Monday, December 24, 2012

Stacking the deck on faith at Christmas - and on afterlife in general

Simon Critchley has a very interesting column from the "Stone" op-ed series in the New York Times.

In this particular offering, he seeks to defend Jesus as offering truth rather than bread, and does so based on a great passage in literature — Dostoyevsky's Grand Inquisitor from The Brothers Karamazov.

An interesting column, but don't the "true" religious lust for "bread," too? Look at how the afterlife is framed — while religious literature, from the Christian Bible through both Jewish and Christian religious commentary, on to Islam and elsewhere, the afterlife is framed in terms of gratifying individual desires.

Now, those desires may not all be "bread" in a material sense, but they are all so in an individualistic sense.

Look at early Christian theology, or some rabbinic Jewish thought, about the saints/blessed getting to look "down" on the accursed as part of heaven. Vengeance in general fuels fundamentalist monotheism, and already in this life. How often do we read speculations from such types of not just some recently deceased person going to hell, but how bad of a hell they will get?

It's probably related to the same evolutionary psychology that leads us to be more sensitive to negative information and results than to positives. And, it often makes for better reading.

Look at Dante. "Inferno" is a hell of a lot better reading, pun intended!, than is "Paradiso." ("Purgatorio" falls in the middle, yes.)

Or look again at that Christian bible, or deuterocanonical books, like Maccabees. Or Christian church fathers, or the Protestant Reformers, or anywhere in between. The torments of hell are always described graphically, physically and concretely. Heaven? Other than waves at "sitting in the bliss of god" and other metaphysical nonsense, and after dismissing crudely physical harp-waving, Christian writing about heaven is pale and weak.

Islam does better, but that's because it goes down the materialist route (even if the proto-Quran in Syriac offered "72 raisins" rather than "virgins") of sensuality and wine. However, even then, it fades.

But, beyond that, go even older.

After the Greeks separated Hades into places like Tartarus and the Elysian Fields, we see the same.

The punishments of Tantalus, Sisyphus, etc., are diabolical. But mythic Greek writing about Elysium? Blech.

My desire for vengeance, if there were an afterlife? It would be if Mark Twain were right in Captain Stormfield, and the Pat Robertsons and Jerry Falwells were permanently cut down to size for all eternity.

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