Monday, January 14, 2008
Who Goes to Heaven and Who Stays Home
The question of what happens after the death of the individual human body is not so much an issue of belief in an afterlife, per se, as it is a question of the very relationship of an individual living being to the Divine (or God). The concept of a kind of blissful heaven into which a soul is "released" from the dying body (if the soul, while incarnate, has behaved and believed properly) is contingent on the notion of a Divine presence separate from and beyond the material world. The question of heaven is not so easily answered by someone who sees God as both transcendent and immanent, wholly Other and wholly Present, especially if this person studies not only sacred texts, art and poetry, but biology, physics and politics. After all, the lessons one might learn from biology and physics, first of all, concern the conservation of energies, the interrelated nature of energy and matter, and the natural processes of evolution, consumption, production, reproduction, etc., all of which suggest a more complicated and intricate interweaving of life on the material plane. And, for one who sees God within material existence, it is hard to avoid the question of why physical reality should be so complicated and beautifully cooperative, while spiritual reality is supposedly so dry, dualistic and simple-minded about reward and punishment. Add to this the study of politics (that is, the study of how human beings function as individuals within organized communities, and how those communities interact), which leads into further fields such as sociology, psychology, anthropology, etc. and one is faced with the obvious fact that dualistic us-versus-them theologies are almost invariably products of established and powerful regimes in which reward and punishment are promised to enforce a current status quo and balance of power, while many thinkers, visionaries, philosophers and progressives within such cultures implore their peers to abandon such small and restrictive notions of how we must relate to one another.
So how is a well-educated, intelligent human being--who attempts to be well-rounded and passionate about learning and growing in all areas of his or her life, including all his or her mental, emotional and spiritual sides--to answer the question of heaven? Life is of such complexity and grace, surely an after-life must be equally so. And even if we accept the traditional idea of heaven as the place to which one "returns" to union with the Divine, if the Divine is present within the material world, then this union must somehow take place within this very world in which we physically existent even while alive. Is it right to call this "reincarnation"? Not precisely, since this implies a single soul which evacuates the physical realm, only to return whole into a new body when it is conceived in the womb (or at some later point, depending on the particular theory). Even the Buddhist understanding of reincarnation is not so simple, as it is often explained with the metaphor of the flame which passes from wick to wick, so that the flame is of the same nature and source, but yet somehow a new and separate thing, not the same flame come loose of its original moorings and anchored again.
If we lean towards this view of reincarnation as a kind of recycling and reintegration of spiritual energies, what then becomes of the idea of individuality? For if our material bodies are not so blessed with a self-awareness as separate creatures, surely our mental, emotional and spiritual selves sense their uniqueness, rejoicing in it even as the prerequisite for a meaningful exchange and interrelation with other unique individuals and with the Divine as a whole.
[Clearly, this is so much a fragment as to end abruptly mid-paragraph, without giving writer (i.e. me) or reader (i.e. you) the chance to investigate more thoroughly the relationships among ideas of union, dissolution and individuality. This is partly because I got tired and distracted by the time I'd reach that point in my journalling, and partly because I didn't have any ideas where to go from there. Interestingly, the later mind-bit on the idea of "eddies" (which I posted previous to this entry) may give some insight into how to understand individuality of a non-material as well as a material nature. But I'll leave you (i.e. the reader) to ponder out those connections...]