“Hell is other people,” Sartre’s character proclaims at the end of the play, “Huis Clos” (No Exit). It’s true! Or so we might think when cut off on the highway or when dealing with a particularly rude individual. While there are elements of truth in all philosophies, including Existentialism, where is all truth? Is there such a thing–absolute consistency, the source of perfectly logical, reasonable answers to all questions? And if so, can we find it?
According to Socrates, we have to try. “The unexamined life is not worth living,” he stated in his defense after being condemned to death for teaching his philosophy. Why are we here? Do we have souls? Why must we suffer? These are the questions that beg examination, and which haunt the characters in the novel, “Essence,” as they do most of us making our way through life. To address them, we must wonder, examine, and come to our own conclusions through calm, rational reflection. To do this we need faith. Not to tell us what to think, but to allow us to think. Faith is the willingness to follow the truth wherever it leads you, even to the fantastic and the supernatural. It takes faith to understand Einstein’s concept of spacetime, or the extra dimensions predicted by string theory physics. Moreover, it is through faith that we can break free of thought control.
Polarizing news reports, propaganda, and subliminal advertising are today’s surreptitious forms of thought control. In “Essence,” such control is exerted openly and boldly by Dr. Karl Hoffman, a neuroscientist who controls minds through string theory’s hidden dimensions. It’s there that our minds are said to interact with each other, and where we choose the direction of our will. It is the birthplace of good and evil.
The German philosopher, Nietzsche, claimed to transcend these concepts of good and evil, identifying the driving force in nature as the “will to power,” the will that once fully realized, would lead to the ultimate human condition. Christianity proposes a different path to ultimate human existence: an alignment of one’s will with the will of God. Since God is love, as Saint John writes, this would be the “will to love.” And so, “Essence,” presents the classic battle between good and evil as the “will to love” versus the “will to power” fought in the dimension of the mind.
At times, the line between science and metaphysics is blurred in this novel, all the better to have a perspective from which to examine the relationship between the two. Does morality reflect the will of God, or is it a by-product of evolution? Is there absolute right and wrong, or does that distinction depend solely upon those who have the power to decide? Is Christianity the fullness of truth, or is it just one of many equivalent religions? Is Atheism a scientific conclusion or a religion unto itself? Sincere, intelligent individuals can and do arrive at different answers to these questions, but to even begin to address them adequately, we all need the freedom to think for ourselves. We all need faith.
There is more before us than meets the eye. While it is true that hell can be seen in other people, so too can heaven. If we resist the thought control and take a leap of faith to consider the unseen, putting no artificial restraints on our queries, there’s no limit to what we may find. Life is short, and time is precious. The time to examine is now. As Saint John of the Cross writes, “Oh my soul created for these grandeurs and called to them. What have you been doing? How have you been spending your time?” –from the Preface to “Essence.”