Monday, December 17, 2007

The All-Pervading Death

Always in retrospection, man can gleam on life. I have had several occasions to do this. Whenever I am left alone, things would pass through my mind; it lingers and leaves peculiar units of thoughts that may keep on coming back as time demands. One of the major themes that I keep on coming back to is death. When one considers the frailty of life, you could not escape the inevitability of thinking morbidity. I do not know why people would think otherwise, when, in fact, death is all's end. If we begin to look life devoid of any reference of anything that goes beyond the evident and obvious, we can come to a conclusion that it is meaningless, like Jean Sartre's. Love, hope, and faith (among others) are empty of meaning if left alone by itself without any reference of something transcendent; if, at all, these virtues will be taken up by purely human project and praxis, each will dwindle into relative isolation and will be affronted against each other to the detriment of their harmonious unity under the sway of one's own interpretation. Man could not mount himself superior to anything that he is limited and always is oppressed by the imperfections that he will always have. Goodness is never without in man; he can always advance in life with reference to something his intellect perceives as good. But how much man expends his energy in his skills, talents, and abilities and exhausts his mental prowess to explaining the mysteries and exploring the hitherto unknown horizons and terrains of inventions, he is still under the sting of his own weakness and could do the most horrendous and catastrophic of evils.

This is why I have so much to hope in religion. I always think religion does not offer anything that is convenient to the demand of this world. The dualism of world and religion has always been a theme of the Christian church; the very words of this dichotomy exists in the pages of Paul's epistle and John's short exhortations to the early Christians in Ephesus. These Christian writers project before us not a dialectic of two opposing realities but a conflict. It was only later in the second century that when the great apologists emerged and began to defend the cause of Christianity against the assault of the pagan Roman empire.

Not only Christianity seeks to inculcate the positivity of liberation of man, but this is always a recurring end even of Buddhism, Hinduism, Shintoism, and other indigenous religions in the east and Africa. Underneath the rituals and traditions of these religions, there lies a constant ascent to the communion with the otherworldly, of the transcendent, and of the Supreme Being. Though there are different concepts of how one approaches this reality, eventually, to posit something immaterial is real is to conclude, henceforth, a creative being. Once we acknowledge the existence of the world of the spirits, then in the long analysis, it will all lead to acknowledging the existence of a God, who is the creative principle of everything material and immaterial.

This is always a languishing reality in my mind. Then, when I think of death, it does not sound hollow, as if bereft by anything purposeful, because I see someone at the other end of my view. A view that is not often shared by people I have known in life with. There is so much that they avoid about death. It is as if any mention of it stirs a hopeless fear. There is kind of annihilism of the concept of death, though it is one that could never be killed in mind. We are living in an age where death is pushed to the fringes of consciousness and volutarily forgotten. However, though the pervading notion of "deathless" mankind is current, it is kind of thankful for me that within the different cultures in the world, it is the primitive and backward that holds this idea in mind as its background consciousness. In an oriental milieu, death is not something alien and imported from without but comes as a natural consequence. The different forms of rituals and beliefs we have, and the importance we give to the departed loved ones, as though they are just floating around, carried by the wind in which direction it blows, is a thing that we cannot shake off and leave to parch under the dryness of rationalism, skepticism, and materialism. It is embedded within the mesh of our growth that it seems to become foreign if held abandoned as such.

This oriental predisposition toward accepting and embracing death has been shown akin to the Christian religion, an affinity not without grounds considering Christianity's humble beginnings. Though the peculiarities of oriental concepts have its own idiosyncrasies and mythic elements, the Christian religion seeks to purge it of its blindspots, thereby eliminating it of its cyclical and non-purposeful end. The eschatological concept of Christianity is far richer than the noblest of eastern beliefs. Why? The concept of monotheism orients the whole vision of man toward a teleological path of his own existence. That is why St. Augustine could say that his and our hearts are restless until it rests on thee, who is one in Being.

Hence, I would say that to think death just shows how much restless is man in his endeavors. This agitation of mind and body is evident in his movement and motion that tend toward peace and tranquility, toward a state of utmost justice, where everything dwells without lacking and wanting. In this passage of his movement comes the precariousness of the risks of his judgment. While the other religions' undercurrent thought gravitates toward prescriptive liberation theology, Christianity's is corrective liberation theology. Christ filled what the world needs.

There is here a transcendental nature of the coming of the One who is to come, who proceeds from the Father and the visible manifestation of the unseen God. This movement is downward, a motion that descends and dwells and unites to the different being. This action is grace in the Christian parlance. In this way, it is absolutely a gratuitous action of the One who sends. And, the disposition of the receiver is of ultimate reception of this gift with thanksgiving.

With death comes the end of the existence of a reality that is shown in the temporal dimension, and the person embraces the spiritual world, a world that is by nature transcendentary. This enables the being to communicate that which he longs to be in communion for. For as St. Augustine says that man is restless until it rests in thee is as saying that man in his being has to return to the source of his being.

Death also in sort of way liberates man from an existence viewed as something alien to God. In the beginning, we see man downgraded himself by committing sin, and through his action that truly violates the law of God, death came as a punishment. St. Thomas said that the will and the intellect of man did not deviate but in complete harmony with the Creator-Being. The relationship is copenetrating: man dwells completely in his knowledge of God and God could diffuse easily to the being of man. In one sense, it could be liken to the concept of the oneness of God in its triadic personality. Man was completely open to the presence of God that no amount and no speck of dusts settles in the unitive garment of this relationship. It seems to me to be completely awashed by the waters of the fountainhead.

I have every bit of wonderment as to the amazing narrative of the biblical account of the beginning and fall of man. The account is brought forth from the authors whose background did not wedge from its surroundings. They completely show their peculiar influences under the sway of the Near East cultural surroundings. The elements and characters is so organic that it has affinity to the other accounts of the beginning of man whose source grew from the cradle of the fertile crescent.

In a way, in almost all religious idea of death, it is evoked as something not constitutive to the intention of a deity. The Greeks themselves did not exalt death, but feared it with an expression of darkness, estrangement, isolation, and joyless abode. In this sense, the bible is not far from the emotions of the ancient world. Even the Israelites liken the expiration of life as to going to the pit so dark, to the place that engulfs and swallows. The Book of Job and the Psalms, which are oftentimes songs of praise and thanksgiving and of triumph, could not escape its characterization of death.

Though Christianity finds itself in a completely pessimistic concept of death, it offers a breath of hope with its hopeful eschatological theology. In a greater analysis, the movement of christian concept of temporal living is more linear than cyclical, a more characteristic of eastern religions. It would appear that the oriental could not settle on a purely abstract existential epistemology; it is constantly drawn to the sphere of materialism. Much so that it cannot arise from the mundane to the spiritual and exists outside of this world. This is quite obvious how the Chinese have their ancestors' tombstones are situated. Their spirits have a direct intervention into the lives of the living, and oftentimes they are invoked in many occasions.