Thursday, June 16, 2011

Pick Your Poison

I've been watching the "exit videos" of the members of Heaven's Gate (on this Youtube Channel) for the last week. They're fascinating and surprisingly moving. It's easy to mock these people -- after all, they dressed like the cast of Star Trek and committed group suicide so they could ride in a spaceship behind a comet. But watching them talk about the reasons that compelled them to do this thing, you can't help but be struck by how reasonable and sincere they seem to be. They really believed that their bodies were just vehicles to be discarded so that they could move on to some kind of higher existence.

Many of the world's great Western philosophers and theologians -- Plato, Augustine, Skywalker -- have subscribed to the notion that there is a spirit kingdom just beyond, or within, the earthly world. And that we are not really our physical bodies. We're something eternal that's trapped inside. The advantage is of course that you live forever, and that you can find a meaning to help cope with this world. Which is, let's be frank, shitty. The disadvantage is that you find yourself trying to tune in to messages from the spirits. There are books to help you. Gurus and clergymen of all kinds and flavors. But the essential horror of your situation is that once you begin to doubt the world around you, where do you stop? Which guide do you accept, and how far do you go?

The alternative is you just don't believe. You accept that there's no you in you. There's just a collection of chemical reactions and electrical impulses. The upside is there is no collection plate, no confessional, no voices whispering in your ear. Of course it has its own night terrors (see below).

But what can you do? You just have to pick the fear you can live with.

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