Tag Archives: paradox

You’re Already Dead

25 Apr

At Smiles Entertainment Center in Milford, Connecticut (now closed), there once stood a Japanese arcade game called Fighting Mania: Fist of the North Star. Players donned faux boxing gloves and hit small, sturdy bags that’d light up in front of a screen, battling ever-stronger enemies in some silly, forgettable storyline.

Every dumb detail presented an excuse to hit things really fast, really hard. I had some fun with it. But whenever I lost the game, as I inevitably did, I heard some puzzling words. While I fumbled for more quarters, the narrator always exclaimed:

“You’re already dead!”

Poor translations aside, there’s a poignancy in this uncommon assembly of words. The intonation didn’t suggest disappointment in my skills (i.e., “I can’t believe you’re already dead; you suck at this game.”). Rather, it was more matter of fact (i.e., “You are dead. Yes, you actually are.”). The “already” indicated I was mistaken in my assumptions: I thought I’d die in the future, but here it is, right now, surprise! I’m dead already.

There’s a potency to this idea, not merely of the immanence of our death, which appears in so many kinds of thoughtful reflections, religious and secular alike, but of the present state of our death. It plays a critical role in the Nag Hammadi text, The Treatise on the Resurrection, in which the narrator writes to his pupil, Rheginos, in order to calm his concerns about life after death. Turning the worry about death’s inevitability inside-out, the unnamed author writes:

For if he who will die knows about himself that he will die – even if he spends many years in this life, he is brought to this – why not consider yourself as risen and (already) brought to this?

What would it mean to live as if one were dead already? Is this a useful technique to quell anxiety, honest in its attitude about the impermanence inherent in all life? Or is it grotesque, denying the very freedom that death demarcates but never dominates? Is it liberating or limiting? Or both?

I’m a fan of the idea myself. There’s a usefulness in sitting with this strange paradox that pushes against our understanding of ourselves: how can I be dead, too? I’m alive. What can it mean to be both?

Broken Jars and Bloody Swords

1 Feb

“Jesus said: The kingdom of the [Father] is like a woman carrying a jar full of meal. While she was walking [on a] distant road, the handle of the jar broke (and) the meal poured out behind her on the road. She was unaware, she had not noticed the misfortune. When she came to her house, she put the jar down (and) found it empty.”
– Gospel of Thomas, saying 97

“Jesus said: The kingdom of the Father is like a man who wanted to kill a powerful man. He drew the sword in his house and drove it into the wall, that he might know that his hand would be strong (enough). Then he slew the powerful man.”
– Gospel of Thomas, saying 98

Few early Christian texts have drawn so much attention and have provoked so much debate as the Gospel of Thomas. Its time of composition and relationship to the New Testament remain contested, and its contents are often more enigmatic than elucidating. Take a gander at saying 11, for example: “On the day when you were one, you became two. But when you become two, what will you do?” What could that possibly mean? (Another post, another day.)

Two of these sayings, however, unlike many others in the Gospel of Thomas, lack canonical parallels: sayings 97 and 98. And, while usually each saying is read in isolation, evocative contrasts arise when reading these two bizarre and lonely lines together. Let’s get to it!

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