Archive for the ‘ghosts’ Category

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Think of your deathbed. Visualize your fading form surrounded by your friends and family (or, God forbid, alone). It’s all about to pass away. Everything you have ever thought, seen, smelled, touched, and heard is going to disappear as if none of it ever existed. What is the purpose of this decimation? Better yet, what was the purpose of the life that preceded it?

Perhaps there was no point at all—no meaning for anything. If everything eventually ceases to exist, then this certainly seems to be the case. From humans and ants to stars and pine trees, everything in the Universe, organic or otherwise, seems to die at some point. We, however, are the only tenets occupying this space called reality who contemplate this fact. This, I believe, is one thing Nietzsche may have meant when he called Man “the sick animal”. Save for instinctively avoiding it, other animals don’t seem to ponder on their termination or on what may happen afterward.

All things will face this inevitable door, whether beastly or rational, alive or inanimate, religious or secular. So, other than trying to enjoy the short time we have as much as we possibly can, the business of life seems to me to be about understanding this eventual end. There are many different beliefs about what the future holds when our hearts stop, but I would first like to discuss what is perhaps the most popular assumption in our modern climate of nihilism—that, after the neurons stop firing, there is nothing.

First of all, we should realize that no human being can effectually visualize the concept of “nothing”. If you try to think of “nothing”, you will end up thinking of at least a color (white or black, whatever people think of when they try to conjure up nothingness. This, to me, is why nihilism falls on its own head, though the attitudes and the actions resulting from the state of mind may certainly remain). True emptiness, if it is even possible, is neither colored nor tangible. One may say, “There was nothingness from our perspective before we were born.” But we didn’t even have a perspective before birth. I will come back to this in a moment.

Secondly, can you really imagine that every single one of your hopes, dreams, and experiences will vanish instantaneously as though it all never existed? Some say that they can imagine this; that the state of non-being after death correlates to our state before birth or during sleep.

But our “souls”, if you will, are actually most certainly present during our slumbering—not a simple “non-existence”. Our brains are working constantly throughout the sleep cycle, whether through dreams or other unknowable processes, and we simply have no memory or awareness of the unconscious.

As far as death’s nothingness being likened to the state before we were born, we didn’t even have any experiences at all during that time, for we did not exist yet. So, how can our “non-existence” after death be compared to our non-existence before conception? Things must develop, evolve, or be created before existing, before being “things” at all.

Incidentally, this is why I believe the Big Bang (or whatever the birth of the Universe truly was) was caused by something. How can something come from nothing? If nothing existed, then how could there even have been an explosion? Unless existence and the causal ground for existence has actually always existed in some form as an absolute, an ultimate force of action that we can never comprehend.

So, to say nothing of the massing reports of near death experiences evidencing the fact that there is something there, the past few paragraphs have explained why I truly do believe that death is not the end. What happens then? I don’t pretend to know the full answer, as no human does, but I do have an incomplete, vague idea of it. Regardless of whether that belief of mine is correct, it will still remain vague and only partial until the day when I die and actually experience it. For I am of this realm…no human mind can contain the complexities contained in the next plane of existence. But many minds have certainly tried, though.

Buddhists and Hindus believe in an almost endless cycle of reincarnation, coming back after each death as a new living being until they reach atonement (At-One-ment) with oneself and the universe (Nirvana, Moksha)

The ancient Jews believed in Sheol, a place where the dead are merely ghostly afterimages which take no account of Jehovah and of which Jehovah took no account (this belief is the closest one to believing in “nothingness” after death that I have found within religion, though I am not very knowledgeable about the subject).

Ancient Egyptians believed that the state of the corpse was integral to the quality of the afterlife, unlike many religions which profess the human body to simply be an empty shell after death. They also based their entire lives on their belief in the afterlife, coming up with countless rituals and mythologies to prepare people for the inevitable. I love Egyptian mythology, but my mind has a real problem with the fact that a lot of what they believed about a “good” afterlife only related to those who “deserved” it due to their political or social status (this, unfortunately, is the attitude of many religious systems to this day, whether about the afterlife or the quality of the current life in regards to respect and fair treatment).

