Catholicsm and paganism have a lot in common. Some evidence from Portugal.
For hundreds of years Catholics converted tribal people from all over the globe to Christianity. This conversion was often combined with violence and conquest in a zealous quest to drive out the “false gods” of paganism.
But Catholicism itself is more like a pagan religion than it wishes to admit. During Eucharist, believers eat the actual body of Christ — not symbolic, but the real flesh as dictated by Papal dogma. This is pure magic and no different to the tribal rituals they once abolished. In Lisbon I got caught up in a large procession, Corpo de Deus, where this miracle was celebrated.
Another fine example of catholic paganism in Faro is the Capela dos Ossos, the chapel of the bones. An alter built from the bones of monks as a reminder of the temporal nature of our existence.
If anything all this makes Catholic religion a lot more interesting than the austerity in Protestant churches. The ability of Catholicism to incorporate ancient local customs has been its secret to success over the world.
The first episode of Torchwood has finally aired on Australia television! This contemporary Doctor Who spin-off is more than just another way to cash in on the popular science fiction series. Torchwood is more violent and daring than the series that spawned it, but underneath the sex and violence the stories deal with philosophical issues, some of which deserve exploration beyond the screen narrative.
The Torchwood team has a metallic gauntlet by which they can revive the dead for a short period. Several people are killed by the same method and knife. When John Tucker, one of the victims, is revived, Jack Harkness asks him:
What was it like when you died? … Nothing, I saw nothing. Oh my God, there is nothing.
John is clearly disturbed by this prospect, specially because he knows that he will die again soon. The idea of total blackness and nothing seems to scare him profoundly.
This fear of nothingness is a fascinating aspect of the human condition. When analysing the problem it is clear that this fear is not rational because when there is nothing, there is also no threat. A state of not-being is not something to fear because it is not rational (not justified) to fear something that does not exist. So why are people not content with a prospect of an absolute end to life?
Leo Tolstoy thought that if there was no life after death, then life would be meaningless. This approach is, however, not satisfactory because it relocates the problem of whether there is meaning to a life after death. If there is life after death, then what is the meaning of that life? Is there a life after life-after-death to provide meaning? Ad infinitum …
The Epicureans did not agree with this line of thought and were right in arguing that death is inconsequential to the question whether life has meaning or not. Although death may be final and could make all our efforts futile from a perspective of eternity, we can only judge life from the internal perspective. The idea that death only removes meaning is forced upon us when we look upon life from the eternal perspective.
We can, however, not view life from an external perspective, because we are bound by our internal point of view. Any attempt to take an external perspective, such as religion, can not provide a final answer to the quest for a meaning of life.
The meaning of life is embedded in life itself and we should not hope, nor fear for anything after death.
Dealing with death through funerals is one of the oldest signs of human culture, some anthropologists even define the onset of culture by the fact whether the dead were buried or not.
Our fascination with and fear of death relates directly to our ability to think about the future. We are the only animal that seems to have the ability to ponder life and conclude that there is only one certainty: we will all die. That insight creates a whole lot of existential anxiety, which is the defining factor of the human condition. This anxiety is mitigated by developing vehicles for meaning, such as religion.
Funerals are an amazing ritual. It is our way to pay respect to the memory of the deceased and their family. It is also a form of catharsis for the emotions that have built up since the death occurred. The announcement of somebody’s death is surreal. The funeral brings reality to the death, helping to anchor the irreversibility into our psyche.
Funerals make us ponder our own mortality and provoke good intentions that we should make the most of the time available to us. The funeral ritual is the end of one life, but provides new beginnings for al those who attend.
Christian funeral rites are, however, unsatisfying. The empty promise of eternal life and the hope that we will meet the deceased again after we have fallen to the same fate lead us astray. The promise of a life after death diverts our focus from life itself to the afterlife. One could argue that it doesn’t really matter and it is better to believe, it is better to play it safe, just in case religion is true. Religion is founded on metaphysical sky-hooks—there is no justification for the idea of life after death, besides our existential anxiety.
I choose to accept that there is no metaphysical foundation. My philosophy is not based on a sky-hook, but a metaphysical hot-air balloon, floating over the cultural landscape. Accepting that there is no certainty, no absolute truth is a very liberating experience. It forces one to choose life over death!