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Till death doth join

Raja Ratnam is the author of several books on migrant settlement, ethnic affairs, and the associated issues of citizenship, national identity, and refugee and humanitarian entry. His most recent book, The Dance of Destiny (a personal story which seeks to understand the determinants of human lives) was published earlier this year. Thank you so much, Raja, for your latest contribution to Webdiary.

Till death doth join
by Raja Ratnam

Waiting! Waiting! To die! To be called! To be taken! To what end? Born into a collective, and sustained until maturity by that genetic collective; then transposed into an attenuated collective composed of a diversity of linkages, which requires a substantial self-supporting capability. Finally, awaiting a transition to that ethereal (that is, insubstantial) collective beyond Earth. Would that be the end? End of what?

The universe began (so it is claimed) with a Big Bang. A human being too begins with a bang (or is it a whoosh?) There was nothing before the Big Bang, it is also asserted. More honestly, it is meaningless to ask that necessary question “How or why did that happen.” Since the currently accepted methodology of science cannot prove that something can really, truly, come out of nothing, we rely upon statements of faith reflecting the current limits of the paths to knowledge.

In a parallel manner, the Western world of science says little useful about the following issues: does the human being have a soul; if so, when does it enter the body, and what happens to it when the body dies. However, the theology of the 3 principal ‘desert’ religions seems to accept the involvement of spirit or soul in human life; and that this spirit or soul proceeds to the Celestial Abode of the Heavenly Father, God or the universal Creator of all that is when it leaves the body. A host of statements of belief in this vein is upheld by the body of religious institutions offering guidance to seekers.

The above beliefs in science and institutional religion can be contrasted with beliefs arising from the ‘forest’ religions. According to some unnamed Hindu philosophers of old, the universe is without beginning or end. Its life is cyclical, being renewed every 8,640 billion years. Is this belief more heart warming than the belief that the Big Bang predicates a Big Crunch?

In terms of the human soul, the ‘forest’ faiths offer an ongoing existence. The soul is reborn repeatedly, until it reaches ‘maturity’. It is then allowed to return to that Ocean of Consciousness from which it once arose. Is this belief more comforting than the visions of Heaven offered by the ‘desert’ faiths?

Then ... then ... does anyone really care about these issues of contrasting and unprovable faiths until they face the reality of old age and its infirmities? Until they find themselves waiting, waiting for death, but not allowed to die yet - by God, the medical/surgical professions, and the priesthood?

As the great Chinese philosopher Lin Yu Tang might have said to his porcine pet, “Where now, old sow?”


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Foreskin encounters and other stuff

My first encounter with the gods was immediately after my arrival at Saint Margaret's hospital in Darlinghurst one cold and wet August morning. A gentleman in a black coat waved his hands over me and prepared me for the kingdom of heaven.

Apparently I was about to die, but black coat got it wrong - if you think I spent eight and a half months getting here I certainly wasn't going back until I'd seen a bit of the show. Anyway black coat was a kind old soul and I suspect he was just being nice - it was all rather painless and pretty. And the smell of whisky on his breath made the encounter somewhat intoxicating.

My next encounter with religion was not so painless as I discovered just a few days later. This time a gentleman in a white coat appeared and began to fiddle with my cute little dick.

I did suspect that, even at such tender days, me and my dick were going to have a very special relationship. It was all OK for a few seconds and to be honest it felt rather nice (things were looking up already), and then - GOD ALMIGHTY! I screamed - all of a sudden my cute little dick looked absolutely bewildered, not to mention six inches shorter. To this day I have no idea what white coat was thinking.

It was some years down the track I had my third significant interaction with god, er the cranky old testament god that is. It was in second class scripture I learnt that our god was a jealous one and any pretenders would be severely dealt with - "struck down" I think was the term that my fire and brimstone Methodist teacher recited.

To an eight year old who had already had a good and a bad religious experience I thought that my chances of surviving god's wrath was an even bet. On arriving home that afternoon I found myself out in the back paddock screaming out at the top of my lungs that I, Philip Charles Moffat was the TRUE GOD ALMIGHTY AND ALL OTHERS WERE PRETENDERS.

My good Catholic neighbour happened to overhear this while bringing in her washing but just smiled sympathetically at me. At eight years old I noticed that all my neighbours did this but that's another story.