A more humorous example (at least to me) is the ancient Iranian belief known as Zoroastrianism. This religion purports that the path to the Afterlife is a lengthy bridge known as the Chinvat Bridge. All must cross this overpass after death. If one has lived a moral life, then the bridge widens the further you go, making crossing into the House of Song simple and straightforward. If one has lived a bad life, however, the bridge will turn over on its side and the soul will have to walk along the narrow edge, all the while being relentlessly attacked by a witch.

Belief systems are obviously important in regards to our speculations on eternity, and they are also important for other reasons. There are a slew of different ways to look at mythology. Some of it is exaggerated history based on dynamic personas. Some of it is made up of colorful imagery to express metaphor, the writers of such stories knowing full well that the miraculous events did not in fact happen in reality but are simply expressions for true events or attitudes. A few mythologies, such as bedtime fables, were invented to teach children how to behave (all true mythology actually develops the human race into something better, brings order and structure to chaos through things such as chants and rituals). Some of the stories probably came directly from the teller’s dreams, and whether any given mythology was presented to its maker by dream or not, I still believe that mythology is basically a “group dream” and a dream is a “private mythology”. To me, mythology is basically metaphor, but metaphor of a most vital and even holy kind. The stories show different facets of the human psyche – darkness, light, evil, good, Kings (power), servants (powerlessness), Knights, princesses, quests, visions, magic, Angels, demons, dragons, and much, much more than could ever be written down by any one person. Not only are the tales essentially initiation rites for the human to pass from one experience to the other, but they also touch something deeper—something BEYOND human. All mythologies are mankind’s way of expressing the inexpressible in an artistic way. They are gateways into the numinous, portals into a deeper understanding. They are the masks of God. As Saint Thomas Aquinas once said, the only way to know God is to realize with total conviction that he is actually not knowable. The Absolute Being is further beyond the understanding of mortal men than our minds are beyond the understanding of invertebrates. And yet, despite being so far off, so unlike God (or “Ultimate Reality”, whatever one chooses to call the Self Sustainable), we are still somehow inexplicably linked to the Beyond. We create. We bring works of art into the world. We beget children. We love. In my opinion, there are many reasons for us to believe that there is in fact something beyond the reality we can see and touch. The rich mythologies and works of art produced by our species over the centuries are just a few examples of many. Reason, rationality, and inherent morality that may differ between different peoples on the surface but actually rings true for all of humanity about the important things (though some do kill, I believe every human being has at least at one point in their life known that murder was wrong. Whether the act is committed or not, we still know that it is contrary to the grammar of being). There is SOMETHING out there, copiously but incompletely referenced by our belief systems…and I believe it is INSIDE us as well.

But no matter what, myth is not accurate history. It may be garbled history, but it is imprecise. There are rarely dates for the supposed events, and there are never reliable witnesses. I’m talking, of course, about myths like the Greek and the Egyptian gods. Some mythological figures were at least inspired by true events. I believe there was a historical person who could be considered the first Buddha, and creatures like dragons, which are found in every belief system imaginable, are quite obviously inspired by dinosaurs (or at least crocodiles…but I don’t buy it). However, hardly any mythology purports to exhibit a complete or at least believable history of the events in question.

Then something interesting happened shortly after the….a man claimed to be God. Not simply divine like pantheistic “all is one” mystics, but GOD—the self sustained, self existent ground for being; the playwright behind the curtain. And he came from a group of people, the Jews, who were of all ancient civilizations the least pantheistic—they believed that God was separate from man. Near man maybe, by means of love and covenants, but certainly not the same as man. Yet here was a human being uttering words of downright blasphemy to the ears of most who followed his own cultural religion (Judaism). He even talked of forgiving sins, cancelling out corruption as if he were the chief party injured by every offense we commit, which would be impossible unless the man really was God. And the most curious thing is that, based on his teachings and his conversations, he didn’t seem at all insane or even mentally unbalanced. How could a sane person say that he was God in the flesh? He couldn’t…unless what he was saying was true.

