Beyond the Final Fear

I found myself arrested this evening to learn of the passing of a distant but steady friend, Archaeopteryx. He proved himself a reliable companion and support to many of us fledgling deconverts, hobbling as we must from our personal wreckage toward the daylight. Not a god, but in many of our lives, he could almost seem omnipresent, ever ready to comment on anything you posted.  I feel that I owe him a debt, and in partings without goodbyes, the ledgers go unreconciled.

I cannot help but think of Hitchens, who said that he didn’t fear death, because there was nothing to fear in it. Rather, he feared the waste and sordid decline of dying. Honest, as ever, regarding the truth of that final fear.

I’ll miss Arch. I’ll miss his reliable wit, there every time I post something. I also think, when one day I finish writing my bloody book, I’ll miss him reading it. I think maybe the best I can manage is a Hitch farewell, spelled in Johnny Walker Black. My eyes may not be dry, but there will be no blubbering fictions about a better place. Instead, I can say that I do find consolation that Arch has passed now, beyond the spectre and the reach of that final fear.

The Four Stories We Tell Ourselves About Death (YouTube)

This is a lucid TedTalk from philosopher Stephen Cave. He makes the case, albeit with TedTalk brevity, that humanity has developed many specific immortality stories based on four simple plotlines. Such stories are intended to mitigate our innate fears about death, by which people have always convinced themselves that death is not real or final. Since we can see thematic recurrences serving the same bias and human desires, it is reasonable to question the validity of any specific immortality story (i.e., Hindu, Christian, Modern, etc.). We believe such stories because we want them to be true, and not on the weight of the evidence that such stories actually are true. Historically, we have proven willing to believe pretty much anything that promises an escape hatch.

My thoughts: why do we regard faith as a virtue? Why do we condemn those that lack faith, or at least look on them as sad figures?

  1. There is no confirmable evidence that any immortality tale is true.
  2. Belief in immortality must be on faith.
  3. Those that murmur against faith are implicitly shouting that the death proposition is true.
  4. People do not want to be reminded, and they do not want to be awakened to their wishthinking. The point of faith is to forget. It is to forget our smallness and our mortality. And if faith is delegitimized, we will all have to remember.

Hence religion. So many immortality stories. So varied and creative and beautiful. So many beautiful lies, conceived in terror, and bourn by happy wishing. But lies, such as they are, prove damaging, of a squandering influence, and ultimately – entirely unnecessary.

Bad Endings

As time passes, I find that my sense of discomfort concerning claims of divine authority from our lecterns and pulpits declines, where it would seem that we affirm as the words of God the mere texts of men. Coming to such a realization at first throbbed a deep dissonance, and to some extent an abhorrence, at the idea that in good faith we were affirming words written contra. The emotion of this sense has ebbed a great deal. As I hear these echoing assertions in the pews with my family, it all seems relatively lighter. The stabs of fear and anger regarding our uttered blasphemies subside; for if our texts were not authored by God, we blaspheme in so saying. But blasphemy is, I suppose, a somewhat imaginary crime. Where it comes to no harm, I suppose our unfounded wish-thinking is harmless.

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