Wednesday 20 May 2020

Death as an end, or death as transformation?

Perhaps a major element of the challenge of the birdemic is related to the fact that it has focused minds on the subject of death; and this compels people to think (perhaps for the first time) about the nature of death.

There seem to be only two possible views: either death is an end, and the moment of death is an annihilation - or death is a transformation, and the moment of death is one of transition of the self to some other state.

Death as the end is by far the commonest belief in the The West, and the official doctrine.  If this is true, the dead are gone - and there can be no connection with the dead ever again.

No more need be said of death as the end, except that it is always an intrinsically undesirable state - not least because it is irreversible; nonetheless, death may be sought as a way to end present suffering and/or the prospect of suffering stretching ahead.

Death as a transformation is by far the commonest belief in the world as a whole - and there is a great deal of disagreement about the nature of this transformation - also a great deal of difference in the confidence with which this belief is held.

Confidence in the reality of death as transformation depends partly on the existence and degree of contact between living and dead. In some societies, the dead are present to some degree - ranging from the dead (spirits) as an everyday reality; to rare contact, perhaps as a consequence of special ritual or technology.

Furthermore, the expectation of the nature of the death-transformed state of being dead ranges from the most positive extreme of Heaven (of varying descriptions); through paradise; a neutral state of non-conscious, 'mere being'; or to types of misery and suffering.

Another aspect concerns our degree of control over the transformation of death - the extent to which it is a choice compared with the extent to which it is imposed upon us.

It may be that this time is, therefore, the dawn of an era in which death becomes an unavoidable centre of cultural concern. Of course, it may be an unconscious (implicit) cultural concern; when, as now, it is simply assumed that death is the end. Nonetheless, the consequences cannot be avoided, and this assumption has (with extraordinary rapidity) ramified to affect every aspect of society and everyday life.

But if we do Not want passivley to go-along-with this prevalent and dominant assumption; we have no alternative but to make death the subject of active and conscious personal consideration - in a way that has not happened for several generations.  

Note: For example, and to get to specifics: My understanding is that the Christian Hell is a choice (that is, a preference - including the rejection of Heaven); whereas for many Christians, everybody wants Heaven and Hell is an imposed punishment.) This leads to a further aspect of control - some Christians believe (mostly implicitly) that Heaven is something that happens-to them; the transformation of the soul to Heaven is a matter of being acted-upon; entirely a matter of being done For us by Jesus Christ. Whereas I see Heaven as something that is primarily done for us by Jesus, but that secondarily we must personally and actively do ourselves: that Jesus leads, and we must follow. My point is not that You ought-to have the same attitude to death as I do, but that you need as a matter of urgency to sort-out what attitude you do have - unless you are contented to live in a world structured according to the implications that death is annihilation.   

1 comment:

John Douglas said...


You write that "the Christian Hell is a choice" Indeed it is a choice as is Heaven as you also point out. That choice is made during our lives by the way we live our lives.
It is summed up in the wrods of John Donne which I included in my recent post about old age:
"Since I am coming to that holy room,
Where, with thy choir of saints for evermore,
I shall be made thy music; as I come
I tune the instrument here at the door,
And what I must do then, think here before."

As I hope I made clear in that post, death is most certainly not the end; it is, as you rightly say, a transition. What that transition might be is open to speculation according to different religious traditions around the world.

But we must make the transition joyfully 'in the sure and certain knowledge' etc. I use the word 'knowledge' instead of the usual word 'hope' which implies doubt and a joyful transition was why I did this music post -

John Douglas