I have a couple of anecdotes for your perusal, which may or may not appear related, but first, a correction from my last column. I misattributed the quote, “When I am, death is not. When I am not, death is.” While I like and admire Erasmus, let’s instead credit Epicurus, even more a kindred spirit of mine.
Now, having introduced two key words – death and spirit – here are my two little stories. Someone asked me a couple of days ago (I’m writing this on April 19) what I had planned for Easter. I said, “Nothing much, maybe go out for brunch or a movie, and I always consider it a good excuse for an extra nice dinner.” She seemed somewhat shocked at my lack of reverence, I suppose, for the holiday. Oh well. I said that I didn’t follow any particular religion and let it go at that.
On to the second story, about a friend of mine who appears, at least to my eye, to be absolutely obsessed with the afterlife, i.e., scared to death of death. (Why isn’t it called the afterdeath? I don’t get it.) Anyway, he has this habit of addressing himself – his current earthbound, fleeting, mortal self – from above. You know, as his afterdeath self, the one free from time and space and therefore able to look down at his former self at any time, telling him it’s OK, not to sweat what’s going on down there, i.e., here, because it’s all tea and crumpets afterwards. In the celestial firmament, I guess.
Which brings us back to that good old dualistic split between body and mind, mind and spirit, heaven ’n’ hell and whatever other polarities you like. Like Good and Evil (capital letters, please), the latter being necessary, according to my friend, because we can’t experience good and joy and all without having the other.
My unspoken response is that his God is awfully small-minded and unimaginative, not to mention just plain cruel, and not too bright. Just one, among Lord knows how many alternatives: How about a world where you start out happy, and just get happier each and every moment on, until you die? Then, by way of comparison – if you feel the need for having to do so – you can just look at your ever-so-slightly less happy selves, as you move through life. No pain, no suffering need apply, thank you very much.
But speaking of the world we actually have, I like author Jim Holt’s answer, which I’ll paraphrase as: I think the universe was created by a being who is/was 100 percent malevolent but only 80 percent effective. Which is why some good makes it in, natch. The Big Guy was aiming for all pain and suffering but couldn’t quite pull it off. Lucky us.
And so, the less cynical of you might be asking, “And what triggered this latest diatribe against God and Christianity, Don? Hmmm?” Well, you nailed it, the reason being my distaste for pablum like “Heaven is for Real,” because, like, a 4-year-old (or a neurosurgeon, for that matter), like, has Been There and Says So.
Without getting into the whole NDE – near death experiences – deal, no doubt good grist for a future column, I’d like to reiterate my contention that there will never be anything like a heaven on Earth until most of us human beings reconcile ourselves with the fact that we live and then die. No matter what we believe about God. And that killing others and condemning them to hell doesn’t get any of us to heaven.
Both are already right here.