Saturday 26 September 2020

Do you believe in the afterlife, Glenn Gould?

As cited in Thirty-two short films about Glenn Gould

ELYSE MACH: I’d like to ask: Do you believe in the afterlife? 

Glenn Gould: Well, I was brought up as a Presbyterian, though I did stop being a church goer, ohh, about the age of 18 … but I always have had a tremendously strong sense that there is, indeed, a hereafter … that we all must reckon with, and lead our lives according to, this belief that there is, inevitably, a transformation of the spirit. As a consequence, I find all ‘here-and-now’ philosophies quite repellent … lax, if you will. I do recognize, however, that it is a great temptation to try and formulate a comfortable theory of eternal life, so as to reconcile oneself to the inevitability of death. But I’d like to think that’s not what I’m doing—I honestly don’t think that I’m creating a deliberate self-reassuring process. For me, it intuitively seems right … I’ve never had to work at convincing myself of a life hereafter. After all, don’t you think it seems infinitely more plausible than its opposite … oblivion?


There is surely a direct relationship between Gould's conviction of the reality of a personal afterlife, and the extraordinary and unique spiritual dimension he brought to the best of his life and performances. 

When I am able to grasp the fact of it; I am absolutely staggered at the perfection of the gift of Jesus: I mean resurrected eternal life in Heaven. It is so absolutely and exactly what I would most have wanted!

Yet most people, most of the time (almost everybody, almost always) are utterly insensible to this extraordinary thing. I know, because for most of my life I was one of them. 

I know how - in the particular and peculiar environment of this modern era - it seems natural (as well as adult and intelligent) to adopt a flippant attitude to this most important of all questions. I know the arguments - from the inside - about how eternal life, resurrection, Heaven etc - don't really make any difference to the wise Man of true values; how these are childish panderings to the weakness and vanity of... etc. etc...

Consequently we do not allow ourselves even to begin to grasp what is actually on offer; and oscillate back and forth between regarding the astonishing gift of Jesus as too-good-to-be-true, and then of-no-interest at all - or (somehow) hold both beliefs at the same time...

One common, and stunningly wrong, attitude is that the reality of eternal life makes no difference to this life! I have felt this myself. It is so incredibly, stupidly and obviously wrong, that such an attitude is itself a key to much of the pathology of modern thinking. I mean; the fact that I and others can and do think this way, is a revelation of a profound (i.e. deep rooted) incapacity to reason that is near universal.

I realise that Jesus's offer does not appeal to everyone. Which is presumably why only Christianity (and only some understandings of Christianity) 'offer' this destination after death. But I think there are plenty who, like me, want nothing different from what Jesus offers - and it ought to be a simple matter for us to get past the first step of acknowledging "Yes, that's what I most want"; and (but only) then move on to the question: "Is it true?"

Step one: do we want what Jesus offers? Step two: is the offer true

And, as Gould said, evaluating the truth of Jesus's offer is a matter of intuition. No 'evidence' is of relevance. But intuition must have something to intuit! An idea must be grasped with the fullness of imaginative understanding before it can be tested by intuition. 

And that is exactly where most modern people go so fatally wrong: they/we cannot imaginatively grasp the reality of resurrected, eternal Heavenly life (or, we do not allow ourselves to do this); therefore we cannot intuitively evaluate its truth. We cannot get past step one. 

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