Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Soaring Above Distinctions

As readers of Bookpuddle well know, I like to muse upon philosophical matters [if that's the right word for my glaze-eyed staring off into the distance] and these musings have a tendency to veer off into the realm of theology.
In a word, I can't help but question, and continually question, a lot of things I formerly believed in. The past decade of my life is one in which reason has trumped a former faith.
Most often, I am jogged into these musings through the events or dialogue I find embedded in fiction -- in novels. And something of that nature has again happened today, in my reading of Anne Bronte's [1848] The Tenant of Wildfell Hall.
In today's reading, Helen is trying to dissuade Gilbert, a love-struck admirer. He declares his undying love for her and asks for her hand but she continually repels him, basing her rejection on what is basically the body of the entire novel -- the failure of her marriage to another man.
Technically, she is not "single."
In her argument with the amorous Gilbert, she tries to appease him with the idea that "there is perfect love in Heaven!"
In other words, if they just wait until they die, they can meet again up there and things will be all fine and [presumably] dandy! The problems of earthly life will no longer be a hinderance.
As Gilbert considers this scenario he replies:
"So perfect , I suppose, that it soars above distinctions , and you will have no closer sympathy with me than with any one of the ten thousand angels and the innumerable multitude of happy spirits round us."

To me, his well-reasoned response is a perfect exposure of some of the silly ideas that are prevalent in a lot of religious thinking about the after-life.
The scene itself leads me to ponder so many philosophical [and/or theological] questions.
For instance, what is it that the tenants of heaven are supposed to DO for eternity?
I recently asked a very committed Christian person this very question and his answer was immediate -- "The Bible is very clear, we shall worship the Lord and say 'Holy - holy - holy' all the time."
I said to him, "Is this what you do 'all the time' right now, in your earthly existence? As much as you love God, don't you do other things than just worship Him day and night?"
"Yes," he replied -- "but I always remain in an attitude of worship as I go about my business."
Fair enough, but think about it -- what he is saying is just another way of excusing the distraction of "business".
I followed up by saying to him that even in church or in prayer -- even at your most worshipful and reverent moments -- for how LONG can you just focus upon this intense praise of Him?
My point was that even a solid hour of such a thing would be wearying almost to the point of human collapse, much less doing this for an eternity. If it was me even at the peak of my religious fervour, somewhere among that sixty minutes I guarantee you I would be distracted by visions of hamburgers or coffee or beautiful women, or any number of other things that are NOT JEHOVAH!
And so, to think of doing this very thing eternally, I instantly realize that there is nothing within me that would DESIRE such a prolonged homage.
When I pressed my saintly friend along these very lines, he followed up by agreeing with me, but explained that in that heavenly state we will be changed [sort of angelic or something, transfigured or whatnot] and that we will then have the desire and power to do this constant act of worshiping, a power that we lack in our earthly condition.
But then this is the point where it comes right back to what Gilbert is saying to Helen in Bronte's novel.
If we are altered like this when we get to heaven, what is the good of saying that it is YOU doing this thing? And how [and why] does this "altering" take place?
Wouldn't such worship be almost meaningless if we were divinely aided in the accomplishing of it?
Wouldn't "love" be degraded [as Gilbert argues] if it were merely dispersed all over the place in equal measure, soaring above distinctions?
Isn't real love, true love -- everything we have ever known of love -- far more the result of profoundly earthly predicaments, rather than heavenly?
[I think I know what Gilbert would say...]



Priori said...

Yes this is brilliant.

Cipriano said...

Thank you, Priori.
Have you taken my summertime advice and read any Solzhenitsyn lately?

Priori said...

No... I went out and got a few of his books for the old shelf, but I need some motivation, or whatever it is that makes one devour huge books that are only half read... yes there are multiple :S