You may reply that Christ is just another legend, that we have no reason to believe that he truly said these things or that he even existed. I don’t subscribe to the “legend” theory at all, and I will explain why in a bit as well as include some things I consider as evidence in his favor. But first, let’s think about what the whole story actually means, whether it is valid or not.

The Absolute, the Unbroken comes down (Immaculate Conception) into the presence of the derivative, the broken. The Absolute is itself broken by becoming organic (the God-Man). It is then further broken by means of violent action (torture, Crucifixion). But, by super-physical paradox, the broken Absolute still retains the power to put Himself back together.

And that is precisely what happened. The Broken Absolute became whole again, and the event itself was so powerful that it affected everything and everyone in existence, whether we can see it yet or not (time has no bearing against the Absolute). Even acknowledging this iconoclastic occurrence (still more, immersing one’s self within it—living by it) gives one a great power—a power that changes lives and makes the world a better place. Even if it hasn’t happened yet within our limited perception (we are slaves of time), all existence has been made whole.

Jesus Christ is the archetype for death, and conversely, the archetype for life. Nothing else answers the question of death so beautifully, so HISTORICALLY as the One who defeated the Reaper himself. I personally cannot accept his story as merely mythical. Historians who lived close to the time of Christ such as Tacitus and Josephus mention Him and His miracles, and these people weren’t Christians. The most compelling non-Christian account is that of the Talmud, an ancient collection of Jewish writings. The writers of this document didn’t believe that Jesus was the Messiah, but they certainly believed that he was something supernatural. “Jesus the Nazarene practiced magic and deceived and led Israel astray.” These ancient Jews knew he existed and that he performed miracles. If what was written about him in the Bible were untrue, then there should be all kinds of documents from people in that time period refuting it, saying things like “no, he did not exist,” or “no, he did not heal people.” Even the resurrection was reported to have been witnessed by at least five hundred people (1 Corinthians 15). And yet, where are the documents denouncing this? With how often the story is attacked today, it surely would have been disproven very quickly by whatever means possible two thousand years ago.

Also, if you compare all the copies of the New Testament that have been made over last two millennia, you will find through the science of textual criticism that it has changed or been edited even less than works such as the Iliad and the Odyssey. We have more evidence for Jesus existing and being the divine Son of God than we have for Alexander the Great and some other historical figures. There is much more evidence, (it even hints at this in the Bible—the last verse in the Gospel of John) and I encourage you to search out the evidence for yourselves.

If there was no validity to Christianity, then it would never have even gotten off the ground. What’s more, the early followers of Jesus persecuted for their beliefs would have been tortured and executed for nothing. Few would die for what they know to be a lie, and these were actual witnesses to his bodily presence on this planet. Also, some people seem to think that Christianity is all about power for the strong and subservience for the weak. While this may have been true in later years with evil events such as the Crusades, the very earliest Christians had horrible lives. Nakedness, famine, poverty, homelessness—usually only ending through death by torture. They don’t strike me as very powerful—and yet, in a different way, they were the most powerful people on the planet, though they didn’t use that power to keep other people down. Power over sin, power over death—and that power is offered to every one of us.

Think about your death again—the despair, the inevitability, the futility in escaping. It will come to you no matter what you do with your life. This fact has paralyzed me with fear on many occasions, especially when I try to sleep. I’m still scared. As I have said, no one has the complete picture, the total answer. No matter how firm my belief is, death is still frightening. But I do have hope—and that hope is found in Christ Jesus. Most mythologies seem obviously metaphorical—but not this. There are many stories of gods dying and rising again—but might those stories be prophecies of what was to come? The real, the solid resurrection story—the defeat of death. I don’t remember Odin “tasting death for all men”. As C.S. Lewis said in one of his essays, “Myth Became Fact”. True, historical—but still retaining all the metaphysical and psychical qualities of myth.

