Immortality through matter
In front of mirrors we steel our bodies in order to create an amour-clad self, which we hope to be resistant against the stains of time. We implant silicon until we become plastic, a material that lasts longer than our organic cells.
We made our body a God whom we worship, paradoxically, by dieting and not offering him food. In case we do offer him something, we sacrifice oblations like pieplant-juice.
Suppose one loses his belief in an existence beyond the mere here and now, but one still has angst of death. Then one will attempt to immortalize oneself with whatever is given – in this case matter, especially the own body. Apparently most of us still believe somehow, even if we do not know it ourselves.
Already Friedrich Nietzsche proclaimed that the last human before his much anticipated superhuman will apotheose his health, his body and say “we have invented happiness”. The material attempt to eternalize ourselves is not merely restricted to our own body.
Just take your look off the mirror and glance at the skyscrapers, these modern towers of babel, Mount Olympus of concrete, which try to claw the heavens. The cultural critic Günther Anders once termed it „industrial re-incarnation“ and “serial existence of products”: the attempt to become immortal though matter exterior to ourselves.
There seems to be an inherent urge of the human to cling to a hereafter. Evolutionary biologists argue that with the evolvement of our brain, we developed the capacity to contemplate about the future. Along with it came the knowledge of death and hence the fear of it. Supposedly the belief in immortality (and therefore religion) was nothing but the antidote to this trepidation.
Immortality through mental procreation
Some years ago I stopped the low-carb diets and put the dumbbells down. Instead I picked up the pen, which was another way of trying to become everlasting. For already Plato wrote in the Symposium that mental procreation is the sublime way of making oneself immortal.
I had no choice, as for the alleged less sublime method, physical procreation, I needed to first have a partner and then to convince her of my plans to invest my genetic capital in future generations.
Realizing that writing for immortality was a beautiful lie – as writing should not be a scribbling against my own death but for the life of others – I rebelled against this idea of inked athanasia. Through philosophy I overcame, at least I believe so, the fear of death.
Immortality through morality
Still, I always had the idea of immortality whispering to me in the back of my mind. Unfortunately, I was never able to manifest those words, until one day I came across Mark Johnston book Surviving Death, where he pinned down what I was never able to express.
Johnston complex theory underlies a simple equation: from agape to anatta. Agape stands for love that reduces my personal interests in favor for someone else. By acting altruistic or out of love, we change our identity and the relation-ship to our self, by means of identifying ourselves with other people.
I become the other and ideally the entire human race. What follows from this is that we stop to perceive ourselves, like in Buddhism, as a permanent individual being. We become anatta.
We always pretend to know what our self is, for instance our personal history or our corpus. According to Johnston, however, we are protean, meaning we can change our identity. If we identify ourselves with the human race, we will live on in the “onward rush of humankind” through our good deeds. What we experience is a “moral reincarnation”.
Therewith we can also solve Kant’s moral problem. He argued that we are not very likely to act morally, because we would not be able to reap the fruits of our deeds in this lifetime. This was his justification to postulate a divine being and an afterlife into his philosophical equation. Johnston’s theory does not require a God.
His argument would also work, if he argued that we reduce the ego, and by identifying with the human race we became one with ātman, the world soul. Yet, he intentionally uses the word anatta or anātman, since he does not want to engage in metaphysical speculations and problems that the vedantic thought brings along.
Johnston’s argument is by no means anti-religious. The advantage of his argument is that you can believe in an afterlife, no matter whether you an atheist or not. So forget the power plate and your Ferrari-dreams. Instead do good and live forever.