Thoughts on consenting to die.
Do not go gentle into that good night;
Old age should burn and rave against the close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
These lines are from a famous poem, but Dylan Thomas is wrong. Simone Weil gives us some of the reasons. For Weil, heaven and hell are essentially the same. Both are a cover for nothingness. We come from the void and we return to the void. Heaven is the nothingness of consent to the void. Hell is the refusal to accept nothingness as the destiny of the soul. The only difference is whether we accept or refuse this nothingness. In consenting to die, we share in the transcendent value of God (McCullough, p 188). Why? Because we no longer belong to a world in which the self and its desires come first. Or as Weil put it, “The self is only the shadow of sin and error cast by stopping the light of God, and I take this shadow for a being.” (GG, p35)
When I consent to die, I thank God for my existence, the tremendous, miraculous fact and privilege of existing. I did not have to be; nothing that exists had to be. My existence on this earth is a gift beyond measure. But because I live, I must also die. Not just every living thing, but every thing that exists must die.* Only the time scale varies, from minutes for some insects, years for human beings, to aeons (a billion years) for the earth itself.
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Psychology of God
I’m going to look at some psychological reasons for belief in God. Whatever I uncover will say nothing whatsoever about the existence of God. Referring to the human need for God helps us understand our need for transcendence. But the need does not prove or disprove God, which is impossible in any case. Good psychology is not the same as good theology. Theology is concerned with how we should talk about God, and to God, especially in times of trial and pain. Psychology is about the need for transcendence.
The inspiration for this post is the fear of death experienced by many Christians. The website www.billygraham.org is filled with emails like the following. “I’m a good Christian, but as I get older I’m terrified of death.” That’s OK, I want to say to the woman who sent the email; everyone is afraid of death. Christianity doesn’t take away that fear; it just makes death meaningful. For what people fear most is not death, but meaningless death, in which one lived and died for nothing. Seen from this perspective, it’s not just religion that gives meaning to death, and hence to a life lived toward death, as all lives do. Participation in great art or music (enjoying as well as making it) gives life meaning, a meaning that will continue after my death in the ennobling activities I give myself to. So too does love of natural beauty.
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