Beyond This Life

What happens after we die? The ultimate question, unanswerable by anyone – and yet billions of us follow ideologies which lay out, step by step, exactly what happens when we cross that last river. Isn’t the fear of death the first basis of all religion?

Sometimes I see a movie scene in a hospital, where something dangerous has happened, some awful accident or death-sentence diagnosis, and I have a small panic attack. I have a healthy fear of death. As a child, I lost two grandparents in two years, and it kept my spirits low and my writing morbid. Today, picturing my own end, I am horrified by the image of powerlessness – the doctor’s verdict that you will be slowly destroyed from within. Your body – or worse, your mind – will fail you, and you’ll be trapped. It’s metaphysical claustrophobia.

The idea that we can transcend our bodies and go beyond this life is very appealing to me. The idea of heaven, where we can see all of our lost loved ones, is a beautiful one. My own theory is that we cannot possibly conceive of how this “heaven” works, nor what exactly it means to be “reunited” with your dead grandparents. It’s beyond our capacity for thought.

Aldous Huxley was onto something when he conceived of human consciousness as a water faucet. Normal mental existence, he said, was like a dripping faucet – because the human brain is ill-prepared for the full, gushing flow of true reality. He believed psychedelics had shown him a glimpse of this reality; I’d say God is like the most powerful trip you could take. To know God is to slip the bonds of the mind; to achieve Nirvana as the Buddhists speak of it: an escape from the cycle of suffering that is human life.

That, to me, is sacred. Physically, life may only be a fortuitous combination of elements. But I refuse to believe the soul is nothing more than a chemical reaction. A soul makes something alive, makes it fight to stay alive. A living creature is more than just the sum of its physical parts. Which is crazy, because by that logic, it’s not only humans that have souls, but animals, too – even plants. Even mushrooms, which are neither animal nor plant! Impossible!

Surely that’s going too far. Fungus doesn’t have a soul! Or does it? What’s the difference between being alive and having a soul? My Catholic forefathers argued that souls were reserved to humans. Not even little Fido had a soul, they said, which meant the family pup was doomed to eternity in fire and brimstone, cursed among all creatures. Now why would I subscribe to that?

The longer I consider it, the more firmly I believe that the Great Religions of the world are based on things that were simply made up by good storytellers thousands of years ago. Whether the Church wants to advocate world peace or denounce condoms, I’m free to make my own conclusions. Further, I can create my own stories about what happens when we die. Because if “God” exists at all, then She exists inside each of us equally, and the Pope is no holier than thou.

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