In Defence of Death II
In Defence of Death, part two, is the continuation of an essay with the same title. It explains why we need religion to build a culture in which the moment of death is not feared...
Last year, I travelled across Italy and Romania for about ten months. In both these countries, related by a long history of cultural, religious and linguistic exchanges, some of my favourite places were the cemeteries I visited by pure chance. I do not recall the names of these cemeteries, but such details are rather irrelevant. What matters, and what I remember vividly, is the atmosphere that these places exuded.
Although the cemetery is usually associated with sadness, sorrow, melancholy, the passing of time, the inevitable moment of death, with echoes of cries and prayers deeply embedded in the tomb stones and on the crosses of the men and women buried there, none of these feelings gripped me: tranquillity, quietness and a profound sense of freedom that came from a clear realisation that all that there is around me, including my own body, all of this is an illusion, a dream and that behind this veil of matter, mathematics and language, the Real exists eternal, objective and unchanging. This view is of course not new – indeed, it dates back to Plato’s philosophy, with the Greek thinker arguing that the world we live in is one of forms and the real one, that of essence, transcends this one.
I have written on the need for our society, mostly here in the West, to revisit its approach towards death in In Defence of Death, a few months ago. In it, I stated that “we should be brothers and sisters, united by the moment of death, rather than standing divided, trembling in fear and greed. Look up at the sky at night – the moment of death is the beginning when we shall belong with the stars.” The reference to the stars is a colourful metaphor for the realm of the spirit: the stars are very distant, and their light reaches us after many millions if not billions of years; therefore, what we see is not what there is, it is just a perception of what it is. The world of the soul behaves in a similar way: uncertain and vague, but real and undeniable; it reveals itself to us when it reaches us through revelation and inspiration not when we demand it to show itself (just like the light from the stars).
I also wrote that the dominant approaches to death in our quasi-modern, quickly postmodern society (here in the West) are a symbol of the spiritual decay that is visible across this beautiful civilisation that was once a bastion of human spirituality and universal achievements. “Death is either feared and often viciously so or viewed as a commercial opportunity to be “tapped into”, as the financial jargon would have it. Death is neither of these things – it is not something terrible and horrific nor is it a business line to generate revenues from. But, we, the post-modern men, spiritually ill as we are, fail to see the glory, beauty and illusion of death.”
I want to build on that argument here. In particular, I want to focus on the universality of the moment of death and its significance to the individual, as well as on the distinction between “being” and “Being” within the context of the moment of death.