If and why we Fear Death

Death is one of many bad things that can happen to a living human being. Death ends relationships that may be good. Death makes one late for a dental appointment. Death stops one from building a concrete monolithic dome, and death prevents one from inventing clever devices to end the national debt.

Death occupies the top of the ladder of injury and illness consequences and often follows an agonizing progress through pain and deformation, torture or suffering, privation or persecution, ridicule and rejection. Death is a transformational state of affairs that the philosopher Jean Paul Sartre designated ‘the complete triumph of the other’. If fear is a rational conditioning to avoid harm to oneself from insult and injury, then death alone isn’t feared perhaps so much as the stages in death’s way that make it such a long, arduous and winding road more traveled and inevitable than any other perhaps.

Winston Churchill rightly said that ‘the only thing we have to fear is fear itself’. For a cavalry officer should be fearless in leading his horses to battle as Tennyson’s hero led his light brigade in to near complete destruction. If an afterlife exists than many do have reason to fear death for it will be the beginning of an eternal pay back for all the wicked that they done while on Earth.

Some of course look forward to death as a way to avoid paying delinquent taxes or as a way out of poverty. Death can be thought of by those that believe in a good after life as a promotion away from a rude and nakedly foe ignorant social order that cannot move away from reliance upon fossil fuels and federal deficits. Death is a cheap ticket to slip the noose of living in a corrupt world perhaps-what one believes about death can be many things and most are uncertain, yet the transformative event named death is perhaps as phenomenally interesting as is life.

The complete ensemble of experience an existential philosopher might call ‘life’ might be viewed objectively and phenomenal as stages in life’s way progress. If the phenomena of experiencing life were to be considered separately from its always anticipated conclusion at some uncertain time generally then death is itself an event of instant disappearance to a place unknown-and that is remarkable. Imagine if instead of going through processes leading up to physical death people simply expired and disappeared without a trace-that could be said to embody the essence of death-so what is it? What happens after that? Maybe people fear permanent separation from those they know and like or love. An eternity without God would be equally or transcendingly bad as being eternally alone I would think.

One may consider that one cannot do much with the concept of death besides fear it…it is ahead in time and not yet present except for those that encounter it in the now, at which time it becomes too late to be feared. If one loves the idea of death it must be that life is bad and one hopes to get beyond it even into the unknown; unless one is like the Apostle Paul who said that he looked forward to going on to the beyond and the reward of heaven.

Fear of death is a rational way to remain alive. If one does not fear death somewhat one would walk into the path of any speeding truck without concern, or drive their car into a hamburger fast food place with e-coli in the burgers even if they were advertising the fact and the public might support mass global nuclear war simply to ‘fire all of your guns and watch them explode into space’…human nature would be different than it is.

Death doesn’t permit anyone to pay taxes yet there may be required of thee a greater payment of an eternal sort. Some dismiss that thought as superstitious yet the night remains; a cold lifeless darkness devoid of even hope of thought, and if thought existed of the awareness of infinite hopelessness and agony in an imperfect eternity-the righteous accepting the grace of Jesus Christ trust that God will negate the adverse consequences of death while for others it must remain the unknown until encountered with real consequences…

Thanatology is the study of the science of death. Psychologically a fear of death is a condition that only beings with an advanced consciousness might experience as animals have no fear, instead only a sensible avoidance of pain.

Individuals have differing thoughts about death of course. Death is an obvious termination of life as a mortal human being although some may wish to assume that solipsism is a donation of grace sufficient to overcome the prima facie visage of death. Death is a return to forever as the jazz man wrote and one of the marvelous bold accomplishments that every human being achieves eventually. Sometimes the fact of death experienced by others so well seems admirable…one must ‘not go gently into that good night’, nor place one’s confidence of eternal life in anyone besides Jesus Christ-the Lord of ‘The One who is Three.’