The famous last words of the epilogue to the movie “Barry Lyndon” are a perfect example of an atheist’s view of the Great Leveler which is death. No sheep, the good guys, on the right; no goats, the rest of us, on the left. No saints, no sinners. No eternally blessed or eternally damned. No Heaven, no Hell nor Halfway Houses like Purgatory or Limbo. Equality at last, the second dream of the French and other revolutions, come true. In the morgue, in the cemeteries, on the battle fields, in the urns on the mantle piece – people who are all just plain dead. Destined to be, or already, dust. All equally deprived of life, feeling, thought, hope, fear, possessions, titles, distinctions – the works. They used to be somebody. Now, even the recently deceased, will pretty soon be NoBody (the cremated already are, constituting a challenge for their resurrection). You can forget the “soul” – they never had one, and their brain is one of the first of their bodily organs to rot.
I suppose the idea behind the epilogue was to remind us of the identical destiny we share, so as to relativize the importance we all, like the pitiful Barry Lyndon, tend to attach to wealth, social position and political power. But more importantly it incidentally suggests that it is pointless to entertain false hopes for a day of reckoning when the virtuous are rewarded, sinners punished and the blatant inequalities and injustices of life are corrected.
What difference should becoming equals at our death make in our lives here and now ? Not much really. Even Jesus knew it was a pipe-dream to imagine equality during our lives : “the poor”, He said, “will always be with you” (Mark 14:7; Matthew 26:11; John 12:8). The trouble is, of course, that He got people, especially the under-privileged and the exploited, to believe what they wanted to hear, that whatever their lot here in this life, things will be fairer in the next.
The choice is ours : to make the most of the only life we will ever have, with all its limitations, injustices and inequalities, or nurse the illusion of an after-life with its false promises of an eternal, new Order of Justice. “Barry Lyndon”‘s epilogue lights up the truth about death as the Great Equalizer. The outro to “Looney Tunes” reminds us of the truth about death as the end of existence : “That’s All, Folks !”
P.S. The voice behind the cartoons’ catchphrase, notably when it was stuttered by Porky Pig, was that of Mel Blanc (1908-1989), who had it put on his … tombstone !