On Death

Ah, Death. The conclusion of life.

If we poorly understand life itself, it’s variety, it’s reasons for being, it shouldn’t be shocking that we know so little about how it comes to an end and what lies beyond.

Yet everything you see around, that will ever exist is decaying somehow. We are constanly reminded by that every time we have a brush with death, how life hangs on that mythical thread that the greeks were all about.

Now, you might fear death at some point. But we are raised (by hollywood culture) to face death with pride and dignity, meaning that would are not supposed to express or be overly concerned with our fear, simply embrace it when it comes. This is actually a good piece of advice, since there is no escaping it.

In reality, it can be somewhat messy at the end, as Game of Thrones reminded us on occasion. You see, we fight for life everyday with everything we got, and suddenly we have to abandon it. It’s a difficult transition to make.

To think of death almost brings a certain relief. That all the struggles, all the horrors in this world cannot find meaning after it. I have to admit that when hopes are low, and I can find no joy in living, I even look forward to it.

Death, or rather the fear of it, produced quite a number of things. From music, to literature, to religion. Much of religion (but not all of it) is about theorizing about what comes after that, and giving a sense of meaning to life.

There are many interesting concepts of Death. From one of the oldest, the Egyptians seem to believe that once a person died his heart would be weighted in a balance against a feather, and if lighter than it, the person would be welcomed to immortal life. Hence the meaning of all those elaborate funeral practices. To Greeks people would be ferried through river Styx, after paying a coin, to Hades Underword; or for the choosed blessed, the Elysium.

Mainstream religion drawn much from that. In tradicional Christianity, there is firm belief in Heaven and hell, after a judgment is in place. Islamism has a similar, but not exactly equal dualistic approach. I wouldn’t presume to talk about Judaism. And there are the eastern philosophies, like Buddism, with breaking the endless cycle of rebirth through enlightenment. Hinduism also embraces the concept of reincarnation.

There is also the idea that what awaits us after that is absolutely nothing, that all these concepts above are simply fantasies we tell ourselves. I could not find a specific name for this, the ‘non-belief in afterlife’, it lies somewhere between Religious Skepticism and Apistevism. I do know that this is somewhat frowned upon in society, just as atheism is.

In spite of near death experiences being an ‘active research field’, there are no undisputed evidence as to what lies ahead. The list of people who claimed to have return from death is also disputed, but you are free to seek them or their books if you believe this will bring you any closer to understanding the mystery of death. I honestly doubt it.

If one were to considere a belief in the afterlife, there is a list of questions we can narrow it down:

  1. Do you believe there is something at all after death?
  2. Do you believe in a soul?
  3. What are your thoughs on reincarnation?
  4. Do you think fate is a real thing?
  5. If there is a divine entity, does he judge the living?
  6. Do you truly believe in Heaven?
  7. Do you truly believe in hell?
  8. Where do the dead go to when they die?

Having your personal answers to this, you can iron out the details (if your hell has 9 circles or is it happening on Earth right now, for example). It’s obvious these are question one struggles the whole life with, it’s only natural that your answers change as your perspective of the world evolves.

One of the most beautiful concepts of death I’ve come across is the one presented in J.K. Rowling ‘Harry Potter’ series. We are confronted with death from the very first book, when we learn about the fate of Harry’s parents. Quite a bold thing to do, discuss a tragic death in a children’s book. But there is wisdom in confronting our children with the reality of the world in a protected environment, not as to shock but to prepare them.

You will probably remember the Three Brothers Story.  The significance of this cautionary tale is to remember that there is in real life there is no defeating death, at best once can elude it with wisdom only to greet it as an equal. The deathly hollows were so powerful indeed because they could master death.

There are these awesome Dumbledore quotes about it:

Voldemort: “There is nothing worse than death, Dumbledore!

Albus Dumbledore: “You are quite wrong. Indeed, your failure to understand there are much worse things than death has always been your weakness.

And

It’s the unknown we fear when we look upon death and darkness, nothing more.

After all, to the well-organised mind, death is but the next great adventure.

What you won’t remember is metaphorical Death Chamber in the Department of Mysteries, with the archway with the tattered black veil, where Sirius Black died. Nowhere the mystery of death was better depicted.

