As you no doubt will be aware, death happens. It is an extremely necessary part of life. Or, as my optimistic imagination puts it: Life is a part of every death.
The human race, to which so many of my readers belong, has always been afraid of death. Even most of those who say they are not do, I think, feel something: the slightest tendril of fear, of doubt, even horror, at what awaits beyond. It is something primal, something ineradicable; no matter how hard that annoying rational part of our brains may protest at the silliness of the fear — “I do not fear death, in view of the fact that I had been dead for billions and billions of years before I was born, and had not suffered the slightest inconvenience from it,” as Mark Twain had it — we are still a wee bit worried by death.
Or rather, what happens beyond it. If you are of a religious inclination you will certainly be terrified about where you are going to go — God’s grace, or Satan’s torment? (Replace Satan and God with whatever brands are popular in your neck of the woods). If you aren’t worried, then you think you are moral enough to get into Heaven: such proudness is surely a quick route — one of many — to Hell. Thus, your chances of being damned are much higher, and you should be — nay, need to be — very worried about your spiritual accommodation after death.
Such religious contortions of logic aside, I do fear death. Not because of Heaven or Hell or … or any reason I can think of. I’ll miss loved one, of course, but … there we go again. I’ll miss loved ones. No, I won’t. I won’t miss anything. I won’t be to miss anything. I shall simply cease to exist as a living human, as a living being, my flesh decaying, my self no longer of any more significance in the grand scheme of themes than a rock.
And I think part of it is right there — in my human arrogance, natural and innate. I will no longer be of any significance — the idea that I was anyway, really, is preposterous, though understandable. How can people like Beethoven and Mozart, Tolkien and Tolstoy, Da Vinci and Newton and Darwin, simply cease to be, we ask? How can those brilliant people no longer exist, and never exist again? What a loss! Inherently solipsistic, we simply cannot fathom that the world — the universe — could/does/has/will carry on existing without us. We cannot, in fact, fathom that there would be any point to life (or death) without us.
That arrogance, that solipsism, is a key part of the religious desire for life after death. It’s a nice cosy thing. Hell, of course, isn’t, but that makes the view from Heaven even nicer; knowing that you are one of the saved, that you could be in the eternal torment below, you are bound to appreciate your ‘luxury’ at God’s feet, where all you have to do is that which you are ordered: to love the being to whom you kneel in a bondage you could not have chosen, and sing your praises. Of course, for some, the tedium of Heaven is relieved if you believe that you get to violate multiple virgins.
Whether we like it or not, we are born dualists, and we shall die dualists — thankfully, death is the end of the matter.
But, throughout history, and still in the modern day, many do not share that view. Consequentially, death has been, until recently, solely in the hands of the churches. If I die tomorrow, unexpectedly, I expect I shall be buried in some sort of churchyard or another. It won’t matter to me: I’ll be dead. But, while I am being munched upon by the worms below (believe me, they can munch when they want to, the bastards), people standing over me will probably say things like, “he’s in a better place”, or some other nonsense. I appreciate the spirit of the sentiment (and spirit is the only word I seem able to use in that sense), but I do not appreciate the words themselves.
“He’s in a better place.” What? A hole in the ground! Where the hell do you think I lived in the first place that you consider this an improvement?! No: I am not in a better place. I do not want to be beneath the ground, whatever ‘divine’ Prometheus-like fire I had within me quenched; I want to be alive. But I am not.
Secular platitudes like, “the world was a better place for having him”, would probably please me more — were I alive to witness them – but even those would not be consolation enough.
The only consolation is that death is the end. That truth has its own beauty, its own inspiration to live the one life we have, and to live it well, and to throw aside the ultimately time-wasting fetters of superstition and nonsense in which we have mired ourselves for millennium after millennium, and it is a beauty far beyond that of the revelations of religion. Our minds will never quite silence the primitive howling and gibbering at the dark, but we can, graciously, choose to ignore that sound and focus instead on the beautiful cadences and rhythms, the poetry, of clear, clean, diamond-sharp reason; because we have within the fatty lump at the top of our spinal cords the power to resist the impulses which made us; we have it within our power to make the world over.
It is time to grow up, fellow humans. And then, as with all things, to die.