CentralFeature of Death and Culture
CentralFeature of Death and Culture
Inthe movie, “Flight from Death: The Quest for Immortality”,viewers are exposed to inherent defense mechanisms practiced byhumans in their quest for immortality. The movie introduceshypothetical and practical assessments on people’s willingness toharm others when there is an assurance of immortality. The narrationidentifies death as the strongest motivation to human behavior,having been culturally embedded in beliefs, perceptions, andtranscendent assurances on the existence of immortality. Human livesare terrible paradoxes, which strive to prolong lives, although lifeitself is responsible for exposing realities of death. The movie’sconcept is borrowed from Earnest Becker’s Denialof Death, ananthropological analysis of human’s defense mechanisms against thereality of death.
InBecker’s account of human beliefs and fear of death, the authorconsiders the human life as existing in duality between the physicaland symbolic self. While the physical body is destined to death, thesymbolic self struggles to transcend the dilemma of mortality bybecoming part of immortality projects that are embedded in culturesand beliefs. The movie uses the book’s concept to explore differentways through which people engage in immortality projects. One of thepopular ways of fleeing from death is embracing religiousperspectives, which portray deities as immortals, who offerimmortality to those who subject their symbolic selves to them(Becker, 1973). The reality of death forces people to embracereligious symbols as means of immortality, while transferring theaspect of immortality from the deceased physical self to the symbolicself.
Themovie identifies the unpredictability of human control and sanity,especially after threatening assurance of immortality. According toBecker’s analysis of human duality, humans tend to engage inviolence and collective destruction to protect any transcendedreality on immortality. The movie identifies the influence ofcultural orientations and beliefs in shaping the symbolic self todevelop extremism traits in order to attain immortality. Based on themovie, Becker’s arguments are tested and demonstrated in thenumerous cultural and religious immortal symbols placed oncemeteries, tombs, and other regions of mortality. For example,cemeteries are adorned with symbols of immortality in order todemonstrate the continuity of the symbolic self, even after the deathof the physical self.
Themovie then embarks on the correlation between human violence andability to harm others, when their immortality is threatened. One ofthe issues emerging from the movie is the influence of cultural andreligious beliefs in shaping human perceptions and orientationstowards harming others. Individuals’ assurance of immortality leadsto acts of heroism, in order to ensure other people appreciate thecontinuity and immortality assurance of such cultural beliefs.
Themovie shows a great correlation between people’s tendency to harmand become intolerant to other people’s beliefs and actions, withindividuals’ fear of mortality. The fear to die forces people toharm others defying, or opposed to their ideologies. The movie sets asignificant relationship between fear of death and the tendency toharm and act in bizarre manner as an act of propagating theimmortality assurance embedded in culture and religion. The movieassociates religious extremism with perceptions of death andmortality. When people realize the inevitability of death, theyengage in heroic acts as a way of fulfilling the transcendentassumptions and convictions of immortality (Becker, 1973). Theyconsider all those people opposed to the doctrines as enemies andstrive to eliminate them as a sign of heroism in order to getassurance of symbolic immortality.
InLynch’s book, “The Undertaking: Life Studies from the DismalTrade” the author focuses on the deep relationship and tie betweenlife and death. In the second chapter, Gladstone observes the lifeand death of Thomas Lynch’s father. One of the observations made inthe chapter is on the deep-rooted relationship between life anddeath. The chapter generates the inevitable relationship andeventuality of life in death. One of the observations made is on thefear of death held by Lynch’s father. The author observes thatthroughout the life of Lynch’s father, one of the greatest concernswas on death. Lynch’s father identified the inevitability of deathand lived trying to find the best alternative to subdue death.
