Saturday 15 September 2012

At death - ancient versus modern


When somebody dies, for most of human history what was perceived is that person leaving their body; the soul leaving the body.

Then there was a difference of opinion about where it went and what happened to it.


 But when a modern person sees another person die, they see that person being extinguished.


What a profound difference this is, concerning the key fact of human existence!

What a qualitative shift in the assumed baseline fact of life!

Modern Western secular Man stands on the other side of a gulf which separates his understanding of the human condition from all Men of the past, and from the majority of Men alive now.


So, on the one hand there is a natural and (probably) universal belief in the soul or spirit or essence leaving the body at death; and there is the recent, modern Western belief that the person is extinguished, snuffed-out, at death.

What 'evidence' could possibly have justified this shift?

Or, if not evidence, (which of course it was not), then what provoked the shift of assumption - the metaphysical perspective - which justified this wholesale reinterpretation of the facts of life deriving from the fact of death?


If you ever imagine metaphysics is unimportant, just consider this difference in watching a man die: the difference between seeing his soul departing from the body, and his extinction.



Jonathan C said...

Your previous riff on this topic:

...was one of the pivotal readings that brought me back from Atheism to Christianity. If you ever compile a "Best Of", be sure to include that post.

It certainly forced me to contemplate whether there's any good reason to believe that we moderns are right in contradiction to more than 99% of the people who ever lived.

George Goerlich said...

I am one who tend to believe that we are extinguished at death and that children and the genetic pool of our relatives combined with the impression we make on the material world while existing (as in "butterfly effect") are really our ghost and soul's continued living and impression on the world. That is why I concede that living right is still critically important and being extinguished at death is no excuse for living a strictly hedonistic and destructive life.

However, as you've pointed out, published mainstream reporting is often in direct contradiction with the truth. This leaves me very open and curious to the possibility of truths vastly outweighing my very limited understandings. I would certainly like to know more, but I am left with a feeling that if I simply have faith/believe that I may be simply lying to or deceiving myself without truly knowing - therefore my faith would always be flawed because I could not let go of that possibility in the back of my mind.

Matthew C. said...

I would say it is mainly a result of modern man's deep faith in reductionism. Once you have become convinced that everything in the world can be fully explained in terms of the movement of atoms (today's version - quarks and leptons), throw in a colossal dose of arrogance and confirmation bias about the findings of neuroscience, add in the psychological need to overthrow other pesky religious teachings regarding sexual morality (which modern man, with very little exception, has spent his whole adult life in violation of), and, viola, you have modern man and his nihilistic belief system.

Bruce Charlton said...

@GG - what might be an interesting exercise for you, is to try and recall when you were younger and believed that the soul survived death (in some form and in some way) - because *that* is what everyone is born into the world believing; and then for you to try to understand the grounds on which you abandoned this childhood belief, and evaluate these grounds for disbelief.

Bruce Charlton said...

@JC - thanks for that.

It is interesting to see that there were no comments for that posting - yet by the sound of things, it may have been the most important article I have ever written.

We never know the effects of our actions.

The Crow said...

In the west, the material is the only thing that counts.
And so, at death, since the material ceases, there is nothing left, that counts.
This is the inevitable result of a life spent deifying the material, at the expense of soul.
However, if, in life, one conceives, and nurtures, one's soul, then in death that soul continues on, as souls do.
Free will.