Death and Culture

Deathand Culture

Deathand Culture

Humanbeings have evolved to be self-conscious however, this abilityoffers consciousness of likelihoods and futurity, thus a possibilityof death. According to Ernest Becker thought the awareness ofpossibilities of death would produce crippling fears if it remainedconstantly in the fore front of attention. Thus, the fear of deathhas to be put behind all our normal functioning, in order for anorganism to be armed toward self-prevention. The fear of death mustnot be constantly present in an individual’s mental functioningelse the individual will not function. As such the fear must be putaway, and forget about it, as it has been suggested by a focus oncultural views and self-esteem as the principle instruments forkeeping the fear of death at bay. Therefore, this essay will focus oncentral features of death and culture with aid materials such as thefilm Flight of death and the works of Professor Ernest Becker acultural anthropologist.

TheFeature of Death

Inhis book Denial for death, Becker has the thesis the dynamic behindthe creation and maintenance of civilization is behind the repressionof sexuality, as was the idea of Freud, but the subjugation of ourawareness of death. It is the inability to come into terms with ourmotility, which drives a majority of the activities in our lives.Most inhabitants of the world today will claim they are afraid ofdeath, stating they do not think about it, however, this is just anunconscious repression of the underlying awareness that of anirrevocable point. The truth behind is we will soon be deceased anddeparted off from earth forever, however, we have other things to doliving individuals with very little time to think about it. Ournatural vanity keeps us sustained and in rejection of our own certaindemise (Becker, 1997).

Thefilm ‘Flightfrom Death: Quest for Immortality’ (2005), investigated theexisting relationship of human violence and the fear of death showthey are related and they posses subconscious influences. From thevery moment we are born, death is a reality and apart of us as livingcreatures that we will have to experience inevitably. Thus, in linewith the documentary, the anxiety of death is possible happens to beinfluential in many of the human behaviors on various aspects of thehuman including psychological, spiritual, and cultural levels. Thus,the awareness of mortality causes terror to an individual causingfrightening emotional and psychological reactions (Flightfrom death, 2005).

TheFeatures of

Accordingto Becker (1997), chapter 2 “The Terror of Death,” the fear ofdeath disorients the human normal functioning, he notes that peopleturn to the cultural world views and self-esteem a the principleinstruments people use to keep the terror of death away from theirdaily normal functioning. Thus, Becker comes up with term ‘heroproject’ illustrating how people deal with their fears of death. Inhis analysis, he claims society itself is a codified hero system,signifying that societies everywhere they are living myth of thesignificance of the human life, which is simply a defiant creation ofmeaning. Self-esteem is viewed as success in the hero project, whichin its part depends on the heroic enterprise to carry out, which aswell stands to mean there must be a world view that embraces heroismand its values interpreting the cosmos as theater for heroic actions.

Fromthe aspects of the hero project, every society is a religion thateither embraces heroism or it does not embrace it. Nevertheless,because there is no means to show the veracity of world views, theymust be held in faith. As such the world view can be equated with anillusion, whereby culture consists of shared illusions serving toameliorate anxiety therefore, each historical society might as wellbe examined as a hopeful mystification of determined lies as isdepicted in chapter of Becker, “The Terror of Death” (Becker,1997). This is translated to mean things are none verifiable definitedoes not, meaning it is simply an illusion.

Inthe creation of culture, the same brain that gets us human into themess of the terror of death is also in up in the capacity to generatemeaning. Thus, the human intelligence that develops terror deploysitself to construct and maintain a culture. Thus, we could describethe culture to be a humanly created set of collective beliefsconcerned with the nature of reality, holding the primary function ofanxiety reduction, which comes because of the association with death.Culture succeeds in doing this by providing us with world views, suchas, humanly constructed beliefs about the nature of reality thatindividuals share in groups that function to mitigate the horror andblunt the dread causes brought about by the human knowledge of humanconditions, based on the notion that we will all die.

Cultureswill furnish hero-systems and offering a means by which individualscan maintain self-esteem. According to Becker (1997), in the denialof demise, it actually does not matter whether the culturalheroism-system is frankly magical, religious, and primitive orsecular, scientific, and civilized. However, it is still a mythicalapproach, which people serve in order to earn a feeling of primaryvalue and cosmetic specialness, bearing the ultimate usefulness tocreation, to an unshakable meaning.

Understandingof Death, Grief and Mourning from The Undertaking

Inline with the works Lynch (1997) “The Undertaking,” chapter onetitled “The Undertaking,” he gives a deeper understanding of anaspect of death, grief, and morning. According to the Lynch, he holdsthe beliefs that memorial service do not matter to the deceased,since they are already beyond earthly concerns, in other words thedead just do not care whether a funeral is held in their honor ornot. Instead a funeral is only a chance for the living to come intoterms with the general fact that death is coming and it isinevitable. Secondly, Lynch is of the notion that the way any culturewill disposes off their dead is symbolic of the culture’s beliefs.Thus, funerals highlight what values this people attribute to life,which is evident in how different cultures care about burials,cremation, or other modes used t disposes of the dead. Nevertheless,it is significant to note that once death is viewed as just a mereannoyance, as this may be the trend in some modern day cultures, thenit simply illustrates that life itself has simply been devalued anddehumanized.

Assuch grief, mourning, and funerals are there for the purposes ofcomforting the living and offering a meaning to life (Lynch, 1997).To help us understand why people mourn, in his book The Undertaking,chapter four, “the right hand of the father,” Lynch offers richinsights on the value his late parents held when they were alive. Hismother took care of nine children even when she was dying of cancer,her faith sustained her watching over and protecting the family justlike God would do it. His father a funeral director cannot get rid ofthe terror that something might happen to his children someday. Thus,the author stands for the belief that the dead do matter, we shouldmourn and grief them, not because, to project a pun, that they aredead, but it is because the bodies we cherished need our care, andtheir spirits disserve our honor.

ReligiousTradition for Their Conception of Afterlife


Thetraditional Judaism are of the belief that life does not end indeath, for instance, the Torah belief for life after death is usuallyput in vague terms, taking figurative forms as the living view it.The tradition holds the common theme that a death means rejoining theancestors, such as Abraham, Jacob, Moses, and others who were beforethe people of this religion. However, the wicked in this religion arebelieved to be cut off from their people. Still others emphasize afinality of death, claiming, the dead are just like dust returning todust or water that was poured out of the ground. However, in linewith the biblical scriptures, there are indications that afterlifethe soul does continue to exist, as it is believed in the Torahtradition religion that at some point the dead will awaken as theyare only sleeping in the dust.


Inconclusion, humans’ relation with death is heavily influenced bythe views of culture. As such we have developed concepts of heroismthat help deal with death putting it behind all our normal functionsin order to deal with the existing terror that someday death isinevitable. In death we mourn and grief the death as sign of respectfor life and in honor of their parted spirit, bringing ourselves interms we shall have to face death someday.


Becker,E. (1997). Thedenial of death.New York: Free Press Paperbacks.

Flightfrom death[Motion picture]. (2005). Transcendental Media.

Lynch,T. (1997). Theundertaking : life studies from the dismal trade.New York: W.W. Norton.