The Fear of Death and the Responses to It


Image Courtesy of Liturgical Arts Journal

By Anthony Dryden

This is an independently submitted op-ed for our Quill section. Views and statements made in this article do not necessarily reflect the opinions of  The Tower.

Humanity, ever since the Fall, has had to grapple with the reality of death. The remembrance of our mortal nature is a sobering thought, and often an uncomfortable one. We have a tendency to label the uncomfortable as wrong or something that ought to be avoided. Nevertheless, the Catholic Church has never shied away from the idea of memento mori, or remembering that you will die. We do not let fear of death dominate our reality, for we know that Christ has conquered it. St. Ambrose furthers this thought by saying “Death is not something to be avoided, for the Son of God did not think it beneath his dignity nor did he seek to escape it.”This knowledge, this reality, has been the cure to this fear for generations. 

Nonetheless, this truth espoused by the Catholic Church has been largely ignored in our age. In its place, two strains of thought have arisen. The first alternate response I will talk about is Transhumanism. This is a scientific and philosophical strain of thought in which technology is used to “augment human capabilities and improve the human condition.” One must not be fooled by this pleasant-sounding notion. The goal of Transhumanism is not merely to improve the human condition but to transcend humanity itself – to create a reality in which we ourselves are radically different from what we know. Putting the reality of life as a human into our own hands. Its central philosophical notion is that the human form is inherently inadequate and needs to be “improved.” Whether that is from cryogenics or the transference of essence into machines, its ultimate goal is to unnaturally transcend the limitations of our nature.

The other strain of thought is the notion that aging itself is a disease. So often one turns on the television, flips through the channels, and stumbles across “the latest” or “will actually work” solution to aging. Getting old is presented as something to be avoided at all costs. It makes sense that this notion would be gaining popularity in our increasingly materialistic society in which one’s value is rested upon their use. It is seen that the elderly have no use in the materialistic sense. Resulting in an embedded ageism, and a materialistic preference for youth. What these people do not understand is that the spiritual holds a higher value over the material. What the elderly have to provide spiritually with wisdom far surpasses any other material concern. Yet this remains ignored either via wilful ignorance or otherwise. Certain diets and lifestyles are promoted to be the cure for aging. Rampant plastic surgery is undergone to make one look younger, when in reality it often gives one not a look of true youth but one of a forced facade. 

Perhaps the most extreme example of this fear of aging can be seen in a man named Bryan Johnson. The 45-year-old tech mogul enlisted his 17-year-old son Talmage “to provide blood transfusions.” His plasma “is then fed into Johnson’s veins.” All this is in the name of staying young, to slowly stop the inevitability of death. Instead of hyperfocusing on the fleeting material aspects of beauty, embrace the wealth of spiritual wisdom that comes with age. 

Even with all these new technological and scientific innovations, the desire to escape death is not a new phenomenon. The Book of Ecclesiastes tells us, “Nothing under the sun is new” (Ecclesiastes 1:10 DRB). In the Transhumanists and Anti-aging gurus’ quest to conquer death, they have fallen for the oldest trick in the book, quite literally. What is it that the serpent tells Eve when she rebukes the temptation? It says, ‘No, you shall not die the death,” adding,  “Your eyes shall be opened: and you shall be as Gods” (Genesis 3:4&5 DRB). The quest to transform what it means to be human is in reality a quest to elevate oneself to god-like status. Our advanced technology and knowledge, rather than opening our eyes, have blinded us to truths that older generations could see clearly. Death is not something to be feared nor something to be obsessed over. Have faith it has already been conquered, by the God-Man, in a perfect sacrifice, something which cannot be outshone by man.

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