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We’ve forgotten how to die Secularism can no longer cope with human mortality

Was her life really "just one damn fact after another"? Photo by Lynsey Addario/Getty Images)

Was her life really "just one damn fact after another"? Photo by Lynsey Addario/Getty Images)


February 3, 2022   5 mins

Why do some people take a peep at the last few pages of a novel first? Yes, we know it’s cheating. But forget whether a cheeky glance at the ending constitutes a great crime against reading — why do many of us instinctively feel that the end contains some sort of privileged information? After all, the juiciest bits often tend to occur in the middle of the book.

Surely the answer is something like this: we look to the end to make sense of the whole. This is where things come together, or not. Where the point is revealed, where some sort of unity is achieved or isn’t. The end gives the story its meaning. Significantly, the word “end” can mean both last things and purpose.

As with novels, so too with human lives. We are story-seeking animals. Even in a post-Christian society, we retain some residual sense that how we end — how we die — contains a special significance for the meaning of our lives as a whole. And this is why there is something especially disturbing about the findings of a Lancet Commission report published this week, that argues we have over-medicalised death and have lost a sense of what a good one might look like.

Imagine if we were to take a look at the last few pages of the book of our lives. There we are, in a huge hospital, surrounded by masked medics and machines. We are not doing very much because we are all doped up. And due to Covid, not even in the presence of our loved ones. The ending is one of medical failure. “This situation has further fuelled the fear of death, reinforcing the idea of health-care services as the custodians of death,” says the report.

We die when the experts “cannot do any more”. It’s not much of an ending. This is not a criticism of the people we have tasked with keeping us alive. But more a question about what it is to live without a narrative sense of our own ending. For without some hermeneutic rhythm of beginning and end, our lives — like Arnold Toynbee’s view of history — are “just one damn fact after another”. There is no conclusion, no purpose, no narrative arc; just a succession of inconsequential events with our death having no more or less meaning than any other event. The contrast with the religious worldview couldn’t be stronger.

Yesterday was the feast of Candlemas, the last day of the Christmas season. Jesus is taken into the Jerusalem temple as a child and an elderly Jewish gentleman recognises Him to be the promised Messiah, the light of the world. “Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace, according to thy word,” he exclaims, words that get sung as the Nunc Dimittis every day in churches and Cathedrals up and down the land. Or, in less floral language — I have seen what I wanted to see and I can now die happy.

Christmas, the celebration of a birth, ends with the anticipation of a death. Not just that of Simeon, but also of the child himself. “And a sword will pierce your own heart too,” Simeon tells Mary darkly, a reference to the agony she will experience when she watches her child – and He will always be her child – die in agony, executed by the Romans.

I have been taking funerals for 30 years, and they all have concluded with Simeon’s words. Earlier this week, I used them at the bedside of a parishioner to whom I gave the last rites. The promise they hold out is of a life that reaches some sort of conclusion, where the threads of our story come together.

For those of us who are religious, this narrative arc is curated through a wider cosmic narrative in which human lives conclude in a return to the loving embrace of the Almighty. Across the West, these meta-narratives are mostly forgotten or have been deliberately abandoned. Life is now “one damn fact after another”. Death is of no more narrative significance than any other moment in time.

If you ask people how they want to die, they often say quickly and in their sleep. It is as if they don’t want to be aware of death as something that happens to them. And those at the bedside — if they are lucky enough to be able to be there — can sometimes co-operate with this sense of denial with well-meaning words of getting better, “you will be up on your feet in no time” and so on.

In this world, the book doesn’t have an acknowledged ending. From a religious perspective this all feels a little ironic. We are often told we are the fantasists about death, pretending it doesn’t happen with all that talk of everlasting life.

At the bedside, priests often talk about death to those who are saying their goodbyes. And equally often, they are obstructed from doing so by family members who maintain it isn’t going to happen. Even at funerals, we are sometimes instructed to wear brightly coloured clothes, and to celebrate a life rather than mourn a death.

Atheists will say that we all need to face the fact that, ultimately, we are nothing more or less than food for worms and daffodils. That eternal life is a fantasy designed to give the clergy some sort of control over people’s lives. Auguste Comte said that the afterlife produced “slaves of God”. But atheism has arguably made us less able to talk about death, not knowing how it fits into the story of our lives. Instead of bravely facing death, too often the secular world ducks it.

When I die, don’t you dare come in a bright jumper. I want a church full of Sophia Loren look-a-likes under their black veils bawling their eyes out. These days, it is often secular death that refuses to think of death as real.

“How people die has changed dramatically over the last 60 years” writes Dr Libby Sallnow, co-chair of the Lancet commission and a palliative care consultant, “from a family event with occasional medical support, to a medical event with limited family support. A fundamental re-think is needed.”

It is no coincidence that the 60 years the good doctor refers to here is roughly the time scale of what we might call contemporary liberalism (older, better versions are available) — that is, the rise of autonomy and self-determination as the ultimate matrix of moral value. I suspect that part of the reason we have become so inarticulate about death is not about increasing squeamishness. Our society has been reconstructed around the centrality of the “I”. The moral priority of individual choice has nowhere to go with death, something we mostly do not chose, and something that represents the absolute obliteration of this ever demanding “I”.

The great archbishop William Temple once wrote that the true aim of all religion is to “transfer the centre of interest from self to God”. When you centre your life on something that is more important than you, then your own death ceases to be the destruction of all you care about. The message of most religions is simply: “it’s not all about you”; it is a message both of challenge to the nagging demands of the ego and yet one of ultimate hope.

This is the very opposite of the liberal worldview, that predicates value upon the making of individual choices, and has no sense of what a decentred self might look like. In other words, contemporary liberalism has no way of looking death in the face, no way of answering it back with the words “where is your sting?”, no way of singing the Nunc Dimittis. No wonder we are all so afraid.


Giles Fraser is a journalist, broadcaster and Vicar of St Anne’s, Kew.

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Lindsay S
Lindsay S
2 years ago

Growing up, I would hear my grandmother listing those who had passed, so as a child i equated getting old to dying. My grandfather was a butcher and we kept chickens and rabbits. One summer, my father decided it was time for them to go, those that couldn’t be rehomed were slaughtered by my grandfather and we ate them. I remember it vividly. My mother died in a hospice. It wasn’t a failure of medicine that she died, medicine had given us an extra 15 years between her cancer first showing up and then its re-emergence taking her from us. She was in the hospice because only there could she receive the pain relief she needed.
Today, we hide the nature of death from people so they grow up without it. Animals are slaughtered out of sight and butchered to being largely unrecognisable at the point of sale. This, I believe is, plays a significant role in society’s disassociation with death.
Covid hasn’t helped either. Rather than accepting that we have to die of something at some point we have decided that we must fight to the very last to save as many people as possible whether they want to or not and the decision to keep relatives away from the dying was the most inhumane decision made during the pandemic. Those who enforced such a decision should hang their heads in shame.

