Tuesday 3 November 2020

Death as annihilation, and other desired post-mortal destinations

We are eternal Beings, and at some level we know this. Therefore, the eternal future is a subject of compelling concern - albeit that concern may well be expressed by an absolute refusal to think or speak about it. 

I am suspicious of the common modern 'belief in' (which I interpret as desire-for) death as annihilation. I mean, the standard mainstream belief that biological death of the body also entails a complete destruction of every-thing about that person... There is no 'soul' or 'spirit' separable from the body... Dead means dead and gone.  

As I mentioned, I interpret this belief as a desire; and my understanding of this desire is that it often arises in those who will not repent (perhaps they will not acknowledge the reality of sin?)... People who are deeply and ineradicably ashamed - and who want (more than anything) for their shame to end. 

In sum: those who desire annihilation want permanent annihilation of their own self as a final solution to unendurable existence in a reality with No Hope.  

'Death as annihilation' is a manifestation of existential despair


In the ancient past - at least among both the Hebrews (Sheol) and the Classical Greeks (Hades) - there was a belief in "death" as becoming witless, demented ghosts; spirits with no memory of life and who had lost self-identity. 

This was not a torment, nor a pleasant state; rather it was neutral - and implicitly a situation of waiting. The fate of the dead soul was undecided, and there was a possibility of being-rescued. 

And this, indeed, happened; since Jesus rescued as many of these souls as wanted to Follow Him.


The anticipation of Sheol/ Hades was therefore for a state after death with hope of escape. But it seems a distinctively modern thing to desire death to be irrevocable; death to be a permanent and complete annihilation.

The modern idea of death is the desire to make an eternal commitment of negation. And, once thus conceptualised, I think that modern death can be seen as a mirror of Christian hope for Heaven

The Christian believes that he can make an eternal commitment in favour of God; and can thereby join-with God (and others who have made this positive commitment) in the continuing work of loving creation. 

In contrast; the mainstream, modern idea of death as annihilation is the opposite desire; the wish to make an eternal commitment to reject God, love and creation.

...And is, thereby, a decision to join-with the side of Satan and the powers of darkness; working against God. 


In sum, the normal, mainstream, modern desire for death as annihilation is evil: it is a manifestation of the unrepented sin of despair: it expresses an active rejection of God, love and God's creation. 


Note: A somewhat less 'final' version of the death-as-annihilation desire is the wish for death as a state of 'sleep', 'rest', 'peace' and so on - which seems to have become popular in England in the 19th century; and is still expressed in the unthinking repetition of 'RIP'. 

This seems to express a desire for death-as-annihilation; but of a potentially revocable type; allowing at least the possibility of awakening after a period of sufficient rest/ sleep/ peace.  

Further note: I have not discussed the matter of reincarnation, in its many and contrasting forms; nor what desires they reflect - because I am not yet clear on that matter.


Wm Jas Tychonievich said...

It's always seemed to me that death-as-annihilation is just common sense -- what anyone would naturally conclude by default, since organisms that die certainly appear no longer to exist -- and that the idea of an afterlife ought to be like, say, a belief in Platonic forms -- something one would have to philosophize oneself into, and which the philosophically naive would dismiss as nonsense.

Empirically, of course, that's the precise opposite of the truth. Primitive peoples everywhere naturally assume that there is an afterlife, and it takes considerable "education" to get them to believe otherwise!

Bruce Charlton said...

@Wm - Yes, exactly! What a triumph of Satan it was to get this recent moral inversion regarded as obvious common sense; and about such a vital question.

Just in itself, it was perhaps enough to ensure chosen mass damnation.

William Wildblood said...

Surely death as annihilation is only common sense if one assumes materialism? Taking materialism as the default belief which one has to make a positive effort to grow out of instead of a freakish aberration is Satan's triumph.

PhilR said...

True enough about your observation about Rest in Peace. Usually people don't bother with the response: And Rise in Glory

MagnusStout said...

Modern sentiment (at least in the midwest) seems to be incoherent and lukewarm: afterlife may exist, but don't judge who should go where (if anywhere) after death. Put differently, live your life with values firmly derived from (and guided by) the material. So, instead of the Spiritual providing guidance for the material, it is now seen as "rude" (or bigoted) to refer to such guidance instead of the prevailing scientism (see, Birdemic). I think your post is correct that this belief must eventually end in nihilism and the desire for annihilation.

Bruce B. said...

I wonder if primitive peoples intuit life after death simply because of love of deceased family members and desire to see them again. This would mean belief in an afterlife is fundamentally motived by love.

Bruce Charlton said...

@BB - Of course we don't know by direct knowledge, but a fair bit was gathered from the last hunter gatherers after first contact, and I have some of this first-hand material (e.g. concerning the Indians of Tierra del Fuego, Eskimos, Aborigines, Kalahari Bushmen). I've also read a good bit of secondary literature - for some refs see: https://www.hedweb.com/bgcharlton/evolpsych.html To summarise; (and Australian Aborigines are somewhat different; being totemic/ symbolic rather than animistic/ directly-experienced in their religion) the accounts fit with the idea that these people lived among spirits and the dead, these were directly perceived by them. So life after bio-death was for them a matter of observation, not of inference.

Brief Outlines said...

Agreed. Ironic, then, that modern "educated" people often accuse religious people as being seduced by wishful thinking when it comes to beliefs about death.