The arguments against belief outlined here have all been negative: the evidence is missing, evil exists, all is vapor, the room remains dark. But there are positive arguments, too. Let me introduce what may be the oldest of them: the idea that we should enjoy this world now rather than wasting thoughts on the possibility of supernatural worlds later. Here is a version from the Epic of Gilgamesh, written about a millennium and a half before Exodus. A young woman - a maker of wine named Siduri - has just advised the hero that eternal life is not for humans, instead she commends to him mortal life:
Fill your belly with good things; day and night, night and day, dance and be merry, feast and rejoice. Let your clothes be fresh, bathe yourself in water, cherish the little child that holds your hand, and make your wife happy in your embrace.
This anacreontic alternative to the privations of religions, carpe diem, is also espoused by Koheleth - "eat and drink and enjoy" - and by the Carvaka: "Can begging, fasting, penance...be compared with the ravishing embraces of women with large eyes?"
Tacitus uses an additional term for what Pompey saw of the Holy of Holies. It was, he reports, "untenanted." In other words, the absence of life, too, can be said to have helped create that emptiness at the center of religion. The Jews actually focused on death less than some other post-literate faiths (particularly the faiths that branched off from theirs). Still - while outside this most holy of sanctuaries people dance, hold children's hands and embrace - inside there was, by all appearances, no life.
Death is an empty room.
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This isn’t an argument against belief, but an argument that not believing ain’t so bad–I guess an expression of hope that God doesn’t exist.
Hm. “Untenanted” isn’t really equivalent to “Death is an empty room”; putting it this way hollows out the deft, rich ideas of previous sections, at least for me. It takes all the fascinating, compelling and especially *temporal* ambiguity of the idea of ‘tenancy’ and reduces it to a slogan (or observation worthy of Pompey or an anthropologist, of that moment from the perspective of an intruder, an uninitiate who can only ‘see’ what his frame of vision ‘allows’ him to see). I’d try to do more highlighting of that phrase at the end of this graph: ‘inside there was, *by all appearances*, no life’…
This is a line — reasserting the opposition between an anacreontic perspective and this “untenanted” space at the center of religion — with which I’ve had a lot of difficulty.
“Death is an empty room” is a powerful metaphor, yet an empty room is something,–death holds nothing and is nothing.
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