Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Dead Reckoning

There's been a lot death around here, lately. My dad, then my mom. A couple of college classmates. My aunt, last of her generation, has incurable cancer. Kids, young adults, and, always, people in the news. Looking for former patients, I read the obits. Babies and children are there, people who fought "bravely" (it's always bravely), now in the arms of their lord.

Reading such things, I wonder (I mean this seriously, not as my usual religious sarcasm): how do believers see this process playing out on the other side? When people go to their eternal reward, which version of them is it?

In her prime, my mom was a brilliant woman, active and engaged. At the end, there was little left of who she'd been, memories stripped away, cognition below even its very rudiments. It was who she was when she died, but nothing like who she'd been. So. Does life rewind on arrival in heaven? Does she get her memories back? If so, which ones, and to which point? When she was young and beautiful, a skier? But she'd lived only part of her life then, become only a suggestion of who she'd be. Maybe, then, about age forty five? Sixty? How does it work? Is it really her? Who doles out what, and why?

And what of kids? Babies. How can they grow up to be what they would have been, robbed of the experiences coming their way?

I'm serious. Do we all revert to some mean? If so, what was the point of life? If god wanted the two year old up there, will he give her memories, collect on arrival? He'd known them forever, after all. Do they get what was coming to them? Then why not let them have them on planet Earth? Or is it god's pleasure to have forever unformed souls around him? Why would that be? I have a hard time coming upon a religious philosophy that would address this satisfactorily. Maybe reincarnation works as a model; but if, as I infer Christians believe, it's somehow you that lives there, which you would it be, and how is it decided?

Surely it must have something to do with how you lived -- what are heaven and hell for, after all, if not reward for blind faith and punishment for your god-given failings? What is life, if not an incomprehensibly brief yet forever binding audition for eternity? But if the infirmities disappear, then so do the experiences that went with them; and if babies and children are plucked away before having much of a life at all, why bother with life? How does it figure in the equation? If heaven is perfection, surely I wouldn't be "living" with certain memories that I carry around with shame or sadness (Well, we know I won't be there at all, of course; the rules are pretty strict on that.) For old people, some things get erased, maybe; for kids, some are added perhaps? But then, who are these people flitting around up there? And how will you recognize them when you get there? As I'm trying to express, it doesn't make sense that they'd be the people they were when they exited the stage. I can't figure it out.

I'd love to be enlightened.


  1. Enlightenmit, enlighten-shit, YOU, my friend, need to visit a Strip Club.
    Seriously, your gettin a little too Hemingway-ish for comfort...
    ya gotta smell the coffee Sid, just like I did this mornin, beautiful sunrise...
    till I stepped in the Dog S***


  2. When I believed in this sort of thing, here's how I viewed it:

    Mental illness and senility were veils between a person's soul/mind and the world. When you died, the soul was no longer obscured, and one's self was whole and fully functional. I never really thought about how this applied to kids, because I was a kid, and thought I was fully developed (now, even I think this is hilarious).

    I never really believed in hell. I imagined that on death, some god-like creature would allow one to understand what is right and wrong in a perfect way, and that would be the end of it. I still don't believe in punishment for punishment's (or victims') sake. I figured that with a proper understanding of actions and consequences and how morality worked, everyone would just be good.

    I still daydream about this sort of thing sometimes, and when I'm curled up with my fiancée, a part of me wants to believe it. However, I wish this were real the same way I wish someone would hand me a billion dollars, and figure out all the hard adult sorts of decisions.

  3. I don't really know, but if we do continue to exist, I imagine we'll just keep learning and growing (but hopefully with a clearer picture of the whole scheme of things - ugh, could you imagine if we just end up in another existence like this one --sort of like the waiting room after waiting room when you're in a long line for Space Mountain at Disneyland?).

    Thought of your post when I saw this in the paper today: http://www.legacy.com/obituaries/saltlaketribune/obituary.aspx?n=heather-bissegger&pid=149019358&sms_ss=facebook&at_xt=4d6d20c678ebf512%2C0

  4. Thanks, Margy. And that reminds me of a story in the book "A History Of The World In 10 1/2 Chapters," by Julian Barnes.

    It describes being in heaven for eternity, in which a guy talks every day with Einstein until he understands everything about physics, reads all the books and spends time talking with every author, learns golf to the point of hitting perfect shots every time, etc, etc, and finally gets so bored, after a few eons, that he asks his guardian angel if it's possible just to be finally and completely dead...

  5. Mark Twain said the truest thing I've ever heard on this topic: "Faith is believing what you know ain't so." Believers seem to behave pretty much the same as I do, despite the fact that ostensibly we inhabit vastly different worlds.

    Abortion providers should be heroes to Christians. In sending lucky fetuses directly to heaven they abandon their own souls to an infinity of agony.

    The weather in Los Angeles seems heavenly to this resident of gray, drizzly Seattle. Yet, Los Angelinos often complain that their weather is homogeneous. I probably would too.

    Likewise, I wonder if hell is really as bad as all that. Surely you'd adapt somewhat over the eons. Agony isn't agony if that's all you know. And what about all the people in heaven who have loved ones roasting in hell? You'd think that would compromise their joy.

    "But wait, Sam! What about Bach, Raphael, the Founding Fathers, etc? They're much cleverer than you, yet they believed in God!"

    They didn't know about the Origin of Species, Big Guy. I'd probably believe in some sort of deity too otherwise. Also, some of the Founding Fathers were deists, which is nearly as close as you can get to atheism in the 18th century.

  6. I skimmed thru this. Sorry I missed it when first up. Company coming and was intending to shut computer off. Anyway ..will come back. Interesting subject - good questions. :)


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