This links in with the post the other day on Near Death Experiences. I’ve been reading Anthony Thiselton’s book Life After Death: a new approach to last things.
Thiselton refers to Moltmann who said
“To push away every thought of death, and to live as if we had an infinite amount of time ahead of us, makes us superficial and indifferent … to live as if there were no death is to live an illusion”
And Thiselton says
“To be reprieved from serious illness, or to have experienced near death, far from deflecting us from this life, can give our present life a new depth. It is those who repress the thought of death, who turn life into an idol, who perhaps have also deeply repressed anxieties about death.”
And that repression is a symptom of Western life’s avoidance of death. Some interesting contrasts to consider:
In Victorian times, death was a central concern – and still is for 2/3 of the world. Death is near and is witnessed, experienced and familiar. Children are not protected from seeing the dead and dying.
In our culture a quick and painless death is a blessing. In the medieval and Renaissance times it was viewed with horror because there was no time to prepare for the afterlife.
Thiselton argues the self-love of modern life makes an idol out of life itself. This life is all there is and this means that death is marginalised, avoided, meaningless and absurd – the end of everything good.
The idolisation of life leads to full-on living – fast food, fast cars, fast relationships, fast meetings …
Modern fear of death means that death is “no longer the public solemn event it used to be.” Dying and death are now personal and private affairs.
I’d be interested in your thoughts here – how has being confronted by death changed the way you look at life?
I’m not sure I agree with Thiselton on the last point. Seems to me that death is becoming more openly incorporated in public secular remembrance services celebrating someone’s life. Christians may say this is one way the ‘idol of life itself’ is worshipped. Atheists have the opposite take; here Christian postmortal hope is seen as narcissistic.
A personal note here: having spent quite a while in hospital visits over the last few weeks and in some meetings with (excellent) doctors talking about odds of life/death survival rates and so on, never has it been more clear to me that modern science and medicine is wonderful and resourceful and remarkable, but it has nothing at all to say about the most inevitable part of life – death.
Discussion of death was studiously avoided. It was a taboo subject because it was outside the parameters of science and medicine. Pastoral care and support was therefore all focused on practical issues of life. Important of course, but ultimately superficial. Meaning, significance and hope beyond death were off limits because there was no framework for them to exist.
Comments, as ever, welcome.