top2.gif - 6.71 K

Dreams of Life After Death Take Form

By Jack Nichols

It seems I've always been a student of the psychology of conversion. Early on I noticed how grotesque and fanciful beliefs were proliferating hither and yon. With this early awareness I quickly waxed skeptical in all matters pertaining to the gods.

At age 15, I came upon Thomas Paine's Age of Reason. He'd said that divine incarnations, prophets or messengers of God should speedily do what God tells them to do, and, Paine promised, he too would quickly do what God commands him to do.

But…what if God tells some reputed prophet to tell Paine what to do? Paine feared if he were to accept this wanna-be messenger's word as God's word that he'd be accepting a man's authority but not God's.

I saw this as a legitimate fear advanced by an authentic Founding Father, the very man, in fact, who'd inspired the Revolution with his pamphlet, Common Sense. Paine's arguments eliminated for me--in one fell swoop-any present or future allegiance I might have been tempted to give to any "revealed" religion.

Holy Books, the "sacred revelations" of self-proclaimed messengers, I decided, are man-made texts, designed by the soul's aspiring slave-dealers, denying deserved pleasures and simultaneously taking moneys as tithes and then, without mercy, incarcerating useful critical faculties in stale prisons of belief.

I quickly became suspicious of the word "belief'. It seemed to me infinitely more important to have "knowledge" yet even when any facet of knowledge is assumed to be true it is not so dogmatic as to deny further testing. Confirming this is the recent history of the science of astronomy which must allow an attitude cheerfully inclusive of doubts, ever striving to resolve them in satisfying searches for truths.

Still 15, I found myself drawn to Edward Fitzgerald's translation of The Rubaiyat, the work of a tentmaker turned astronomer who lived in twelfth century Persia. Omar Khayyam made me aware that life is short:

Related Articles from the GayToday Archive:
Baptist Princess, Sister Taffy, Interviews Jack Nichols

The Declaration of the Free

Dissecting Christianity's Mind-Snaring System

Related Sites:
Thomas Paine: Age of Reason

GayToday does not endorse related sites.

And, as the Cock crew, those who stood before
The Tavern shouted-"Open then the door!
"You know how little while we have to stay,
And, once departed, may return no more."

He celebrated living in the now and scoffed at the concept of personal physical immortality, realizing, as I began to, that zealously expecting a glorious future life can distract one from drinking in the awesome beauty of this one in the here and now:

Some for the Glories of This World, and some
Sigh for the Prophet's Paradise to come,
Ah, take the Cash and let the Credit go,
Nor heed the rumble of a distant Drum!

But if the concept of immortality is mere pie in the sky, could there possibly be a believable secular version of paradise, a heaven that one can celebrate without offending one's sense of the sensible?

There are apparent immortal moments in our experiences, moments spent in a seeming eternity; in which we passionately connect with the immediate present, a rich feel that seems divine. This ecstasy evokes a mystical dimension wherein time, a calm, nameless presence, stands still.

It took me a while to find a perch from which to more fully contemplate any sort of heavenly awareness. I met a shirtless young man last week around whose neck was hanging a golden Chinese character and on whose arm a Chinese word was tattooed. What do these characters mean? I asked him. "Love," he replied, and "Honor".

"Your focus is on values," I praised him, "instead of on beliefs," thinking how symbols of belief systems seem to say less than this young man's direct focus. A friend my age talks today about "partial, temporary immortality." "That's all that anyone can hope for," I assure him.

"Even being remembered in history books keeps one's memory alive only for a while-if not in the memories of the masses, at least in the minds of scholars," I tell my friend, "but both archives and books can be wiped out by zealots, as when the Nazis destroyed the Institute of Sexual Science in Berlin, crushing the skull of the pioneering Dr. Magnus Herschfeld or similarly-- in the long ago-when religious fanatics overrunning Egypt burned down the greatest library of the ancient world.

But a value-with its kernel of continuing necessity- can glow like an inner gem in our experiences. Love, Freedom, Passion, Humor, Drama, Song-such values already leap across the centuries, settling where they will, independent of time and place. If any such qualities are to reincarnate, I'd say, then they must be lived openly and be thereby noticed and passed to some future generation. Human see, human do.

To the extent that we are what we value, and to the degree that disembodied but observed values return alive to inhabit new bodies during new eras, to that degree does what we most value about ourselves continue to live on in the most important way.

We are not our possessions: not automobiles, not our wardrobes. Nor, even, are we that intriguing face we see posing in the glass. We are, I would maintain, those living qualities we truly value, that innermost part of us that's sure to return to life in the future, in another form perhaps.

The Bhagavad Gita captures this idea:

Whenever there is a decay of the good
And when ignorance is afoot,
Then I myself come forth;
To destroy ignorance and to preserve the good
I am born from age to age.

bannerbot.gif - 8.68 K
© 1997-2002 BEI