G. Rachel Levy, in The Gate of Horn, speaking of the excavations in the caves of Mount Carmel, gives the following description of the unimaginable antiquity of the religious belief of life after death.
“The uncouth bodies of the Mousterian men, who hardly walked upright, who seem never to have fully developed articulate speech, were buried in trenches laboriously excavated in the floors of their caves, under conditions which leave no doubt that the living believed in their continued existence, at a period long antecedent to the coming of the Cro-magnons to Europe.”
There are many legends exhibiting tropes which are the telltale signs of literary genre, and which often dispel the belief of the scientist in the miracles attributed to the heroes of the past. Hippolyte Delahaye’s work on the tropes of hagiography are a good example of this. When he can offer an explanation for an episode in a saint’s life from the rules and conventions of the literary genre of the hagiography, the scientist has good reason to doubt the historicity of the episode.
But when we question man’s belief in an afterlife, we are on the side of the irrational fundamentalist, the ideologue, the zealot; we array ourselves against the scientist, the one who admits all reliable data for the pursuit of the true answer to his question; we abdicate rational history, if we assume as a proposition that there is no afterlife.
For the belief that there is no afterlife is the novelty of a fat and luxurious people. It never existed from the earliest times, when it was all man could do to eat and not to be eaten. To be warm in the winter and to find water in the summer. The faith-based belief that there is no afterlife is, as Hamlet said, “the imposthume of much wealth and peace, that inward breaks, and shows no cause without why the man dies.”
Thus, as Lincoln recognized, and Pericles before him, community grows better in times of stress than in times of comfort. And as any of us can testify, the people we love most in this world are the ones with whom we never had any choice but to be related.
Thanks, dear reader, for coming out of the caves and inventing reading and computers and the internet and burial customs. And french fries.