Of paradise, eternal life and Rwanda’s future

Thoughts about the future of our world are never far from the mind, especially in these times of climate change and fast changing new technologies. I was reminded of this recently by two rather unrelated remarks.

One was a tweet posted during the Transform Africa Summit in Kigali in April. The person tweeting enthused: Rwanda is truly paradise now. I think the second coming may happen in Rwanda and not Israel this time around.

The paradise bit was very delightful and spirit-lifting. The patriot in me wanted to shout: “Hear! Hear!” Even the realist in me couldn’t find fault with what might appear an extravagant claim. Don’t we all love approval and validation of our efforts?

Paradise is, of course, always an imagined state, mostly aspired to, but here it was being touted as reality. This individual was obviously inspired by Rwanda’s transformation in the last quarter century, some of which was on view at the summit.

It is now generally agreed, even by ill-wishers (how it must cause them a lot of pain) that this country has made tremendous strides. Every visitor to Rwanda notices this. Sometimes it is we who are always here that don’t see the changes that clearly because they have become so regular and ordinary that we hardly notice them.

The second part of the tweet, the bit on the second coming, was however not as heart-warming. It conjured up images of the end of the world, of all of us being called to our creator before finishing our business here on earth or when we were still having some real fun and not in a hurry to go to the unknown.

In any case we are busy trying to restore paradise here in Rwanda to the blissful state before Adam and Eve disobeyed their maker’s express orders not to touch a certain fruit and condemned us to toil, suffering and term limits (on our life).

Not many people are keen to see that second coming, certainly not those who have a lot to account for. They would want indefinite postponement of the day of reckoning or a stay of execution. I suspect even the righteous want a term extension.

Which takes me to the second remark that set me thinking about the world and the future. It was an article in The New Times by my friend Pan Butamire two weeks ago on nanotechnology and lots of things nano. I don’t understand much about these nano things, but I picked out one idea that I could easily grasp – something about the death of death.

Nice thought that, to think that we can have the time to create and live in our paradise for ever! That’s of course for us here. We can’t say the same for others who are busy making their own hell and descending headlong into it

But on reflection, the prospect of eternal life did not appear such a brilliant idea after all. It is actually subversive and would throw human civilisation built over millennia into utter chaos.

This civilisation - philosophy, religion, culture, politics, economics, and science, is premised on the notion of the finite. Indeed the management of our affairs is predicated on the idea of limited and scarce resources.

Our existence on earth is conveniently split into two: the life that we are aware of and that has a limited term, and the afterlife that we don’t know much about but that is limitless. And because of that imagined eternal afterlife, our existence on earth is built on promise and hope.

We live in the hope of a better day tomorrow and the promise of eternity if we behave well, or eternal damnation if we don’t. And so we have a reason for living and for making the effort to achieve what we can in the time allotted to each. You kill death and you remove the motivation for living the good and productive life.

Our sense of good and evil right and wrong and the system of reward and punishment that underpins it is equally rooted in notion of the finite. Remove this and you undermine the foundation of our sense of the moral and ethical.

Then there is the small matter of self-perpetuation through procreation. There would be no need for it and that would remove the fun and pleasure from relating with others for that purpose.

And so back to the tweet and The New Times article. We are busy building paradise in this country and have every reason to be proud of that. There are also prospects for eternal life.

But what sort of creatures shall live in this restored paradise? We would have to learn new thought patterns, come up with new concepts, and create new relations to cope with the infinite.

Perhaps this nanotechnology and similar things have the means of doing that and must be some of the tools in Rwanda’s restoration kit.

The views expressed in this article are of the author.

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