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Entries in immortality (1)

Tuesday
Jun052012

Stay Awesome Foeva

The plate number on my old Ford pick-up is BB7666 which is another way of saying Lucky Devil.

We feel our devilish luck most intensely when savouring a glorious sunset, when our chalice is full to the brim, or when life brings a feeling of plain happiness for no good reason. We want such moments to roll on and on like an extended trip to Coney Island. Other times, like the sniff of fart in a perfume factory, niggling ontological problems persist. George Borrow summed it nicely in his novel Lavengro (1851) where a young protagonist sits contemplatively with his Gypsy friend to take in the vista of the sunset:

"Life is sweet, brother."

"Do you think so?"

"Think so! - There's night and day, brother, both sweet things; sun, moon, and stars, brother, all sweet things; there's likewise a wind on the heath. Life is very sweet, brother; who would wish to die?"

"I would wish to die - "

"You talk like a gorgio - which is the same as talking like a fool - were you a Rommany Chal you would talk wiser. Wish to die, indeed! - A Rommany Chal would wish to live for ever!"

"In sickness, Jasper?"

"There's the sun and stars, brother."

"In blindness, Jasper?"

"There's the wind on the heath, brother; if I could only feel that, I would gladly live for ever.”

For ever

Let's scrutinize for ever. The notion of immortality has been treated in Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse Five, Stoker's Dracula, and Tolkien's Lord of the Rings, etc. And there's been a spate of recent non-fiction on the topic: The Immortalization Commission: Science and the Strange Quest to Cheat Death, by John Gray, Jonathan Weiner’s Long for This World: The Strange Science of Immortality and, lately, Immortality: The Quest to Live Forever and How It Drives Civilization, by Stephen Cave.

Gray and Weiner deal mostly with scientific preoccupation and promise, the cryogenicists and such who would preserve or resurrect our bodies, minds and souls, post mortem. Cave, reviewers say, is more sweeping, suggesting that civilizations have been under the sway of various "immortality narratives" and that these stories have driven cultures forward.

Party-pooper

But the idea of an immortal soul, imprisoned in the body, where incarnation is but a speedbump enroute to our ultimate destiny, isn't Platonism's finest moment. This is the party-pooper Plato, the life-hating and life-fearing Plato, the Plato who thinks in terms of postmortem rewards or punishments.

What if we, Lucky Devils, had no need for such post-terrestrial nonsense? What if the wind on the heath is enough? Of course we might then, like gypsy Jasper, wish to live for ever. But seriously, what if we removed the forever myth? What if we need nothing beyond the satisfaction, to be had right now, of feeling one’s earthly actuality indestructibly, definitively, appropriated in the Great Participation?

Vortex 12 x 9 w/c

The late Christopher Hitchens, declared atheist, devastating rebuttalist, would have dismissed such an invitation as delusion. He would say you must discard forever and dismantle the Great Participation, because you don't need a cruel, vengeful and unproven God to validate a non-existent afterlife. Examining his arguments though, we see that Hitchens' beef is mostly with organized religion. And his problem with God is little more than a complaint about entropy and the Second Law of Thermodynamics. Hitchens thought it absurd that anyone could be servile to a God who would design a universe only to watch it wind down. No one seemed to argue Hitchens on this point, unfortunately.

He's not here to defend himself but the counter to Hitchens would be: why delude yourself into believing that your understanding of entropy cannot be surpassed by a greater understanding of entropy? And that such an understanding can only be surpassed by an understanding capable of surpassing itself?

Personally, I've always felt the God idea was more interesting than the no-God idea. As others have said though, there are possibilities beyond 1) God exists or 2) God doesn't exist. There is also 3) God used to exist but doesn't any more or 4) God used to exist but has abandoned us; 8) God did exist and will again but doesn't at the moment (taking a divine sabbatical).

We see how inevitable it is that a chat which begins with forever, ends up elsewhere. We can't contemplate immortality without bringing in all the other accoutrements, including the deus ex machina.

If God is, and remains on duty, then I agree with Charles Hartshorne that God would likely take an interest in us as we are, in this business between birth and death, and probably not as some magically rendered heavenly thingy hanging around interminably post facto. I can feel the wind on the heath as he puts it this way: "Only in one sense do we serve God forever. Since He, having unsurpassable memory, cannot lose what he has once acquired, in acquiring us as we are on earth he acquires us forevermore. But we do not in the same sense acquire him forevermore."

And if God is not on sabbatical then surely that fact should be garnering our attention. So the pidgin prayer that offers praise - as if God can hear you, Lucky Devil - would seem to be worth mumbling whether we mean it nor not:

God, you our Fadda.
You stay inside da sky.
We like all da peopo know fo shua how you stay,
An dat you stay good an spesho,
An we like dem give you plenny respeck.
We like you come King fo everybody now.
We like everybody make jalike you like,
Ova hea inside da world,
Jalike da angel guys up inside da sky make jalike you like.
Give us da food we need fo today an everyday.
Hemo our shame, an let us go
Fo all da kine bad stuff we do to you,
Jalike us guys let da odda guys go awready,
An we no stay huhu wit dem
Fo all da kine bad stuff dey do to us.
No let us get chance fo do bad kine stuff,
But take us outa dea, so da Bad Guy no can hurt us.
Cuz you our King,

You get da real power,

An you stay awesome foeva.

Dass it!

 

(Top Image: Riptide 11 x 15 watercolours)