Oftentimes during life or at the end of life, there is a need to believe. The alternative — the void, the emptiness — become too much. Too many loved ones have died. The shotgun awaits. You resist it. You cry out for help.
At the end of life, there is nothing or there is something. You may not want it for yourself. Although that would be okay too. You want it for the people you have loved and lost.
So many people with great intellects have made the choice to believe in something or to believe in nothing.
The British writer John Cowper Powys, who wrote one of the great masterpieces in English literature, ‘Wolf Solent,’ said this about death:
”Whatever death may mean, and none of us really know, I have come to the conclusion for myself that when I die it is the complete and absolute end of me. I am now satisfied that when I lie dying I shall be feeling a perfect contentment in the sure and certain knowledge that no consciousness of mine will continue after my last breath.”
Graham Greene, the author of ‘The Third Man’ and ‘The Power and the Glory’ and many other excellent novels, converted to Catholicism in 1926 when he was 22.
“The Church possessed for me a certain gloomy power,” he said, “because it represented the inconceivable and the incredible.”
‘Brideshead Revisited’ author Evelyn Waugh, said this of his conversion to Catholicism in 1930 at the age of 27: “I believe that everyone has the moment in life when he is open to Divine Grace. It seems to me that the essential issue is between Christianity and Chaos.”
Muriel Spark, who wrote ‘The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie,’ became a Roman Catholic in 1954 when she was 36. She explained it simply: “I became aware of a definite something beyond myself.”
Another convert to Christianity was one of my favorite writers, C.S. Lewis, whose brutally honest memoir ‘A Grief Observed’ about the death of his wife got me through many bad nights after my wife died.
Lewis, who was an atheist as a teenager and became a Christian in 1931 at the age of 33, explained, “I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen: not only because I see it, but by it I see everything else.”
On the other hand, the famous author W. Somerset Maugham who wrote ‘Of Human Bondage,’ had this to say on the subject: “The belief of God is not a matter of common sense, or logic, but of feeling, It is as impossible to prove the existence of God as it is to disprove it. I do not believe in God. It is incredible to me that there should be an after-life. I am convinced that when I die, I shall cease entirely to live. I shall return to the earth I came from.”
So we come full circle, from disbelief to belief to disbelief. For myself, every day and every night, I seek the possibly impossible in a haze of marijuana smoke and the comforting warmth of bourbon.
I pray the 80-proof prayer to believe. To avoid the void. I live in hope that the murmur of faith will become a clear, strong heartbeat.
As the Roman emperor and philosopher Marcus Aurelius wrote in the year 170 AD: “The universe is either a chaos of atoms or a Divine Providence.”
Non-believers say an after-life is preposterous and flies in the face of all science and logic, and is therefore impossible. I have said the same thing.
I have also said that the universe, the geometric precision of it all, the fantastic magic of it all, is impossible.
Yet there it is, all around us, two trillion galaxies of impossibility.
8 thoughts on “What death may mean”
There are some 4,200 different religions in the world today. Each professing, nay demanding, that their divine scriptures are the true following. Yet contrary to their holy-claims of foreknowledge, not one can say what becomes of us after death. That’s because their scriptures, like all penned stories, were made by living men!
What we do know about death, is that it is certain, and that hence-after, forever in body we are erased from this earth. Some 100 billion people who’ve died before us and never returned makes this so! So one can believe whatever they want to but the reality is — what happens after death (if anything) is unknown to the living. Anything else, is just emotionally-driven speculation!
Wonderful post, dear Sir. I enjoy reading you. Thank you.
Who by fire ?!
It’s not about ‘returning to earth.’ I was writing about the possibility of an unknown electrical energy contained within the indestructible atoms that function miraculously inside a person’s brain (which is a super micro universe.) Of course the post was pure speculation, and yes, in my case, emotionally driven, but it was mainly fueled by 80-proof liquor — actually just a late-night conversation I had with Jack Daniels, and then put it to paper, or in this modern age, to glass.
And I thank you for your thoughtful readership and responses.
This is one of your best posts ever. Expansive. Deep. Real. True.
John, I just saw your comment. Thank you, it means a lot coming from a writer whose work and message I truly admire.