Death on our Minds

I have just finished preparing the funeral service bulletin for Rev. Savage. You’ll forgive me if I’m of a serious turn of mind. This might be heavy reading with your morning bagel- if so, perhaps you should click this.

Still with me? Suit yourself.

From Conservative Postmodernism, Postmodern Conservatism by Peter Augustine Lawler, from a past issue of Intercollegiate Review:

“The modern individual- or the philosophers who constructed him-might be understood to be animated by the most insane form of pride ever. The modern individual aims to create in this world- not through grace but through human work- what God promised in the next. But viewed in another way, the modern individual seems less proud than desperate. The Christians are right about human misery and contingency; the modern individual is totally taken in by Augustine’s “negative” rhetoric about human alienation. But he does not believe in the Christian God; Augustine’s “positive” rhetoric about grace, providence, and salvation does not move him at all. And so he has no choice but to try to do for himself what the Christians believed God would do. The individual finds himself with a heavy- really, a horrible- burden. The modern individual is an alien- an absolutely contingent being who belongs nowhere in particular-who must build for himself his own place in the world.”

Modern thought is something I find myself examining and worrying about a good deal. I self-consciously practice a religion which is out of step with modern thinking on a great many points, although I am not so foolish as to think that my own behavior and thinking is unaffected by the world in which I live.

My professional choices as well as my faith require me to attempt to communicate a philosophical structure to a world that does not want it. And so I try to understand: How does the philosophical structure of Christianity differ than that of the world in which I live? That conflict is the conflict I must overcome in my communication with that world, and conveniently, it is also the conflict which I must myself overcome as well. Two for one.

Again, Lawler:

“The more secure or free from contingency he is objectively, the more he experiences his existence as contingent and the more he is haunted by death. The more death is pushed back by modern technology, the more accidental it seems. The more accidental or less necessary death seems, the more terrible it seems.”

As recent posts may indicate, death is something that is a good deal on my mind just recently. An ironic truth I have experienced very intimately in these recent events is that we Christians, who view death not as something natural or normal, but as a vicious horrible distortion of the natural order because of the curse of sin, are able to approach it and accept it with great dignity and grace. But moderns, who are supposed to view it as simply part of the natural cycle, yin vs. yang, fear it and avoid it and fight against it with all their hearts. I do not believe this contrast is caused by hypocrisy or inconsistency on the part of either camp. Rather, I’d assert that the seeming paradox is caused by the perspectives themselves. If death is part of nature, then like all of nature I should be able to control it. It is an enemy to be defeated by me. If on the other hand it is the judgment of a sovereign God over me, then it is something I must simply accept, and in accepting it the individual can transcend it. But there is no transcendence over nature if nature is all there is.

Modern man desperately needs to see how destructive a position of pure individualism is. The idea of man as a pure individual is something completely fabricated by the philosopher, and impossible to actually experience or live. But man has come to see anything which prevents him from being that pure individual to be repressive and false, whether it’s family or government or church. The further he gets away from the contexts that define him as a human being, the more miserable he becomes, but his misery only causes him to pursue pure individualism more, that being the false heaven constructed for him. The gods of the world are cruel taskmasters.

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