Friday, 21 October 2011
The Worldly Hope men set their Hearts upon
Turns Ashes - or it prospers; and anon,
Like Snow upon the Desert's dusty Face
Lighting a little Hour or two - is gone.
From Edward FitzGerald's translation of The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam (Omar's tomb, in Iran, appears above).
There are many religions and philosophies which seek to persuade us, without any shred of scientifically valuable evidence that, in a sense, we are all destined to live forever. Some of them have many followers and others only a few. Some of us, they say, will go to heaven and others to hell. It normally depends on how well we tow the line and behave on earth.
Heaven can be a place where cherubim and seraphim sit on large, fluffy, cotton-wool clouds, melodiously playing stringed instruments. Those souls allowed in effectively have free tickets to listen to the harmonies for eternity; all beneath the benevolent gaze of a white-bearded Papa Noel figure, who is the Big Boss. In another version, heaven might be a series of graded, tranquil and fertile gardens, for the righteous, allocated according to just how righteous the righteous have been on earth. These are thronged with virgins, allocated at the happy ratio of upwards of seventy to one, in favour of every male soul. The female souls too may have their hearts' desires, which, presumably, need to include being one of around seventy consorts of every good male soul. Everyone,though,may listen to the babbling brooks and drink of the unfermented juice of the vine.
Hell, in many slightly different versions, is generally: too warm for comfort; the company is questionable and the length of stay indefinite.
There are variations on these themes; each more or less the invention of uneducated minds in primitive times but the themes and imagery and the beliefs that they engender have been followed down centuries by virtue of the pressure of compliance, enforced with threats of damnation of unbelievers. These threats are inconsiderately passed down the generations, as though the reason "I had to believe it and, therefore, so will you" were any reason at all, let alone reason enough, to enforce an unreasoned and unreasonable terror upon successive, generations of entire nations. This terror is powerful enough to have retained its grip, among some people, even into our technologically advanced age.
Some, such as the Roman Catholics, even went so far in the middle ages as to improve upon the original scheme for life-everlasting in the scriptures and invented purgatory (a more or less nasty middle-world), as a place for penitence, punishment and redemption postponed for the souls of those christened adults who had failed to purchase (like a financial futures' option), for hard cash, absolution for their sins from the church on earth. Some other churches, such as the happy-clappy 'evangelical' churches , are even now heavily into garnering financial incentive payments from the gullible. Limbo was also invented as a wonderful exception to the summary condemnation of the souls of unbaptized infants.
The evident decline in any religious belief in the western world is a necessary background to what I have to say. People who have lost (or never had) any belief in 'life after death' are almost certainly going to be inclined to cling to the worldly certainties that they do have. And they will cling to them, however uphill the road leads, because, after all, something is better than nothing.
"But is it?"
I should add, as a footnote, which might be of interest, even though it is not strictly relevant to what I have to say, that I do entertain a simple belief that all that we are, body and soul, is absorbed back into the generality of the physical and the spiritual in the universe, after we die. By 'the spiritual' in us, I mean our feelings and emotions; our hearts. Whether, after we die, we continue, in any sense, to exist as individual entities, I have no more real idea than anyone else who has not yet died - but I am quite sure that I am against the idea.
Posted by NJS at 10:03