It must be so—Plato, thou reason’st well!—
Else whence this pleasing hope, this fond desire,
This longing after immortality?
So said Joseph Addison, and indeed Plato did reason impressively on the theme of immortality, the survival of the invisible entity that was housed by the physical temple. The inward man would outlast the outer man.
The “immortality of the soul” is not only an ancient idea; it is also found in the ages that came after Plato. Charles Darwin, who had much to say about man’s physical being, wrote to a friend: “Believing as I do that man in the distant future will be a far more perfect creature than he now is, it is an intolerable thought that he and all sentient beings are doomed to complete annihilation after such long-continued slow progress. To those who fully admit the immortality of the human soul, the destruction of the world will not appear so dreadful.”
That eloquent agnostic, Robert G. Ingersoll, standing over a dead friend’s coffin, while contending that immortality was a “dream,” admitted that it was an inescapable dream, that it was “like a sea that ebbed and flowed in the human heart, beating with its countless waves against the sands and rocks of time and fate.” It was “not born of any creed, nor of any book, nor of any religion. It was born of human affection, and will continue to ebb and flow beneath mists and clouds of doubt and darkness, as long as love kisses the lips of death.”
Many of us have been caught in Wordsworth’s haunting web of poetry:
Though inland far we be,
Our souls have sight of that immortal sea
Which brought us hither.
But these voices that refer to immortality speak from without the framework of reference found in the Hebrew and Christian Scriptures. Among Hebrew writers, even ...1
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