Tuesday, March 11, 2008

“We Do Not Know What that One is With Whom (or with which) He is Now at One.”

We’re working on a long-ish post about death (Hey, it’s Lent!) for later in the week. In the meantime, here's Graham Greene's very funny parody of a New Age funeral in Brighton Rock. It speaks for itself—and for a lot of real-life clergy:

‘Our belief in heaven,’ the clergyman went on, ‘is not qualified by our disbelief in the old medieval hell. We believe,’ he said, glancing swiftly along the smooth polished slipway towards the New Art doors through which the coffin would be launched into the flames, ‘we believe that this our brother is already at one with the One.’ He stamped his words like little pats of butter with this personal mark. ‘He has attained unity. We do not know what that One is with whom (or with which) he is now at one. We do not retain the old medieval beliefs in glassy seas and golden crowns. Truth is beauty and there is more beauty for us, a truth-loving generation, in the certainty that our brother is at this moment reabsorbed in the universal spirit.’ He touched a little buzzer, the New Art doors opened, the flames flapped and the coffin slid smoothly down into the fiery sea. The doors closed, the nurse rose and made for the door, the clergyman smiled gently from behind the slipway, like a conjurer who has produced his nine hundred and fortieth rabbit without a hitch.

When Greene wrote that, in 1938, it may have been an exaggeration of shallow belief; it isn't now. We especially like that the clergyman strikes at the medieval beliefs for their absurdity and tries to replace them with modern certainty and truth--but he's uncertain what this truth actually is, who “that One is with whom (or with which) he is now at one.”

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