However,the book focuses on the significance of death to the living, ratherthan to the dead (Lynch, 2009). Although people worry about theperceptions of the dead, the book offers a deeper insight into thesignificance of death to the living rather than to the dead. Hence,the fear held by Lynch’s father made it possible to reflect on theimpact of death on humans. Lynch reflects on mourning as causingmisconceptions on the significance of death, especially when itconcentrates on the perceptions and interests of the dead. Whilepeople mourn to remember the dead, Lynch focuses on the significanceof dead to the living, since it draws on an inevitable course for allhumanity.
Infact, Lynch assumes that mourning should be on the living rather thanon the dead in order to evoke the realities of mortality and help oneprepare and maximize personal attributes while alive. According toLynch, people take life for granted. However, death generates severegravity on human life. It forms part of human existence, sincepossibilities of death correlates with the extension of life. Everyday alive, draws closer to death. Severity of death becomes obviouswith each passing moment, and the inability to have accuratepredictions makes it a significant part of human existence (Lynch,2009). Lynch expects people to respect and appreciate the gravity ofdeath, since it forms part of an inevitable human process, and makesa serious impact on the living than on the dead.
Accordingto the Christian teaching, people attain immortality after death.Despite underling differences in the manner in which people willserve the immortalities, the Christianity tradition maintains thatimmortality follows mortality (Falkenhain & Handal, 2003). Thereligion is founded on a tradition that considers human nature induality between the physical self and the soul. According to itsreligious principles, the soul serves as the symbolic or immortalpart of humans that escapes to an immortal world upon death. Thereligion maintains that immortality is assured for all peopleirrespective of how they spend their lives. However, the maindifference is in the nature of immortal life upon death. Christianitymaintains that people who die believing in God will get eternal life,filled with joy, peace and happiness. However, those who reject theteachings of God are destined to eternal damnation.
Thereligious belief offers assurance to its followers that deathsignifies the start of immortality, with the only difference being onthe nature of life in immortality. The doctrine prepares all itsfollowers to learn and follow God’s teachings in order to have goodimmortal life. The teachings subject people to prayers and faith inimmortal life, hence regulating actions and practices of livinghumans. Christianity defines people’s attitudes, actions, beliefsand perceptions. It encourages humility, and good behavior founded onethics and morals. It identifies and condemns evil while encouragingpeople to be just. This forms one of the cultural influences ofbehavior and actions among people (Vail, Arndt, & Abdollahi,2012). While people live assured of encountering death, the assuranceof immortality shapes people’s actions and encourages them toindulge in certain behaviors, while discouraging others.
Christianityoffers assurance of immortal life in heaven and hell. Heaven is aperfect place that is bound by happiness, has peace, sanity, comfort,and rest. It is a perfect place for spending an immortal life. It isa place without suffering or pain (Falkenhain & Handal, 2003).Those who will be fortunate to go to heaven will have an eternalrest, peace and happiness. However, those who go to hell will burn ineternal fire as a punishment for engaging in evil acts while alive.
Thereligion shows that life is not mortal. Rather, life is immortalthrough the soul. The doctrine teaches that people are mortals intheir fresh, but immortals in their soul. The main objective ispreserving the soul and leading it to eternal peace rather thaneternal damnation. This analysis fits within Becker’s analysis ofhumans’ denial of death. Despite the universal knowledge ofmortality, a part of human life tries to generate convictions andbelief in the immortality. They follow principles and culturalattributes assuring them of immortal lives, even after death of theirphysical form.
Becker,E. (1973). TheDenial of Death.New York, NY: Simon & Schuster
Falkenhain,M., & Handal, P. J. (2003). Religion, death attitudes, and beliefin afterlife in the elderly: Untangling the relationships. Journalof Religion and Health, 42(1),67-76.
Lynch,T. (2009). TheUndertaking: Life Studies from the Dismal Trade. NewYork, NY: W. W. Norton & Company.
Vail,K. E., Arndt, J., & Abdollahi, A. (2012). Exploring theexistential function of religion and supernatural agent beliefs amongChristians, Muslims, Atheists, and Agnostics. Personalityand Social Psychology Bulletin, 38(10),1288-1300.