There is something within us that dislikes and likes paradox at the same time which of course is in itself a paradox (Hence, the success of Terminator). For some reason there is something that seems to resonate on a deeper level with humans when they are forced to unhinge from the neat packaging of reason for a moment. Maybe it is our proclivity to irrationality – a decidedly human trait. It is like scratching an itch that ‘hurts so good’. (Ha)
Personally, I love it when writers weave paradox in their stories. I think that it works well in music too.
With or without you
With or without you
I can’t live
With or without you
If you have ever been in a romantic relationship you know the feeling this song expresses. We may not know why we feel that way but when we hear here it, it expresses the feeling we feel.
Why, though, is it appealing? If you look for it you will see it pop up everywhere. Not just in music but writing and even everyday conversation. You will become the paradox police. The question is why?
My thinking on this is because fundamentally, as rational creative beings, our existence is contingent on base paradoxes. I think everyone has to come to grips with these either consciously or unconsciously. Many times you see children struggling with these concepts as they become self aware.
There are many, many others but I think that many are recursive echoes of the main paradox’s.
The first paradox ‘We are born to die’
The second paradox ‘We should not be here but we are’
The third paradox ‘We did not choose to exist but we can choose to not exist’
The fourth paradox ‘The universe began and will have an end’
The fifth paradox ‘We who are finite can comprehend infinity’
The sixth paradox ‘Good vs. Evil’
The seventh paradox ‘To really live you need to die’
All of the world’s religions try to alleviate these with doctrine or dogma and this has been transformed into orthodox. Although many branches of belief systems have arisen I can’t think of any that actually add much to the ones below and really the Abrahamic monotheistic and Dharmic based religions capture the majority of the world’s religious population. The non religious also must try in some way to make sense of this as well with their own metaphors.
I want to focus on the first paradox and I would say the most fundamental one. A lot of writing is simply to try and make sense of the fact that we as humans do not exist forever.
The different views of birth and death are important to add to this analysis because they highlight what really are the bookends of this fundamental human paradox. Also, whether people have souls and what exactly a soul is enters into the discussion (for all you paranormal fans).
‘We Are Born to Die’ – Shakespeare
The first paradox as I understand them. (in alphabetical order below)
The Agnostic Answer
This is hard for agnostics to answer. Generally, they believe the same as the atheist but pressed with death and non-existence leads some Agnostics to lean more to a metaphysical position, though, probably not choosing any one belief system but having a more pluralistic view, that there possibly is something after our physical death but we don’t know exactly what it is and there are many ways to get to heaven, Nirvana or God and everyone has their own path. This may be similar to Hindu and Buddhist beliefs regarding all religions. I would say that most agnostics are existentialists in the sense that they want to enjoy this existence and live life focused on the cares of this existence and if in life they have to deal with death they will tentatively try and make sense out of it but generally they don’t think about it much nor want to. Being born is a lucky coincidence and even more lucky if born into wealth and a loving environment.
The Atheist Answer
We are a product of chance and are only made up of the matter that our bodies are comprised of. Our birth is a lucky accident that is the product of billions of accidents to get us to the point that we are at. Once we die there is nothing of us that is left but the energy which made us up that has been transferred into another form due to the 1st Law of Thermodynamics and the memories of other living humans or data records (written, photographs, video etc..) as proof that we existed. Our DNA may go on to exist in a similar form in our children. There is no scientific evidence for a soul, that who you are remains, or that there is life after death so it cannot exist. There is nothing more special about one human compared to the next except if they seem more evolved, have higher intelligence and possibly live up to the ‘ubermensch’ ideal to push our species further down the evolutionary path.
The Buddhist Answer
Every birth is a reincarnation of a spirit or soul from one of the 6 realms which are; heaven, human beings, Asura, hungry ghost, animal and hell. A spirit is reborn into one of these realms based off of the amount of accumulated karma which depends on following Dharma. Every death is a transferring of the spirit to another body in one of the 6 realms. An eternal amount of souls have existed for an eternal past and will exist for an eternal future. A soul is not who you are (your ego, personailty etc.). All of that is just an allusion.
‘Birth is the arising of the psycho-physical phenomena. Death is merely the temporary end of a temporary phenomenon’
The Christian Answer
Every child that is born is unique and exists as an individual. They are created in a moment by God in His image which means that they are rational and personal. Humans have a soul or some call it a spirit. Either way, it is their essence, their personality, who they are. Humans have a beginning when their soul is attached to their physical body at conception. Once the body dies, the soul leaves the body and becomes disembodied. Humans were never created to die but because man disobeyed God’s command sin entered the world which led to physical and spiritual death which is separation from God, known as the Fall. The soul is eternal, removing separation from God for all of eternity can only be achieved by believing that Christ, who is God’s eternally begotten son, came to earth and died to redeem man and that he might have everlasting life with God. What family one is born into, what race or what sex makes no difference to the doctrine of Christianity. All humans are born equal.
Every child that is born is unique and exists as an individual. They are created by God in His image which means that they are intelligent and have moral potential. Humans have a soul or some call it a spirit. Either way, it is their essence, their personality, who they are. There is a finite number of souls that existed since the beginning of creation and each soul is predestined to be put into a particular body. Souls can choose to be born into a body or not. Human life has a beginning when their soul is attached to their physical body at birth (When the baby takes its first breath technically). Once the body dies, the soul leaves the body but it is uncertain what happens to it.
Jeremiah 1:5 – Before I formed thee in the belly I knew thee; and before thou camest forth out of the womb I sanctified thee, [and] I ordained thee a prophet unto the nations.
The Hindu Answer
Similar to Buddhism in that every birth is a reincarnation of a spirit or soul from a previous life. The body or being a spirit is reborn into is based off of the amount of accumulated karma which depends on following Dharma. Every death is a transferring of the spirit to another body until you achieve oneness with God or a supreme being. A soul is who you are (your ego, personality etc.). When you die your soul is transferred to another being in one of 14 dimensions based off the amount of karma you accumulated in your life.
Whether you know it or not you will fit into one of the categories or a sub-category and your life will be affected by it. Dostoevsky were able to create characters that ‘lived on the edge’ of these paradox’ s and wrestled with them honestly.
Since we are all human we are interested not just that we do something but why. If you have courage let it be courage that is real; full of fear knowing that you must risk your very life to gain it.