November 19, 2006
Death Part VI
The opportunity to survive death certainly seems a major selling point for religion. Yet some of the more recent explanations for belief tend to underplay it.
This is, in part, because most preliterate peoples don't seem to make as big a deal of the afterlife as modern religions -- particularly Christianity and Islam -- tend to. Some of them don't dwell too much on what happens after death. Many don't see good behavior being rewarded. And one of their goals for the dead is often making sure they don't hang around too much -- because the recently deceased tend to be cranky and meddlesome.
Yet ask people today why religion has such a hold and they will often begin by talking about death.
Posted by Mitchell Stephens at November 19, 2006 8:26 PM
I think supposing an afterlife and a watchful god provide related and so overlapping psychological functions. "Thinking about death" is liable to mean more precisely "thinking about what I'll have accomplished and attained (and/or where I'll be) when time runs out." Meanwhile I'd say "the afterlife" is only incidentally "after" and more basically it's just an alternate life, the characteristics of which corresponds to your actual life according to whatever rules your religion proclaims. An alternate life and an alternate scoreboard--which the watchful gods implicitly keep--both assuage bad feelings about this one. About how it's going now, about how it's gone up to now and both how and where you think it's liable to have gone when you die. "I've got no mate, no friends, live worse than everybody and things are going downhill fast, but God knows I'm good/but God will see that I live a splendorous alternative life." Also, we have little chance of competing effectively for this world's and this society's limited resources, if we aren't willing to gamble the prospects of immediate gratification (steal and eat your neighbor's seeds now) for a greater but distant reward (cooperate and all live from the harvest after a season or two). It's a gamble because shit happens--drought, pestilence, treachery, marauders, etc. So even the atheist has to be "a little bit Protestant" in Weber's work-ethic sense. If saving and hard work score Points (i.e. with "God" for now and/or for redemption in heaven), it doesn't matter so much what shit happens. "Virtue" is virtual venture capital that lets you imagine you're gambling with assets other than your own. Heaven acts as a hedge or a pension or a life insurance policy. When a person reports only that religion is comfort from "the thought of death" we're just guessing what they have in mind, because the phrase is so vague and euphemistic, but I bet typically the gist is to do mostly with the stuff I mentioned.
Posted by: MT at November 20, 2006 12:59 AM
What I find most interesting about the appeal of religion being that it supplies hope after death ... is the superb illogic in the whole thing. The thinking among some theists is not "I hate the fact that I will cease to exist totally after I die, and so I will use all the powers of my intellect to come to discover the bald truth and then to come to terms with whatever I conclude." Instead, it's: "I hate the fact that I will cease to exist totally after I die, and so I will glom onto a contrived myth to make me feel better." It reminds me somewhat of that episode of the Simpsons where Lisa finally has friends, and so she ignores the logic that her brain is trying to impose on her.
Posted by: Wayne Jones at November 20, 2006 10:52 AM
It seems to be the grandest of all fears - death. Obviously, if we wish to be free of fear we must understand fear itself. But that is arduous. Understanding fear is not accomplished through formula. It is not accomplished by praying, prostrating, or vowing. Understanding fear means understanding what you actually are.
But most would rather put in place some sort of belief so that they can pretend to themselves that they have a grip on reality. Well those that do so are - to be blunt - as if dead already.
Posted by: Peter Rock at November 21, 2006 4:36 AM
"But most would rather put in place some sort of belief so that they can pretend to themselves that they have a grip on reality. Well those that do so are - to be blunt - as if dead already."--Peter Rock
Often times life is more frightening than death, ergo suicide.
We all pretend we have a firm grip on reality, how else do you know what reality is? Life exists by the application of the religion formed by the social construction of reality ==> culture.
Posted by: Jay Saul at November 21, 2006 3:04 PM
Hi, Im from Melbourne in the land of Oz. Please check out these related references which emphatically state that understanding the meaning & significance of death is the key to sanity and right life.
Posted by: John at November 23, 2006 2:47 AM
Jay Sauls says:
"Life exists by the application of the religion formed by the social construction of reality ==> culture."
I don't understand what you mean. Life exists by the application of religion? I understand that there are social constructions that attempt to lay knowledgable claims about what "reality" is. But surely life does not exists as a cause of this. Are you saying life would cease to be if we chose not to follow constructions produced from fear and confusion?
Posted by: Peter Rock at November 29, 2006 2:16 AM