It's been an interesting thought experiment.
One of the first things that happened was that I realized that old habits die hard. A friend of our family lost her elderly mother to age and sickness. In the wake of her death, while we were talking about how sick her mother had been before her death, I instinctively said,"Well, at least she's in a better place now. She's not struggling with sickness anymore." Immediately, I realized that I was saying something that I wasn't sure of any longer. Without a doubt I believed she was no longer suffering, but I wasn't so sure that she was conscious somewhere enjoying restored health and the perfection of life.
It gave me pause.
I continued to feel the impact of my new theology while at church. I share responsibility for teaching Sunday School at our church, and it soon became obvious that all of the children, between 2nd and 5th grade, had already formed strong ideas about hell and who was going there. During one of our lessons, which didn't mention hell at all, while we were talking about good and bad choices, the kids started discussing how they didn't want to go "down there". They animatedly began describing the people who were going "down there" and what it was going to be like....with sound effects and silly voices and pantomime. I reminded them that Jesus promises us eternal life and forgiveness for our bad choices and sins, and slowly pulled them back in the direction of the lesson, but my heart sank as I realized what we as parents, myself included, had already put in the minds of our children.
Because I am part of a community which doesn't necessarily believe what I currently do, I won't teach the children what my specific beliefs are out of respect for that community. However, I have changed the language I use, never referring to salvation as "going to Heaven", or "living in Heaven forever with God". I simply use the term Jesus used--eternal life. I talk about resurrection, having new bodies, and a new heaven and a new earth.....all completely Scriptural descriptions of salvation.
I wonder if that's enough, or if there will come a time when I need to speak openly about what I'm thinking. I don't think that I am quite there yet.
I got involved in the blog comments at dangerous idea, on a post about whether Catholics worship Mary and the saints, a subject which is probably the single biggest stumbling block I would have to converting to Catholicism, and halfway through the conversation I realized that I was arguing about whether Mary and saints could see, hear and respond to people's requests for help on earth.....and it was completely moot to me. Because I was pretty sure that humans weren't residing in a conscious spiritual state in between death and resurrection, arguing about what powers they did or didn't have was quite silly for me. I should have excused myself from commenting at that point.
Another consequence of this theological stance is that death has taken on a completely new meaning for me. It has paradoxically become both more tragic and less tragic in my mind. More tragic, because life seems so much more transitory and valuable. Without the comfort of thinking that those who have passed on are somehow "up there" looking out for us, or having a good time waiting for us to join them, life and death somehow suddenly seem more lonely, and more real, than before.
Death becomes less tragic once the traditional picture of hell is gone. While people may disappear into nothingness, never to exist again, at least the torturous image of eons of punishment dissipates. There is mercy to even the wicked in true death.
I'm not sure where this will continue to take me. Every now and then the implications of this view will pop up in unexpected, unpredictable ways, catching me off guard.
I'm not done figuring this all out, yet.