Contemplating Purgatory

The Thinker by Rodin

I’ve been working with strange metaphors lately. I play these metaphors around in my mind. And mind you I don’t necessarily believe them, but I often do think the metaphor is interesting. I throw this latest one out to you: we are in purgatory.

Purgatory is a largely Catholic notion that after death an imperfect soul goes to some spiritual realm, not Hell by any means, not Heaven either, but some place where the soul can go to contemplate all the nasty things it did while on earth, find true contrition and eventually achieve perfection. This happens after final judgment, of course, and I guess you have to be Mother Teresa to go straight to view the glory of God. The rest of us have to wait. This is sort of how I remember Catholic theology from the 60s. Perhaps it has changed, but since Catholicism basically thinks theological change is evil, it’s probably still the Pope’s gospel. I, BTW, am not a practicing Catholic (much to my parent’s grief, I suspect, because I was raised as a devout Catholic). I’m not sure what I am. I attend services at a Unitarian Universalist church a couple times a month, so if I must affiliate with a denomination this one will do.

But I digress. Lately, applying Occam’s Razor, I’ve come to the tentative conclusion that reincarnation is much more likely than not. This is because I think it’s impossible for most of us in the course of 80 years or so to absorb all the richness and complexities of life adequately. In addition it seems unlikely if we are spiritual creatures that we can get all our spiritual business done in such a short time too. It is also quite possible that this life is it, but the more I chaw on that one the less likely it seems and the more absurd the notion seems to me. It just fails the common sense test.

It may be, as the Hindus and Buddhists suggest, that our cycle of life is endless and there is no way to escape it, unless we master the concepts of The Buddha and detach from all materialism and then, as I understand it, enter Nirvana and escape into nothingness.

Clearly our existence is a mixed bag. It is full of wonderful joys and horrors that make Hell look like an improvement. It is strange that the same country that could annihilate millions of Jews (not to mention lots of other races and cultures) could also produce Beethoven. In short this world is what we make of it and it is as good as the sum of our collective actions. We can make it a paradise or we can make it a hell. It’s up to us, and how well we organize and how well we communicate our values and live by them. You might say it is something like a classroom, or a simulator even. If that is the case then “Life on earth IS purgatory” is a pretty good analogy.

Perhaps, as some of these metaphysical books I’ve been reading suggest, we choose the lives we lead and the bodies we inhabit in order to learn specific spiritual lessons. I remember thinking in my teens “I didn’t ask to be born”. But perhaps I did ask to be born and I need the kind of experiences I’ve had to evolve as quickly as possible from one form of spiritual being to the next. Perhaps I selected, or at least approved, the body and the life I choose to inhabit.

Admittedly this analogy gets hard to understand sometimes. Why would someone choose to be a victim of Nazi gas chambers? Here perhaps is where my analogy breaks down. But the motivations of a soul may be far different than that of the body. If we are immortal then the form of death doesn’t really matter in the long run.

One thought on “Contemplating Purgatory

  1. About 25% of all Americans including George Lucas, Shirley MacLaine, Sylvester Stallone, Loretta Lynn, Henry Ford, John Hick, and Edgar Cayce believe in some form of incarnation. According to Norman Geisler and J. Yutaka Amano, there are ten ver­sions of this afterlife doctrine in style around the world. They wrote a book titled “The Reincarnation Sensation.”
    This books tries to sort out and compare and contrast these beliefs.

    reincarnation is “the belief that the soul after death passes on to another body

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