Last edited 2 years ago by Lindsay S
Cheryl Jones
Cheryl Jones
2 years ago
Reply to  Lindsay S

I entirely agree with you. People act as if ‘the government’ should be responsible for everything in their lives, including making sure they never die and nothing bad ever happens, ever. It’s like a kind of perpetual infantilism. And the government even buys into it thinking they can micromanage the country. I am pretty sure the decision to lock down was pressure from the press and the opposition (you’re murdering granny) and the fact that everyone else was doing it (Sweden continuing on their own path was admirable in the face oft some quite vile criticism). The idea that the young and healthy should be sacrificed for the very old and the very sick is a complete reversal of the natural order of things. So called ‘progressives’ like Jacinda suddenly become all for closed borders and draconian police states. The whole thing stinks frankly. Covid hysteria is an indication that we have become far too comfortable and detached from reality, which includes dying of viruses.

Ray Zacek
Ray Zacek
2 years ago
Reply to  Cheryl Jones

An example of government micromanagement from U.S. Transportation Secretary Buttigieg “Zero is the only acceptable number of deaths and serious injuries on our roadways,” he affirms writes in the introduction to his department’s roadway safety plan.

Wilfred Davis
Wilfred Davis
2 years ago
Reply to  Ray Zacek

“Zero is the only acceptable number of deaths and serious injuries on our roadways”

Welcome, people, to Utopia.

June Davis
June Davis
2 years ago
Reply to  Ray Zacek

To accomplish this the speed limit needs to 5 mph. Other problems might occur (no one ever makes it anywhere) but the death problem will be solved.

Ray Zacek
Ray Zacek
2 years ago
Reply to  June Davis

Sorry, responded to wrong person.

Last edited 2 years ago by Ray Zacek
Tony Buck
Tony Buck
2 years ago
Reply to  Ray Zacek

You have to aim at Zero, even though you won’t get there.

Ray Zacek
Ray Zacek
2 years ago
Reply to  Tony Buck

I concur but that is not what Buttigieg said; he spoke with the aura of complete confidence.

H D
H D
2 years ago
Reply to  Tony Buck

Aiming at zero is the enemy of the good.

June Davis
June Davis
2 years ago
Reply to  Ray Zacek

Yes, so his solution is to lower the speed limit ignoring the fact that a lot of the deaths were due to people speeding way over the posted limit.

Alan Tonkyn
Alan Tonkyn
2 years ago
Reply to  Cheryl Jones

You are so right, Cheryl. Covid hysteria is a sign of how weak and decadent most western/westernised societies have become. In addition, we are now learning that lockdowns are not even, on balance, sensible health policies, doing more harm than good. One longs for governments that can take a brave long view, rather than rush into foolish action at the behest of the media.

Bruce Luffman
Bruce Luffman
2 years ago
Reply to  Alan Tonkyn

Best emigrate to Sweden or South Dakota!
However, more seriously, my wife is a Christian with deeply held beliefs and has absolutely no fear of death as she knows that she is going to a better place. I am nearly at that point in my belief and we both think that to have reached our mid 70s is a pretty good innings.
We genuinely feel sorry for the unbelieving secular majority of our fellow citizens.

Tony Buck
Tony Buck
2 years ago
Reply to  Bruce Luffman

Which is not a good reason for letting them be bumped-off by things like Covid.

Tony Buck
Tony Buck
2 years ago
Reply to  Alan Tonkyn

You are simply the echo of Jair Bolsonaro.

In fact, in non-Western, non-decadent countries, people want good anti-Covid measures to be taken.

Bret Larson
Bret Larson
2 years ago
Reply to  Cheryl Jones

However, it allows for a good retort. “I intend the society to pauper itself to allow me to live one more day”.

Its only fair!

Tony Buck
Tony Buck
2 years ago
Reply to  Cheryl Jones

How have the young or healthy been “sacrificed” ? They still look young and healthy to me !

You talk as though they had their hearts ripped out by Aztec priests !

Most Covid victims were not Very old or Very sick.

BTW why should people like you receive medical care ?

You’re just playing politics.

H D
H D
2 years ago
Reply to  Tony Buck

“Most Covid victims were not Very old or Very sick.”
So not really “victims”.

Mark Turner
Mark Turner
2 years ago
Reply to  Tony Buck

Ummm…wrong…yes they were…average age of death in the UK 81 years…..and 90% had co morbidities

Bella OConnell
Bella OConnell
2 years ago
Reply to  Cheryl Jones

Elizabeth KĂŒbler-Ross authored a number of significant books on death and dying. Should be compulsory reading for year 12s. Such a help in understanding the topic.

Tony Buck
Tony Buck
2 years ago
Reply to  Lindsay S

Your comments on Covid are absurd. The decision to isolate the dying was to spare the living from being bumped-off by their dying loved one.

H D
H D
2 years ago
Reply to  Tony Buck

A decision that was made for them, rather than by them.

Tony Buck
Tony Buck
2 years ago
Reply to  H D

Correctly. Love overcomes common sense.

Jorge Espinha
Jorge Espinha
2 years ago
Reply to  Lindsay S

Thank you

Gunner Myrtle
Gunner Myrtle
2 years ago

I think that much of the societal overreaction and extreme anxiety caused by Covid is due to the fact that people have lost sight of the fact that death is coming to us all. This has to be because of the increasingly secular nature of society. I was raised Catholic and certainly death and the afterlife were constant themes of my childhood education. I found it particularly odd how everyone obsessed over the elderly dying in long term care homes. I have had one parent and two in-laws die in these homes. At least in Canada by the time you are admitted you are really not well. You will likely die soon of something – the flu – C. difficile – a stroke – or you will simply fail to thrive. It just seemed to me that our entire society lost its composure over the possibility they might die – at the idea of death.

Last edited 2 years ago by Gunner Myrtle
SULPICIA LEPIDINA
SULPICIA LEPIDINA
2 years ago

“Death is the price of life”, as George Orwell so succinctly put it.

Tony Buck
Tony Buck
2 years ago

So, abolish Medicine ?

H D
H D
2 years ago
Reply to  Tony Buck

no, just make it our servant rather than our master.

