5. Life and Death as Paul Saw Them
6. Life or Death? Why Won't Dogen Give a Straight Answer?
7. St. Anselm: Why Did God Become Human?
8. Conclusion (of a Sort)
(Possible Appendix: Why Not Out-of the Body Experiences and "Evidence" for Survival?)
Here is a first draft of the first chapter.