I don’t think Jennifer Kim (“Expressions of religious belief,” April 5) correctly criticizes Paul Gaysford (“Sentiment that does not console,” April 1) when she writes in her letter that he was trying to silence the public expression of religious belief by Megumi Watanabe (“Hope for 3/11 survivors,” March 29).
In my opinion, Gaysford was not criticizing Watanabe’s assertion that grieving loved ones can find comfort in the notion of dead children watching us from above (from heaven) as much as her erroneous cosmology.
Heaven is not a place of being but a state of being, and so it is not physically but metaphysically “above” us. More accurately, if you believe in such things, it is all around us — like hell and vending machines. To think and talk of heaven as “up” and hell as “down” is a childish but common conceptualization of things by a public that relies only on a Sunday school or a popular media portrayal.
Furthermore, pandering to common conceptualizations that are part of the rhetoric of too many religious and political figures lends credibility to immature and wrong thinking. The notion of heaven as “above” is sentimental poetry, not theology, so I think Gaysford was motivated to critique the maudlin unction of it more than the underlying religious belief in it.
Poetry is very affective, and many people resort to poetic language either euphemistically to avoid discomfort, or through deliberate misuse of language. For example, people say “womb” rather then “uterus,” “birth canal” rather than “vagina,” or they talk of the “human race” rather than species. Talk of “unborn babies” is entirely poetic and has nothing to do with biology.
What happens to people when they die? Most people don’t want to know and some don’t care. But poetry makes it easier either way. So it’s kind of essential, isn’t it?
The opinions expressed in this letter to the editor are the writer’s own and do not necessarily reflect the policies of The Japan Times.
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