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Behind The Veil
by [?]

I can see the drift of foggy argument. The writer means to say that the belief in immortality sprang up because the wish was father to the thought. Men longed to live, and thus they persuaded themselves that they would live; and, one refinement after another having been added to the vague-minded savage’s animal yearning, we have the elaborate system of theology and the reverential faith that guide the lives of civilized human entities. Very pretty! Then the literary critic steps in and shows how the belief in immortality has been enlarged and elaborated since the days of Saul, the son of Kish. When the witch of Endor saw gods ascending from the earth, she was only anticipating the experience of sorcerers who ply their trade in the islands of the Pacific. Professor Huxley admires the awful description of Saul’s meeting with the witch; but the Professor shows that the South Sea islanders also see gods ascending out of the earth, and he thinks that the Eastern natives in Saul’s day encouraged a form of ancestor-worship. The literary critic says ancestor-worship is one of the great branches of the religion of mankind. Its principles are not difficult to understand, for they plainly keep up the social relations of the living world. The dead ancestor, now passed into a deity, goes on protecting his family and receiving suit and service from them as of old. The dead chief still watches over his own tribe, still holds his authority by helping friends and harming enemies, still rewards the right and sharply punishes the wrong. That, then, was the kind of worship prevalent in the time of Saul, and the gods were only the ancestors of the living. Well, this may be admirable as science, but, as I summarized the long argument, I felt as though something must give way.

Then we are told that our sacred book, the Old Testament, contains no reference to the future life–rather ignores the notion, in fact. It appears that, when Job wrote about the spirit that passed before him and caused all the hair of his flesh to stand up, he meant an enemy, or a goat, or something of that species. Moreover, when it is asserted that Enoch “was not, for God took him,” no reference is made to Enoch’s future existence. The whole of the thesis regarding the Shadow Land has been built up little by little, just as our infinitely perfect bodily organization has been gradually formed. It took at least thirty thousand years to evolve the crystalline lens of the human eye, and it required many thousands of years to evolve from the crude savagery of the early Jews the elaborate theories of the modern Buddhists, Islamites, and Christians.

Certainly this same evolution has much to answer for. I utterly fail to see how a wish can give rise to a belief that comes before the wish is framed in the mind. More than this, I know that, even when human beings crave extinction most–when the prospect of eternal sleep is more than sweet, when the bare thought of continued existence is a horror–the belief in, or rather the knowledge of, immortality is still there, and the wretch who would fain perish knows that he cannot.

As for the mathematically-minded thinkers, I must give them up. They say, “Here are two objects of consciousness whose existence can be verified; one we choose to call the body, the other we call the soul or mind or spirit, or what you will. The soul may be called a ‘function’ of the body, or the body may be called a ‘function’ of the soul–at any rate, they vary together. The tiniest change in the body causes a corresponding change in the soul. As the body alters from the days when the little ducts begin to feed the bones with lime up to the days when the bones are brittle and the muscles wither away, so does the soul alter. The infant’s soul is different from the boy’s, the boy’s from the adolescent man’s, the young man’s from the middle-aged man’s, and so on to the end. Now, since every change in the body, no matter how infinitesimally small, is followed by a corresponding change in the soul, then it is plain that, when the body becomes extinct, its ‘function,’ the soul, must also become extinct.”