Francis MacGabhann
Francis MacGabhann
2 years ago

The last two paragraphs — wittingly or not — sums up the Christian worldview nicely. Charity is defined by Christians not as altruism or even humanitarianism, but as the love of God for his own sake and the love on man for the sake of God. Thus, all humanitarian actions are secondary and incidental, however important. It’s a foundational assumption which completely changes the trajectory of a society which upholds it. I’m no Anglican, but I think Giles gets it.

Russell Hamilton
Russell Hamilton
2 years ago

“No wonder we are all so afraid.” Are we all so afraid of death, or is it that we’re afraid of the process of dying?

“If you ask people how they want to die, they often say quickly and in their sleep.” That’s to avoid suffering. In Western Australia we have access to Voluntary Assisted Dying, which can at least get rid of some of that fear.

“contemporary liberalism has no way of looking death in the face” I don’t know whether it’s part of liberalism, but we can look death in the face because it is part of the nature we see all around us – death is the most natural thing in the world.

JR Stoker
JR Stoker
2 years ago

Or as Leonard Cohen said when asked if he feared dying “I’m not frightened of death….but I worry about the preliminaries.”

H D
H D
2 years ago
Reply to  JR Stoker

“I m not afraid of dying.. I just don’t want to be there when it happens.” – Woody Allen.

Judy Simpson
Judy Simpson
2 years ago

It’s almost a paradox; voluntary assisted dying permitted, yet borders shut so tightly to ensure not one person dies of a virus.

H D
H D
2 years ago
Reply to  Judy Simpson

”A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of small minds.” Also, tHe practice of government.

Lesley van Reenen
Lesley van Reenen
2 years ago

A timely article and an issue discussed often and especially in the past 2 years. It seemed any measures taken to avoid a person dying of Covid was worth the disproportionate and terrible fall out brought about by the measures taken. It did not matter that most people dying were poorly and/or aged.
Once again I will post the excellent video from June 2020 by Dr Zach Bush, a physician previously in cancer research, who specialized in internal medicine, endocrinology and hospice care, so well versed in the process of dying and what it means.
The entire video is well worth watching as he made many observations early in the pandemic which came to fruition. More importantly, his observations and suggestions for a life lived in harmony with the earth are a lesson for us all.
As regards this particular article, watching the last part of the video addresses death and dying, which should be a beautiful thing (watch from about 1hr 7mins).
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xXI0UEmCsEw

Last edited 2 years ago by Lesley van Reenen
Bella OConnell
Bella OConnell
2 years ago

I have watched a good many podcasts of Zach Bush discussing death and he does it with such depth, dignity and beauty. I posted a podcast of him on Facebook in 2020 discussing the virome and it was taken down. Such a shame. It made perfect sense. He is a shining light in the health world.

Lesley van Reenen
Lesley van Reenen
2 years ago
Reply to  Bella OConnell

Yes, these experienced, knowledgeable, intelligent, caring, compassionate and soothing voices whom were so needed, were treated as quacks and spreaders of disinformation.
Maybe I should suggest to Unherd that they interview him?

Bella OConnell
Bella OConnell
2 years ago

Great idea!

SULPICIA LEPIDINA
SULPICIA LEPIDINA
2 years ago

“We have sterilised ourselves from death”* What a great quote.
Sadly though it is too late,”Consummatum est”, as the Ancients would say.

(*1:18:32.)

Lesley van Reenen
Lesley van Reenen
2 years ago

Yes… Did you watch the whole video, or just the death and dying part?
I wept when listening to him.

Last edited 2 years ago by Lesley van Reenen
SULPICIA LEPIDINA
SULPICIA LEPIDINA
2 years ago

Yes I did, although in my particular case Dr Bush was preaching to the converted. I also found it slightly melodramatic (for a fossil like myself), although that in no way invalidated his prognosis.
Thank you for posting this.

jean.winn
jean.winn
2 years ago

How good it is to hear the words death and dying, not ‘passed’ or ‘passed away’ I am a christian so hope for eternal life , but when I am dead I want you to say so!

Alison Tyler
Alison Tyler
2 years ago
Reply to  jean.winn

Me too. I am expecting to die and hoping to rest in peace and share in the resurrection to eternal life. I have no idea what to expect other than a mystery, which will be exciting.

Judy Johnson
Judy Johnson
2 years ago
Reply to  jean.winn

I totally agree with you Jean!

Galeti Tavas
Galeti Tavas
2 years ago

The future secular way of dieing may well be Poster Russle’s chemical euthanasia, like the Vet does. Which I find pretty dreadful, to basically do suicide when the going gets too rough. (although I get how at the bad – very end, that may be different) I worry it will be taken up in time for reasons not proper.)

““How people die has changed dramatically over the last 60 years” writes Dr Libby Sallnow, co-chair of the Lancet commission and a palliative care consultant, “from a family event with occasional medical support, to a medical even with limited family support.”

Which makes me think back to Mitford’s exposĂ© book ‘The American Way of Death’, early 1960s when it had all became a vast marketing industry – “Feeling that death had become much too sentimentalized, highly commercialized, and, above all, excessively expensive”
And the mortician, Mr Lovejoy (from memory) who could put a smile back on any corpse no matter what condition they came in….he took great pride in his work.

“describing in exquisite detail how each body is “sprayed, sliced, pierced, pickled, trussed, trimmed, creamed, waxed, painted, rouged and neatly dressed – transformed from a common corpse into a Beautiful Memory Picture”.”

Death….. I have managed a couple, my way was to get the cheapest cremation service. The last one I found a National Coupon on line which a local crematorium took – making it all, from pick up to sending off the notifications to Government and a stack of Death Certificates to finish the final businesses, and the ashes dropped off at the house in a box – $1100, plus State sales tax.

I have three kind of frail women I take care of, wife, widowed sister, and mother. I expect I will outlast them all, and then my job will be done. Mr Lovejoy will not be involved in the processes though.

Galeti Tavas
Galeti Tavas
2 years ago
Reply to  Galeti Tavas

P.S.

The usual way to die in my family is at home. My Brother, Brother in Law, and Father have… And I expect my wife, Sister, and mother, will also die here in my place their turn. I once did end of life Elder Care as one of my early jobs in USA working at a Old Person’s home of last resort . It was a complete hell hole where the family-less, money-less, dementia-ed people who get discharged from hospitals went to die. Things were rougher back then in 1979. (I was also getting my nurses assistant license with classes, which I got – but never again used.) We think home is the place to die.

stephen archer
stephen archer
2 years ago
Reply to  Galeti Tavas

I sincerely hope you outlast them. You’ll have to bear the pain of their passing but it’s probably better than them having to suffer your passing with no knowing how they will manage without the care and sacrifices you’ve been giving. I don’t honestly believe most people can contemplate the consequences around dying until they’re getting up in years and have lost most of their friends and relatives over the years gone by. If there’s anything to be learned from this article it’s how the authorities and government should have been treating the elderly and vulnerable who should have been considered to be approaching death’s door. Then there are the multitudes who were not approaching death’s door but have been pushed closer thanks to the collapse of routine medical testing and care. Those responsible will unfortunately never understand or accept their gross inhumanity to their fellow citizens.

