Vampire World

I was reading outside this summer when a hornet labored by and landed on a table.  Beneath its belly, the hornet was clutching a small, green caterpillar as long as it was, which is why it could barely fly.  After sitting for a moment, apparently exhausted, the little black vampire began digging its mandibles into the back of the unfortunate insect.  This bee liked its meat raw.  Gluttony satisfied, the hornet struggled off the table and immediately fell to deck level, where it waddled out of view, only to reappear a half-hour later holding the same caterpillar.  Maybe hornets inject some kind of zombie-toxin that keeps caterpillars alive while they eat, because the little green thing still looked moist, as the wasp dug away.  I finally shooed it off because the whole spectacle was making me queasy.  When you watch long enough, you begin to think.

Life eats life; creation feeds on itself.  It’s the definition of self-sufficiency, even as we all try to be the feeder, rather than the food.  I don’t like imagining some large insect bearing down on me and spearing me with a proboscis that sucks me dry, but there are such things.  They’re called viruses and they’ve been around longer than us.  They even mutate so they can infect us better.  We’re their idea of prime beef, and that is replicated at every step on the ladder of life.  It’s like Night of The Living Dead on steroids.

George Romero directed Night of The Living Dead, and nobody would mistake him with God.  But we’re told God is the one who designed the world where creatures eat each other.  God wrote the original screenplay; George ripped him off.

Which leads to a second thought.  God being God, there isn’t another way?  We’re told Yahweh fed the Hebrews in the desert with a dew-like substance called manna that simply appeared in the morning.  It was sweet, like candy, and apparently didn’t cause obesity.  Can’t we try that?  Yahweh could even feed manna to the viruses that might otherwise target my liver.

Life is scary, if you let your mind wander a little.  What unknown alien is already starting to eat you?  We focus on all kinds of other things because it helps us forget the dicey nature of existence.  I was rear-ended in my car last May, and glad to walk away.

Religions imagine this carnivorous character of life in different ways.  In Taoism, everything moves in complementary cycles of yin and yang, sun and moon, creation and destruction.  The wise person learns to align herself with the natural flow of Tao, where life and death interpenetrate each other, accepting each in its season.

Hinduism pictures Kali, the multi-armed purple Goddess, holding a sword in one hand and a man’s head in another.  A necklace made from human skulls drapes across her chest.  She’s not someone you’d pick up in a bar, or hitchhiking beside the road, unless you were in a very adventurous mood.  But, in Hinduism, she is revered, since death is required to move to a higher level in the next incarnation.  Hindus aren’t suicidal; they are simply realistic.  Destruction is part of the equation, so you may as well embrace it.  Once you die enough times, you’ll eventually return to the bliss of Brahman, and forget all this nonsense.

Indigenous people have a practical approach, based upon having seen tribesmen be eaten in the distant past.  You kill and can be killed.  It’s a fair equation, as long as you don’t abuse the privilege.  If you do, the Ancestors and Spirits will communicate their displeasure, which you really don’t want.  Global warming may be intentional.

The concept most Westerners find believable is a cosmic conflict between good and evil, Satan and Christ, Hitler and the Greatest Generation, Superman and Lex Luther.  Evil is no longer a functional entity, as in Hinduism.  Evil is the anti-thesis of functionality; that’s why it’s often described as mindless.  Evil is pure destruction, and destruction is an undesired activity, since it threatens the creative work of God.  Christians aren’t about to worship Kali or view death as a necessary event.  Death was never God’s intention; we brought it on ourselves.  Christ overcame Satan and the grave, and promises a world without either.

Being a derivation of Western religion, modern science adopts the same beliefs.  Death and evil are afflictions to eradicate.  Despite how natural they may seem in the rest of the biological world, they are not accepted as natural or inevitable for humans.  Things that cause our demise are termed insults, attacks, and invasions.

