Monday, 17 March 2014

The Way Up Is The Way Down

Poul Anderson, The Corridors Of Time (London, 1968).

The pre-Socratic Greek philosopher, Heraclitus, said that, "The way up is the way down." A sublime and profound statement, although I do not think that Poul Anderson's character, Storm, had it in mind when she said, in 1827 BC:

"'I often think...that the downward turn started in this very millennium, when the earth gods and their Mother were swept aside by those who worshipped skyward.'" (p. 37)

Worshiping skyward is a downward turn? Maybe.

I have read that burial of the dead was originally associated with descent of souls into an underworld whereas cremation was associated with their ascent into heaven. My young niece knew that her father was buried and had been told that he was in Heaven. Talking about him, she suddenly realized an apparent contradiction, "He's down in the grave; he's up in Heaven..." She asked me, "How can he be down and up?" A long time before, I had been taught to differentiate souls from bodies. Talking to her, I was neither going to propagate that belief nor to contradict whatever she was being taught but I had to say something.

My answer was, "I don't know. We'll find out when we go there..." That satisfied her. But the second half of my answer, not articulated then, is (and I think that this is more likely) "...or we won't find out because we won't go anywhere."

4 comments:

  1. This picture of a Pagan philosopher makes him look like a Christian saint.

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    1. Hi, Paul!

      The picture reminded me of images I've seen of St. Jerome!

      As for your niece, if she was being raised as a Christian, Catholic or Anglican, it would have been enough if you had simply said Christianity believes the body dies but the soul survives. It could have been worded in a way that would not conflict with your, to me, regrettable doubt or disbelief in it.

      Sean

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  2. Sean,
    The picture is meant to be Heraclitus as a weeping philosopher but it looks as if it could have influenced or been influenced by Christian art.
    Good point about my niece. Problem is if I said, eg, "It is believed that...", she could have asked "Do you believe it?" and I would not want either to answer dishonestly or to upset her, especially about her father.
    Paul.

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    1. Hi, Paul!

      Then I think I have to take back my suggestion about that image of Heracllitus reminding me of St. Jerome. Because, from all that I've read of him, St. Jerome was ANYTHING but the weeping sort of guy!

      Good point, about your niece. You've probably answered, the first time around, as well as it was possible for you to do. And my condolences, even if years later, for the loss of your brother or brother in law!

      Sean

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