Monday, March 24, 2008

Fear of Death

It would seem that we should not fear death. For either we survive death, or we do not. If we do not, then after death we simply do not exist and thus can suffer nothing. But of course if there is no possibility that we suffer, there is nothing to fear. If, on the other hand, we do survive death, there might well be something after death that should be feared. But even if this is so, it is not death that should be feared. Rather it is that which follows.

(I grant that one might well fear the pain that so often accompanies death. But we must distinguish that fear from the fear of death. Fear of pain that accompanies death is not itself fear of death.)

This argument seems decisive to me. It seems to decisively prove that there is nothing in death to fear. But yet the fear of death persists. I feel it, as do most others. Why is this? What is the source of this deep-seated irrationality? I have a suggestion. It is that we are not are own, that there are forces in us that use of for purposes that extend past the boundaries of our lives. If we were solely our own, if all our desires concerned only ourselves and our ends, we would not fear death. But if there is something greater than us, something outsides us that uses us for a purpose greater than that of the individual human life, then it might have implanted in us a fear of frustration of that greater purpose. I think that the fear of death is such a thing. The higher purpose concerns our species. It is, in a word, the health of that species. The species is in us in a way that is now obscure to me. It uses us for its own ends. It uses us to insure its own health. Thus it makes us fear death, for once dead we cannot serve it.

A strict individualism on which we are concerned only with our own little lives is simply false. (Indeed it is perhaps necessarily false.) We are more than ourselves, and this is reflected in our most deeply seated desires. Human being is not being unto death. It is rather being past death. The human essence looks past the end of the individual human life to the life of the species of which it's part.