Tuesday, October 28, 2014

There's No Place Like Heaven

Growing up I was certain there was another life awaiting me, upon crossing the threshold of death. I knew there was an afterlife, a heaven, a paradise, just beyond the reaches of this world. Whereas other religious people whom have confessed to me they have many doubts regarding the fundamentals of their faith, I believed absolutely in God, the Bible as his word, and the tradition of Judaism as the living truth. Though in Judaism heaven is not as predominate as in some other religions, it is understood that after we die, we are brought before God for judgment and, provided we repented before our last breath, we would be spared from the darkness of hell, and brought forth into heaven.

There is a certain comfort which is unparalleled in the secular world, of knowing that one is going to outlive his own death. What came after this brief and tragic life was promised to be glorious beyond earthly comprehension. I so believed in the eternal afterlife that as a child I would spend many a night laying awake in bed terrified by the concept of eternity. Eventually I would become so frightened that I would wake my mother with tears in my eyes, asking her to explain eternity. She would comfort me by stating that God is smarter than we, and therefore we need not worry about how he will make heaven enjoyable for us. 

This deep seated belief stayed with me for 23 years. I loved life, but was unafraid of death, for I knew without a shadow of doubt that beyond this earthly existence, this tragic play of suffering and joy, of tears of laughter, of chaos and order, lies a place of only goodness, whatever that meant. (I can retrospectively see the paradox in a paradise, for wouldn't "good" lose all its meaning without a measure of "bad"?) When I rejected my childhood faith, when I committed myself to rationalism, I was faced with a fear many people seldom think about. 

I was suddenly gripped with the fear of death. I was finally able to stare into the abyss that awaits us all. After our "moment in the sun" we are gone, never to live again. Whereas most people I presume, have either ridden themselves of this irrational fear, or they have suppressed it and are only struck by its harsh blow when they too, focus on the brevity of life, I was faced with it for the first time.  

For me, it became an obsessive thought. At any moment I could stop breathing and I would vanish from existence. And with my death, everything I was planning, my dreams, my hopes, my goals, would vanish as well. How pitiful when one lets his fear of death envelope his life. 

I am still trying to conquer this fear of death, for I have never had to do it before. It has made me less courageous, less able to risk my life, and uneasy with concept of sacrificing my life, even for the greater good. I used to know that if the moment arose, I would be the first to give my life for another, now, I am now hoping I am never confronted with such a challenge. 

Of course, the fear of death is completely irrational.  That is to say, there is nothing to fear. Once you no longer exist, you will not feel anything, your consciousness will be as dead as you are. You will quite simply, not exist. I once heard it said: "There is no reason to fear death. When you are here, death is not, and when death is here, you are not." A rational platform, indeed. 

The fear of death mustn't be confused, however, with the will to live. These two, though similar in subject, are very different in content. The will to live is a healthy disposition, based on enjoying your life, the people around you, the work you are involved in, etc.  The fear of death is the terror of no longer existing. It is the solipsism that believes the world just could not go on without you. It is the arrogance that your life is too important to simply vanish. The will to live, mentioned above, should also not be confused with self-preservation. Self preservation is a natural impulse, an almost inescapable instinct, not a will. 

This fear of death, that I have recently begun feeling, has made me even more suspicious of religion. Is it not just too convenient that just as every human feels the fear of his own death, every religion has ways to circumvent it? The pieces seem to fit too well, do they not? This is not the only existential fear that religion vanquishes, but it is perhaps the most comforting. Heaven has also been a great motivator for righteousness, for it is the righteous, religion teaches, who receive a share of paradise. The danger for the rest of humanity depends on how "righteousness" is defined by the myriad of religions and their myriad of gods. 

So, I will continue to suppress this fear of death by combating it with its inherent irrationality. Where I once would proudly die for my beliefs, I will take the, perhaps, more timid approach stated by Bertrand Russell: "I would never die for my beliefs because I might be wrong." Lastly, I will grasp every moment of life, every precious instant with a vigor and excitement, for any one of them could be my last. 

And in the times where the fear has all stricken my heart, I will remember the great words sung in Monty Python's "Always Look at the Bright Side of Life": 

For life is quite absurd
And death's the final word
You must always face the curtain
with a bow
Forget about your sin - give the
audience a grin
Enjoy it - it's your last chance

So always look on the bright side
of death...

Life's a piece of sh*t, when you look at it
Life's a laugh and death's a joke, it's true
You'll see its all a show, keep 'em laughin' as you go
Just remember that the last laugh is on you

Always look on the bright side
of life...

The greatest weapon against fear is comedy, is it not?

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