Oblivion Confounded

by Seymour Schechtman subtlesy@ix.netcom.com

I have always been comfortable with Shakespeare’s formulation of religious freedom. He has Hamlet say to his trusted friend Horatio, "there are more things in heaven and hell than are dreamt of in your philosophy." Meaning, I take it, that our limited intellects can not conceive of the vast possibilities in the universe that we only dimly perceive with our physical senses. And even now with our marvelous technologic sensory enhancing achievements in space. Biblically, of course, this is what God told Job. That his place on planet earth was important but not the be all and end all of existence; that the Divine plan for the universe transcended him but still included his welfare if his existence conformed to God’s ethical and moral code. To me this means much more spiritual breathing room. That eternally human longing for the possibility of validation, redemption and salvation beyond my mere mortal span on this earth, no matter how tenuously stretched by our medical science. Not the randomness that we go from the oblivion of birth to the oblivion of death. That our birth and death are not accidental and the altogether bleak summation of a our brief mortality spanning the limitless voids before birth and after death---in the cold, uncaring universe.

That Darwin’s evolution could still be part of a grand plan, somehow, for perfecting primarily the human animal beyond his apelike genes. That his upright posture and prehensile thumb and well developed frontal cranial brain lobes will evolve beyond his great and very successful material control of this planet and enable the transcendence into the truly human being that finally will not do anything hurtful to his neighbor that would be hurtful to himself. Indeed a human being aspiring to the holiness of the Divine who urged and then mandated a path at that awesome revelation at Sinai.

This is indeed consummate nonsense on a rational level. We have just been through the bloodiest century in all human history. Probably more people killed in wars and deadly fighting in "peace keeping" and other euphemistically named projects that resulted in the utter slaughter of more poor souls than in all other centuries combined. Over one hundred million is the general scholarly consensus. Indeed, one rather efficient way to control the population explosion absent birth control implementation!!. The most illustrious event probably the holocaust featuring 6,000,000 Jews, but I must specify that event, because there are many other mini genocide events vying for the crowning glory in the diadem of available murderous destruction.

And yet I continue to hope, and aspire to the fantasy that will eventually be made manifest as in Wordsworth’s immortal words that "the child is father to the man......we come trailing clouds of glory from God, who is our home.....Heaven lies about us in our infancy...our birth is but a sleep and a forgetting... the soul that rises with us, our life’s star, hath elsewhere its setting, and cometh from afar: not in entire forgetfulness and not in utter nakedness...." And my proof text for this sublime nonsense is the sublime poetic science of cosmology which seeks to explain the universe and its origins and mechanics!.

Einstein reverently and confidently stated that "God does not play dice with the Universe." To back this up he tried use his famous E=MCsquare hypothesis as the basis for ordering basic physical forces such as gravity, electromagnetism, and several others into a unified field theory of the workings of the physical universe. To make this work he and others agreed on also using a generous "fudge factor" to make the equations balance. Since then, as the universe keeps expanding, and we have much less apparent mass in space to account for the gravitational attractions evident we have postulated antimatter, invisible mass, black holes, and now “string theory” to explain how the basic forces of the universe are ordered. We, of course, on the other end of the physical science spectrum have the atomic physicists who are discovering microminute entities such as quarks, pions, and mesons that reveal themselves only as a flashing dot on a photographic plate, and are supposedly the ultimate material essence of the physical world. Seeing is not exactly believing now without a lot of ultimate interpretation, even in the “concrete”, matter of fact, prove it physical sciences--at least in atomic physics and astrophysics.

