We all have to confront it – that dark specter standing by the door beckoning us to enter . . . what? Every religion worth its salt has to define the “what.” Indeed, some would say religions only exist because we need to find an answer to mortality, that we create an afterlife in order to guarantee justice and to ensure there is place where the mysteries of life are solved.
Stephen Hawking recently said this: “I regard the brain as a computer which will stop working when its components fail. There is no heaven or afterlife for broken down computers. That is a fairy story for people afraid of the dark.”
Is he right? He thinks we have gradually been moving away from a superstitious mindset, a primitive dependence on metaphors, like God, and heaven, and final judgment, and into a mature realization that the reality the five senses give us is the only reality. We have been children; we are now adults and should act and think like adults.
We began to wonder: Is there really another plane of existence?
Let’s be honest. We were all more “religious” when young. We didn’t question. We bowed when we were told to bow. We believed strongly in the music “up there.” As we grew and learned more about the world, as our intellect forged questions about the too-easy formulations we had too easily accepted, we began to wonder: Is there really another plane of existence? Have I accepted – and do I now accept – someone else’s word because it’s a ready answer to the problem of death? Why not be brave, like Hawking, and admit we’re just a computer and will eventually crash?
These are not negligible questions; we all have to answer them for ourselves.
I am a Catholic, and so I – along with many others – have resolved for myself an answer that goes back to the first century when a workingman from Nazareth said, “Love one another,” was killed for it, then rose from the dead to vindicate himself. A “fairy story”? For me, it’s not, because Hawking’s computer construct does not satisfy my sincere longing for a graced purpose in life.
How do you computerize love?
Setting aside this approach, however, does not Hawking shortchange what human beings are? Yes, our brains are an intricate complex of neural connections that resemble what a computer chip does. But if that’s it, what about beauty, or bravery, or hope? These extend beyond the confines of the brain. How do you computerize love? We all have a vision of what we’d like to be; that longing – and it’s ingrained, we experience this – transcends the workings of this laptop I’m using.
Yes, death is a fearsome thing. It is “the undiscovered country from whose bourn / no traveler returns.” And that darkness we finally must enter has no guarantees. Some find their consolation in faith, but there is no computer program for faith. We have to look for it elsewhere. I’ll go with St. Paul who was touched by life and proclaimed, “O Death, where now is your victory?”
What do you think?