Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Response to Ryan's Post

I can't seem to leave a comment on Ryan's blog, so I'll post my response here and move it over there once everything is in working order. This comment is in response to Ryan's entry, "Sokushinbutsu."

Wow. The naked will to power is nothing next to the naked will to live, and to live forever. It seems people will say, do, and believe anything just for a chance at immortality.

Although I'd like to claim the following idea as my own, Dr. Myers expressed it today more eloquently than I could ever hope.

"...eternal life. There can be no such thing. People change all the time, and the I that is here now will not be the same I that could exist in 20 years; my mortality is a part of my being, and removing that would be an event so traumatic and so life-changing that it would produce an identity even more substantially different than the vast revolution I went through 51 years ago, when I gastrulated. Immortality is meaningless and achieving it is impossible.

That's not to say we don't want a long life and will fight off death as long as we can. It's just that life itself represents a kind of incremental dynamism that can't be frozen without destroying it."

emphasis mine


SuiginChou said...

(I will transfer this over, too)

Meh. :\ Dr. Myers is just playing with semantics, and childishly too. Nobody means "I do not want to change" when he speaks of immortality. Nobody! That he pontificates as such is insulting and a waste of our time, quite frankly. The portion you've placed in bold is especially obvious: no shit we're always changing! Even the cavemen could recognize that a caveboy is different from a caveman who is different from a cave-elder. I mean, seriously! ¬_¬

The quest for immortality is not about hanging on to the status quo; he who wishes to hold on to the status quo must kill himself posthaste; only in death will he have "frozen himself at that perfect moment in time." Life is for those among us who seek change, positive change (at the risk of negative change). We hope to expand our minds, to learn new things, to meet new people, to forge new friendships. Life is an adventure, and by definition any adventure will involve changes both external and internal.

What Dr. Myers fails to see, I think, is that the person who wants to live forever isn't a boy who wants to "hold on to this moment in time and never let it go"; instead, he's the child at the arcade who wants an infinite supply of quarters. It doesn't phase him if new machines come and old machines go -- all he asks is the ability to be a player forever.

Jay said...

Maybe it's childish and obvious to you, but to people who assert some fundamental, immutable essence or sense of self, and eternal punishment or reward for that eternal soul, then the fact that life even on the smallest scale is dependent on change can be revelatory. And despite what you may think, many people do cling to the status quo and hope beyond hope to meet again in an imaginary afterlife as basically unchanged, eternal and unchanging souls, playing tennis, eating cake, always blissfully satisfied and somehow maintaining that bliss while, as St Augustine asserts, witnessing at least some of their unsaved loved ones eternally tormented in the depths of hell (perhaps for entertainment?).

It's madness, I tells yeah, madness!

SuiginChou said...

The average Christian image of the afterlife that I have heard fits one of two things, neither befitting yours or Dr. Myers' impressions:

1) People imagine the afterlife the way I speak of immortality, only now this immortality is condoned by God, occurs within the sphere of Heaven, and is immortality coupled with infinite happiness and goodness and everything. These Christians picture themselves going on picnics with friends, going to see new and old movies alike, playing pool with Abraham Lincoln, discussing physics with Albert Einstein, etc. These people essentially envisage a Heaven where one has an eternity in which to study all that there is to study, read all that there is to read, explore all that there is to explore. It comes pretty damn close to the postulate "What if God were somehow human, and what if I could be that God?"

2) Most serious Christians I have talked with speak of "becoming one with" or "returning to God." They say that when you die, your soul returns to God and you experience the ultimate happiness that there is. Just as Satan is utmost-removed from God and in utmost suffering, you are utmost-moved to God (by rejoining His Spirit) and experience utmost bliss. For all their sophistry, however, this view disgusts me even more than View #1, because it essentially boils God down to cocaine and argues that "to be one with God is the ultimate high; we should all strive towards the ultimate high!" Maybe hippie Christians can rationalize this worldview, but for the rest of the Christians who deplore drug abuse I think they need to seriously open their eyes on this one. If I had to choose between the ultimate high and living a meaningful life, I'd choose the latter. There is no meaning in just being happy. If that is what God's plan is -- for us to just all be happy -- then why can't we be happy now? and why would he engender in us a desire to not be "purely happy" but to seek meaningful, productive lives on Earth?

