Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Cheerful Reflections on Death and Dying


By Robert Anton Wilson [Yes, it’s Robert Anton Wilson week. ;) - c]
 
I don't understand why people fear death -- although of course I see good reasons to fear the process of dying. Dying often involves a great deal of prolonged pain, and in this country at least may drain your life savings into the bank accounts of the A.M.A.. Both prospects seem equally terrifying especially if you hoped to leave a decent estate to your children.

One can avoid these deplorable conditions, however, by moving to a civilized country with a national health plan and legal help to assist you in suicide if you have reached a condition where you can't do it yourself. I personally intend to move to Nederland in the event that a painful, expensive and prolonged death seems inescapable. The medical banditos have made enough money out of me already; I refuse to enrich them further on my way out.

But as for death, and what -- if anything --comes after death, I see no cause for apprehension whatsoever.

To consider the alternatives in order:

Most people through most of history have believed that after death comes rebirth (reincarnation). I think most people, planet wide, still believe that. It fails to terrify me. If I get reborn as a cockroach, I intend to hide in the vicinity of somebody's computer and write poems on the keyboard at night, like archy, the famous roach who left his verse in the typewriter of Don Marquis. If I get reborn as a human, I might meet my wife Arlen again and love her again and marry her again. That sounds great to me.

Other rebirths, as a tree, say, or a blue whale, also seem more entertaining (and educational) than frightening.

Unfortunately, I have no good reasons to believe in reincarnation, although I'd sort of like to. I include it only for the sake of completeness.

A sinister rumor, widely believed in the Occident, holds that after death we go to a place called Heaven. From all the descriptions I've read, it sounds dreadful to me. It seems to have a population made up entirely of some gang of Christians; the experts on Heaven disagree about which conglomeration of Christians will qualify, but they always seem to think that they personally belong to that elite group. An eternity with people that conceited seems intolerable to me, but fortunately I am not a Christian so I won't be consigned to such a boring place.

An even more nefarious report appears in the United States Marine Corps hymn:

If the Army and the Navy
ever looked on Heaven's scenes
they would find the streets were guarded
by the United States Marines

A place where every street is guarded by Marines sounds like a particularly vicious police state, especially if Christians run it, and I definitely don't want to go there, even for a visit. I wouldn't even wish it on my worst enemy, if I had any enemies. (Some people hate me for the books I write, but I refuse to hate them back, so they don't count as enemies.)

Fortunately, as noted, I don't qualify for Heaven, with all its harps and fanatic Christians and martial law by Marines. A worse idea, which has terrified millions, claims that some of us will go to a place called Hell, where we will suffer eternal torture. This does not scare me because, when I try to imagine a Mind behind this universe, I cannot conceive that Mind, usually called "God," as totally mad.

I mean, guys, compare that "God" with the worst monsters you can think of - - Adolph Hitler, Joe Stalin, that sort of guy. None of them ever inflicted more than finite pain on their victims. Even de Sade, in his sado-maso fantasy novels, never devised an unlimited torture. The idea that the Mind of Creation (if such exists) wants to torture some of its critters for endless infinities of infinities seems too absurd to take seriously.

Such a deranged Mind could not create a mud hut, much less the exquisitely mathematical universe around us.

If such a monster-God did exist, the sane attitude would consist of practicing the Buddhist virtue of compassion. He seems very sick in His head, so don't give way to hatred: try to understand and forgive him. Maybe He will recover his wits some day. (I wrote "He" instead of the fashionable "He or She" because only male Gods appear to have invented Hells. I can't think of a single Goddess who ever created a Hell for people who displeased Her.)

A fourth alternative after-death scenario involves merger with "God" or with "the Godhead" (the latter term seems more popular.) This idea, which seems Hindic in origin, currently enjoys vast popularity with New Agers. I see nothing terrifying here; in fact, I suspect I would enjoy it, based on my previous experiences in which this merging/melting seemed to take place on LSD. An infinite Acid Trip in which the whole universe seems like your body: who could fear that (except Republicans)?

The fifth and, as far as I know, the last thinkable alternative holds that after death comes total oblivion. This has either terrorized or angered many intelligent writers (e.g. Bertrand Russell and Jean Paul Sartre, who seem to have hated "life after death" for not existing, just as they remained permanently pissed off at "God" for not existing.) Sorry: it doesn't seem terrible to me at all. If I become totally oblivious, I won't know about it (by definition of oblivion.) How can you feel terrified of something you can't experience?

Besides oblivion means freedom from "all the ills the flesh is heir to," from bleeding piles to cancer, including even bad reviews of my books.

Living in New York or Los Angeles seems much worse than not living, in Oblivion.

Although I have a few opinions, or hunches, I have no dogma about what happens after death. But none of the above alternatives seem really unpleasant, except the ones that seem too absurd to take seriously.

As some Roman wrote:

Nothing to clutch in life.
Nothing to fear in death.

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