I never thought I would blog about this subject; too cerebral and too dull, I would have thought previously. But recently, as several threads of my thinking have come together, I have come to believe I have something to say. So here goes.
I have to declare that I have no religious belief. I used to secretly envy those that “believed”, because they seemed safe in the knowledge that their existence was not as transient as life appears to me to be. Now, my view is different. I am reconciled to a transient existence. I view religious belief as a sort of arrogance along the lines of “I am too important for this to be all there is”, although, no doubt, there are plenty of more humble motives for “belief”. I do feel desperately sorry for people who sacrifice things in this life in order to gain in what they expect to be “the next”. I regard this as exploitation of the most extreme kind because there is no “next”.
For me, one of the killer thoughts about all religious beliefs is the realisation that they have evolved by natural selection, just like species. Those beliefs that fit best with the state of human understanding survive, those that do not die out. In the past, when the structure of the Earth and the universe was less well understood, it was possible for humans to believe in gods that held the Earth on their shoulders, or to have gods controlling weather and demanding sacrifice. These gods and associated beliefs just do not make sense now. We know better and these beliefs just seem ridiculous. As science has expanded our understanding, the gap for a god to fill has diminished and, for me, there are no gaps left that make any sense for a god to occupy. In my opinion we just have to get used to the idea of the finality of death. Surely, the concept of anything lasting forever goes against all our experience and scientific evidence. Perhaps, in the future, people in general will regard our current religions with a similar bewilderment to the way we view human sacrifice.
I am a scientist, so I tend to think in terms of models or analogies. There are two models of life that I quite like. One, not original, but I do not know where it came from, likens life to a bird’s flight; probably an owl because they fly silently. The owl is flying through absolute darkness and silence. Suddenly, it flies through an open window into a lit room, spends a little time there. Then flies out, back again into the total darkness and silence, where it stays. The other model is, I think, original. I call it “The lava lamp theory of life”. The life of individuals is like a glob of wax that leaves the mass at the bottom of the lamp and floats around having a seperate existence of its own until eventually, and inevitably, it rejoins the amorphous mass at the bottom of the lamp.
I recall hearing an interview with Gore Vidal on the radio many years ago. He was asked if he was afraid of dying and he said, “No, I know exactly what it is like and there is no need to be afraid”. This took the interviewer, and me, aback and he asked how Vidal knew this. Gore Vidal replied along the lines that it will be exactly the same as the time before he was born and that was not too bad. I found this a very rational and quite illuminating perspective. For me also there is nothing to be scared of in dying and, as a way to make death more commonplace, I think of sleep as a “death rehearsal”.
I apologise if my reader(s) have found this too heavy, the next blog will be less so.