I’ve mentioned before I hold death responsible for the birth, and continuation, of most religions.
I may or may not have spoken to the perspective the view of death gives on this life. Of course, I cannot realistically speak to a perspective other than my own . . . but I can give my observational perspective.
At first brush, it seems like a simple thing to define, but it turns out it’s not that simple. The definition, you see, is tied to how we define life. I say that because death is simplistically defined as the absence of life and ‘life’ is difficult to define.
For instance, we are organisms composed of matter arranged in an arguably complex, almost chaotic, system. The problem is we say we are alive, but matter itself is not “alive”. Just because we have some of the same chemicals found in a rock, it does not imply those chemicals, or that rock, are themselves alive.
Somewhere there is a threshold, the transition from inert matter, to parts, to an arrangement of parts that functions as a machine. We are, looking at it very simplistically, the same as an automobile, with nature playing the role of a car manufacturer.
Don’t laugh . . . we have an engine, run on fuel, operate with electrical signals, and fluid is a necessity for us to operate. In addition, we are loud, produce noxious fumes, and tend to need a lot of upkeep.
This idea is not new, going back more than two thousand years . . . and it may be what gave birth to the idea of a ‘soul’ or ‘lifeforce’ or ‘breath of life’, or any concepts of an outside agency being necessary for what are essentially raw materials assembling themselves into living organisms.
This then, I imagine, must have been reinforced when considering the cognitive abilities differences between, say, a politician and a weasel. Surely there must be more to a politician than a weasel!?
Well, no, but taking humans in totality and weasels in totality, one can certainly argue for a difference in favor of humanity (barely).
Where I am going with this? The weasel, you see, does not know it’s a weasel. It just wants to eat, sleep, and occasionally reproduce. Even using “want” may be generous . . . it has drives based on the needs of its form.
It turns out most complex forms we call “alive” have similar drives . . . they have a drive to survive (eat, drink, sleep) and reproduce.
Humans have the same drives (except some, like me, don’t have the drive to reproduce – a result of a higher cognitive ability than, say, politicians . . . or weasels; take your pick).
But, humans have something else, something lacking in most other organisms . . . a measure of self-awareness. As a direct result, they also assign themselves an amazing amount of self-importance.
Because of it, many humans find the need, the drive, to define themselves as more than just inanimate matter functioning in the guise of a sophisticated machine.
Death . . . I took a long detour to get here, and I’m only skimming the surface of very complicated subjects.
Are they really that complicated? Yes, when it comes to biology, medicine, law, and whatever other human consideration comes into play . . . but in some ways, not.
Regardless of the arguments and debates of what is life, and when it ends, we all recognize that at some point our bodies no longer contain the self-aware entity that is us.
In fact, the body may still be alive, and be artificially kept alive for months, even years, without anyone seeing the equivalent of a candle on a windowsill indicating someone is home. But we, as humans, as fellow inhabitants of similar machines, certainly know when someone is no more.
At some point the complex machine interacted, contributed, was compassionate, was happy, was hateful, was emphatic . . . and at some later point, it was a lump of matter, starting to decay.
We know we no longer are in a presence of a working machine once a car’s engine won’t turn, the electrical system won’t work, fluids are no longer circulating; likewise for humans.
Again, a long way here to give the background for the whole death thing . . .
You see, unlike a car, and more than a weasel, we want to keep going. The idea that we, the one and only us in the whole history of the universe, at some point will no longer exist . . . well, that idea scares the bejesus out of most people.
Many thus turn to one of any 2,000 or so religions promising death is not the end.
I won’t go into all the concepts of life after death, for they are not important.
What is important is whether one believes there is life after death, in whatever form it is imagined.
Let me give you my perspective before my impression of the perspective held by other people.
I came into being, I function, and as some point I will cease to be, preferably later rather than sooner.
This is my one and only life, my one and only time in which I will exist. If I’m fortunate, I will exist for 90 years or so. Could be a lot less, could be a bit more.
And then I will be no more.
It does not bother me.
Mind you, if I could live forever, with some caveats, I would. At least, as forever as the word means in terms of this universe. The caveats, of course, relate to the quality of life, the health, if my wife is with me, if salame e formaggio sandwiches survive in that same time span.
But the fact that I will someday no longer be, that does not give me pause. Yes, I care as to the manner of my demise.
For instance, dying in my sleep ranks way up there in preference, and dying by exploding after being force-fed twenty pounds of broccoli ranks somewhat lower.
Even then, whatever suffering I may have to endure, it is finite. At some point I will be no more, and my body will get a busy signal as it tries to convey its pain, hunger, cold, heat, or any discomfort to the me that was. There will not be a candle on the windowsill.
Again, it may not be my preferred path, but it’s not like I have a choice, so that’s that.
So, how do I live my life? How does that knowledge direct my actions?
I could go into all sorts of explanations, but here’s one I’ve come to like . . . I live my life so as to leave this world a little better, or at least no worse, for me having been here.
Not the whole world, of course; people who know and have known me (except them who be rear orifices), places I have lived, lives I have touched. Yes, some will not like me having lived (or living), but on balance, I try to live so that the needle is on the plus side.
That’s it. My purpose, my reason for living, my path in life . . . leave the place better for me having visited.
I will defend that as a worthwhile goal, and can even specify what that entails given a circumstance I might encounter. And I can do all that without resorting to a book.
“How are you doing with that,” you ask?
Fair to middling.
Now let’s look at them people who believe (without any cause to do so) they will go onto another life, another body, an eternal existence, or any of hundreds of ideas all aimed at stilling the fear of death,
How do those people live?
Well, Bob, I gots to tell you. I ain’t much impressed with them.
I can go into specific criticism, but to a belief they all have one thing in common; they care more about sucking on the security blanket of eternal life than to ensuring they do no harm while here.
Harm be done aplenty, even as they claim that is not the case. Sometimes they hypocritically profess piety by ‘helping’ others, whether such help is needed or wanted.
Even when they do good deeds, their motives are suspect . . . are they really doing it out of the kindness of their heart, or is the reward what motivates them?
Worse yet, are they doing it out of fear of eternal damnation?
I don’t know, and I don’t care; I don’t trust them not to do evil in the name of good; I don’t trust them to be true to their humanity; I don’t trust them, period. I don’t trust them because they are making up shit out of fear.
Most of all, I believe, I strongly believe, with evidence solidly behind me, that by en large they are causing immeasurable harm, thereby not only soiling the only life any of them will ever see, but the lives of people around them.
I see parents take their kids to church, and I know those kids will grow up with a fear of eternal damnation. Think about that. They can’t comprehend things like concepts of deities, but they can comprehend burning. They can’t comprehend eternity, but they comprehend that it will hurt.
I see adults do despicable things to other human beings because of their fear of death. They have bought into demented rules that call for the subjugation and mutilation of women, call for the killing of those who don’t agree with them, call for depriving rights of individuals who don’t conform to their imaginary ideals.
Many believers revel in their adopted role, joyously behaving as inhumanely possible.
“I’m not like that! I do good! I live a good life! I don’t harm others!”
So say some believers.
Sorry Bob; you might not see it, but all believers are part of the greater tapestry. They might not be the ones who personally do any of those things, but they are one of many threads indirectly supporting all those acts.
Not for any reason but their own fear of death.
Their fear of death has made them afraid of life. Their fear of death makes them the enemies of humanity.
I can’t think of anything sadder . . . it’s enough to make one look forward to death.
“I can help you with that, even hasten it by many years,” say some believers, “unless it’s to stop your suffering. We might be afraid of death, but we want it to be painful for you.”
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. . . my FP ward . . . chieken shit.