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Immortality
by [?]

THE desire for life everlasting has commonly been affirmed to be universal–at least that is the view taken by those unacquainted with Oriental faiths and with Oriental character. Those of us whose knowledge is a trifle wider are not prepared to say that the desire is universal or even general.

If the devout Buddhist, for example, wishes to “live alway,” he has not succeeded in very clearly formulating the desire. The sort of thing that he is pleased to hope for is not what we should call life, and not what many of us would care for.

When a man says that everybody has “a horror of annihilation,” we may be very sure that he has not many opportunities for observation, or that he has not availed himself of all that he has. Most persons go to sleep rather gladly, yet sleep is virtual annihilation while it lasts; and if it should last forever the sleeper would be no worse off after a million years of it than after an hour of it There are minds sufficiently logical to think of it that way, and to them annihilation is not a disagreeable thing to contemplate and expect.

In this matter of immortality, people’s beliefs appear to go along with their wishes. The chap who is content with annihilation thinks he will get it; those that want immortality are pretty sure they are immortal, and that is a very comfortable allotment of faiths. The few of us that are left unprovided for are those who don’t bother themselves much about the matter, one way or another.

The question of human immortality is the most momentous that the mind is capable of conceiving. If it is a fact that the dead live, all other facts are in comparison trivial and without interest. The prospect of obtaining certain knowledge with regard to this stupendous matter is not encouraging. In all countries but those in barbarism the powers of the profoundest and most penetrating intelligences have been ceaselessly addressed to the task of glimpsing a life beyond this life; yet today no one can truly say that he knows. It is still as much a matter of faith as ever it was.

Our modern Christian nations hold a passionate hope and belief in another world, yet the most popular writer and speaker of his time, the man whose lectures drew the largest audiences, the work of whose pen brought him the highest rewards, was he who most strenuously strove to destroy the ground of that hope and unsettle the foundations of that belief.

The famous and popular Frenchman, Professor of Spectacular Astronomy, Camille Flammarion, affirms immortality because he has talked with departed souls who said that it was true. Yes, Monsieur, but surely you know the rule about hearsay evidence. We Anglo-Saxons are very particular about that. Your testimony is of that character.

“I don’t repudiate the presumptive arguments of school men. I merely supplement them with something positive. For instance, if you assumed the existence of God this argument of the scholastics is a good one. God has implanted in all men the desire of perfect happiness. This desire can not be satisfied in our lives here. If there were not another life wherein to satisfy it then God would be a deceiver. Voila tout.”

There is more: the desire of perfect happiness does not imply immortality, even if there is a God, for:

( 1 ) God may not have implanted it, but merely suffers it to exist, as He suffers sin to exist, the desire of wealth, the desire to live longer than we do in this world. It is not held that God implanted all the desires of the human heart. Then why hold that He implanted that of perfect happiness?

(2) Even if He did–even if a divinely implanted desire entail its own gratification–even if it can not be gratified in this life–that does not imply immortality. It implies only another life long enough for its gratification just once. An eternity of gratification is not a logical inference from it.