The two basic ways to achieve some measure of immortality is first, to literally survive death, and second, to establish an enduring legacy. They both have problems. There is no way to be certain that either can be achieved. You can’t be certain that there will be an afterlife, and you can’t be certain that anyone will bother to remember you after you die. The former is in the hands of a hypothetical metaphysical or theological power, the latter is in the hands of human beings who may not like you very much and even if they do might just have better things to think about. One can be vaguely confident of a tombstone, and in the internet age, a dedicated social media profile, neither of which will necessary be visited by anyone very often.
Where does the faith to trust in the possibility of immortality come from? As much as some people want it and pursue it, there doesn’t seem to be much effort put into trying to ensure the intended outcome. Why don’t religious people study their faith more, and put more of their faith into practice? Why do they seem to work within manageable, non-taxing parameters, and then hope for the best? Or take reproduction — why do many couples who intentionally, instinctively reproduce in order to have descendants, a familial line perpetuated, go on to put their satisfaction in the simple existence and well-being of their children and grandchildren, but neglect directly cultivating in their children and grandchildren a sense of familial honor? Why do those who sacrifice their lives for country, for family, for God, for humanity do so under circumstances where the sacrifice seems likely to merely add to the cost of a failed effort and be easily forgotten? Why do artists so often create things that are pleasing to themselves instead of pleasing to others who might raise the artist’s reputation for greatness? Why do we seem to settle for actions that are pleasing to ourselves, that come almost completely by nature, yet secretly in our hearts treasure hopes for some tiny fraction, some modest share, of extending our life, our impact, our significance beyond our death?
Is immortality the kind of thing where the harder you pursue it the further from reach it becomes — like trying to pet a wild rabbit? Do we have some secret foundation for our manifest-yet-quiet confidence that our own personal death is not the utter catastrophe for ourselves that it may seem apart from these mollifying instincts?
Take the hypothesis that man is by nature a spiritual being, in that human beings naturally believe that things happen for reasons, that there is a sort of justice in the universe, a thought that helps us find peace in good times and cope in bad times. This assumption fits well with the apparent trust that people have in their own ultimate existential security. It would also help explain why some pursue greatness with greater deliberateness and vigor than others. Such people perhaps trust that greatness in and of itself is rewarded by the universe — someway, some how. The artist trusts in the destiny of his or her work product — especially if it is in and of itself great. The martyr trusts in the destiny of his or her high purpose — especially if that purpose is in and of itself great. The soldier trusts in the destiny of the mission’s survivors — especially if those survivors are in and of themselves great. The religious person trusts in the destiny of his or her own soul — especially if the inner virtue is in and of itself great. The grandparents trust in the destiny of their grandchildren, so long as greatness within them can be perceived, and so on and so forth. Greatness is that which receives special protection and perpetuity in the purpose-saturated universe. Greatness can be pursued–enjoyed, even– without a safety net, because he who falls with some inner greatness, an inner greatness which one must have in order to desire and pursue greatness, will be raised back up, in the manner possible, and to the extent that is right and just.