From this constant wonderment, that the more we find out the more the tantalizing unknown seems to grow almost just beyond our reach , it is not too difficult to still aspire to the greater spiritual unknown, actually to go "back to the future" to the biblical faiths that have given us perhaps a more ultimate reality of our place in the vast cosmos around about us. At least we can still postulate, even only in the somewhat large interstices of our knowledge about the universe, the probability of Controlling Forces and Mechanisms on a higher level still far surpassing our understanding-----"You can not see my face, but I will make all my glory pass before you"--- the every day yet eternal wonder of the creation around us, which while still surpassing all understanding can still, if we have faith, give us hope that there is a friendly, indeed a holy purpose for humanity in the creation, that the titular entity we so lightly call God has the supreme desire to make of us all "a holy nation, a nation of priests and teachers", a lamp unto the world. And, most importantly, promise somehow a form of redemption and salvation beyond our mortal end, Indeed, this sentiment, in our avowedly secular world, has substantial support. The non religion of atheism has never had it so bad, even though we prize all the benefits of rational thinking that technology and most science has brought us. As mentioned above, we fallible human beings wilt sometimes at the inflexible demands that death seems to impose--- an oblivion that terminates, smothers, obliterates. Rational thought is not enough for most of us, and we must become perhaps "pious hypocrites" in the matter of transcending the trauma of death’s apparent horrible reality. But such avoidance of the rational is as real a fact, even in super secular today, as in ancient, less scientifically enlightened times.

Elie Wiesel renounced God while a holocaust inmate in Aushwitz. The diabolic tortures that he witnessed overwhelmed his belief in the possibility of a caring Deity. But by the end of his imprisonment, even though life remained as brutal as ever, he was again worshipping, but not forgiving, the Almighty. According to Weisel, who made his grudging peace with God, the Holocaust was a "failure of both man and God". After the horrors of World War 2, however, many people did turn away from the concept of an omnipotent, involved, caring deity. For awhile the "death of God" movement became a brief but important aspect in our theological debates. It transcended religions, including both Jews and Christian clergy. Richard Rubenstein was a well known Jewish theologian in that movement, and he grimly prophesied, in his well known book "After Auschwitz" that his people would simply have to adhere to the tenets of the faith even though they knew that oblivion was their fate, both before birth and after death. Without benefit of a cosmic force (not even a fudge factor?) tilted toward struggling, fallible, mortal humanity.

However, the Death of God movement, which preached an ethical culture, high minded rationale for the brotherhood of all, did not last long. As order was restored and chaos receded and a modicum of hope returned after the most hideous, almost ten year course of man’s cruelty to man, God started to come back too. And today, especially in this country, belief in God is very popular---over 80% do. Many people need some sort of lifeline heavenward over and above their physical, material self. The exact conception of your belief may vary, from the more ephemeral to the exact anthropomorphic, but after death oblivion is not very popular. Perhaps only the soul returns to God, or complete physical resurrection is possible somehow, somewhere. And then there is the marvelous possibility of reincarnation. And what about the thought that man has evolved so slowly---about a half a million years---to his present state of physical perfection so that suitable sites for an afterlife in some form could be designed by the Higher Powers. To suitably accommodate those who merited it. As Hamlet put it to Horatio about the probable complexity of heaven and hell!.

There remains, of course, the proper way to merit such a possibility of heaven. We have always had stern but still loving guides. The most famous probably by St. Paul, who was Saul of Tarsus before his conversion. "When I was a child I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things........For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then I shall know even as I am also known..... And now abideth faith, hope and love, these three, but the greatest of these is love...."

And the messianic hope of Isaiah, "if we but deal justly with our fellow men and women the word of the Lord shall come...and they shall beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks: Nation shall not lift up sword to nation; they shall never make war again.....and indeed the lion shall lie down with the lamb....."

Or, in the strongly urgent words of Moses, teaching the Holy Writ of God.... And it is not with you alone that I make this sworn covenant: I make it with those who are standing here with us today before the Lord our God, and equally with all who are not here with us today... For this commandment whnich I command you this day is not too hard for you nor too remote. It is not in heaven, that you should say: ‘Who will go up for us to heaven and bring it down to us, that we may do it?' Nor is it beyond the sea, that you should say: ‘Who will cross the sea for us and bring it over to us, that we may do it?’ No,, it is very near to you, in your mouth and in your heart, and you can do it’.

And why not? Do we not have that spark of divinity yet, having been created in God’s image?.

But here on the mundane but still marvelous level of technology there is cyberspace, which may be the start of fallible humanity’s rise to higher levels.. so to transcend our material limitations that our sights can focus truly on our infinitely noble potential for brotherhood and a caring community.