Last edited 2 years ago by stephen archer
Russell Hamilton
Russell Hamilton
2 years ago
Reply to  Galeti Tavas

“although I get how at the bad – very end, that may be different”

You can only access it at the end – you have to be diagnosed as likely to be dead within 6 months from whatever condition is killing you. In Oregon, where they have had VAD for a long time, they find that most of the people who get access to the drug, don’t in fact use it. They want to know that if things become unbearable they have a way out, but in most cases palliative care is enough. But having access to the drug can take away a lot of that fear of a helpless, terrible death.

Alison Tyler
Alison Tyler
2 years ago
Reply to  Galeti Tavas

How very brave and kind you sound may you be much blessed.

Judy Johnson
Judy Johnson
2 years ago
Reply to  Galeti Tavas

I got a lump sum when I retired and used part of it to pay for my funeral. I am glad I did as in the past ten years since then prices have rocketed and as my grandchildren grow their parents have other priorities for their money than a funeral.

Mark Knight
Mark Knight
2 years ago

“We’ve forgotten how to die.” Don’t worry, we will all remember in the end.

Alison Tyler
Alison Tyler
2 years ago
Reply to  Mark Knight

No choice and cannot be avoided thank goodness. Imagaine how awful it would be never to die!

AC Harper
AC Harper
2 years ago

“How people die has changed dramatically over the last 60 years”
Giles fashionably blames ‘contemporary liberalism’, yet if you walk through an old graveyard the Victorian (and older) tombstones ask people to pray for their soul, or proclaim their soul has been gathered up by God – and younger tombstones (from around the early 20th century) bear messages of ‘sadly missed’ or ‘forever in our hearts’. The pivot away from God has been going on for more than 60 years, and longer than the increase in ‘hospital deaths’.
It is perhaps no longer fashionable to hold collective beliefs about God, souls, death and the afterlife. I wonder if the noise of a more populated world, riven by World Wars and political enthusiasms has left no room for gracious death?

Tony Buck
Tony Buck
2 years ago
Reply to  AC Harper

Few Christians claim that death isn’t sad, at least for the bereaved.

H D
H D
2 years ago
Reply to  Tony Buck

Death is a terrible thing, in & of itself. Christ conquered death, but he didn’t eliminate it. Evidently we all have to experience it, and it’s bad. If the Christians are right, we pass through it, but we get by it.

Judy Johnson
Judy Johnson
2 years ago
Reply to  Tony Buck

The bible sees death as an enemy but, from a personal point of view, it is a relief not to have to live for ever in a broken world and as Pascal said, believers have nothing to lose by their beliefs.

Scott S
Scott S
2 years ago

I find a large majority of people are scared of dying, especially among the younger generations. Some seem scared of their own shadow, literally. As they are constantly projecting it upon other people.

Tony Buck
Tony Buck
2 years ago
Reply to  Scott S

People have been absolutely terrified of dying since the Old Stone Age.

Reasonably, since as Aristotle said, “Death, it is a terrible thing, for it is the End.”

That’s why religious faith helps.

Guy Pigache
Guy Pigache
2 years ago
Reply to  Tony Buck

There is no (Darwinian) way to get used to it! Dying well (whatever that means) gives no survival advantage!

Tony Buck
Tony Buck
2 years ago
Reply to  Guy Pigache

But as survival is impossible…

H D
H D
2 years ago
Reply to  Scott S

I’m afraid of, or at least annoyed by, dying, but I’m not afraid of being dead.

Nicholas Rowe
Nicholas Rowe
2 years ago

The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death.
Paul’s converts were troubled, not by death itself, but by the fact that Jesus had not come again before their loved ones had died. Then there were those who reasonably asked what sort of body could the resurrected have. C S Lewis described a human life not as a material body but as being like the curve of a waterfall. Material constantly flows into and out of the shape of the body, but the material isn’t what the person really is.
Cemeteries are unusual places. They are places where there is only the past. There is no present or future there. The voices of the past can still be heard in the memorial dedications, absent in the increasing number cremations and after the so-called ‘greening’ of many cemeteries, a revolutionary act that in the removal or moving of the monuments and headstones cut the living off from the dead.
On a still Autumn afternoon or a snowy Winter’s morning steep yourself in the meaning that others have given to their lives. On the gravestone of two parents, the dedication they gave their son, killed in the Great War: ‘He gave his love to his country, his life to his king, and his soul to his God.’
From a cheap concrete headstone the weather of the years since 1938 has removed the lead letters that their ghosted shape still declares that ‘Jesus called a little child’. A tragedy before a greater sorrow.
On an elaborate Edwardian gravestone of an elderly man: ‘an English gentleman’.
The promise of Christianity is not life after death. Death does not make us slaves of God, else it would continue forever, and we would be a better slave when actually dead. The promise delivered through the Apostle is that death shall be destroyed. It will no longer operate according to its original function. Praise the Lord.

Tony Buck
Tony Buck
2 years ago
Reply to  Nicholas Rowe

Christianity in general believes in the immediate Judgement, at Death, of a person and their consequent arrival either in Heaven (eternal life) or Hell (eternal death).

Christianity DOES of course, promise continuation of the individual soul after death.

George Alliger
George Alliger
2 years ago
Reply to  Tony Buck

Don’t forget Purgatory. I’m grateful for the possibility

H D
H D
2 years ago
Reply to  Tony Buck

Does it? It promises participation in “eternal life” but is “eternal life” the same thing as life after death? Or is it a quality of present life?

Tony Buck
Tony Buck
2 years ago
Reply to  H D

Both. The person who is at peace with God, is in Heaven, even though it may not feel like it; whereas the person who is at war with God is in Hell, even though it may not feel like it. That is, an evil person may feel great pleasure, a good person great suffering. But pleasure and suffering are worldly things that death removes.

At death, every human being has to make a final choice between Good and Evil.

They then continue in existence eternally, experiencing either the Eternal Life of Heaven or the Eternal Death of Hell.

H D
H D
2 years ago
Reply to  Nicholas Rowe

“C S Lewis described a human life not as a material body but as being like the curve of a waterfall. Material constantly flows into and out of the shape of the body, but the material isn’t what the person really is.”
I’ve read that the cells of our bodies are completely replaced every seven years.

