Quaker Universalist Voice

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Beyond the Edge in Reality

A Book Review of Martin Hagglund, Life: Secular Faith and Spiritual Freedom (2019)

The book, Martin Hagglund, This Life: Secular Faith and Spiritual Freedom (2019) can be read as a meditation on the spiritual tradition of Quakers.  How do we use and misuse languages to understand and communicate about that which is beyond the edge of reality as our senses can identify?  How do we relate the long-term eternal and the now, the former as a comfort or escape and the latter as myopic or fearsome?  To this author, religion favors the eternal time beyond death over the living now in pre-death time, with all the consequences for personal engagement with our finite time and community.

Hagglund focuses on now. Hagglund seeks to embrace death in human lives as a gift.  Life will end in oblivion.  He rejects everlasting life released from pain and suffering.  Hagglund says that humans need death. Religions all focus on eternity. We should focus on now.  The book includes analyses of the writings of Augustine, Kierkegaard, Marx, C.S. Lewis, and King Jr.  The case for focusing on now over eternity has been made over centuries by Pliny the Elder, Montaigne, Chekov, James Baldwin, Primo Levi, and Camus in the Western tradition.   Hagglund has now contributed to that human discussion of eternity after death.  

Hagglund draws a circle around all religions with aspirations toward eternity after death.   Hagglund sees all religions as human structures.  Those religious structures reinforce acceptance of a perpetual personal being and eternity beyond death in the form of timeless rest with a transcendent god or a divinized nature. 

Unlike some current critics of religion, Hagglund does not argue against theism.  He does not deny the existence of eternity time.  He argues that eternity is undesirable and incoherent, destroying meaning and value in the fear of loss and the embrace of eternal restoration. Our existence without a final end is horrifying and meaningless. A prospective post-death human condition is without change, without loss, or without the care made possible by pain. In eternity, there is nothing left to lose.

Hagglund argues that religions are primarily institutions created by humans to gather people to accept and enforce specific, but evolving, norms of behavior and shared understanding of reality as a context for living now.  These religious values are, in fact, substantially secular and universal human values.  These values should be embraced for practice in the pre-death now in themselves, rather than treating them as means to an end in eternity after death.  With our finite time now, we have work to do in itself now and here to make practice fit faith values.

In assessing the challenge of now in time, Hagglund divides now time into the realms of “necessary” activities in time and “free” activities in time. “Necessary” activities include labor and “free” activities include socially available free time.  Our human goal should be to reduce the “necessary” activity time and increase the “free” time for all humans.  But, negotiating that relationship under capitalism is the current problem.  The current effort of Western capitalism is to expand the quantity of “necessary” activity time and to reduce the “free” time of persons.  For the author, time is all we have and it needs protecting and expanding for freedom.

This is an important book for expanding human understanding and refection on the relationship of values and their implementation in this pre-death now.

Quakers: There is no mention of Quakers in the book.  Quakers have never been clear about their views of the understanding of time and conditions beyond death.  Quakers have little to contribute to human understanding of eternity. 

By linking a clear view of post-death, the equation of religious values with secular values, and the focus on the integration of faith and practice for now, the author presents a synthesis that is worth Quaker reflection and discernment using the clearness processes of the Quaker tradition.


  • What is the Quaker view of post-death conditions and time?
  • Is there anything distinct in the Quaker view of time?


  • Martin Hagglund, This Life: Secular Faith and Spiritual Freedom (2019)
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