Archive for the ‘Death and Nothingness’ Category

Life eternal

January 17, 2009

To live eternally we must fundamentally alter the self-concept to one which can live eternally. We must undergo transfiguration.

There are people today who are seriously committed to believing that Jesus (Christ) is alive today. They believe he is speaking and listening to them. It is a conversation to be understood through mysticism and its content is shaped by myth, but Jesus lives on nonetheless. Jesus really does live eternally, as his self-concept is in the hands of others, for good or ill.

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Jennan Ismael on Death

December 22, 2008

Jennan Ismael on Death (h/t Adrian)

Jenann Ismael gives a crudely reductionistic account. Listening to her I am tempted to see my life as an object and consumer product. Talk of ‘the whole’ does not save her from the ontological fallacy of seeing life as some ‘thing’ to be described as an aggregation of nouns. Her categories describe a ficticious world. Such pretentious analytic rhetoric is nihilistic and moves me to disgust. Shame on her for not engaging the existentialists on their notions of death, nothingness and being. It is irresponsible for a university authority to speak on these topics with such profound ignorance.

But hell, you may like the lecture and get something out of it. I severely doubt it though.

What do you have to lose? Nothing

December 19, 2008

I mean, what do you have to lose?
You come from nothing,
You go back to nothing.
What have you lost? Nothing!
Always look on the bright side of life.

– Monty Python

Never say of anything that I have lost it. Only that I have given it back.

– Epictetus

and the dust returns to the ground it came from,
and the spirit returns to God who gave it.

– Ecclesiastes 12:7

God is nothing, and the source/ground of all being*. We must face God (nothingness), indeed accept and appreciate him (it and non-it), in order to passionately live. Only the wise fool thinks life is meaningless because it is momentary (Ecc 12:8). Rather, life is nothing but moments, and life is meaningful because meaning has full reign, if we so desire, with (only) nothing to stop it. If only nothingness is against you, everything is for you.

God (nothingness), will frustrate the wisdom of the wise (the teacher of Ecclesiastes,  who taught the worship of God through teachings made up by men [Ecc 12:13]) (See also Isaiah 24:14). This frustration will come in the form of despair (with cries such as “Everything is meaningless!”), as the wisdom of the wise (its ‘reason’ and expectations) reflects absurdity whence shone upon the world. (The world does not obey our expectations and demands of it; this is the absurd). To avoid this dispair we must accept, appreciate and live in full view of God (nothingness) as we experience the world and create our narrative of meaning.

*To say that God is anything but nothing is to create an idol.  God is not a being and cannot be objectified with a noun nor described with adjectives, except in a poetic sense which does not purport to pin God down. This God could quite rightly pass Derrida’s criteria for the Logos, but I wouldn’t want to disrupt his Sophist-like games.

Death liberates

October 23, 2008

Richard Dawkins in ‘Unweaving the Rainbow’ writes:

We are going to die, and that makes us the lucky ones. Most people are never going to die because they are never going to be born. The potential people who could have been here in my place but who will in fact never see the light of day outnumber the sand grains of Sahara. Certainly those unborn ghosts include greater poets than Keats, scientists greater than Newton. We know this because the set of possible people allowed by our DNA so massively outnumbers the set of actual people. In the teeth of these stupefying odds it is you and I, in our ordinariness, that are here.

I am not very moved by this, perhaps because I believe my existence was at least partly determined at more than a few stages of life. That I exist was not solely determined by genes in isolation, but environment as well. To claim that my existence is just a matter of gene probabilities is not only blindingly reductionist, but bad science. Indeed, it is just the kind of wacky metaphysical narrative that Dawkins criticises whence coming from religious people.  Dicky’s analogies and figurative language are lacking in originality and imagination. However, I do like “we are going to die, and that makes us the lucky ones”, but from a different perspective to that of Dawkins’.

We are lucky that we are going to die, because death, or rather the realisation that we are going to die, makes us truly free to live. With realisation of my impending death I recognise that the negative judgements I have of myself and the world are not for eternity and are not absolute. I know I won’t lament the loss of positive judgements when I die because I can’t (because I’m dead!). I can choose at any moment how I will see myself and the world knowing that when all these moments are over, it won’t matter a bit. Now that’s freedom!

If I lived forever I would struggle contemplating the weight of my existence. I would be conscious that my moments would always matter for my future existence, absolutely. This would be an intolerable burden to action and a veritable prison, as my freedom would always be constrained by consequence. With the near certainty of death my freedom is constrained by nothing. Death is nothing.

Death liberates us from consequence. The serious, intense realisation that we are going to die gives us the freedom to act without ultimate* consequence. No matter how bad I think something is, I know it won’t last forever. No matter how good I think something is, I know I can embrace it wholeheartedly, knowing that any negative consequences are not for eternity.

I think that those of us who reject religious notions of afterlife know all this intellectually, but I don’t think we fully realise it in our will. Although we say we don’t believe an afterlife, we do not believe in the absolute freedom that comes with the nothing of death, the nothing of ultimate consequence. The belief in an afterlife may be deeply engrained in the human psyche.

*Give attention to the adjective ultimate – I’m not trying to impel you walk in front of a bus thinking it won’t hurt you. There are still consequences for your life, but not ultimate ones. Ethically, I’m obliged not to encourage you to do something stupid.

The will to live forever

September 24, 2008

No doubt many people are tempted into religion due to a promise of an afterlife. We all have an indispensable urge to live forever, but most people do not recognise this in their behaviour.

Rulers the world over have built monuments to themselves because in them they hope part of their existence will be identified and remain forever in this world, through the memory of others. Artists create for the same reason, to have their existence recognised within/as their work. Kings build empires, martyrs die for causes, philosophers produce treatises, poets write and we want to leave a legacy to family and community in order to secure an eternal existence.

In death, we can only exist as a self in the memories of others. We want graven images and/or a place in a movement and history so that the world will not forget us. This is what many of us strive for our entire lives.