A Spetzari
A Spetzari
2 years ago

As well as he may write, Giles’ answer is always “God”. Specifically the Christian one.
Since time immemorial humans have had various methods and philosophies for trying to understand life and death.
And whilst I begrudge nobody finding their own meaning or understanding of death in Christianity (or any other religion or philosophy), it’s a bit arrogant to proclaim yours as the answer.
Worse still, equivocating all secularism with the modern bogeyman term “Liberalism” is either disingenuous or ignorant of what came before Christianity. Just because you think you are right and find meaning doesn’t mean it’s either right or adequate for everyone else.

(For what it’s worth – I would name Plato or Marcus Aurelius, or even Judaism and other more ancient creeds as just as adequate guides.)

Andrew D
Andrew D
2 years ago
Reply to  A Spetzari

‘As well as he may write, Giles’ answer is always “God”. Specifically the Christian one’.
Well, he is a Church of England priest, so that’s his job. And while Plato and Marcus Aurelius may be adequate guides to some, they hardly resonate widely in our culture, whereas Christianity still (just about) does.

A Spetzari
A Spetzari
2 years ago
Reply to  Andrew D

Moot point about him being a priest. Yes of course he is, so what? My point is that perhaps he should be more aware of the roots of his faith and other teachings. He is writing as if his is the only option and as if it’s unique.
Christianity was built upon writings of both of the above. Not least the concept of a soul is derived from Plato, and works its way into Christianity via Judaism.
They might not resonate perhaps – but only from ignorance of their works. They form the basis of our culture whether you or Giles realise it or not.

Last edited 2 years ago by A Spetzari
Alison Tyler
Alison Tyler
2 years ago
Reply to  A Spetzari

I suspect that all religious faith takes elements from whichever form of faith came before it. I too am a Christian priest and gain insight and inspiration from many sources, ancient and contemporary, but I believe in my faith and therefore, for me it is firstly, the right one and secondly, to be shared as the best thing I know or have found in life – with neither condemnation nor negative comment on any other religious faith.

JR Stoker
JR Stoker
2 years ago
Reply to  A Spetzari

When you go to buy a Nissan, do you expect the salesperson to regale you with the merits of Volvo and Ford? They are all cars, after all

Tony Buck
Tony Buck
2 years ago
Reply to  A Spetzari

The concept of a soul isn’t derived from Plato, since he didn’t invent the idea of human immortality.

If you commit yourself to a Faith, it becomes the only (wholly) true option.

Judy Johnson
Judy Johnson
2 years ago
Reply to  A Spetzari

Christianity is Jewish.

Bella OConnell
Bella OConnell
2 years ago
Reply to  A Spetzari

Agreed. The Canadian clinical psychologist Jordan Peterson brings all motifs, from whatever religion or secular belief system, both past and present, even bringing evolution into it, with great clarity in his ‘Maps of Meaning’ lecture series. He points out that there are common themes and truisms in regard to humanity since we have been on the planet. I have found these lectures riveting and extraordinarily helpful in my attempt to understand the big questions.

Tony Buck
Tony Buck
2 years ago
Reply to  A Spetzari

It’s “arrogant” to stand up for one’s beliefs ?

H D
H D
2 years ago
Reply to  A Spetzari

I don’t see anything in Christianity about understanding death, or finding a meaning in it. It’s an awful thing that we can’t escape. But it’s an interruption, not a finality.

Judy Johnson
Judy Johnson
2 years ago
Reply to  A Spetzari

‘ . . . a bit arrogant to proclaim yours as the answer.’ I would think that by definition people do not hold opinions that they think are mistaken. (However, people used to be for more tolerant of differing views as is often evident in the comments on Unherd.)

Lord Rochester
Lord Rochester
2 years ago
Reply to  A Spetzari

I agree with your point completely. Giles Fraser tends to understand the mind of the non-Christian utterly and to know their flaws intimately. Much in the same way as others, say Julie Bindel, understands the innermost workings, hopes and fears of the male mind but insist that their own is an unknowable (“intersectional”) realm.

In this case Giles knows our views on death and our death rituals better than we do and so religion is prescribed as the better opiod.

He does indeed jump quite dramatically from the findings in the Lancet to ‘more God/secular-liberalism bad’ here. I have observed since being dragged to the pews as a little boy that the church’s main clientele was there precisely because they were scared of death. Ranks of diminishing, silver-haired rows of them.

Also, he doesn’t seem to understand what secularism is as a term/hence why it seems a bit interchangeable conceptually with liberalism in the above piece. My experience is that the churched often view secularism as some sort of counterposition. It isn’t, it basically means ‘do what you want, but don’t insist other people do it with you, and don’t expect public funding for it.’ I get why they’d want to view it as an existential threat.

Jeremy Eves
Jeremy Eves
2 years ago

I ask the forbearance of those without religious faith. I recommend strongly a short book “Living Life Backward” by David Gibson. A study based on the Old Testament book of Ecclessiastes, part of what is known as wisdom literature. Gibson’s contention is that knowing that death comes to us all will teach us how to live.

Last edited 2 years ago by Jeremy Eves
Alison Tyler
Alison Tyler
2 years ago
Reply to  Jeremy Eves

Indeed. I love it thanks.

Richard Calhoun
Richard Calhoun
2 years ago

“Atheists will say that we all need to face the fact that, ultimately, we are nothing more or less than food for worms and daffodils.”
This is nonsense, as an aetheist myself I have no fear of death but then I am 79, but I do not remotely take the above view.
I am lucky in having children and grandchildren and they are what my life is really about. We pass on our genes and our hope is always that we have brought them up in an environment that prepares them well for a full life and hopefully avoid some of the mistakes we ourselves made.
We secularists are not all afraid, we have an understanding that our lives are finite. Having renounced all the religious propaganda from our school days we are confident there is no after life and accordingly delighted our genes will go forward with our offspring.

Alka Hughes-Hallett
Alka Hughes-Hallett
2 years ago

I may be mistaken but from your comment you are not an atheist. You sound as if you are non-religious. What I gather is that you are fearless, grateful for your children and grandchildren, hopeful and aware of your mistakes which sounds like a very principled humble person who has equated God with his principles. God is just a name.

I am the same but I would not go as far as to say I that do not feel a God (a light, a truth, a strength, principles, whatever you may a call it) within me.

Andrew D
Andrew D
2 years ago

If it’s children and grandchildren that give meaning to life, then presumably the lives of the childless are meaningless?