In that mind, there are numerous scientists who believe death is a solvable problem, one way or another, and medicine does it’s best to forestall our day of departure.  Fifty percent of the children born in 2011 are expected to reach one hundred years old.  The use of nanobots to augment immune systems could extend that into a second century.  Once we’re able to grow replacement organs, or download our minds into artificial intelligence machines, or genetically decode the aging process, eternal life may be within reach.

Evil is squarely in the cross-hairs, as well.  Genetics, brain chemicals, psychological and social factors—all are being explored.  Perhaps a laser-sited, pin-point lobotomy will cure anti-social behavior, or a pill will eliminate paranoid schizophrenia.  They already use drugs to adjust various kinds of deviancies to socially-acceptable norms.  That’s the scientific version of vanquishing Satan.  A couple doses of Xanax would pacify even the Gadarene demoniac; Jesus had to kill a herd of pigs.

What do you think?  Is the hornet an example of nature’s balance, freeing the caterpillar’s spirit to be reborn upward, in a fair exchange, just as the hornet may end up feeding a spider?  Or is the hornet an example of a warped creation, subverted by a force of malevolence that must be overcome and vanquished, so that lions and lambs, or hornets and caterpillars, can forever lie down together without one being food for the other?  Or do we shear away the metaphysics to view death and destruction as problems to be solved?  Applications and consequences are secondary developments.  The earth may not sustain ten trillion humans who live to be the age of biblical patriarchs, but that doesn’t matter, in the search for profitable discoveries.

These are difficult questions.  We like the potential benefits of science.  Who doesn’t want to see Super Bowl CCC?  But that comes at the expense of seeing death as an inevitable and positive part of living.  Death doesn’t necessarily mean defeat.  Death goes together with meaning.

Eternal life has no meaning because there is no way to establish value.  In bliss, there is no experience of lesser or more, or better or worse, or closer or farther, let alone love, hate, envy, pity, or sorrow.

Think of it this way:  the typical description of heaven, as a place where people never die or get sick or experience loss, and everyday is bright and sunshiny, and we don’t get storm clouds except when we want them, and we never want them, because who wants to be a buzz-kill—that heaven would be incredibly boring.  You’d wish to die, simply for something to do, and couldn’t.  Heaven would Sartre’s version of hell.  Or, as Mark Twain described it, a place where you can’t drink, smoke, or have sex.

When it comes to heaven, be careful what you wish for.  In concrete, scientific terms, we may actually create various kinds of ghouls who live far longer than their consciousness can tolerate, or download some semblance of themselves into a robot’s binary code.  And the underlying, legitimizing creed for those very bad ideas will the belief that death is unnatural, a malady to be eliminated.

It wouldn’t be the first time that religion justified the excesses and hubris of humanity.  The Tower of Babel was a temple, after all.  Too often, what passes for faith is merely a way to excuse our desires, assuage our fears, and pretend the hornet isn’t real.

Death is an essential part of life; the end will come to us all.  That’s how we make room for newcomers.  If nobody died, none of us would have jobs.  The Chief Justice would be Hammurabi, hearing arguments by Moses.

Death is what gives meaning to each precious moment.  If you have endless supplies of something, it becomes meaningless.  Think of everything you ever took for granted, because you thought it would always be there.  It’s a good description of how we tend to live our lives.  Hiding the reality of death leads us to devalue life.

Any honest spirituality gives pride of place to the single most important fact of our existence.  Faith helps us to die, not flee.  Otherwise, there will be no contravening values to the enterprises that profit from helping humans ignore their limits.

My goal is to celebrate my death as a way to celebrate my life.  They’re inseparable.  Even Jesus died, so who am I to complain.  I’ll foot the bill for the party.

About Bucky Dann

I teach religion, sociology, and psychology at Southwestern Community College in the Smoky Mountains. I have worked in the United Methodist ministry and in the substance abuse field. I possess a Masters of Divinity, a Masters of Philosophy, and a PhD in the sociology of knowledge.


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