We are now truly and firm embedded in the New Year. As I sit here in my study listening to the patter of the rain on the tiles, my mind drifts to contemplate the ultimate question/conundrum- what happens when we die? As I age the question becomes more insistent and intrusive. Recently, my aged mother contracted pneumonia. She lives in a 'Home come Hospital' which best suits her medical issues. The 'Lead Nurse' of the facility warned me that in, her opinion, it was likely that my mother would succumb. Even without a serious illness, she is close to being bedridden. Regardless, the facility provides quality care and tenders to all her needs. Anyway, the nurse provided contact numbers for the local funeral directors and gave me a hug. Three weeks later, the tough old bugger has beaten the infection and is unlikely to die from whatever ailed her.
My mother is not afraid of death. In truth, she relishes and embraces death's icy grip. As a Jehovah's Witness (JW), she has an absolute belief that at some time, in the future known only to Jehovah, she will be bodily resurrected and live upon paradise earth, for eternity. There is no doubt her beliefs give comfort and reassurance. I have to grudgingly admit, I envy my mother's certainty. However, I am well aware of JW teachings, tenets and dogma and I find the whole 'Religious Ediface' laughable, and undoubtedly cultish.
If we are to be strictly honest, thoughts of our ultimate demise become prominent, as we age. I have perpended deeply upon the topic. On reflection, I do not fear death- it would be silly and pointless to do so. That said, I do fear dying in pain and/or the associated loss of dignity. I am a believer in euthanasia, however, this is not a medical option in my adopted country. The wise man knows when he should leave the 'party' and venture unto the great unknown....... Worry not gentle reader, that time is not now.
I have skirted around the topic of Death in many of my posts and expressed my beliefs on what occurs after death. My opinions have subtly evolved over time due to my deep reflections and research. If I'm going to be intellectually honest, when asked the ultimate question, I answer with a firm response: "I do not know". This answer is a sincere reflection of my strict adherence to the 'Empirical Imperative', which underpins the scientific method. Data is required before we can honestly answer any question relating to nature and reality. And herein lies our problem. There is no available information pertaining to what happens after we take our last breath. Some folk would state that there is valid data from 'Near Death' experiences. Let me state the obvious: Near-Death experiences are not data points pertinent to the question. They are merely the expression of a brain deprived of oxygen. Neurophysiologists have convincingly shown that similar episodes can be repeated by stimulating specific areas of the cerebral cortex. Science demands that the subjects under consideration undergo total brain cellular death and thereafter report their findings according to standard medical and scientific protocols. As far as I know, no such data is forthcoming. I await with frenzied anticipation for future developments within this field; it might be a long wait.
Religions, various, have much to say on the topic. I briefly introduced the JW doctrine, sadly my mother believes the whole deal. In a way, my mom is a perfect candidate for the JW religious cult. She is poorly educated and functionally illiterate.
Most religions consider some form of an afterlife where the virtuous are rewarded and the evil-doers punished. During the Middle Ages, Catholic creed was truly wedded to a belief in a literal heaven and hell, and hell was a place of eternal conflagration and torment. These days there has been an official amelioration of the doctrine. In the 13th century a 'Third Domain' was added to the infernal mix of the afterlife. Purgatory (to purge) became a halfway alternative to everlasting scorching. Purgatory was viewed as a place of 'abode' for those who, in life, committed minor sins. Purgatory was considered a place of cleansing. A temporary residence where its denizens tarried, but for a little while. Presumably, minor miscreants do not receive the whole 'hell experience' and therefore are subject to a light searing, divinely applied. After a designated interval of 'cleansing', the individual, now free of sin, can happily progress to paradise.
Judaism, like Christianity, has never had a consistent or unified concept concerning the afterlife. During Jesus's lifetime, different sects and divisions within Judaism held opposing doctrines. Surprisingly the Old Testament has little to say on the matter. From what I can discern, the conservative and strictly adherent Sadducees, considered death as final and consequently dismissed the possibility of 'life after death (surely an oxymoron). Other groups, within Judaism, thought that the afterlife was a rather ephemeral shadowy affair where the soul pottered about in Sheol, slowly fading away. As for modern Judaism, I will say this: Jewish thought is heavily centred upon this life. However, some Jews teach a future bodily resurrection in connection with a coming 'Messianic Age'. The fate of the departed is dependent upon God's judgement. All are judged according to their deeds/misdeeds in life. What transpires after divine justice gets a little hazy and I don't have space here to take into account the options that have been put forth by Jewish savants.
Both Hinduism and Buddhism believe in reincarnation and reanimation of the soul after death. It is believed that the 'quality' of reincarnation is dependent upon works and actions performed during life. Obviously, this is a very simplistic and under-explained depiction provided by the golden/silver-haired one. The curious should go forth and read anew and become informed and intellectually invigorated!
This is but a brief survey of religious belief concerning a continuation of consciousness following demise. What is the point of my babblings? Firstly, it seems that all cultures, irrespective of historical context, appear fascinated, absorbed/abhorred by the concept of a form of 'life' following bodily demise. Tis understandable, life is dense, unfathomable and often unfair. What is the point of existence? Why do evil men flourish and wax great, while the just and the righteous suffer indignity and suffering? With a belief in a just deity surely there must be divine redress, if not in this world, then the next.
The sad truth is that there is no evidence or data to support any of the religious musings concerning the fate of the dead. Science, as practised over the past 400 years, or so, has shown that, as a species, we are nothing particularly special. Mayhap Homo Sapiens are the smartest organism to dominate our fragile planet. All that said, we are animals after all. Animals that share 99% of our genetic make-up with our close relative, the Chimpanzee. Considering all the diverse religions out there, with their diverse views, there appears to be a consensus that humans are special and animated by 'God's spark'. Other animals are lesser breeds and are not so favoured or patronised by the resident deity, of choice. There is no consideration for animals to be suffused with a soul. Will I never bound and prance about with my long-dead ferret, Shagger, in the heavenly realm? The modern enlightened educated man knows the answer.
Now for a few concluding thoughts. At the start of this 'loquacious post' I declared that according to the rule of the 'Empirical Imperative', I must remain silent as to what happens after we have taken our last breath. No evidence equals no conclusion. However, while I acknowledge this basic tenet, I feel inclined to express an opinion on the available evidence to hand (none). To be honest, the data I put forth belongs to the living organism and not the dead. Unfortunately, dead men tell no tales.
I have rambled on too long and have broken the sacred '1,000-word rule' when it comes to blogging. May the gods (who/they/them/it - must respect gender fluidity, these days and not presume God's pronoun- after all, he could be a raving pooftah for all I know), give me peace and solace.
The problem: consciousness is resident within the organ that we acknowledge as the brain. For all our scientific expertise, how awareness and cognisance become manifest is still an unfathomable mystery. Keeping in mind that the property of consciousness is firmly fixed to living neural tissue, and once the brain expires there is a loss of self-awareness, comprehension and thus consciousness. Therefore, I contend that death is equivalent to 'Socrate's gentle sleep'. Expect, but don't experience, oblivion. This is the fate of all cognisant, living organisms, stretching to eternity. Nuff said.