2009-09-27

Immortality

Throughout history, human beings have aspired to immortality.

In prehistoric times, humans buried the dead, showing respect for the body and for the soul of the person whom they loved.

In ancient Egypt, the body was carefully preserved so the soul could be preserved and live forever.

In ancient China, it was believed that some human beings, called the xian, were able to achieve immortality, and exhibited many other superhuman traits.

In ancient India, it was believed that those who attained enlightenment were liberated from death.

The ancient Israelites wrote of their rejection of death and hope of life after death. In the book Job, the main character says,

"If the only home I hope for is the grave,
       if I spread out my bed in darkness,
if I say to corruption, 'You are my father,'
       and to the worm, 'My mother' or 'My sister,'
where then is my hope?
       Who can see any hope for me?
Will it go down to the gates of death?
       Will we descend together into the dust? . . .

 (NIV Job 17:13-16)

And a later Israelite said,

"When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: 'Death has been swallowed up in victory'. Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?" (1 Corinthians 15:54-55)

What all these testimonies of all the old religions tell us is, not how to live forever, since all people continue to die, but rather, these testimonies tell us that human beings have always wanted to live forever, and that death has not been considered a normal or good thing.

There is wisdom in this love of life. We must not try to talk ourselves into believing that death is a good thing, or that it is a 'part of life' or a 'part of nature' that we should accept. Instead, we should continue to aspire to eternal life.

 


2009-09-20

The Better World to Come

Human beings have always been inspired by hope for the future. Each generation has given rise to a new generation, hoping, at least, that they would survive and also experience some joy, and at best, that they would flourish and do better than the previous generation.
 
The ancient Hindus and Buddhists talked of a coming Golden Age, when people would be wiser and kinder, life would be easier, and lifespans would be longer.
 
An ancient Roman poet looked forward to a new ordo saeclorum, or new order of the ages, when justice and the Golden Age would come.
 
The ancient Israelites looked forward to the resurrection of the dead and a time of consolation for all past suffering. Later, Jews built upon this notion, and talked of Tikkun Olam, or repairing the world. They believed that actions they could do in the present could lead to a better world to come.
 
The Christians also spoke of the coming of a new, better world, in which there would be no more suffering or death. "Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth . . . There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things will have passed away." (Revelation 21:4)
 
A philosopher of the early modern era, Francis Bacon, developed the foundations of science with the goal of improving human life by "effecting all things possible." Later, during the Enlightenment, the philosopher Nicolas de Condorcet foresaw the amazing possibilities for future humanity. He wrote, "Nature has set no limit to the realization of our hopes."
 
When the scientist Charles Darwin developed the theory of evolution, his theory implied that just as human beings did not always exist in their current form, they would someday exist in a different form than they do now. The philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche wrote, "Man is something that shall be overcome. What have you done to overcome him?"
 
Closer to our own time, the great visionary, FM-2030, wrote to try to encourage humanity, reminding us how much we have already accomplished and giving us an idea of what we could yet accomplish.
 
All this shows how human beings throughout history have looked forward to a better world.

2009-09-13

The Endpoint

Throughout history, human beings have imagined superior beings and told stories about superhuman figures.
 
In some religions, saints and holy men were admired for their superior ethical life; some were considered to have superhuman powers. Sometimes philosophers, sages, and wise men were admired and worshiped long after they died. Some of the gods of antiquity were noteworthy human beings who were deified after their deaths.
 
When people imagined the gods, they often imagined beings with qualities or attributes which they felt were good, useful, and admirable. They imagined the gods to be better than humans, and thus in some sense, to be ideals for human beings, what human beings should be.
 
The monotheistic religions envisioned their one god as having infinitely superior characteristics, surpassing what could be imagined or grasped by reason. Christian theologians developed an idea of God that included the characteristics of omnipotence, omniscience, omnipresence, eternity, and omnibenevolence (wishing well to all).
 
What we can learn from this is that it has been long believed that humans are not the pinnacle of being, that there can be greater beings, with more admirable characteristics. Humans have worshiped the gods or enlightened sages and attempted to imitate them.
 
Mystics of all religions taught that one could unify with God by adequately preparing one's mind and character. In Hinduism, the word "yoga" refers to unification with the divine. The Shramana movement in India taught that individuals should seek to attain a superhuman state.
 
An early Christian writer wrote, "You may participate in the divine nature" (2 Peter). Early Christian theologians wrote about theosis, or deification; for example, one said, "humans would become gods," (Athanasius On the Incarnation 54:3, PG 25:192B) and another wrote of the "sure warrant for looking forward with hope to deification of human nature." (Maximus the Confessor page 178 PHILOKALIA Volume II)
 
So we learn that since the beginning of time, human beings have imagined something greater than themselves; they have not thought of human beings in their current form and condition as the pinnacle of possible being. Instead, humanity has imagined superior beings, and all religions have explored the ways in which human beings might become more like these superior beings.
 
There is wisdom in this. Humans in their current form and condition are not the end-point of evolution on Earth; the human condition and human nature need to be uplifted. We need to properly envision what is higher and then strive to accommodate our nature and condition to this image of the divine. We must strive, all of us, ultimately, to become divine.

2009-09-06

Semper Fidelis

The Marines have a motto, 'ever faithful'. This faithfulness of soldiers to one another is so very clearly illustrated by the principle of 'no one left behind.' Faithful soldiers will risk everything to return and retrieve a fallen comrade.
 
Life is also like a war. We all struggle to survive, fighting against many obstacles. But in this war of life, the combat fatality rate is 100%. When we think of all the people who have ever lived, we can understand that each one, in their own time, has fallen in the face of one enemy or another: disease, illness, aging, murder, or literal war itself. Each one puts up the good fight, but in the end it is the enemy, Death, which has won. All of our comrades, our friends and family reaching indefinitely far back into the past, have fallen on the battlefield of life. And there they  lie, frozen in time and space, removed from us and inaccessible to us, but lying there still, 'in eternity'.
 
Even now, we who are living now are in the same battle against the same enemy. It is very likely that we, too, will fall, although for the first time in human history, our side is developing weapons that may give our Enemy his first taste of our resistance, pushing him back, and heralding the at least remote possibility of his eventual defeat. As John Donne prophesied, "Death, thou shalt die." But even if we or future generations are able to defeat Death, it will not be enough for each one of us to save only ourselves.
 
It is up to us to return for the fallen, to go back on the battlefield and retrieve our comrades. They did not deserve to die, they should not have died, and the Enemy should not be allowed his victory forever. We must dedicate ourselves, that when the battle against Death is won in the present, its victory will be rolled back into the past, so that those innocents who were murdered by Death in the past will also be able to share in our victory of Life. Only then will we be truly faithful to our people, 'forever faithful.'