Thursday, 17 May 2012


There is a Biblical myth of a Day of Judgement. I used to believe that it was literally true. In 1962, when I was thirteen, two Catholic priests met over dinner at my parents' house. When they parted, one said, "Well, we will meet at the Day of Judgement if not before!" Did they believe that? I mean, did they just take it for granted that they were really going to meet? Even when I was a few years older, I still thought that petty wrongs and injustices would be righted on that Day because everyone would then see what had really occurred during the most trivial of conflicts and misunderstandings at a secondary school. I now hope that, if consciousness does survive into an indefinite future, it will then build a better reality. Meanwhile, I now judge the absurdity of my belief then.  

Does the concept of a Day of Judgement correspond to anything in our experience so far? Someone who meditates might find that he sees and assesses his whole life to date at a profound level - his basic motivations and their limitations. The conditions that generate consciousness also impede its development. I am a self-conscious individual capable of meditation only because I am a member of a society and this particular society has done its best to discourage meditative self-awareness, not least with its myth of our accountability to a divine Judge. In our tradition, we were encouraged to confess our sins, receive absolution and not to look any deeper, unless we wanted to become priests. And did the priests look any deeper? Some at least just made it their job to perpetuate the tradition. Apart from social conditions, a lot of us have had merely personal limitations to our insight and understanding from an early age. You can only be self-conscious if you are a particular individual and particular individuals can have every kind of fault, failing, blind spot, obsession, idiosyncrasy etc.

CS Lewis' fictitious demon Screwtape gloats that one of the damned has realised that he spent his whole life doing neither what he should have done nor what he wanted to do. It seems that this man has had at least a partial realisation or understanding about the course of his life/karma/action. Lewis imagines an absurd situation in which the man was blind to this realisation while he could have acted accordingly and has the realisation only when it is impossible for him to act. A more efficiently managed universe would allow for continued spiritual/moral development after death, as Lewis implies in The Great Divorce. In that work, each ultimate choice, or "judgement", is individual. There is no universal Day.

Recently, an Evangelical said that she would like to see my face on the Day of Judgement. I am damned because I do not share her belief. Her salvation is assured so she need not concern herself about the morality of gloating at the fate of the damned. Is God a bigot? Bigots think so. We make our gods in our own image.

If faced with immediate death, we might review our whole life there and then. With meditation, it can happen at other times and well in advance of death. I heard of an elderly man in a Hospice who, presumably because his documentation described him as Catholic, was asked whether he wanted to receive the Last Rites. There are two correct answers to this question, either "Yes, please" or "No, thank you." Apparently, however, he was incapable of articulating either because, despite his condition and situation, he was just too freaked by the suggestion that he was that close to death. A Buddhist acquaintance who had worked in an operating theatre commented that he could tell the difference between those who were in some way prepared for death and those who were not, even if the way in question was not "our way". 
Meanwhile, every day is our Day of Judgement if we can see it that way.


No comments:

Post a Comment