Tuesday, August 03, 2004

Meaning of death?

Well, since we have the meaning of life nailed down, let's talk about the meaning of death.

In the Western world, death was, until recently (and still is in the developing world) a very common thing for people to experience -- not themselves, but the death of loved ones. Many pioneers lost children, spouses, siblings -- and far more frequently than I or most of the people I know do today.

I wonder how this affects the meaning of death for us. Is it more feared when experienced more frequently, or less? Does one become more callous toward it when experienced more frequently, or more sensitive to it? Does it have a different moral standing; for example, is capital punishment viewed differently when death is more prevalent than when it is less prevalent? War? Other killing (cf. Nephi and Laban, or Old Testament accounts)? Is there a difference in whether death is regarded as “natural?”

I suspect that there are differences between the meaning of death for me and its meaning for my pioneer ancestors, and I wonder how this affects our views on the restoration of the gospel.


  1. I suspect people become desensitized to it when it happens all the time. Consider those in war torn areas. I imagine another family death is easier on someone in Israel or Iraq than one family members who were of 9/11 victims. Death, in some places, becomes routine comparatively.

    Kind of like births. I'm an only child and grandchild (both sides!). When my lds friends say they are becoming an aunt or uncle and I gush congrats, they aren't much enthused... "Well, it's the 13th one."

  2. While working on SS lessons recently, I noticed passages such as Alma 3:26 and 28:10-14, in which Mormon emphasizes the theological significant of the high death rate. Mormon seems to be saying, at least in part, that the constancy of death should be a reminder to be prepared for final judgment. It did lead me to wonder what the implications should be for our relatively low-death rate society.

  3. Death is occurring all around all of us, but we have segmented our society in ways that reduce our exposure to death. As I recall the saying, "Ain't none of us getting out of this place alive." That still seems to hold true.

    Perhaps there is an interesting discussion to have regarding why we perceive there to be fewer deaths in our lives. Isn't that a function of our society's separation of the younger and the older members? Of course, maybe underlying the idea of there being "less death" is the idea that death at a particular (advanced) age is ok, while it isn't ok at younger ages.

    Does that suggest that we have instilled ideas about what should and shouldn't constitute life? It seems to me that such ideas about life do, at least derivatively, suggest something about our views of death.

    As to the religious connotations, if we believe in life after death, particularly a better life after death, then we have a mechanism that allows us to be relatively unconcerned about the effects of death. That, however, seems to fly in the face of the usual ranking of sins, which places the taking of life at the extreme end of the spectrum. If we should minimize its import when it occurs accidentally or as a result of natural (or even divine) causes because of life after death, it isn't perfectly clear to me why we should maximize it in volitional situations.

    greenfrog (who can't seem to log into Blogger anymore)