Too Close

(by Shem – 2008)

“I read something interesting the other day.”

“Yeah? What about?”

“It’s weird, but did you know back in the day people believed that when died, they went somewhere else?”

“Somewhere else? What do you mean?”

“I mean they thought they went somewhere else.”

“They moved the bodies? That doesn’t sound good.”

“No, the corpses stayed where they buried them. They thought their personalities went somewhere else.”

“What? How could they, they’re dead.”

“I know that, but that’s what they believed.”

“Okay, you’re saying that when they died, their personalities survived them and… what, went somewhere different? Where did they put the personality? In a bottle?”

“Well the text said that people believed that there was a difference between the body and what made them, well, them. Personality, identity. Everything that wasn’t physical. That when their body gave in and expired, the personality would move on. They called it a soul.”

“Oh, well that’s silly. I mean, we know where the sense of identity is, in the brain. We’ve mapped-”

“Yeah, I know we know where it is. I’m just saying that’s what they used to think then. Something else too. This is crazy. They thought that the soul would go somewhere, a nice place or a bad place, depending on how good a person had been during their lives. The good place was called ‘heaven’ although there were many different opinions on what that meant. Sometimes committing evil acts under the auspices of your own deity was considered a good thing. It all must have been extremely confusing.”

“I know. They couldn’t have been that stupid if they could grasp all that. What about the ‘bad place’?”

“That was called ‘hell’. If you messed up during your life you went to ‘hell’, and apparently it was a one-way ticket. You’d be there for infinity. For ever. What are you laughing about?”

“Oh, sorry. I just think it’s funny they used the term infinity. Considering that they were so obsessed with birth and death, I don’t know why they got away with using a term like infinity when they probably didn’t even comprehend its meaning. So how did they decide on who was good and bad?”

“They didn’t, at least, they didn’t think so. They left that responsibility to whichever deity they believed in. Most religions of the time agreed that there would be a judgment of some kind on your death. It was then you’d be told where you were going. It was entirely man-made of course. Mostly self appointed ‘prophets’ and people who said they received visions. They either deluded themselves or did so through upbringing. The problem was that even with all the doctrines and texts and rules on ‘right and wrong’ the tenets of morals and ethics were not universal. They couldn’t agree on anything.”

“That’s ludicrous. Everyone knows what is right and wrong. It’s inherent. How could they not know?”

“Usually because these same texts that told them what was right and wrong differed so greatly from race to race. They took these individual tenets and doctrines very seriously. It wasn’t like the debates we have now. People killed other people over this stuff. Most of the conflicts came from the disagreements. Just about every religion stated that every other religions followers were going to ‘hell’. Presumably that meant that everyone was going.”

“I read about that recently, the fighting, the Theo-Conflicts. It’s fortunate that we even survived those wars. Nuclear weapons and everything. What a mess.”

“Yeah. What’s remarkable to me was that some of them believed that their soul would come back and re-inhabit a different form once they died. I don’t know much about world affairs, but those are they people I would specifically not give nuclear weapons to.”

“Did they ever find any evidence on the whole ‘soul’ thing?”

“No, in fact, they said that if you were the kind of person who needed actual proof, you’d never find it.”

“Sounds reasonable to me. Psychologists must have had their hands full.”

“Actually it was a general consensus.”

“What, a soul?”

“Yeah. Everyone believed it. Just about anyway.”

“Wow.”

“Hey, just be grateful we didn’t keep thinking that way. Not too long before that they believed that disease was a curse from the same god that supposedly cared for them. Or from the bad deity. I think it was a called ‘devil’ or ‘satan’. I can’t remember which. The ‘devil’ character forced you to do the bad things.”

“What? You’ve lost me completely now.”

“Never mind.”

There was a long pause as both of them pondered the conversation while looking out at the landscape. Their vantage point atop the hill afforded them the expansive view of a forest that stretched all the way to the horizon.

One of them spoke. “Well, it makes sense.”

“What does?”

“Well if I only lived for eighty years, at most, I think I’d be pretty paranoid too.”

“Eighty years. I can’t even imagine that.”

“I know. Barely a trip to Neptune and back.”

He swung his robotic arm in its socket and eased back on the twin ten meter-wide track system that lent him his mobility while on the ground. Ahead of them they observed gusts of wind sweeping in across the tree tops, rustling foliage and nudging them in unity, like waves on an ocean-sea. Birds and insects fluttered into the air at the disturbance, startled, then shifting and spiraling in a grim dance of attacker and victim as the birds fed on the now easily accessible prey. The green blanket of dense forest disappeared into the distance, as far as their augmented eyes could see, the green canopy punctured here and there by the large sol-drive panels and tall graceful steel structures.

“It’s beautiful, isn’t it?”

“All this?” He gestured with a metal arm out towards the natural vista.

“Yes.”

“Always is.”

“We came so close to losing it.”

“Too close, my friend. Too close.”


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