Suspension Of Belief
Who here has borne witness to the Museum of Death? It is where the serial-killer-fetishists go to experience divine solipsism. Where the young bucks, with their green mowhawks and studded leather vests, display their courageous carelessness in front black-lipped females, who in turn pay them just enough attention between coquettish gasps to string them onward, as sirens might tempt sailors headlong into a storm. Onward to gawk at the bottled fetuses; to grin at the crime-scene photographs; to commit vulgar hand-gestures toward the videod instant of death in the backroom theatre... It is a strangely ritualistic non-religion; a secular hell; the worship of the end and all the gruesomely creative ways people have managed to accomplish and document it.
Is this the correct reaction to death?
If your answer is no, is there a correct reaction?
People often get the idea that disbelief is the de facto condition; that one must will oneself to believe something, or to “suspend disbelief” in order to understand a story. But I think that it’s the other way around. (Rather obnoxious of me to adopt “I think” here, as though my thoughts on the matter are entirely my own. They’re not of course. Innumerable influences are at play. But in any case, onwards with the theory at hand!)
We are born believers. Right from the start we believe our parents will take care of us, the world will enlighten us, our heart will guide us. To break away from those initial beliefs is a terrible thing. Still, after we’ve been given ample reason for disbelief, and without anyone having to tell us, we innately believe that there is a reason behind everything, even when we do not understand what that reason or reasons might be. The proof is our undying curiosity, even in the face of prospective death, we continue to take risks, to push boundaries, to seek truth. We are then forced to question; to suspend our belief. Belief, to me, is child-like and innocent; rife with potential, full of lovable credulity, but void of understanding. I’m not saying this to credit atheism, as that too is a kind of belief as long as it is absolute, which it is by definition. Saying “There is no God!” or “There is no afterlife!” is just as childish as saying there are these things, with any degree of certainty. I’m also not crediting agnosticism, but this is mostly out of spite. Who isn’t disgusted by the smarmy agnostics; with their easy affirmations and thoughtless pride, with their stringent belief in continual disbelief?
Nevertheless, I must (or maybe choose to) admit that they might have perhaps gotten one (or more) things possibly a little (or not at all) sort-of right: The universe may or may not be infinite, but our knowledge of it uncertainly might not be.
Of course, all these contemptibly ambivalent terms offer nothing of value to a person who earnestly seeketh wisdom from fellow invaluably credulous know-nothings. So I’ll go at it from another direction.
Imagine for a moment, you come across a society which is predicated on the notion that there definitely is a heaven, that when someone dies they have unequivocally gone to a better place. It sounds comforting until you realize that a reasonable reaction to that mode of belief is to end one’s life as soon as possible in order to get to the better beyond. Death becomes a celebration. Life is cheapened or ended prematurely. Some religions, such as Catholicism, solve this issue by telling you that suicide is a sin, which seems to me a very dismissive way of answering an earnest quest for knowledge. There is a real and petrifying danger in a person’s certainty of an afterlife, as that person has the capacity to do anything; to kill others and potentially himself, with very little fear or remorse. But there is also something admirable in it. Ever wonder why a Klingon doesn’t fear death? It’s because they know where they’re going. As long as they die in honorable combat, they’re going to Sto’Vo’Kor. And the more certain they are of it, the happier they are to die. Similarly, in the real world, duels were fought well into the 19th century. Death in the name of honor was glorified and applauded. The further back you go, it seems, the more extreme the examples: Pirates, Vikings, Gladiators. -which sounds romantic and muscular and sweaty and all, but was in actuality probably deeply horrific to our modern sensitivity.
There’s nothing more frightening to pedantically reason-based animals such as ourselves than what we don’t know. And, in our increasingly secular world, we know less about death than ever before. The answers that religion used to provide us were paramount to our sanity; heaven; the eternal life for our loved ones, hell; comeuppence for evil-doers. Without them, it’s startling to realize just how little we know, and just how much we fear because of it. One thing is for certain: Today is not a good day to die.