It is my view that the veil of death will never be lifted. This last shroud of mystery nothing can possibly reveal. It’s to teach us humility and to accept that there are larger things than us.


This will be an extra bonus for the artistical fellows out there. I considered a drawing or a painting to reflect on death, but I’m not gifted with the skills to produce it. Heh.

Imagine a green plain field with grass scattered by bashing winds in all directions. A moat in the center. and on top of it an ancient burial site, with stones atop one another. Over the tomb, a white dead tree. Perhaps fog, What man was buried there? How was his life?

Either a painting or one of those fancy carbon drawings would come nicely I think.


[IMAGE: Giza Pyramid Complex, in Egypt. image source]

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On Gods

Talking about God is hard because you are always stepping on eggs, is something too close to personal core beliefs. You could easily offend someone without intent simply by phrasing something in a bad way. With that in mind, let’s make sure to note that these are my thoughs on God. It goes without saying that you need not to agree with me.

By God I mean the entity that created, somehow, this reality that we experience.

The way I see it, there is nothing wrong with believing in one God, or two, or many. Usually what’s wrong, in my opinion, is what comes next. I’ll get back to this later.

New Hubble image of NGC 2174

 

For some, the natural beauty of the cosmos is seen as evidence of God; NGC 2174, ESA/Hubble. image source

There are many ways of believing in a God. It can be supreme (omnipotent and omniscient) or not; It can be benign or evenly capable of kind and cruel acts; It can have a special connection with each living thing or be completely unattached.

It can be a force of nature, an animal, personify a human or be completely alien. It could have only a divine nature or also have a human nature, including having lived among us at some point.

Or, to some people who don’t need that hypothesis, it might even not exist at all. Believing in a God requires a leap of faith that not everyone is wanting or willing to do.

Although each religion ends up enforcing a particular kind of God, it’s important to realize that you are free to choose your own conception of the creator. In my opinion you should go beyond taking for granted a belief set and instead, build your God upon questioning what makes more sense and what your instincs tell.

I understand that God in some religions is tied to eternal salvation, or more accurately to not being damned. But you shoud not let fear of punishment be the only basis for choosing a belief. Personally, I refuse to believe in a God that gives us the reasoning skills but doesn’t allow us to use them.

Logic will only take you so far though. Believe me, I’ve tried. For example, many philosophers have either proven or disproven God using reasoning.

Personal life experience can contribute either way to having a Deity. To some people, the sucession of failures leads to dismissing the idea of a compassionate being. To others, it the overcoming of challenges that leads to a stronger faith. It depends on the individual.

My concept of God is not carved to stone. It could change tomorrow, but for some time I’ve been stuck with a notion.

To me, when God created this universe, he became the universe, with all it’s clockwork precision. So we are stepping on Him right now. He was not omnipotent though, so, for example, in order for life to exist, he would compromise with all the bad things we usually see in this world (that are not caused by us, of course).

In that view, God is only the spark of creation. The details of its evolution followed from the set rules that he laid out in the beginning. Thus, for me, God did not create the world but rather the mechanism of its creation. I’ve found this notion to reasonably end the conflict between science and religion.

My personal experiences led me to believe that he has a keen eye for beauty, but that he doesn’t value life the way we do – which is not as to say he doesn’t care. For me, there is no afterlife tied to this existence (such as you paying for past life transgressions), but there might be another after this one.

On some days, I like to believe in the ‘Game Theory’, that reality is a simulation done to gain something or an experiment. But it’s not every day that I think that.

But what can go wrong with believing in God? As long as you keep it to yourself, nothing, but should you not…

Francisco_rizi-auto_de_fe

A painting portraying an episode of the Spanish Inquisition image source

The problem usually begins when one tries to interpret what are God’s best intentions. Soon after, that person is led to believe that this interpretation is correct while all others are false. Doesn’t take much for persecution to start.

If one doesn’t see God as the spark of creation, but rather as the creator of Genesis, believing in a literal interpretation, one must be ready to admit that he will never be able to put science and faith in peace in his mind. It’s a matter of choice.

[IMAGE: The iconic Pillars of Creation, as seen by the Hubble Telescope. NASA/ESA image source]

*Note: The content of these notes is not endorsed or affiliated with NASA/ESA, and express solely the author’s view.