I had an exchange with a Christian today. He gave me a pamphlet about Jesus and asked me if I have faith. I told him I do and a great deal of it and began to share my beliefs with him.
Starting at the beginning - if, indeed, metaphysics have a beginning and I don’t think they do - I told him how I believe that a tremendous formless mechanism causes us to come into being for an infinitesimally small moment before vanishing again into nothingness, like antimatter.
His brow furrowed in what I could only read as confusion and I’ve encountered that reaction before. Undeterred, I continued, ‘Of course, when we are brought into being we are preprogrammed with all of the memories that comprise the self of that being so naturally we experience our fractional moment of existence as a logical continuation of the memories that immediately preceded beinghood, and the memories that precede those and so on. The being has no way to know of the brevity of their existence: to them it appears exactly as if they had always existed for nine, eighteen, sixty-two years. Whatever.’
I explained that this phenomenon happens over and over, that I might be brought into being here and now and then cease to exist here as me and then be brought into being afresh as someone else entirely, perhaps not even of the same species or even in the same universe. If such a complex world was created entirely for me, with everyone around me mere scene-dressing for the momentary play of my beinghood, one would be unable to imagine the other possible realities that might be constructed for me.
The Christian paused for a moment and then he said, ‘How is that you then?’
I didn’t understand at first so I asked him to clarify.
‘Well,’ he said - choosing his words a little too carefully for my liking - ‘I take it that no being has any memory of their other instances of being brought into being?’
I said that this was, of course, correct in one sense, after all I am not preprogrammed with the memories of any of my other instances of beinghood and that the uniting spirit that links these beings does not, in my case, have access to such memories. I was about to continue when he interrupted me: ‘So there is a spirit common to these beings?’
Why he had interrupted to repeat back to me facts I had already established I didn’t know but I was sharper with him than I intended. ‘Of course there’s a common spirit! It wouldn’t make sense otherwise!’
He wasn’t as chastened as I had expected. Truculently he continued. ‘But if no being remembers their other instances of beinghood then what difference does it make?’
I was aghast. It was becoming clear that I was talking to an idiot. ‘Because, friend,’ I said, pointing the word at him threateningly, ‘what if there were a glitch in the mechanism?’
His brow furrowed again. Confusion was clearly his default state. ‘What kind of “glitch”?’
I paused a moment for effect, noting with not-a-little mischievous pride that his pamphlets were held forgotten at his side. ‘It is possible for something to go horribly wrong in such a complex mechanism. Rather than each instance of beinghood being discrete experience, a spirit may retain its consciousness throughout its sequence of existences. It therefore experiences these disconnected moment and their attendant life memories in a torturously linear fashion, retaining the memory of each but unable to make sense of any of them due to their brevity. The spirit, having no agency within the mechanism and experiencing an infinity of moments, is doomed to this intolerable sensory overload for what it perceives as eternity.’
I expected to read concern in the Christian’s face but I detected none. He simply shrugged and said flippantly, ‘Perhaps that is what Hell is,’ trying to turn attention back to the pamphlet.
I wasn’t going to let him get away that easily. I was hurt and angry by his nonchalant response to what I reasonably considered a matter of great metaphysical importance.
‘Hell it would be, yes, but don’t you understand?’ I pleaded. ‘This could happen to you or to me at any moment. We may be, in a very real sense, only a split-second away from an eternity of that.’
He thought for a moment and then said, almost-but-not-quite apologetically, ‘I don’t believe that.’
I held out my hands palm upwards like a master showing his dog he has nothing more to give. He started trying to tell me about Jesus again but I wasn’t going to waste any more time on this proselytising zealot. It crossed my mind to give him back his pamphlet as a symbol of my rejection of him but something stopped me. I smiled weakly, nodded goodbye and stopped off to buy a blood pudding on my way home.
It was later, when I was eating the blood pudding, that I saw the pamphlet on the kitchen counter and it occurred to me that I might make some pamphlets of my own but I knew I probably wouldn’t. After all, by the time I’d be handing them out I would be someone else and I wondered if I would ever be the Christian in a moment where he was talking to me. With an infinity of moments stretching in front and behind me I was encouraged by the thought that if it hadn’t happened already, at some point it would. And I fell to my knees and I prayed that I would never recall it.
By Robert Hainault