Monday, October 25, 2010

My Comment to Roger Ebert About Life and Death

Roger Ebert has an outstanding blog that uses the films he reviews as a taking off point for more extended reflections on the themes and issues raised by those films. In a recent entry about Clint Eastwood's new film "Hereafter," he makes the following comments about death:

"When I write that I expect to experience no more after death than I experienced before birth, I receive comments from people who pity me. They wonder how I can possibly live with such a bleak prospect. I find it more cheerful than most of the other possibilities that have been floated. I don't want to come back as an insect, haunt unquiet places as a ghost, or gaze down benevolently on my loved ones below as they, and all their generations to the end of time, die from mayhem or disease. I am also offered the possibility that I will be absorbed in God's love for all eternity, which is a better offer, but lacking in definition. If that means what it seems to mean, and if God is infinite (as he must be), then the role played by "me" can hardly be aware or conscious in any meaningful way. But I will become part of the universal, you say? I already am. You, too...We live, we die. That is not a tragedy. The tragedy would be never having been born."

I just replied with a comment that awaits Ebert's approval before it appears. Here is what I wrote:

Roger, I agree with you that there's nothing "bleak" about the prospect of dying and returning to the same state of non-consciousness that presumably characterized us before we existed. But I disagree with you that there would be anything "tragic" about never being born in the first place. For whom would it be tragic? If one never existed, there would be nothing to regret missing out on the experience it never existed to have.

In fact, I'd go further and agree with philosopher David Benetar's premise in "Better Never to Have Been" that if our lives are simply, as Alan Watts characterized the prevailing non-religious view, "a trip from the maternity ward to the crematorium," and, as Benatar argues, fraught with more pain and suffering than pleasure and happiness, the REAL "tragedy" for most if not all of us is that we WERE born. We'd have been better off had we never been at all.

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