A lot of people have a problem with the concept of even needing salvation. We disbelieve in the inherent corruption of man. Aside from those who are obviously evil, are we normal citizens really corrupted by sin, regardless of how closely we adhere to morality?

For the moment, don’t think of Him as dying for your sins. Think of Him as dying for your death. Think of all death in the universe as a result of some corruption, some brokenness. Animals and even plants are as corrupted as humanity, evidenced by the fact that they die. This is probably not due to their moral failure, for they have no morals. They are corrupted in ways we can never know, for the beginning of time happened too long ago for us to remember it (for even Genesis, whether taken literally or figuratively, is only a fragment of God’s ways). And could collapsing stars, the Big Bang, and other cosmological happenings also have something to do with corruption? Corruption caused by spiritual beings far beyond our comprehension, beings that may themselves correspond to astronomic bodies such as planets? Or could they have been corrupted by us, corrupted long ago by creatures that didn’t even exist yet? For the universes and non-corporeal realms may not be governed by the laws of time as much as we presume.

Or maybe supernovas and the like have nothing to do with sin and brokenness, and they were simply made to be created and destroyed beautifully for the sake of splendor and for other reasons only the Lord knows about. We will never know—but it brings up an interesting point.

Could this sin, this corruption, these collapsing stars within us and without have been allowed to happen for the sole purpose of beauty—a beautiful disaster? For it can be argued that if something you cherish is beautiful before being broken, it may become even more pleasing in your sight after being put back together than it ever was before.

So it is with our Father.

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I’m reviewing this like I would review a full album, but I’m keeping in mind the fact that it isn’t one. It’s a collection of demos and scrapped tracks from my all time favorite disc, “The Black Parade” by My Chemical Romance, released for the tenth anniversary of the original as “Living With Ghosts”.

First off, that’s a nice title. A fitting one. Since the band is broken up (but I believe they will reform again in 2019, and I do have an actual logical reason for assuming that), the songs on this disc make one feel that they are listening to echoes or specters of a band long gone. They also help us to see some of the creative process that went into the finished album from ’06. Raw sound, voices of the band members heard speaking about the songs at the end of some of the tracks, and a really rough, unfinished feel to it make this a disc well worth the money, but perhaps for diehard fans only. With the exception of four songs, nothing on the album is really new or spectacular. But it certainly is special.

“The Five of Us Are Dying” is an early version of “Welcome to the Black Parade”, written between “Bullets” and “Revenge”. The chorus isn’t nearly as powerful as it is on “Parade”, but the rest of this song is just as good as the finished track. The bridge/solo sounds even more like “Queen” than usual, and that’s awesome for those of us who love Brian May (and Ray Toro, obviously – my favorite guitar player).

“Kill All Your Friends (demo)” the second song on the album, really threw me off. It’s interesting, but it’s just bad compared to the polished version of the song released in ’06. This is obviously a demo played long before the full song was fleshed out – but you can still feel it gestating into what it would eventually become.

With “Party at the End of the World”, things start to get more interesting. Still raw, still a demo, but never heard before by any fan as it was never officially released until now. I bet I would have liked the “Kill All Your Friends” demo better if I hadn’t ever heard the actual finished version. But “Party” has really nice guitar, a pretty cool chorus, and Gerard’s voice somehow seeming more chaotic than usual. Not as good as usual, but hey, it’s still Gerard, so still great.

I don’t have much to say about the “Mama” demo. It’s much closer to the finished version than the other demos are. Some lyrics and vocal melodies are different, but it’s pretty much the same instrumentally, except for the third section of the bridge. It stays quiet from “If you could write me a letter” all the way up to “We’re damned after all”, and it makes the song sound quite different from the version I’ve always loved. It’s fascinating hearing a track like this and getting a view into the innumerable decisions and changes a band has to make during its writing process.