Last edited 2 years ago by Andrew D
Alan Tonkyn
Alan Tonkyn
2 years ago

What you go on to say does not, in fact, deny the truth of what Giles Fraser says in the remark you quote.

Alison Tyler
Alison Tyler
2 years ago

It does not really matter if there is life after death, if there isn’t we will not know, if there is something, e.g.eternal life or the resurrection the exploration might be really interesting. Life itself is the gift, anything else adds to the fascination.

Last edited 2 years ago by Alison Tyler
Tony Buck
Tony Buck
2 years ago

What happens then, when a society or civilisation (or even humanity itself) dies ?

As is likely to happen this century.

Laura Creighton
Laura Creighton
2 years ago

Paragraph 14 is a duplicate of Paragraph 12 … *At the bedside ….’

J Bryant
J Bryant
2 years ago

Yeah and there are several typos. Unherd has an unfortunate track record of posting excellent articles (like the current article) riddled with typos that make the publication look amateurish. Come on Unherd, you can do better.

Galeti Tavas
Galeti Tavas
2 years ago

“What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun.”

Ecclesiastes 1:9

SULPICIA LEPIDINA
SULPICIA LEPIDINA
2 years ago
Reply to  Galeti Tavas

I think Lucan* said it better with:
“The gods conceal from men the happiness of death, that they may endure life”.

(*Marcus Annaeus Lucan, 792AUC-818AUC.)

Andrea X
Andrea X
2 years ago
Reply to  Galeti Tavas

How true!

Andrea X
Andrea X
2 years ago

Not to mention the “hermeneutic rhythm”. What on earth is that?

Marcia McGrail
Marcia McGrail
2 years ago
Reply to  Andrea X

…the thread (properly read) that runs throughout the original (ie uncorrupted by ignorant translation) Scripture.

Jon Hawksley
Jon Hawksley
2 years ago

The nothingness of death scared me as a child. Now I find the idea of eternal life without a body as scary as it is bizarre. I think most people, as they grow old, accept that there is a point in their lives when they will want to stop living, when their body cannot sustain it, it is an escape from disintegration and pain.
I disagree with the article. You do not need god to have a story, the way your life is built out of interactions with other people and the way the lives of others, hopefully, benefit from interactions with you. You may only be a chapter but the story is eternal. As people in your life die you celebrate how they live on in the way you live your life.

Julian Farrows
Julian Farrows
2 years ago
Reply to  Jon Hawksley

I understand where you’re coming from: you can exhibit simple kindness and respect for others without believing in God. However, I think these traits have been horribly distorted and used against us as tools of conformity e.g. taking offense at silly jokes, tolerating bad behaviors in order to appear kind – these all contribute to a toxic ‘niceness’ which prevents societal self-correction. The lack of belief in a higher power also turns to a worship of the self, the culmination of which can be seen in celebrity culture, social media, and the cult of transgenderism.

Tony Buck
Tony Buck
2 years ago
Reply to  Julian Farrows

Yes, belief doesn’t die with belief in God.

God is replaced by belief in trivia.

Tony Buck
Tony Buck
2 years ago
Reply to  Jon Hawksley

Christianity believes in the Resurrection of the Body. We aren’t Platonists.

BTW what happens when all life dies ?

H D
H D
2 years ago
Reply to  Jon Hawksley

“You have to serve somebody.” – Bob Dylan.
I prefer to serve God, but I’m not very good at it.

Ian Barton
Ian Barton
2 years ago

There seems absolutely no justification posited here for the phrase:
“contemporary liberalism has no way of looking death in the face”
I’m a secular liberal who is completely comfortable with joining the daffodils and squirrels when the time comes.
The fact that current liberalising trends are at last beginning to offer me more personal control of my death is wonderful.
Are you sure it’s not the religious who can’t deal with death these days, as their after-life beliefs are increasingly widely viewed as anachronistic.
Maybe we are actually just beginning to learn “how to die” 


Last edited 2 years ago by Ian Barton
Tony Buck
Tony Buck
2 years ago
Reply to  Ian Barton

As a Catholic Christian, the fact that most Western people view my religious views as anachronistic, greatly confirms and strengthens my religious faith.

It is the liberal West that is dying, along with its white, secular inhabitants.

Contraception and abortion are abolishing secular and atheistic views and people.

No loss there, of course, only gain !

Judy Johnson
Judy Johnson
2 years ago
Reply to  Ian Barton

I am not sure why one’s views being ‘increasingly widely viewed as anachronistic’ is relevant unless we base our views on what others think of them or on how many of those around us share them.

Suki Harrison
Suki Harrison
2 years ago

This was a fantastic article. Thank you.

Mike Wylde
Mike Wylde
2 years ago

If heaven is supposed to be so great should we not celebrate someone finally going there? Party to celebrate that they lives, celibrate to be happy they’ve gone to a better place! (For disclosure: I don’t believe a word of that but would still rather people celebrated having known me than mourned not knowing me longer).
I’m 68 and sincerely hope that I won’t die for another 20 years or so, my mother is 96 and sincerely wishes she had died 5 years ago (but the experts won’t let her). Will I change my mind in 30 years, possibly but I’m sure it will depend upon my health.
In my mother’s case the doctors will not leave her alone, she has had to fill in multiple forms to stop then doing things to extend a life she has no wish to have extended.
<<We die when the experts “cannot do any more”. It’s not much of an ending.>> So true but the experts can’t see that for some forever is hell and not heaven.

H D
H D
2 years ago
Reply to  Mike Wylde

“ she has had to fill in multiple forms to stop then doing things to extend a life she has no wish to have extended” The administrative state, in the service of the great god Health.

Terence Fitch
Terence Fitch
2 years ago

Ah so that’s why humans created religion. Thanks for debunking it Giles. Ta.

Tony Buck
Tony Buck
2 years ago
Reply to  Terence Fitch

God created human beings.

They wouldn’t otherwise exist.

Fred Atkinstalk
Fred Atkinstalk
2 years ago
Reply to  Tony Buck

It is often interesting to reverse a dogmatic statement and see if the result makes more, less, or as much sense. So –

Human beings created God.

He wouldn’t otherwise exist.

Result???

Tony Buck
Tony Buck
2 years ago

Non-existence of the universe and everything in it, ourselves included.

But we do exist. So does the universe.

Ergo, God exists.

