A few things clicked for me about death. There were several factors that worked together.
The first is a conversation I had a few weeks ago (I think with my brother Kevin, but I could be mistaken). We were talking about how almost every culture (except the “western”) views death as a celebratory occasion. Like birth and marriage, death can be greeted as natural and thus joyous. I’m not sure this is actually true, but let’s assume it is.
The second was a book I just finished, “Despicable Species” by Janet Lembke. It talks about the species we “love to hate” and does an entertaining job of mixing fact with anecdote. Like most, Janet seems to ascribe to a vaguely atheistic evolutionary pan-religious environmentalism. Her treatment of Man’s role in environmental destruction and extinction seemed quite well balanced. She pointed out that the extinction of even several species is probably not going to greatly influence life as a whole, and that environmental change is natural, with or without humans. She also pointed out that the proliferation of many of what we consider nuisance species can be strongly linked to human development of the environment. In a sense, we are the author of our own annoyance. Ultimately, she identifies humans as parasites who add nothing to the environment. What struck me was in the last chapter (devoted to examining the human species) she mentioned the “American fear of death.”
It occurred to me that the Gospel solution to the fear of death and the pagan solution are exclusive. Pagans may greet death as natural and celebrate it. The end of a well traveled journey. The last chapter. The Gospel defeats death as a foe. Death is to be done away with. The last enemy. I surmise that what has happened in the western culture, and America in particular, is that we still cling to the cultural Christian view of death as an enemy, but have done away with the Christian joy of the resurrection. Our culture is languishing between the Christian struggle and the pagan repose. We have not yet reached the pagan satisfaction with death as inevitable. We have not yet welcomed it into our hearts.
I suspect we will do so soon however. Chesterton once said that those in dire straights must “desire life like water and yet drink death like wine.” How interesting that Christ likened his shed blood to wine. Our culture, however, is driven by despair to the inversion of this wisdom. How soon until we desire death like water, and drink life like wine?