“My Way Home Through You” is also pretty close to the finished version…and I love that song, so even though the vocals aren’t quite as good as the real version, I still love this one.

“Not That Kinda Girl” is the first of the four songs on this disc that really stand out. One of the catchiest choruses I’ve ever heard, well written and hilarious lyrics (they obviously didn’t write the ones I’m about to cite, but here’s the funny part – “these boots are made for walking and that’s just what they’ll do” – I’m serious. Hearing part of that old song in a hard rock style is a real treat) such as “everybody’s talkin bout the way you cut your hair – I could give a fuck” make this one of the coolest MCR tracks I’ve ever heard. And the drums were eventually used for the song “Gun” on their “Conventional Weapons” album. Again, it’s awesome to know more about their writing process.

“House of Wolves version 1” is incredibly somber, in the vein of “Cancer” or even the songs on “Revenge”. Other than actually having the words “house of wolves” in the song, I’m not really sure how this one has anything to do with the finished Black Parade version, but I’m probably overlooking the connection due to not being able to discern a lot of the lyrics. “Version 2” follows “Version 1”, and it’s basically just a fun demo of the Black Parade version.

“Emily” is just beautiful. I know it’s fictional and somehow originally fit into the Black Parade story arc, but I can’t help but think about my daughter when I hear it. I’m always paranoid for my family’s safety, and this kind of stuff really moves me. It has heart wrenching lyrics, passionate vocals, well played guitar, and a fantastic drumbeat. Seriously, Bob Bryar, bravo.

The “Disenchanted” demo sounds completely different from the real version, and I feel the same way about it as I do the other demos. Good, special, but not spectacular like the end product.

Finally, we come to “All the Angels”. For the first time ever, MCR reminds me of U2, in a very good way. With angels, Catholic imagery, and people dying in hospitals, this song would have fit nicely on the real Black Parade album. The narrative within the lyrics is just as powerful as was for me on the full album when I was a teenager. It might have sounded random, but I think it would have really paid off as a hidden track, perhaps right before “Blood”, or even before “Famous Last Words”. Would have given the CD a Pink Floyd impression, a la “The Wall”. MCR is usually so bombastic and nihilistic, but for this song, the simple things are what stand out. When Gerard sings “ooo-ooo-ooo”(no, not like a ghost or something – it’s actually quite melodic), it literally gives me chills.

So how do I rate the tenth anniversary demos? 8 out of 10. I would have given it 7 had it not been for the near perfection of “Not that kinda girl”, “Emily”, “House of Wolves version 1”, and “All the Angels”. And I actually probably would have given the cd a 9 or a 10 if I hadn’t ever heard the finished version of the demos released in 2006 with the greatest rock concept record of all time.

Buy this album, or at least listen to it on YouTube. It’s no Parade, but it certainly is a fitting tenth anniversary bonus disc.

You can also read my Review for the full Black Parade album, which was one of the first posts I made on this blog.

Is there anything else out there? This is something I think everyone has asked themselves at one point or another. Angels, demons, extra-terrestrials, forces of the dark and forces of the light.

Are these things real? Or are they simply personifications of the chaos within us? The contradictions, conflicting desires, and moral choices of the human, who Nietzche calls, “the sick animal”.

Or could these external mysteries actually be tangible and in fact relate to the chaos within ourselves? Should we look within before we look without?

For instance, do we have souls? For if we do, then it is obvious that these supposed forces of supernature do in exist as well, though probably in ways or forms that we could never possibly hope to imagine.

Different philosophers of different ages and beliefs, as different as Thomas Aquinas and Friedrich Nietzche, have all agreed on one thing. That the Numinous – even if described in wholly psychological terms – is something that no amount of human thinking can ever figure out.

But if these forces are real, should we fear them?

My answer is a most emphatic NO.

Even setting aside these forces, existence itself makes it obvious that something cannot arise from nothing. In other words, there IS a God, a ground for being. And this force is stronger than all the others.