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1641 words by attila written on 2001–12–27, last edit: 2016–07–29, tags: rant ⋔ Next post: Caffeine Menagerie
Immortality = Insanity.
Or, to put it another way:
Sanity = Mortality.
Corollary: Immortality is impersonal. Personality and immortality are incompatible, and fatally (hah) so.
Personality, as we define it, grows, prospers and dies. It is part of the concept of personality that it has boundries - in fact, that it defines boundries. A personality is like a cookie-cutter, slicing out a small, oddly-shaped portion from the endless possibilities. Immortality, eternal existence, would necessarily, by its very coincidence with eternity, also be bound up with every possibility, and cannot be confined to a finite subset of that infinity.
When I speak of immortality here, I do not mean some sort of romantic, endless lounging around in smoking jackets, staying current on contemporary literature and screwing the occasional mortal twink. Eternity is, by definition, something that has no beginning and no end. Something truly eternal exists in all times, which renders the notion of time meaningless. Our very perceptions are all based, as many philosophers and scientists have pointed out, on the passage of time, and on our comparison of our subjective state of consciousness between points in time (cf. Bergson, Herder, Hegel, etc). The very notion of consciousness, of subjectivity, is implicitly in the box of mortality; without boundedness, there can be no rationality, no connectedness and disconnectedness, no duality, which is such an integral part of ordinary human consciousness. To be infinite is to be everything.
This leads us inexorably to the conclusion that any form of consciousness which exists outside of time, coexistant with all time, cannot be rational in any sense which human beings could understand. To be such a thing could only be a kind of madness.
God is not dead. It is, however, completely out of its mind.
Let’s consider a couple viewpoints on the matter that various cultures have put forth at various points in human history.
The philosophy of the Vedas, originating in India some five thousand years ago, states that there is a part of all living beings that is not physical, but rather that dwells for a time in physical forms, gathering experiences and racking up cosmic debts to and connections with other living beings along the way, and then leaves its form, only to reappear, reborn, in some new form at a later date, which subsequent form is defined in part by the actions it undertook in the last. The Vedas further state that all such souls emanate from a common source, a principal and fundamental god-head, and return - eventually - to it, to merge back into the whole after having expressed their finite portion of the infinite unfolding of the Universe. The myriad of divine forms that this god-head takes - which some mistakenly have claimed marks Hinduism as a polytheistic religion - is an expression of the many ways in which the Universal essense can appear to our limited perceptions. These perceptions by themselves, the story goes, are necessarily false and misleading, and should be denied and ignored as a penitent soul swims, salmon-like, up-river towards its source.
Mystics in this tradition seek, by the application of various physical and mental disciplines, to hasten their approach to this state of god-consciousness. There are many written accounts by such people, reaching back to the earliest of these codices, that attempt to describe this state of bliss. In every case, it is portrayed as being beyond words, inexpressible in finite form, without boundry.
Some several thousand years more recent, and yet eerily similar in many ways, the Judeo-Christian and Islamic traditions speak of a single, Universal god-head that pervades everything and drives the actions of all living things. “God works in mysterious ways” is an oft-repeated salve for any and every seemingly arbitrary occurance, as though the ultimtae diety were a mad aunt living in the attic that slips out at night and rearranges the furniture. This god is at times angry, at times merciful, and almost always cryptic beyond bearing.
Religion, regardless of the specifics, is almost always an attempt to package up infinity in some easily digestible form, suitable for consumption in smalln doses on a weekly (or, the padre hopes, daily) basis. The over-reaching nature of all of the world’s so-called “great” religions comes mainly from their claims to be touchpoints to something beyond normal human consciousness, and as such various and sundry claims, offers, guarantees and warranties are made regarding the application of their wares to normal human life. These advertisements are generally incredible, illogical, or just plain nuts. Pointing this out is of no use in most cases, because the main rhetorical device used in support of such claims by the religious is that the effects of whatever chant, prayer, action or belief undertaken in this life will not bear their full fruits in this life, but in some other life after this one has ended.
It’s difficult to argue with the salesman when he’s sniffing your crotch and baying at the moon. It would seem that the only sensible reaction to such stuff is to write it off as a bad job and go have a drink, but, incredibly, it appears to actually have some merit as a leigimate sales technique; at least, judging by the great and ever-increasing amount and variety of gobbeldygook which goes under the heading of “Religion”, one must come to that conclusion.
There are religions which do not have this form. Many pockets of humans in various parts of the world have come up with all sorts of belief systems that do not posit a single, over-arching infinite consciousness. A group of humans living by a river might, for instance, develop a river god, which lives in the river and molds its floods, ebbs, fish and plants. These kinds of gods are considered primitive by the “great” religions (one and all, I might add - inifinty brooks no competition, apparently). How, after all, could a simple river god, bound to a single, pathetic little river and a single, pathetic little tribe possibly compare to GOD ever-lasting and über alles? Why, it’s bad enough that these tribespeople think they can actualy sit down and chat with their river god, like it was an old friend… the river itself isn’t even permanent. Rivers, after all, can change course, or even disappear completely (especially when a good christian engineer gets it in their head to build a dam). What kind of ridiculous little god could that possibly be, that you could talk to and placate with gifts of fish and flowers, and why should anyone outside of that tribe ever possibly want to bother with it?
The answer is that river gods and mountain gods and cave gods and eagle gods and alligator gods are sane gods, and the people who invent and live with them are sane people. They need something to blame when the inevitable flood or drought comes and screws up their lives; they could just pick one of the tribe to blame (and sometimes they do), but that really stinks, and everyone knows somewhere in their hearts that human beings can’t control things like the tides and the rains. Intelligence, or the lack of it, is uniformly distributed over the face of the earth, to “primitive” tribes and Broadway theatre-goers alike. These so-called primitives aren’t idiots, they’re pragmatists - they want to live their lives in peace when the times are good, and somehow muddle through with a minimum of fuss and nonsense when the times turn sour.
The devotees of infinity, however, have a problem: you can’t easily lay claim to having invented infinity with a straight face, so your only option turns out to argue, instead, that infinity invented you. This may even be true, or, it may not, but it’s a sure bet that no human consciousness is ever going to know for certain and stay human (or even stay sane). It’s a small leap from saying that your infinite, impersonal god (which, oddly enough, has a big, white beard and sounds a bit like James Mason) invented you to saying that it invented everything because it is everything, at which point it’s off to the races.
It’s not that I have a beef with any specific crowd of eternity boosters per se. It’s just that all these billions of people claiming (in many cases loudly) that their particular take on the infinite was, is, and will ever be the one and only right one gives me a big pain in my eternal essence, and gives all of the rest of you a damned big pain, too, whether you know it or not. It’s easy to see why the “great” religions are at each other’s throats, fighting tooth and nail, day in and day out - how can you possibly have two correct interpretations of infinity? Well, now, come to think of it, how could you not have an infinte number of correct interpretations? Shouldn’t there really be an infinite number of religions? Or am I missing the point.
Of course I’m not missing the point, it’s perfectly clear: any kind of argument or justification for bizarre and insane human behavior (e.g. beheadings, ritualistic and brutal degredation of females from an early age, unprompted adventures in search of converts (either their souls or their (former) possessions will do)) has to be at least as bizarre as the behavior itself, or people will get nervous, they’ll think something is up, they’ll want to withdraw their money all at once. What you need in these cases is an air-tight alibi that involves lots of people who can’t be asked any silly questions.
Enter the prophets.
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