The character Peggy in Tales of Alvin Maker is a ‘torch’. This means she can see into people’s souls, know their darkest secrets, and also know their future, and know what effects their decisions will have on their future (free will still exists).
This has two rather frightening consequences for the people around her. For one, she seems to be able to control other people’s lives. She tells the main character (Alvin) where he has to go to fight the bad guys, what to do to keep himself safe, only revealing as much information as seems fit to her. But more frightening, I would think, though a bit less important in the books, is that she can see everything, every embarrassment, every thought that flashes across your mind. That’s kind of scary, that someone you know could see you that well, because most of us know (and those who don’t are deceived) that they wouldn’t like what they saw, at least not entirely.
But think for a moment about the dead. In Heaven, what do people know of what happened on Earth? In the Divine Comedy people are washed of their memory of any sin or suffering. But that doesn’t sound right to me. I wouldn’t really be me without my knowledge of what I’ve done wrong, would I?
I can’t prove this or really make an argument for it, but it seems to me that in Heaven, everybody will be a torch. They will be able to look on earth, see all of our actions, see what we might want to keep hidden – sins, yes, but also secret infatuations, social blunders that never manage to come to light, intellectual weaknesses.
There’s nothing wrong with them seeing our sins. We will either have repented of them, and reached Heaven, and look on our sins with scorn, or gone to hell, in which case those in Heaven will feel no pity for us, and rightly so. But they will also by necessity see all these embarrassments. Are we going to feel no embarrassment in Heaven? But isn’t it something to be embarrassed about that you were once foolish enough to believe X, to think that just because you’re attracted to Y you’re in love with her, or to have done something that could have caused pain to someone else, even if it didn’t?
And what about those people that you didn’t like but tolerated in life because it made life easier – what will they think when they realize this upon reaching Heaven? Everyone will know your true opinion of everyone else. Even if you weren’t letting these opinions cause you to sin, they’re not something to be proud of.
So does that mean that those things are sins? In which case anything that we rightly regret are sins, and there are no ‘innocent embarrassments’? Or that they are not in fact things to be embarrassed about, that they are right and good, in which case – how could they possibly be so?
I don’t have an answer to the above. But all of this speculation has led me to at least one conclusion that actually does have an effect on my actions.
Everybody that you currently know in life, they will one day know everything that you have ever done or thought. Whether or not you will be shamed upon them learning this, I don’t know. But it does seem that, in that case, one could talk to them even if they were not there. The same way people sometimes talk to dead relatives – which it seems to me is a right good thing to do – one can talk to people still living, and, in the same way that those dead relatives will eventually hear what is said to them, the people still alive will as well.
So I occasionally talk to the dead spirits of alive people and try to defend my actions to them. Complete honesty is obviously a requirement, but that’s really not that hard (at least, it’s not hard to think you’re being honest, I don’t know how hard it is to actually be honest). It may seem kind of odd (almost like I’m praying to people who are still living), but I think it makes sense. And it can be quite amusing.
(Though so far they’ve never answered back.)
I began reading Humphrey Carpenter’s biography of J.R.R. Tolkien last night, and am to follow by reading two books, entitled “J.R.R. Tolkien’s Sanctifying Myth” and “Splintered Light: Logos and Language in Tolkien’s World”, that will I hope give me some insight into how to better craft my own mythopoeic landscape. If you hadn’t picked up on this yet – Tolkien is essentially my hero.
And of course he’s dead (completely off-topic – his tomb, shared with his wife Edith, reads “Beren and Luthien”, which I think is simply awesome). So what I wrote above applies to him as well. I’m really not sure what he would think of me, but I hope it would be good.