Anyway the good news was god did not strike me down. My initial thoughts were that I had just proved that god did not exist; later I thought that my scripture teacher may have been just making all this jealous god stuff up; and then I thought maybe god was a truly loving god, and then I forgot about it altogether until sixth class when my teacher introduced us to religions of the east - he was quite a cool teacher and we all loved him.

At just twelve years old I realised there were millions of gods and all very colourful and meaningful in their own unique ways. These days I've grown into a Theo-Hussy, something I have written about before in this forum, so I won't bore you with the details; the important thing is it works for me and I find it a very useful survival tool.

If you would like to be a Theo-hussy then it is the most simplest of all religions to embrace:

Simply be curious about and embrace all religions, especially their followers - and do so with respect, good humour and without comparison.

It is true that there are many cultural practices related to religion which are painful, unnecessary and down right stupid; a Theo-hussy does not have to take that stuff on board, just the useful stuff, the aesthetic stuff and the community stuff is what counts and leave the dogma for the extremists.

Anyway I'm of to lunch, I'm feeling a little bit Catholic today - I think I'll have the Barra.

Amen - and remember your god and my gods are really good mates, and they have not been circumcised.

Just glad to be alive

The search for truth leads us in many directions.

Some find a God that would have us give to the poor and tend to the sick, others find a God that would have us bomb and kill.

I feel that most of our need for a God is driven by human ego. We cannot believe we live in a universe that will go on with or without us. This planet functioned quite well for billions of years before we arrived. Mostly likely the planet will go on with or without us.

We play no greater role that that of the earthworm. In the end we will feed the worm.

Take joy in being alive, in being able to witness this amazing universe. Be happy with the the gift of life. Try to make life better for all that live, including the earthworm.

Enjoy what we have and in the end if there is a God I am sure he/she will be a loving God and we play a very small part in his/her overall plan. 

a trip appreciated rather than an imposition to be endured?

"Metaphysics", eh?

Dualism versus monism, the prospective and elusive connection between extension (matter) and spirit, has preoccupied the western mind at least for a couple or three thousands years.

As I understand it, Kant eventually put an end to much metaphysical debate during the seventeenth century, happily acknowledging that logically, there well may be worlds we know not of, thru our own limitations. Which in a way restates Shakespeare's comment offered from Hamlet, that there well may be "things 'neath heaven and earth beyond our philosophy, Horatio".

Personally, I gave up the axe to grind as to "God" a long while back. An old mate mentioned "there are no atheists in foxholes", meaning that folk who scorn outside help most times quickly capitulate to certain notions when all alternative hopes have vanished.

I am still here. Unless there is no God, no supernatural being has struck me down for in my naked impiousness, which I know jolly well would not be the case, if the boot were on the other foot.

Because it is apparently not in the nature of my God to run around like a petulant school monitor with nothing better to do than heavy benighted mugs like me. To me this aspect is the gift of the desert religions - the conception of God not as a material force (altho he/she may well be this also, also well within the job description) but an ethical force and ultimate reference point achieved thru a leading by example rather than authoritarianism.

The real difference between God (should he/she ultimately exist), to me is not so much the whishing around the sky bit, but the really difficult art of comprehending and showing forgiveness for the unforgiveable and preparedness to lead by example (God willingly crucified in human form ). That is beyond me, hence my defining actual "lack" and finity. Eg, unconditional love.

The lesson for me rests with intangibles. My conscience bothers me if I am wrong, an additional characteristic that has me thinking about the final structure of the universe, whatever that is. This is not to say I'd automatically pick up on Aquinas, I can't just presume Natural Law, but believe am here to try to do "right" in the protection of this concept, as my nous (Socrates) informs me.

One of the most interesting comments on life I've ever read is attributed to Socrates, to do with people actually knowing right from wrong or at least being able to discover a proper answer to a life situation: that people actually find it harder to do wrong than right.

Looking at the real world and its mess, there must be a lot of people doing it really hard and well at odds with themselves, by the evidence.

PS, in that spirit by a curious metamorphosis, followers of the desert religions find a parity with the gentle animists, who conceptualise life and humbly welcome its mystery, community and their own powerlessness, as a relief rather than a burden and at a "personal", value and meaning level.

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