Vanity thought #1720. God learns about death

National Geographic recently put out a six part series called “The story of God with Morgan Freeman”. It’s a good choice of a presenter because Morgan Freeman played God as an actor a couple of times already so here he is basically learning more about himself.

I haven’t watched the whole show yet but it looks promising, especially the episode called “Who is God”, I hope I won’t be disappointed. The first episode is about death, another interesting topic, so let’s see what Morgan Freeman learned about it. Thanks to the folks at National Geographic full episodes can be viewed online and there’s an interesting “explore” section as well. The first episode is here.

Morgan Freeman is an old man and he projects and image of a wise person. At the same time he is keen to learn new things and shows a great deal of respect to whoever he speaks with. He doesn’t laugh at sometimes silly ideas but rather strives to see values and roots of people’s beliefs. To learn about death he went around the world asking experts in different cultures about how they deal with death, or dealt with death when these cultures were still alive.

He visited Egypt, Jerusalem, Varanasi, and Mexico, as well as New York for the modern science take on the issue as well. Needless to say, science deals with death very differently, but even there Freeman managed to find something promising for us as devotees. In fact, he starts with interviewing a man who documents cases of near death experience, who once nearly drowned himself, spending more than fifteen minutes under water.

That man is absolutely convinced that death is not the end of all and that our consciousness can function when our brains do not. Normally, science would insist that near death experiences are caused by misfiring neurons or something, but not this man. His description of the white light welcoming him is something one must see for himself. The man is clearly not concerned with what others think of his story, he knows that it is true. He also says that the brief moment when the white light communicated with him felt like the most intimate, most meaningful relationship in his life ever. Was he getting a glimpse of the Supersoul? Sounds like it. Are these visions similar across different people and cultures? Pretty close, but I bet we all would describe them in terms familiar to us, translate it into language of our religion. Would we, as devotees, see a four armed form of Viṣṇu? Maybe, maybe not. Maybe all we would see is the brilliance of His toenails and that’s all. It would look like multiple lights described by this man and if we don’t get to see anything else even we, as devotees, would be confused.

The main take for me from that story is that man’s personal conviction. It’s his actual realization and it can’t be swayed by arguments and “proofs”. Having experienced that relationship he is not going to take doubters seriously anyway. He has a website that is called Dharma Talks, btw.

I don’t know much about afterlife in Ancient Egypt or in Aztec empire but a trip to Varanasi should have produced something familiar and it did. Freeman met with some impersonalist sannyāsī and got the tourist version of reincarnation. It wasn’t wrong but it wasn’t particularly insightful either. Compared to Christian heaven Hinduism didn’t promise much – just mokṣa, liberation from the cycle of birth and death. The question about what happens after that was left hanging with just one mysterious reference to “nature of God”.

What I disliked about that part is that one crematorium in Varanasi was presented as if it’s the only way of achieving mokṣa for the billion of Hindus, which does make it sound like superstition rather than a serious religious path. Freeman wasn’t allowed into the crematorium itself but we got to see people carrying lots of dead bodies through the streets. It looked only marginally better than Aztec’s human sacrifices – people were just shoved and hurried through a system without a pause to think it through. Aztecs, of course, took living people and sacrificed them to Gods, but it was the same kind of mindless machinery in Varanasi where they take any dead body, run with it through the streets, burn it in already prepared fire, and process the next candidate for liberation. I even think they start processing the next one while the first one is still in the system, and they also appear to process them in parallel for maximum efficiency.

I’m not going to doubt the power of that holy place but there’s so much more to Hinduism quest for mokṣa than that. Yoga, tapasya, deity worship, worship of ancestors, not to mention our Gauḍiyā fifth goal of life – premā.

The way Hinduism was treated there makes me doubt that coverage of Mexican, Aztec, of Ancient Egyptian cultures was sufficiently insightful. It appears they do not have the concept of liberation and their living and dead are always in relationships with each other. In any case, death wasn’t something final in any of those religions, just a change that needs to be dealt with.

Coverage of Christianity was somewhat disappointing, too. The only death that matters to them is that of Christ. The documentary took us right into what is believed to be the tomb of Jesus himself, or what is built on top of it, and we got to see actual Jewish “cemetery” of that time right next to it. Freeman said that energy there was unmistakable and that’s another interesting point that goes against modern science. People feel it while science says it doesn’t exist. That doesn’t work for believers, of course. In fact, we shouldn’t call them “believers” at all because they describe their experiences here, not their beliefs. To them these experiences are real no matter what atheists say. We know that atheists can’t feel this “energy” and we know why so we don’t particularly care about their arguments and opinions – see the man I talked about earlier.

What I found odd about Christianity there was that they share this same holy place with Jews and Muslims and yet they keep claiming that salvation can be achieved only through acceptance of Christ. Morgan Freeman didn’t catch them on that but it’s probably for the better – it kept the conversation respectful.

Finally, back in New York, Freeman showed us a prototype of conserved intelligence, a robot programmed to behave like an actual person. It’s programmed to like the same things, speak in the same way etc etc. It would be able to do it when the actual person dies and so that would kind of preserve that person for eternity. They think it would be some sort of a breakthrough, that they’d upload their entire personalities on the internet and continue living through these artificial minds. Silly people. It’s just a tad more advanced than having a picture taken. I mean a picture serves the same purpose, a video is a step above that, a hologram is a step even further, and having a doll to repeat the same sentences is just more of the same thing.

That’s how Morgan Freeman concluded his presentation there – that we will live through memories. That might happen or it might not, depending on how popular we are, but this “answer” still doesn’t accept that there’s no such thing as death for the spirit soul and we will continue living as we are, just in different conditions – another body, heaven, liberation, whatever.

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