THE FEAR OF DEATH by Dr. Michael Thweatt
Seasons don’t fear the reaper, nor do the wind or the sun or the rain. We can be like they are…
As human beings, we fear a lot of things. If the fear becomes exaggerated and irrational, it is considered to be a phobia. Always high on the phobia list is fear of snakes, spiders, heights and crowded spaces.
Ironically, FEAR OF DEATH (THANATOBIA), is often missing from the lists of most common phobias. Death is so scary and so avoided it is not even considered a phobia by a lot of people. Of course for the fear of death to be a true phobia, it must be irrational – so therein lies the issue: is it RATIONAL to fear death? Can there be a “rational” fear of death, compared to a more obsessive “irrational” fear of death?
WOODY ALLEN & DEATH
WOODY ALLEN once observed that the fear of public speaking was the number one reported phobia, even ranking above the fear of death. He concluded that people must be more afraid of delivering the eulogy than being in the coffin.
“When the music’s over, turn out the lights.”
It could be argued that people fear death above all else, because it is the end of all other projects. As JIM MORRISON bleakly but succinctly puts it:
“This is the end, my only friend, the end. Of our elaborate plans, the end. Of everything that stands, the end. No safety or surprise, the end. I’ll never look into your eyes, again.”
THE DENIAL OF DEATH
In his astonishing masterpiece, the Denial of Death, Ernest Becker argues that death-denial propels us to engage in activities, beliefs and “projects’ that affirm our immortality, despite strong evidence to the contrary: 100 Billion human beings are estimated to have lived and died since the emergence of homo sapiens. What makes you an exception to the rule?
Comedian STEPHEN WRIGHT declares his IMMORTALITY PROJECT with more simple honesty than most humans: “I plan to live forever. So far, so good.”
RELIGIOUS AND PHILOSOPHICAL RESPONSES TO DEATH
Christians believe in a Life after Death, in which the individual personality is preserved. In other words, the body-less “soul” remains an individual and furthermore retains awareness of others so that they may be recognized in the “here-after,” thus enabling a reunion in heaven.
For Existentialists, the key problem is that people can’t conceive of non-existence and so we make the fundamental error of importing existence into the concept of death. To put it simply, people are terrified of being dead, but you can never BE dead, because when you die, you ARE NOT. So, we mistakenly project a continued consciousness past death and create the horrors of hell and wonders of heaven to fill the vastness of eternal time.
You experience dying, you don’t experience death. There is no blackness, void, loneliness, pain, burning in hell fire, glory in heaven, etc. There is not even nothing because nothingness is a concept. There are no concepts, no words, nada. To talk or think about death is self-defeating because you are imposing language and the dynamics of consciousness on that which is not.
Buddhist believe the “self” is not a permanent thing. The self is a socially-constructed, temporarily convenient invention. Useful, but it doesn’t have the inherent “realness” of the body. So, grieve not, nor should you ask for whom the bell tolls, because we are ephemeral as individuals. Attachment equals grief because all things must pass.