QED

Dominic A
Dominic A
2 years ago

Religion is not always a soother – it often exacerbates fear of death. I’m not sure that I’ve ever met anyone who truly believed in the afterlife, rather than clung to it, with varying degrees of convincingness. I’ve met many who were terrified of death because they’d been informed by religious sources that they’d displeased a vengeful, authoritarian god. Even in a benign setting, soothing stories and myths of the afterlife may form a kind of trap. Similar to belief in Father Christmas, it is is unreliable, requires a huge amount of psychic energy to maintain (endlessly dealing with cognitive dissonance), may make one feel quite bereft, humiliated, and lied to – but worst of all, that fear of death, hitherto kept at bay by the myth, can overwhelm in later life (kids are actually pretty good at dealing with painful truths, adults less so).

Alison Tyler
Alison Tyler
2 years ago
Reply to  Dominic A

Consider the possibility that a loving creator is unlikely to be either wasteful or cruel.

D Hockley
D Hockley
2 years ago
Reply to  Alison Tyler

Consider that fact that a loving creator exists only in the minds of weak and feeble men (and Women).

Last edited 2 years ago by D Hockley
Tony Buck
Tony Buck
2 years ago
Reply to  D Hockley

Consider the fact that many people have died willingly as martyrs for their religious beliefs.

Notably at the hands of Communism.

Consider the fact that it was Jesus of Nazareth who was crucified, whereas weak and feeble Atheists aren’t.

Fred Atkinstalk
Fred Atkinstalk
2 years ago
Reply to  Tony Buck

Consider the fact that many Japanese soldiers fought to the death in WW2 because they believed their emperor was a god.

It’s a classic ‘irregular verb’ :

I know
You think
He’s deluded

Tony Buck
Tony Buck
2 years ago

I believe. The Christian Creed recited on Sundays and Holydays begins “Credo” – I believe.

Believe, that is, in the God shown to us by the Christian Revelation.

Whether God is like that, no one can believe as a matter of observable, measurable fact. Therefore, Christianity (though its truth can be demonstrated by reason) is a matter of faith, not of clear-cut fact.

Whereas the existence of God is self-evident and Atheism is a Lie.

The fact that Emperor-worship is restricted to Japan, proves that it is a delusion.

So irregular verbs can be true.

Dominic A
Dominic A
2 years ago
Reply to  Alison Tyler

You assume I have not! I know that we do not know, and that any claims to the contrary are the works of man. I’ll take the fruits of the enlightenment over ancient musings and balms.

Tony Buck
Tony Buck
2 years ago
Reply to  Dominic A

Climate change and WMD’s are fruits of modernity, of Progress, of the Enlightenment.

Enjoy !

Tony Buck
Tony Buck
2 years ago
Reply to  Dominic A

You’re equating God with Father Christmas.

A cheap and stupid view, even from a neutral viewpoint.

Dominic A
Dominic A
2 years ago
Reply to  Tony Buck

I made an analogy Tony, not an equivalency.
CC and WMDs are clear evidence of the power of scientific method; their negative aspects stem from our problematic nature – aggression, tribalism, greed – (and science has also explained such motivations far more convincingly, usefully, than religious concepts such as sin, divine retribution etc), and from the eternal and inevitable catchup from what we know (e.g. smoking tobacco is pleasant, burning fuel keeps you warm, drives factories, cars etc) and what we do/did not know (tobacco kills you, burning FFs kills the planet etc).

Tony Buck
Tony Buck
2 years ago
Reply to  Dominic A

Science never has, and never can, explain the “problematic” aspects of human nature.

Though gullible people who worship Science instead of God, may choose to imagine that Science has explained the evil in human beings.

The truth is that human beings can be holy or wicked, whereas other animals can’t.

We have a supernatural dimension other animals lack.

This will be disputed by bigots who work from the prior assumption that the supernatural doesn’t exist.

But it’s true nonetheless.

Rafi Stern
Rafi Stern
2 years ago

I don’t think that the denial of death has much to do with liberalism as it has to do with modernity. We live our lives in an illusion of control. What Covid has done (or any other natural disaster) is to remind us just how powerless we are. The people of old faced this reality regularly and they had no explanations. They created myth and religion to enable themselves to come to terms with the world, its enormity, and our inconsequential smallness.
We are born believing we are immutable. We are indestructible. We will not age and we will not die. And especially in our times, that is the way it looks. Man can cure all disease, can control and overcome all obstacles and is way on the way to creating artificial intelligence greater than us and artificial life itself. There is a scientific reason for everything and given time, we can understand and control it all. It is a compelling illusion, and it takes many years of life and the experience of the death of others to understand that we too are finite. It can take a disaster or serious illness for us to learn that we are not really in control. And then we can truly either deny or embrace finity.

Judy Johnson
Judy Johnson
2 years ago
Reply to  Rafi Stern

Absolutely – chatting with an atheist friend recently he asserted that he has control of his life but had a stroke, thankfully not fatal, within a few weeks. I often wonder if he recalls our conversation.

Andrea X
Andrea X
2 years ago

I would like to suggest reading Donne’s “death be not proud” (or watch the excellent “Wit” with Emma Thompson).

Helmut Sassenfeld
Helmut Sassenfeld
2 years ago

Death can be faced without religion and without fear and can provide a purpose in itself for life. In fact religion often spoils life by either giving those in hardship a reason to accept their misery for a life in heaven or those doing well to think going to church and professing belief in one human devised ancient myth or another will be all they need to live a “good” life and have it continue after they die. Religion provides no inspiration to fight or work for something better for all humans only for more converts. The secular life demands much more courage and places more burden on the individual to make something of their life because they know that’s all they’ve got -there is no evidence to contrary to date. Moral values evolved before myths were created to control us, human caring is in the fossil record. Religion is superfluous. Medicine working to promote a healthy lifespan is of great value but not to try and avoid death at all costs. Modern medicine can sadly take away death with dignity and on this one point I agree with the author.

Marcia McGrail
Marcia McGrail
2 years ago

I thoroughly agree with the statement ‘Religion is superfluous’..and kills everything stone cold dead. Together with secular, atheistic ideologies, religion causes too much anguish and violence and hatred.
But I have to disbute that human caring is in the fossil record. There may be several fossils piled on top of each other, giving the impression of a love fest but you’ll find that any fossil record has the scientific community’s imagination running riot.

Tony Buck
Tony Buck
2 years ago
Reply to  Marcia McGrail

Yes, we mustn’t believe in anything !

LOL.

Except our comforts and bank balances, of course.

Tony Buck
Tony Buck
2 years ago

Where are all these courageous and generous non-religious people ?

They don’t in fact exist, courage and generosity being even rarer among secular people than among religious ones.

Look at today’s secular West if you doubt this.

BTW religion is as old as morality and as intrinsic to human nature.

Your positively Religious opposition to Religion being proof enough of that !

