31 August 2008

Sunday sermon: Death and personal immortality

We would like to think ourselves necessary, inevitable, ordained from all eternity. All religions, nearly all philosophies, and even a part of science testify to the unwearying, heroic effort of mankind desperately denying its own contingency1.

Only in so far as I am identifying my mind with an absolute or unconditioned mind can I see any probability of my survival, and the more I do so the less I am interested in my private affairs and the less desire do I feel for personal immortality. The belief in my own eternity seems to me indeed to be a piece of unwarranted self-glorification, and the desire for it a gross concession to selfishness. In so far as I set my heart on things that will not perish with me, I automatically remove the sting from my death. I am far more interested in the problems of science than in the question of what, if anything, will happen to me when I am dead2.

When people die, their relatives and friends behave as if there were some moral significance in the dead body. They ignore the fact that the “last remains” are just that, the material that happened, at the time of death, to provide the medium of expression for a human life3. Our morticians insist that we buy expensive hermetically sealed caskets, so I suppose we may look forward to a much longer period of decomposition. Doubtless the hermetically sealed casket will go down in history as one of the crowning achievements of Western civilization4.

1. Verbatim from Jacques Monod, Chance & Necessity, 1971.
2. With slight changes from J.B.S. Haldane,
When I am Dead, 1927.
3. Verbatim from George C. Williams,
The Pony Fish’s Glow, 1997.
4. With slight changes from Howard Ensign Evans,
Life on a Little Known Planet, 1968.


O. B. Sirius said...

Amen, brother. Good post!

Duane Smith said...


nick said...

Do the best in our life whatever we are.

Katie said...

I toy with the idea of being made into a Lifegem. That would be one way to achieve "immortality".


A reader e-mailed this link about ”green burials”.