Another question from a reader:
Q) North Americans seem to be deeply conflicted about death or even in denial about it. What factors help to explain our culture’s denial and conflicts over death?
Deacon Mark: I am not a sociologist. I’m just a guy who didn’t want to be embalmed. I agree that it is clear we are mostly in denial of our own impending death. We discuss a bit of the history of the funeral industry in the book. Industrialization, urbanization, the increase and improvement of hospital care and the development of the funeral industry all had an impact on our culture’s estrangement from the daily reality of death.
America is a very materialistic society. Our culture is all about the acquisition of bigger and better, all-new, super-fantastic, wiz-bang stuff. We are trained from birth to be consumers and, if we want to really be successful, inventors of the “next big thing.” Our culture worships youth and disposes of the old. It worships youth so much that our laws are willing to sacrifice the next generation of young so as not to inconvenience the current generation of youth. America no longer has any cultural reverence for the wisdom of age like we see in many other cultures.
The world has passed through the Post-Christian age and, as it enters the Anti-Christian age, the hunger for stuff has replaced any understanding of the acquisition of virtue. You may have seen the bumper sticker that reads, “The one who dies with the most toys wins.” Wins what? He’s still dead. Then what?
Generally our society doesn’t even want to consider “what then.” We want it all and we want it now. If all of life is about more and more stuff, power, ambition and pleasure, then naturally you don’t want to think about what comes after. Death marks the end of our existence and our ambitions. It is the ultimate defeat and proof that life is meaningless. We don’t want to think about that. It’s really just so terrifying that denial seems like a valid option.
If losing everything twice in a decade taught Elizabeth and me anything, it was that “it’s just stuff.” It is not at all what is important in life. As Christians our entire life is, or should be, in preparation for our death and judgment. To the Christian death is a defeated enemy. This is the Gospel, the Good News of Jesus Christ. Death is conquered by the life giving death of Christ on the Cross. By his resurrection from the realm of the dead, Christ destroyed the power of death and transformed our death from ultimate annihilation to eternal life in peace, joy and love.
The Saints teach us to keep the remembrance of our own death on the very tip of our nose, always right in front of our face. Imagine how different the world would be if everyone was able to do that. The constant remembrance of death is a very sobering and important practice according to the Saints. They universally teach that the antidote for the fear of death is the fear of sin. If we were even half as afraid of sinning as we are of dying, we would not sin and therefore would have no fear of death and judgment.