Posts Tagged ‘Afterlife’

This series of mine is based on another popular work of fiction. Whoever is the first to guess what it’s based on can have two of their blog posts reposted by me. Why not have a potential couple of hundred people check out your posts? Put your answers in the comments, and enjoy!

The saucer whirred past his head like a bullet. It was a symbol for his life, a transitory blur that cut through all the oxygen and carbon dioxide and crashed into a wall of exposed sheet rock. The plate was one, singular…but now, plural, multiple, pieces in the hundreds.

“You stupid bitch!” screamed a terrifying voice, the shrill and commanding voice of the man’s wife. The guy wished that some of the more radical advocates against misogyny could see this woman and learn that men can be victims too. He pondered on this for a moment, as he did with all the subjects in his head every day, using the energy of thought to block out the abuse and the insults. He could even transfix himself onto the mundane, the pointless – descriptions of the broken plate, for instance.

“You aren’t a real man! You can’t even keep the lights on! Or, more importantly, the fucking wi-fi!”

Frisbee from hell, demon dinnerplate…

“Why don’t you fight back? Call me a name, Keith. Shove me a little. Stand up for yourself! You just take it day in and day out, and it makes you weaker and weaker!”

Keith sighed, looked down at the broken plate.

“What?”

That one word was about all he could ever manage.

His wife scowled. “You don’t even hear the world around you. You can’t even see it. That’s why you’re always gonna be in a rut for the rest of your life. You don’t try!”

Keith knew she was correct. He never took any risks in life. His job, a janitorial position at the local supermarket, had been the same for seven years. When he first applied, he and Vanessa had just gotten married. They were fresh out of high school and eager as hell. The world was supposed to be their oyster. But a few months after the honeymoon, Keith reverted back to the person he had been his whole life.

A small, frail, average man with an average face and an average intellect. As an adolescent, he did have some visions of grandeur – but they were impossible things. Things like touring the world as a country musician, things like working as a pediatrician, things related to art and science – but he was too “average”. Too “basic”.

Too “Keith”.

But right now, as he watched Vanessa storm out of the house to go buy some cigarettes, he reflected on the fact that there was now one circumstance in his life that transcended all the dull monotony. It was a secret he had kept from his wife, his boss, and even his parents.

It was a secret called cancer.

Keith went to bed, dreaming of ways he could go out in a blaze of glory. Maybe he could disguise himself and rob the supermarket. Maybe he could go climb a mountain. Maybe he could go write and record an album with his iphone.

“Tomorrow,” he said to himself as he closed his dull eyes. “I’ll do things…tomorrow.”

But tomorrow came and went, as did the next three days. Not that Keith was conscious for any of it. He woke up intermittently to sights of sterile gloves hovering above his face with beautiful, sad looking nurses standing off to the sides. Then, on day three, he awakened to total loneliness. He lay there for a few hours, too weak to press the button to alert those pretty nurses.

As he began to close his eyes once again, perhaps for the final time ever, he saw a dreary man with bifocals and a labcoat come through the door of his hospital room.

“Are you still with us?” Asked the man.

“Not for long,” mouthed Keith inaudibly. “F-f-fading…”

“Nurse!” Exclaimed the doctor, though with a bored, indifferent tone of voice. “Get the crash cart in here! Stat!”

Keith didn’t think that he would fight his demise…he had pretty much given up on living years ago. However, as he heard the rolling wheels of the doctor’s portable machinery, he began to experience two emotions that eclipsed anything he had ever felt before – fear and regret. He was terrified of what would happen when his heart stopped beating. He wondered if he would get what he deserved – absolutely nothing, an endless void the same as the void that was his “life” before birth. Or perhaps hellfire…or even rotting in a grave, alone and conscious. The fear took him over as the regret pulled him into a dizzying naseau. He was a failure…he was nothing…and now, it was too late.

The doctor, the nurses, and the machinery became blurry, faded. But there was something he could see quite clearly indeed, something new, something that hadn’t been there before. It was a pair of jet black crows, reeking of the smell of dead flesh and flying in circles above his head at the ceiling. Or at the…sky? The surface above his head seemed to have dissipated, being replaced by a grey color that seemed to expand without end.

Keith had a heart attack at that moment. The next thing he knew, he was standing up on his own two feet, sans the hospital bed. His hospital gown and his IV bag were still with him, and though both of these were light objects, they now seemed to weigh him down like military gear and an anchor. Only one other thing remained from that hospital bed – the steady, incessant beeping of the8 heartbeat monitor.

Before him was the iron skeleton of a large building – the very hospital where only seconds ago he had been dying in agony. Behind the metal rods and cracked walls were many other buildings, most of them equally decayed, although some large pyre-like towers seemed to be perfectly intact.

Beyond this, in all directions, was a grey sky, a grey earth, and a grey feeling of somber emotion. Ash rained down from the sky, and as Keith peered upwards, he could see that there were faint flickerings of flame high above him in certain places. He got the feeling that they were fires in space…perhaps multiple suns.

His fear and regret had been replaced by sheer awe…but only momentarily. The fear, at least, returned ten fold. This was due to the fact that the earth beneath his feet was littered with polished white bones, some even forming full skeletons. The skulls, somehow, all bore wicked smiles.

Where the Hell was he?

Then…another sound. Thunder? Earthquake? Keith strained his eyes forward as they began to register movement. It was hard to see at first, for the shapes moving fifty yards ahead of him were the same colors as the rest of the environment – black, white, and grey. But as the shapes drew closer, Keith realized with astonishment that they were the source of the sound.

There were at least a hundred “people” walking in an orderly, militant formation. Some were short in stature, while others were enormous. And not all of them were human. Some looked like sapient pigs with hoods over their heads, some looked like wolves, and a few even looked reptilian. What was truly frightening were the skeletons…haunting, looming figures that lifted their shiny black boots meters into the air as they matched forward.

All of these creatures shared one thing…an exotic look of dark beauty that was equal parts joy and tragedy. Above this strange crowd was a gigantic grey blimp with white letters etched upon it, but Keith was unable to read the words due to all the movement.

The sounds accompanying this procession were defeaning. Marching boots synced up to the sound of vicious snare drumming executed with perfect precision. There were also accordions, bells, whistles, and keyboards.

Boom. Boom.

A ridiculously huge bass drum was kicked twice by one of the skeleton men, and all the other instruments ceased simultaneously. The crowd was now less than ten yards away from Keith, and his fear had escalated to the point where he felt he may have another heart attack.

Then, it dawned on him. There would be no more heart attacks…no more heart. No more suffering, no more failure, no more chances of treatment through chemotherapy or other options.

Keith was now very dead, and he felt both terrified and full of peace.

As it turned out, death wasn’t just an event. It was an entity. And Keith would have quite a long time – perhaps even an eternity – to get to know it personally.

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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.

Cascading, torrential turbulenceLike the drowning of fireflies.

Blips of illumination,

Swallowed by the waves

and followed by lacunae
All the pulsars and nebulae,

They all fade out, and so shall I.

But what comes in the after?

A cliched sea of empty?

Meeting all the fireflies?
Dubious in all our expressions,

In all our children of the soul.

These are our works of art

Attempting conveyance and control
But we’ll never understand the spirit

Not it’s heights, nor its limits.

But, incessantly, we’ll attempt:
Loving ’till the end is nigh

Making ’till our bodies die.

Will we fade like the firefly?

No.

Finality is a lie.