In either case, View #1 does not fit what Dr. Myers claims (because it entails an ever-changing Heaven) while View #2 is irrelevant to Dr. Myers' claims because it's not that those Christians seek preservation of the status quo but rather that they are incapable of anything at all, so euphoric are their souls in the bathed rays of the Almighty.

matt said...

I haven't commented here in a while or kept up much with what's been said recently, but I think this is a pretty important point of fact in Christian doctrine.

Ryan, there is no justification for the comparison of Christian Heaven /union with God and the use of cocaine. Heaven, for the Christian, is much more like the satisfaction at the completion of a difficult task than it is like inducing a high with drugs [though the "completion of task" analogy, like any analogy, suffers serious deficiencies].

Christian tradition, being heavily influenced by Neoplatonism and Aristotle, tends to see human life as teleological: God is not just the creator, but He is man's proper end. And because an action must have an end [and here I use "end" in the sense of "goal" as well as in the colloquial sense of "completion"], the only possibly meaningful life is one which strives toward union with God, who is not only the Alpha, but the Omega. This is why the Christian ought to struggle toward Heaven, not because it is cheap bliss, but simply because it's where one belongs.

SuiginChou said...

That's like saying, though, that because A is the Omega, we should strive towards A regardless of what that means for us. I think that sort of worldview falls apart pretty quickly, because (a) we are generally uncertain about what the future has in store for us so we can't live be said to be fighting for things under such an impetus (of "because they are bound to happen"), and (b) there are many things we know are inevitable (i.e. omegas) that we all strive to stave off, such as death, the extinction of life as we know it on Earth, etc. We know that many things cannot last forever, but we struggle to fight that fate. So too is it with life. If being with God is the omega of omegas, then more people ought to hasten the process of rejoining Him and God ought not to deem it a sin.

My reply, and your comment, already have the makings of another "Why can't B see things A's way?" vs. "Why can't A see things B's way?" discussion. I dunno. I wish these things would end well, but they never, ever do. You have your convictions and I have mine. We can both defend these through X amount of rationalization, Y amount of personal observation, and Z amount of citable authorities. That's why I really have come to hate discussing religion: because agreement is hollow and disagreement is often unsolvable.

matt said...

Well, I said that in Christian tradition, God is the proper end of man, not the inevitable end.

I'm not here attempting to explain why Christianity is right, I'm just trying to make you understand what it's saying, and I think that you are registering objections with something that nobody ever said nor believed. It's certainly something I don't recognize at all, neither in my own Christian tradition nor in any tradition which has called itself Christian.

As for the unsolvable nature of some disagreements, I don't have such a problem with it. I'd rather try to wrestle with other paradigms as much as I can, as I find this exercise helps me better to understand my own beliefs as well. However, as I've said many times, the blog comments format is probably the worst way to do this; in this tiny little window, one tends to think in a tiny little way. The only really worthwhile discussions involve face-to-face contact and a beer, a glass of wine or at least a strong cup of coffee!

Jay said...

Oh dear, I opened a can of worms. Sorry!

Thanks for the perspective Matt. Since this may be one of the last times I have your attention, let me just say best wishes and congratulations! I think, secretly, I'm jealous that you seem to have had such an easy time embracing adulthood.

As for worthwhile discussions, I'm afraid I shrivel up in face-to-face meetings. Anxiety kicks in, self-confidence evaporates, and I'm generally ready to believe whoever is the loudest and most aggressive. It's a part of myself I hate, but it's a part of myself (and many others, so suggests The Asch Conformity Experiment)nonetheless.

I think I will always prefer writing. :\

matt said...

Thanks, Jay.