Thursday, June 21, 2007

I am so haunted sometimes by the question of whether or not we exist after death.

I mean, I am a committed Christian, so I have the answer to this riddle. But that doesn't stop the fear from overcoming me sometimes.

To think, to be so close to death.. I was reading people's last words from some website, I can't find it now.

It seems so scary to me. Everyone who is now alive is going to die. There are deaths every day, perhaps. Each should be a monumental event.

I mean, it seems almost silly. I am alive at this moment. I am alive, and I know I am alive. I sit in this chair, I type at this keyboard. My mind produces these words; I can hear my own voice in my head as I type. I am sentient, in every meaningful definition of the word.

But there will come a time when I am not sentient, when my body dies.

What will it be like? What is the division between body and soul? Is the soul a cleverly-constructed front? Or is that personality?

How does the mind work, exactly? How do we decide to do what we do? Because, if it is a front, if it's all just the beautiful operating complexity of an exquisitely-complex organ, then what loss is there when we die?

If there is no soul, we lose nothing in death. (Or we lose everything, depending on your perspective.) That person ceases to be, but his or her value lies only in the relative uniqueness of their facade. You might argue that the good someone does gives them value; their value can then be judged on the likelihood that they will do something good at any given moment. Their value can be boiled down to a figure of probability.

When the soulless person dies, the world loses almost nothing. Merely a personality that has suddenly ceased to exist, a good-doing potential that is quieted. We can debate the value of different personalities, and we can argue that the highest percentage of good-doing is the most worth saving, but it is a moot point as death happens to everyone anyway. There is little "saving" that can be done; it is an inevitable part of life that everyone dies. Therefore, our discussions of the value of persons must always include the fact that at some point they will cease to exist, and on that basis it is difficult to argue that any one person is worth the effort to save.

When the soulless person dies, he loses everything. Everything he has ever been is wiped away, only to survive haltingly in the memories of those who have happened to witness him. His life, lived mostly in secret (many of us are alone for large portions of the day), is gone forever, and no one will ever know the full extent of it. His consciousness is gone, never to return; he is utterly and entirely wiped from the face and memory of the earth. There might be buildings built in his name, ordinances that carry his signature, people who remember him, but his own existence, every bit of himself that matters to himself, is lost forever.

But what if that person has a soul? If the soul exists, when the person dies, he has lost nothing; he remains sentient afterwards. He has merely divorced his metaphysical being from his physical one; he continues onward, probably even keeping his personality and memory (as sentience is tied with memory; organisms that remember nothing can hardly be sentient). He has a new world to contend with, to be sure, but he does not end. And since everything we know about souls asserts that they cannot be destroyed, he will continue to exist forever. In this scenario, death for him is merely a momentous event, a turning point in the ever-lengthening saga of his life. A transition, and nothing more, as is often said.

When the soulled man dies, the world loses most. Though he continues to exist, he cannot communicate with the world of the living in any reasonable fashion, as our experiments have ascertained; the world of living people can no longer benefit from interaction with him. Any good that he is able to do is truncated, as he is no longer able to interact physically with the world. He is not hurt by this, except maybe in the emotional sense, but the world itself has lost the interaction and potential of another human.

So, like, it seems silly and frivolous for humans to survive without souls. It benefits them nothing and the world almost nothing to die with no soul. But, if we have souls, there is glory in death. There is loss for the rest of the world, our lives mean something.

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