Wednesday, March 12, 2008

The Dreadfulness of Death & The Unhealthy Expectation of An Afterlife

Like any other species on this planet, human beings are ardent survivors in a challenging environment. Evolution has bestowed upon us the gift of a more exceptional brain than our primate counterparts, allowing us to break away from most of the trials and tribulations which almost every species on Earth has to contend with: Without our superior technology, Man will most likely be at the mercy of ferocious beasts (and they still do: occasionally, and sometimes quite often, stories of humans being bitten and eaten by animals remind us that without our fancy blink-blinks and weaponry, we are as vulnerable as suckling babies) in the natural environment.

Because of our inane sophistry, most of us live in relative safety and comfort: Our homes protect us from the savage elements of Mother Nature. City dwellers purchase their food from the supermarkets, much of it derived from agriculture and farming, hence negating the need to hunt for food. We are insulated from pretty much the worst whims of Mother Nature, and in that respect Man has more or less detached himself from Nature and her food chain.

This detachment, it seems, has become etched into our human consciousness over the sands of time: As an almost separate entity (At least we like to think of it along this superior train of thought), human beings have become obsessed with achieving a higher form of consciousness, or truth, if you will. We start to question and reason within and without, something which lower orders of animals, preoccupied with the more mundane affairs pertaining to life and death, couldn't have done. Our technologies and advancements derived from our ingenuity and civilized way of life began to give way to human ego: Since we are so god-damned special and high-strung, couldn't it be possible, that perhaps, we can completely escape the ignominous fate that hangs upon every living creature and organism, the very ominous clouds of impending doom which we call Death?

Religion, Death & The Afterlife

Death's Advocate: The Grim Reaper

Death is defined as the cessation of life: Quite clearly, death is comparable to a full-stop in a single sentence. A single sentence will still resume after a comma, which represents a single pause, but a full stop spells the inevitable end. Death works the same way: When life ceases to continue, death becomes the inevitable end to life. From the tiniest of microbes to living human beings, death is an inescapable fate of living things.

And it is this end that as a species, humans seem to have trouble grasping, perhaps out of an understandable fear of death, or the implication of the human ego. As superior creatures on this Earthly domain, we like to think that we can somehow transcend death, even if it means believing in a more superior deity who shows an affable affinity and love for us. In order to vindicate this incredulous idea, we devise religions crisscrossing every culture on this planet, with their elaborate rituals and dogma, so as to give a legitimate front to the absurd idea that death is not the omega of life.

It is with this unhealthy obsession and fear of death that religion exploits to the fullest: Heaven becomes an utopia of eternal enjoyment, as contrasted by the dichotomy of hell's searing inferno.

An Unhealthy Fear of Death & The Obsession of the Afterlife

To be brutally honest, every sane person & sane creature harbors some form of fear towards the spectra of death. An animal which is dead can no longer propagate its genes, much less enjoy the fruits of it's labor. In short, a healthy fear of death is a good sign: It simply translates into some form of awareness or defense against external threats, & it is with this in mind that fear becomes an extremely viable tool for survival.

Yet, like almost every other genetic traits or memes, there is a downside to an overdose: The idea that death renders life finite becomes so preposterous to a mind that is closed to the possibility of death, that we begin to let our imaginations take root, instead of searching for new frontiers such as medicine to prolong life and eradicate disease instead.

Cue religion. With its army of charlatans, soothsayers and doom sayers, Religion feasts upon Gullibility, which in turn is a bastard child of Fear, the pantheons of deities begin to manifest itself, dominating our psyches with fairy tales and searing our consciousness with unhappy delusions and trepidations of an afterlife in eternal abyss, all of which are undue punishments pandered out by the respective religions to buy allegiance into their expanding flock.

If a person becomes unduly besotted with the afterlife, then the person ceases to regard this life with due reverence: After all, why be caught up with the mundane affairs of mere mortals, when I shall be able to inherit an eternal body (or soul) which will allow me to live for an eternity? If one is to believe in the rewards of eternal bliss, the tawdriness of a mortal life seems to pale in comparison with such a wondrous utopia of eternal, heavenly bliss.

The Dangers of Believing In An Afterlife

It is with this notion and unfounded triviality towards the only life we are supposed to expect, that terrorists and crooks who don the sacred beliefs of their respective Gods have been able to kill with almost wild abandon, with no regards to the lives they take (infidels, are, after all, unworthy of any redemption) as well as theirs.

Ask any hardcore terrorist who is about to blow himself up with a self-attached bomb in a civilian-crowded bus, albeit a Jewish one, and the expected answer will be the sight of 72, glistening hymens belonging to the God-bestowed virgins in paradise. The most abhorrent and horrendous of ideas, martyrdom is nonetheless a powerful tool for people to willingly blow themselves up, along with their enemies, into smithereens, and one can hardly be expected to carry out such acts of self-immolation without invoking some form of reward in the afterlife.

Accepting The Inevitable & Striving For Emancipation

If anything else, history has shown us that most, if not all ideas borne out of fear are usually poor concepts which are detrimental to society in general.

While death is an unpleasant fact of life, we should not expect to live beyond this ultimate threshold, anymore than a person should expect to survive a fall off the edge of the cliff and still emerge unscathed.

Rather than become transfixed with the prospect of an eternal life, medical science and technology should be harnessed to prolong life as well as enhancing the quality of life.

With this rational realization in mind, we will be better equipped to live this life to the fullest: There is but one life, live it, and live it well. Be nice to your loved ones, and they will be nice to you. There is nothing intrinsically difficult about such ideals that we need to invoke some deity to teach us to learn such social behavior. We are, after all superior creatures, and that itself should give us the impetus to live a emancipated life without any unnecessary delusions and unfounded fears about the supernatural.

"Question with boldness even the existence of God; because, if there be one, he must more approve of the homage of reason than that of blindfolded fear."

-Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826), in 1787 letter to his nephew

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