Sunday, May 27, 2012

An Addendum to Jorge Luis Borges on Heaven

Some of the book reviews by Jorge Luis Borges are as fascinating as his stories.  Consider, for example, his observation at the end of his review of Leslie Weatherhead's book on the survival of death.  Borges notes that " Catholics (read: Argentine Catholics) believe in an ultraterrestrial world, but I have noticed that they are not interested in it.  With me the opposite occurs:  I am interested but I do not believe. "
Samuel Clemens was another unbeliever who, like Borges, speculated at some length as to what the heaven of the believers must be like.  Why, then, do the believers not show more interest in the diurnal details of their heaven?
A clue regarding an answer to this question emerges from an aside in Sir Thomas Browne's "Hydriotaphia (Urn-Burial)," which I have only recently read, having long ago read his better-known "Religio Medici."  Browne reasons that "Were the happiness of the next world as closely apprehended as the felicities of this, it were a martyrdom to live; and unto such as consider none hereafter, it must be more than death to die, which makes us amazed at those audacities that durst be nothing and return into their chaos again. "
Other places in Browne make one stop and think.  Consider the question of those who do good deeds all their lives and die unknown while the names of the evil may live on in their infamy.   Browne believes that " To be nameless in worthy deeds, exceeds an infamous history.  The Canaanitish woman lives more happily without a name, than Herodias with one.  And who had not rather been the good thief than Pilate? "
Elsewhere, Browne refers to the legends of Enoch and Elias, who were directly transported to heaven without first dying:  " Enoch and Elias, without either tomb or burial, in an anomalous state of being, are the great examples of perpetuity, in their long and living memory, in strict account being still on this side death, and having a late part yet to act upon this stage of earth. "
Browne appears to be referring to the prophet now known as Elijah, who was to be the forerunner of the messiah and with whom many people identified John the Baptist (Luke 1:17, John 1:21).  Enoch, of course, was reputedly the subject of the Book of Enoch, a non-canonical book which is referred to as scripture in the canonical Book of Jude.


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