The Importance of Being Saved

An original mind: an excerpt from Hanna Newcombe's book "How Things Come Together"

By Hanna Newcombe | 2005-01-01 12:00:00

The main characteristic of temporality (as opposed to eternity) is that there is no law of conservation of information (or negentropy), as there is of energy and matter. Anyone working on a computer knows the frustration of losing whole paragraphs or pages of writing because they were not specifically "saved." Information can indeed disappear without a trace in this temporal order in which we live. (In the eternal order, in which time is only a dimension like the other three in space, we could always move back to where the information still existed.)

Could there be a similar meaning to "salvation" (saving) of a soul? Could it be that something has to be done (analogous to the "save" operation on the computer) to convert the spiritual meaning of the lifetime experience of a person into a permanent form? World religions variously prescribe "works" or "faith" or "enlightenment" or "moral purity" or "asceticism" or "meditation" as the "save" operation -- otherwise you are doomed to retype or rework your "text" in another lifetime, or to be wiped out into nothingness (entropy). Perhaps the "soul" or the person-lifetime can be saved (or is worth saving) only if it can properly contribute to the gradual build-up of divine reality -- the Omega end-point of Teilhard do Chardin. A lifetime not worthy of this high goal (not pure enough or meaningful enough, or too tainted with "sin") would be excised from the "text" being slowly built up -- end up on the cutting-room floor or in the waste-basket.

In Agatha Christie's short story "The Last Seance," a spiritualist medium creates a virtual image of a dead child so real that its mother grabs it and carries it away. But this converts the virtual child into a real child; the substance originally borrowed from the medium's own body and poured into the virtual image is claimed and the debt must be paid; the medium dies, much shrunken in stature because of the loss of substance. The child who was only virtual is "saved," but the medium who was real is sacrificed. This is like a transformation of information under a conservation law -- an operation well known in energy or matter transformations. There is an echo here of the mystery of "vicarious sacrifice" as an agent of salvation, which is the central doctrine of Christianity. Only that Simone, the unfortunate medium in the story, was not a willing agent but an unwilling victim of violence.

If we really can be saved by such a mechanism in spite of our sins, then we are saved by a preexisting God (Alpha), not creating a final God (Omega). But Alpha and Omega meet in eternity, like a snake swallowing its tail, or the graph of tan x vs. x jumping from plus to minus infinity.

The Case Against Saving

Arguing in favor of saving souls or texts is an argument for memory -- the preservation of information. In other contexts, a case can also be made for not preserving information. Remembering a past wrong to oneself or to one's nation or group leads to desire for revenge, and thus engenders an endless chain of violence and counter-violence. While Quebec licence plates proclaim "Je me souviens," (which I take to refer to defeat in 1759), I want to reply "Forget it and get on with the future." There are only two ways to stop the chain of violence: either by deliberate conspicuous nonviolence (absorbing the suffering), or by pressing the "don't save" button. The latter is called forgiveness, a form of beneficial loss of information. In the most common Christian prayer, we pray for this while affirming that we practice it ourselves toward others. In practice, many of us fail to forgive.

No wonder forgiveness is extolled as a virtue; without it, all evil ever done would reverberate forever. It would lie around like non-biodegradable refuse in a garbage dump. Forgiveness provides helpful bacteria to remove the eyesore and its poisons of future relationships.

Forgiving oneself is equally important, or guilt and grief will destroy any hope of future happiness or fulfilment or service to others, and will sour our relationships even with those whom we have not wronged. As well, grief must be eventually forgotten, or at least the pain of it, if we are ever to get on with life and its missions and duties.

Yet with respect to such tragedies as the Nazi holocaust, South African apartheid, and Argentine disappearances, it has been said that we must remember in order not to repeat them. The rule should be "amnesty, but not amnesia."

We must conclude that some information is valuable and must be saved, while other information, while painfully central at the time, must be cleared away. Our mind's environment must be kept clear of impediments. We must accumulate the positive and eliminate the negative.

Referring to possible causes of nuclear war, Bertrand Russell said: "Remember your humanity and forget the rest." It is a good rule for when to save and when not to save information.

Peace Magazine Jan-Mar 2005

Peace Magazine Jan-Mar 2005, page 13. Some rights reserved.

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