Opium of the masses

Behind those eyes…

I want to expand something I tweeted today: Trying to not think about death, we also fail to think about life.

The most obvious meaning of this is the literal opium of the masses, drugs, and by extension alcohol as the most popular of them. This is not exactly evil; but it is a sad state to be in, that one feels the need to numb oneself even at the cost of one’s health.

The existential fear, the sense that life is meaningless, bothers many people today. Those who feel it most keenly are probably those who flee most desperately, thus the drugs and the drink. In a sense, such people are not far form religion, if the can overcome their fear. And arguably, religious people may not be far from drugs and drunkenness, should they lose their faith.

But literal drugs are not the only, and probably not the most common, escape from thinking about life, death and the meaning of it all. Most of us are able to find refuge in entertainment. For some it is necessary to have as much sexual activity as the body can reasonably keep up with; for some an entertaining book is enough. For the majority, it seems that TV is doing the trick. You sit down in front of the box and tune out. Going to bed, you wonder briefly where your day went, but then forget about it.

There are many things, from computer games to sports, that tend to absorb us. While immersed in these things, we don’t really think much about what we are doing, what we should do, and what we should have done. So these things allow us to continue our unreflected life. Not that they don’t have good sides too. Actually, I suppose some may think of distraction as one of the good things. I don’t, obviously, but clearly there are health benefits to exercise, and computer games train the brain. Social activities are also good for your health, especially your mental health, which is often the weakest link in the chain anyway.

There are many things people consider important, and even feel obliged to put their thought and effort into. Earning money, of course: Bills don’t pay themselves, at least not in America. It is a bit easier here in Scandinavia. Then there is the keeping of the house, whether it is cleaning or maintenance. And the car and the garden and probably other possessions as well. The more we buy, the more time goes into just maintaining it all. And having done so, we feel obliged to use the things we have put so much time into.

In the end, we more or less drift through life, rarely stopping to wonder whether we are on our way toward our goal, or even whether we have a goal. Immersed in all these things we are almost asleep. And I won’t deny that religion can also be one such “busy-ness” to distract us.

But to some of us at least, that is far from the case. The supposed comfort of religion is a puzzle to me. For me, religion has been like a fire alarm going off in the middle of the night. A cause of terror and struggle to overcome deep sleep. But most of all an intrusion of reality destroying my comfortable dream. Until recently, the most important word in my religious vocabulary was “Hell”. That was what it boiled down to. I felt that my life in this world was good, and could have been even better, if I did not have this threat hanging over me. If not for fear of judgment, I could have done so much more. I could have enjoyed myself without restriction. I did not fear death as much as the things that come after death.

Things have changed a bit. I now believe in a happiness that runs through this life and the next, and this is the joy of giving, of being helpful, of spreading hope and courage and understanding. I have not really achieved much in that regard, but this new life makes sense to me now. I still distract myself, sometimes just out of habit, but the gravity of the old world is losing some of its grip, and another gravity is pulling me upward. So that is good, as far as it goes.

I can very much understand those who want to keep sleeping. But the truth is that the house is on fire: Not only our own life, but everything we hold dear in this world is like the picture in a kaleidoscope, bound to fall apart and change into unfamiliar forms at the slight shake of a hand. Our house, our job, even children and grandchildren for those who have those… All that has form is sure to come to an end. Even the human race, even Earth, even the visible universe is heading toward dissolution. It will be utterly forgotten like the last dream of a child that dies before daybreak.

I am sorry, but this is what science tells you. But if you get drunk, you can forget it. Or if you wake up, you can experience eternity while you are still in time.

I think everyone who has family or friends, have at least a vague feeling that these souls are more worth than anything in the world, even if we can forget and take them for granted. Deep down, we know. When everything shakes, and the picture of your world shifts into something unfamiliar, you realize that one human soul is more than the whole world, more than the planets and the stars in the sky. Eternity lies behind those eyes.