Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Upon A Star

Making a wish when you blow out the birthday candles on your cake (which I shall be doing this evening..:)) is a very old tradition. The reason for the tradition is that it was once believed that the smoke rising from the extinguished candles would carry your wish to heaven where god, in his infinite mercy, would grant it. I guess it’s as sound a theory as any where god is concerned, but is god really any more than a wish himself?

In Roman times, gods were those you prayed to in order to make your life on earth better and for the most part, there was no belief in life after death. The Druids on the other hand, believed in various forms of reincarnation. In fact Julius Caesar, having had to make three attempts to get a foothold in England wrote: “Their Druids teach that the soul is not extinguished upon death, but passes to another. In this way, the fear of death is removed and they are moved to uncommon feats and fight with ferocity unmatched!”

I find it interesting to note Caesar’s comment here. This was a man with singular experience in conquering foreign peoples and cultures, yet it’s not until Britain, which is quite late on his list of major conquests, that he finds “eternal life for everyone” as a religious concept. Obviously not a common phenomena in that part of the world at that time.

But be that as it may, it seems that throughout history gods have served their purpose by serving as sources of hope. On the one hand, you’d pray and hope for good fortune and a longer, more comfortable life while on the other, you’d pray and hope for a glorious death in battle which would help to speed your soul on its way to some variation of a “hall of ancestors” where it will join the eternal party, or on its way to another host where it could fulfil its “destiny”. Either way though, it’s little more than hope.

Christianity is fairly new when it comes to being a religion. For thousands of years, the ancient gods and ancestors reigned supreme in the spiritual world, each offering their own forms of solace and hope. The old ways however, are nearly always replaced with something new and completely different and that’s where Yahweh, Jesus and Mohammed really make their mark.

The jewish, christian and muslim god offers all of these things in one package. With this god, it is possible to hope for a long and prosperous life while at the same time hoping for a glorious death in battle, without any thought at all to the contradiction implied there. He’s a veritable well spring of hope which has been used to great effect over the years. Churchill and Hitler both used god and Jesus to extol their troops to ever greater feats of “valour” and even today, we’re told that god is a reason for killing civilians in the Middle East while he seems to be the sole reason why young muslim men and women continue to explode in public places.

But as much as anyone can believe in a god, no-one can actually be sure in fact. Because of that condition, Pascal famously wagered that it’s better to believe and live in hope than to not believe and take the chance, but what is hope if it isn’t a wish? I may wish for something better after this life, just as a ruler may wish for a means of control. It’s unfortunate that god has seen fit to grant both our wishes in one fell swoop with the advent of his religion.

So it seems we’ve wished for ourselves, a god of such unerring magnitude that he can create a universe out of nothing, yet is deaf, blind, wholly indifferent and completely impotent when disasters and injustices are perpetrated upon the peoples of his world, and that our wish has been sorely granted. It’s a sad fact too that the granting of that wish has only served to make matters worse.

Bad people prosper and good people suffer and that’s how it’s always been. It would be nice to think that those who prey on others, or on society, will get what they deserve in the next life, but that belief and attitude, as well as breeding apathy is extremely counterproductive; If I’m happy to die because I’m going to go to heaven, then I’m just as happy to let you kill me because I know you won’t.

David Hume, an eighteenth century philosopher posed the following problem which as far as I know, has never been satisfactorily resolved. He enquired about God:

“Is He willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then He is impotent. Is He able, but not willing? Then He is malevolent. Is He both able and willing? Whence then is evil?”

So “Whence then is evil?” The same place as god I’m afraid. Lounging luxuriously in the hopes, dreams and wishes of men.

7 Comments:

Dikkii said...

Happy birthday, Plonka, and 5 stars for that post.

I rather like the Hume quote - it's excellent.

Are you going to be participating in Tom's 4 things I'd do if I was God meme?

Plonka said...

Thanks Dikkii...:)

Hume was clever. He didn't argue against god, he argued against evil.

I've been thinking about it...

Dikkii said...

Actually, I find it extraordinary that there wasn't an eternal life thing in the Roman Olympus thingy.

Just goes to show, really that the more that can be promised will get the most rubes in.

Plonka said...

Well there was, but it wasn't for just anybody. Caesar of course, was a god and some of the high priests got a gurnsey as well, in various forms of eternal servitude but your average Joe's spirit hung around just long enough for the send off and then slowly faded away to nothing.

And it wasn't a sorrowful "wake" either. The average funeral was a massive celebration of the life (think New Orleans), a huge feast, booze and gifts for the surviving family and anyone walking past could join in and party like there was no tomorrow.

The problem was in not getting a send off. That's where ghosts come from. No party, no death.

I've rambled a bit there, but I'm blaming the drugs...:)

tina said...

Happy Birthday, late. Sorry. I never knew that about the candles..interesting.

Plonka said...

Thanks Tina...:)

Well there is a precedence for god liking smoke, so I guess it kind of makes sense...

tina said...

:)

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