“Overcoming death”

22 Jun
2010

Dear Gloria,

Thanks for your reflections on Charles’ blog entry “Sad – ha ha”. May I respond….

In my own comments on this blog entry I was talking about overcoming death itself – not our fear of it.

For the vast majority, claiming to have overcome the fear of it would be a pure lie. If we could fully understand our mortality and had no compensating real or imaginary escape route, we would go mad with the torment, the futility of it all. To save ourselves, we invent (or are given?) religions or we pretend we don’t care and “party on”, or we become “existentialists” and “atheists” (which are forms of belief meriting the label of escapism as much as religious beliefs do.) But all of the above cannot be proved or disproved.

That said, we should never think that to genuinely accept or understand our mortality would be to overcome the fear of it. It might lead to a more inspired living, but the fear of the end would remain.

Because Death SHOULD be feared, it IS a traumatic passage, if not an absolute end. That is precisely the problem with our world, which pretends not to fear it but is secretly dead-scared. Lack of self-honesty. Once we have admitted our impotence in Death’s face, we can begin sincerely looking or praying for ways of “overcoming” it.

Naturally I am not talking of overcoming death on the physical plane, but rather through art, or rather the religious beliefs that are art’s sublimest creation. (Those who believe in cryogenics and company are, with the little respect due to them, fools.)

But the physical impossibility of defeating death does not mean that death cannot be effectively defeated in other ways. God may be dead, as Nietzsche correctly said, but that does not mean we can’t give birth to new gods, to new beliefs. That has always been the case – God has died more than once in human history.

Which brings us to culture. What we have now is the equivalent of a clear-cut forest. The ancient old trees that grew and matured over centuries have been chopped down or blown over, their time is over, after all, EVERYTHING is mortal.

What remains is a ragged clearing, with lots of dead and rotting debris from the past, here and there weeds growing up among the dead wood, and some seedlings of a new generation of trees. But we should be honest and not kid ourselves that these weeds, even with their often pretty flowers, are roses, nor that the seedlings are yet wise old trees. They may become that, but they are not yet that.

This is universally true. This clearcut extends right back to the mountains of Tibet. While “new solutions” may be regional, this leveling of the world’s culture is a universal phenomenon, normally called globalization. It cannot be avoided, so be it – but now it is time to reinvent the wheel.

Finally, regarding atheists: in my twenties, during my scientific studies I also tended to a disbelief in anything not empirically provable, though I came from a Catholic family. I have not become a Catholic again since then, but I do understand the atheist point of view from the inside as it were.

As I once said, I would rather have a conversation with an introspective atheist than a true believer of any shade. The important thing is that the questioning cannot stop. And Death, as the insoluble question par excellence, is thus a very important subject.

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