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In which I continue to seek part time employment as the ruler of the world.

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Wednesday March 28 2007

Bruno Monsaingeon’s film Glenn Gould - Hereafter, concludes with the following words, spoken by the pianist himself:

image

I would like to think that there is, especially in more recent years, a kind of autumnal repose in what I’m doing.  It would be nice if what we do could involve the possibility of some degree of perfection, not only for purely technical but also and above all of a spiritual order.  But I’ve had all my life a tremendously strong sense that indeed there is a hereafter, and that the transformation of the spirit is a phenomenon with which one must reckon, and in the light of which indeed one must attend to live one’s life.  As a consequence I find all the here and now philosophies repellent.  On the other hand I don’t have any objective images to build around my notion of a hereafter.  And I recognise that it is a great temptation to formulate a comforting theory of eternal life so as to reconcile oneself to the inevitability of death.  For me, it intuitively seems right.  I’ve never had to work at convincing myself about the likelihood of a life hereafter.  It is simply something that appears to be infinitely more plausible than its opposite, which would be unliving.

Glenn Gould died in 1982.

Assuming that Gould really does find the likelihood of a life hereafter to be “infinitely more plausible” that its opposite, then here is vivid proof indeed of how very different people are from one another, in their tastes, and above all in what they are convinced to be the truth.  To me (and to the late Alan Turing - see the previous posting here), eternal life is far less plausible that its opposite.  Why on earth would you believe in such a thing?  Only if you have been told, a lot, to believe it, by people who seem truthful about everything else, would have been my answer not so very long ago.  Except that according to Gould that’s not it.

It’s obviously not that Gould was stupid.  The idea is ridiculous.  More that, faced with arguments about the actual likelihood of eternal life, he just was not interested.  He felt no threat from such arguments, and no desire to engage with them.  They made no sense to him.  They were even “repellent”.  And he had other things to get on with and to think about.

Since I find Gould’s way of thinking on these matters so deeply foreign and bizarre, I have probably described it very badly.  Those who (approximately) agree with him would be most welcome to describe his view better.

What this quote tells me is that religion survives not just because religious people insist that it must.  (How did they get religion in the first place?) It survives because it is inherent in human nature for at least some humans truly to believe in it.  If religion didn’t exist, it would be invented.  If it died out, it would be reinvented.

Gould said that he felt no desire to attach pictures to his beliefs.  But that was because, I surmise, he didn’t feel that he needed to convince himself, or anyone else.  He didn’t need conventional religion because he believed in his actual religion so completely.  He needed nobody else’s agreement to shore up his own belief.  Conventional religion, I surmise, is created by people who pretty much believe in actual religion, but who have their doubts.

I have this in common with Gould.  I have no need for the equal and opposite phenomenon to organised religion, which is what you might call “conventional atheism” or “organised non-religion”.  By this I mean the practice of self-proclaimed atheists and anti-religionists joining groups of fellow disbelievers to proclaim their disbelief, and to chant in a chorus, as it were, the shared hymns and mantras of their disbelief.

It’s different if religious people deduce real world projects from their religious beliefs that I disagree with, or even feel threatened by.  Then, I go for their beliefs, all of them, including their religious beliefs, if only to remind them that not everyone shares these beliefs and that they never will, and if they try forcibly to impose their beliefs on others, they will encounter huge resistance.  But that is a mere means to the end of political victory, insofar as one can ever achieve such a thing.  Trying to spread religious disbelief as such seems to me a bizarre way to spend more than a tiny fragment of my life, and only then as a byproduct of me simply say how religion looks to me.  But, of course, that just goes to show how different other people can be from me, including other atheists.