Saturday, April 13, 2013

That should have been your first clue

I know I'm over a decade late to the party but I recently discovered the delightful British series Jonathan Creek.  On the bright side, being late to the party means I get to watch the whole series on youtube for free!  For those unfamiliar with the show, it's about a man who devises illusions for a stage magician for a living who uses his skills and insights to solve crimes that appear to have been impossible.  If you're into skepticism and/or the very charming Alan Davies I strongly recommend watching it.  It frequently demonstrates how the truth behind an astonishing mystery can be incredibly mundane so if you want to believe that magic tricks are really magic, this may not be your kind of show...

So while watching one of the episodes, an off hand comment by one of the characters made me realize that there is an incredibly banal truth behind the very popular supernatural belief in reincarnation.  In the season 2 episode "Danse Macabre" the victim of a baffling murder is said to have been working on her autobiography - or rather her autobiographies - an account of her many lives throughout the ages. They included: "high priestess of the Aztec Empire... a courtesan to King Charles I, a Russian Countess and a Zulu at Rorke's Drift."

I've been fascinated by the supernatural since childhood and read anything I could find on the subject* and this seemed exactly like everything anyone claiming to remember their "past lives" has ever said.  It's the weirdest thing when you think about it, how these previous incarnations are always incredibly significant.  People were either very important historical figures or they were somehow connected to important historical figures and events.  How strange, seeing as the vast majority of people throughout history were neither important nor involved with anything important.  For most of history people were born, worked hard, lived lives devoid of comfort or importance and then died.  Yet funnily enough, you never seem to hear anyone with a past life being any of those people!  No one remembers a past life where they toiled hard, lived off turnips and died young because the most cutting edge medical procedure of the time was getting bled to death.  Nope, it's always kings and queens and courtesans it seems!  What are the odds?

Uncomfortable truth time, how important are you?  I know we all get told from childhood that we are special little snowflakes and that our lives have much importance and meaning, but does it? Really?  I'm not trying to insult you and I'm not insinuating that your life is meaningless.  Obviously if you are reading this blog you are an amazing and intelligent person with a sensitive soul and a great sense of humour! Your closest friends and family would no doubt agree that you are totally awesome.  However, in the grand scheme of things, how important do you think you are?  Will people be reading about you in a 100 years?  How about your friends and associates? Will they be famous centuries from now?  Will your work be discussed in Universities one day?

Several important events happened within my lifetime: Elvis died, ABBA broke up, John Lennon was assassinated, George Lucas created and subsequently destroyed several million happy childhood memories, the Berlin Wall came down, the Soviet Union collapsed, Apartheid ended and Lady Gaga was born.  I didn't play any part in any of those events.  It's a fair bet that you didn't either.  Not everyone gets to do something significant with our lives.  That doesn't mean we don't wish it wasn't so.

There is a reason that almost all works of fantasy involve someone plucked from obscurity and turned into someone of great importance.  I think all nobodies wish they were somebodies.  Who doesn't dream of being discovered and appreciated and admired and remembered?  I suspect this kind of dream, this deep wish for specialness, lives inside us all.  Therefore the fact that all past life experiences are so special and significant is the only clue you need to figure out that past lives are bullshit. There are no past lives, just current wish fulfillment. 

No matter how much you dream of being special, the cold reality of your life can't be shut out forever.  Reincarnation is however a great way of overcoming reality.  Maybe you're not so amazing NOW but what if you were incredibly special in a past life (or ten)?  Surely that could mean that you might end up being incredibly important in some other life in the future!

I'm something of a dreamer myself so I completely understand the allure.  But that doesn't make it true.  You can't make yourself special by wishing it so.  Burying yourself in fantasy is comfortable but it's also a little dangerous.  After all, if you're reading this you're probably not dead so your story isn't over yet.  History is not done with you, maybe you turn out to be more significant than you could even dream.  Who knows how your story is going to play out in the end?  You're not a Pharaoh or a High Priest or a brave knight.  You are you.  Why not make the best of it?

*It led to many tearful repentance sessions and the occasional book burning since by even reading about the occult I was opening myself to Satan's influence.  If you didn't grow up Pentecostal or Charismatic that wouldn't mean anything to you but trust me, it was a big deal!

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