Ian Stewart
Ian Stewart
2 years ago

With a hobby of reading history, I read about the lives of dead people every day and it fascinates me. People used to die so young prior to the 1900s and often for causes that I deem pointless (religious doctrine). Having said that about religion, it so impresses me that people in the past just soldiered on, despite losing so many family members prematurely, probably because their religion offered them solace and hope.
We don’t have that religious solace any more, but we don’t have the war casualties, infant mortality, disease (far worse than Covid), women dying in childbirth – so we don’t really need it.
We’re so lucky to have lived in this last half century. It’s like a Second Enlightenment.

GA Woolley
GA Woolley
2 years ago

I’m sure Thomas Cranmer would share Giles’ advocasy of a ‘good Christian death’. Same god after all.

Rob Jones
Rob Jones
2 years ago

Give it time and contemporary liberalism will fix even that, in the form of science with hugely extended, perhaps endless life. And then we’ll all be in the shit, because we will have created hell on earth. Mr Fraser, I will die happy having seen what I need to see, but it is not God.

Tony Buck
Tony Buck
2 years ago
Reply to  Rob Jones

Liberalism doesn’t have time.

The West and the Age of Abundance are dying.

Ian Cooper
Ian Cooper
2 years ago

Pretty good apologetics from Giles Fraser whether intended or not and such an acute critique of liberalism. Might it not be a good thing, that as part of the personal and social education children have to do at school, they don’t just obsess about sex but do a lesson or two on death? Perhaps go to an undertakers and see some dead bodies – with permission – and discuss? Imagine the squeal.

Judy Johnson
Judy Johnson
2 years ago
Reply to  Ian Cooper

There would be a squeal! In a zoom meeting recently an undertaker said that he thought the grave clothes left at the resurrection a very strong indication that the body had not been stolen because if the thieves left the grave clothes they would have to touch the three days dead body!

D Hockley
D Hockley
2 years ago

 The young and the unthinking always seek a happy ending
.just as they seek cheap comfort.
 
I have, I admit, looked at the last few lines of a novel
.
 
The first book I read (that I was not obliged to read by the UK educational system) was The Adventurers, by Harold Robbins
aand since the epilogue was written as a prologue
reading the last few lines of the novel seemed apt. So trite was the storey and so irrelevant was the order in which it was read, that my act of indiscretion bore no bad results. I loved that book and I have read it a couple of times since, with a sense of nostalgia in my soul
.The book made me feel alive when I was reading it
it was true PULP FICTION
..and it had no other purpose than to entertain me.
 
So no, we do not always look at the end of the book to make sense of it
. That is what a coward does. A brave (wo)man simply gets on with reading it, gets on with the ride and lets it take them wherever it may, and only ever dedicates himself to enjoying the journey.

In short, I do not think we have forgotten how to die. Rather, we have forgotten how to live.

Last edited 2 years ago by D Hockley
Tony Buck
Tony Buck
2 years ago
Reply to  D Hockley

No – denial of one’s Creator is a sin.

But then, we’re not all such heroes as you, valiantly reading books without looking at the ending !

H D
H D
2 years ago
Reply to  Tony Buck

Not a sin. A mistake.

Tony Buck
Tony Buck
2 years ago

Unfortunately, Giles, your excellent article has spawned many idiotic comments here.

Many from affluent, libertarian, old people, eager to be Bolsonaros sacrificing other old people to death, notably from Covid.

All the while pretending to be brave themselves !

LOL.

Jason Highley
Jason Highley
2 years ago

I’ve been thinking a lot about this the past 6 years or so. COVID has only deepened my feelings on the subject. I find particularly distasteful the habit of replacing funerals with “celebrations of life”. When my son died, my family tried to orchestrate a “celebration of life” for him. But his life had been so short. Furthermore, he was born into sin, like we all are, and what gave his short life meaning and value wasn’t what he did, but what Christ did for him. If you celebrate only his life, you’ve missed the absolute most important part about it. Celebrate instead what Christ has done for him, washed him and redeemed him, calling Eren to Himself and clothing him in everlasting glory. Not for Eren’s sake. It’s not about him. It’s not about any of us. It’s about our Creator and Redeemer. We must diminish, and He must become greater.

H D
H D
2 years ago
Reply to  Jason Highley

Funerals are for the living. Let them mourn or celebrate, according to their need.
That which is Infinite cannot be made greater.

Rafi Stern
Rafi Stern
2 years ago
Reply to  Jason Highley

How depressing to be born into sin. Thank God I was born into a calling to “do justice, love kindness and walk humbly before God”.

Marcia McGrail
Marcia McGrail
2 years ago
Reply to  Rafi Stern

There are many gods to walk humbly, kindly and justly before.

Marcia McGrail
Marcia McGrail
2 years ago
Reply to  Jason Highley

A true 1Cor 15 response to your loss; heaven’s gain. Only a true Christian (and there are sadly too many false ones) can read those words and acquiesce. We are not bodies without a soul, we are souls with a soon to be ditched body.
Einstein espied the spiritual dimension with his theories around relativity. Materialists should educate themselves and weep.

John Hicks
John Hicks
2 years ago

Thanks again Giles. You write of shared feelings and concepts with insightful understanding. Most Happiness Indexes I have seen record that the peak of happiness is enjoyed most by those in their Twenties and again by those in their Eighties. Passages of being bullet proof and self-actualising may be just part of our common journey. Enjoyed too your reference to William Temple, a 1927 volume provided me by my own Father to assist my “growing up.” Particularly extracts explaining why Jesus could doubt the love of one of his followers. The illustration being that love is something you give, not something you have an entitlement to get. Strange that “giving” is in the “getting”. But experience seems to be correct.

Judy Johnson
Judy Johnson
2 years ago

Giles mentions ‘the rise of autonomy and self-determination as the ultimate matrix of moral value.’ Carl Trueman has written an excellent book, ‘The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self’ which describes this.

Jorge Espinha
Jorge Espinha
2 years ago

My sister died when I was 15. The wake was brutal and that put me off funerals for a long time. My parents were born in the 30’s but they were strangely unable to mourn. With time I’ve been making my way back to tradition. I understand perfectly the need for sober clothes at a funeral. I understand the need for solemn pratices. We should die with our love ones around us, we shouldn’t hide death. One of Covid’s biggest tragedies were the thousands that died alone and were buried without a funeral. If there was one thing I could change about my past it would have been being beside my father when he died.

Peter Harris
Peter Harris
2 years ago

One of your best articles Giles. In a world with no beliefs service less cremation will become the norm. No awareness that in life we are in death. All hidden away and disposed of as speedily as possible. The good death is seen as you say – to sleep life off. My point? You are right that without meaning in death how has life had meaning?