We humans instinctively fear death, driven to avoid it by our need for self-preservation, sometimes resorting to extreme measures to do this.
We sometimes wonder if this life is all there is, and speculate on the possibility of something after it, something “more” to it all to assuage our fears of personal extinction.
This is one of the main purposes of religion, not only to explain the world around us through mythological doctrines and scripture, but to serve the double goals of comfort and control by catering to our fears of death, our hopes for something beyond it, by telling us that conformance to religious beliefs, rules, and rites will allow us to achieve bliss, or rebirth as a higher being, and allow us to avoid pain or perhaps reincarnation as an amoeba or a cockroach.
Many religions, particularly Christianity, treat death as a sort of thing bad in and of itself, a great final enemy to be conquered, destroyed, or subdued on Judgment day, an aberration brought into the world through sin and folly, not a part of nature, not a necessary if unfortunate component of the cycles of life.
I think that this is wrongheaded, and I’ll say why…
I do not believe that death is either intrinsically good or bad, though the means of achieving it can be.
After my accident in 2007,(I’d been struck by a car at a crosswalk, obviously surviving the impact, but needing and luckily getting months of therapy to recover.) I had done much thinking on the topic, for I could well have been killed then — game over dude — and I discovered as I lay on the gurney that the fear of impending death really didn’t bother me that much.
Looking the Reaper in his bony eye-sockets, or maybe DC Comics’ more comely feminine version of Death, (I recommend Neil Gaiman’s “Sandman” series…) was thoroughly unscary, and that unscariness stuck with me.
“Not now. Maybe later dude (or dudette)…”
I realized that the loss coming from death can be tragic and saddening to those who survive the deceased, especially “before one’s time,” I came to recognize that it’s the events and acts that cause it that can truly be tragic and senseless, especially when they are unpleasant, degrading and even horrific, but not death itself.
When life becomes unbearable despite our attempts at bravery and perseverance, death can be a release.
In 2006 a gaming friend I’d known for years succumbed to a virulent cancer after battling it most of his later years in life. The nurses in his ward, not realizing the futility of keeping him alive with the suffering he was going through, tried to encourage…I’d say pestered him…to stay alive despite the obviously terminal nature of his condition — the cancer had long before metastasized — but he had given up. He had enough of life, and quietly, finally, released his hold on it. He just let go.
I’d venture to say that death didn’t bother him one iota, just those of us he left behind.
Life needs death to carry out its processes. A world of finite resources can only sustain a finite number of creatures, especially the Earth with a population of 7 billion+ human beings hugging its surface.
Everything living must feed, and even plants need resources, with some, like the Venus’ Flytrap actively digesting small creatures like insects while living in nutrient-poor soil. Animal life cannot live without eating, and cannot eat without killing, even the countless billions of embryonic grain plants killed to make flour for bread. Herbivores must eat plants, carnivores must hunt the herbivores, and carnivores themselves are eventually eaten by scavengers, other predators, and reducing organisms like fungi or bacteria.
Life as we know it absolutely depends on death to happen. This is neither good nor evil, neither right nor wrong, it is simply a fact about the world and things that populate it. We humans are dependent upon the deaths of countless plants, animals, and microbes, to feed ourselves and our children.
If death was not a part of nature, nothing would ever need to eat anything else, but that’s not what we see in nature. Living things do eat living things, and the act of eating, or preparation for eating, requires what is eaten to die.
So death to me is not some horrific thing that is wrong with the world, though I’m in no hurry to reach it. Life means a lot to me, despite what anti-atheists claim. As far as I have any reason to think, nothing but a deep, dreamless sleep from which there will be no awakening, and the final dissolution of my body’s elements into the fabric of the world from which I was born, awaits me when I die.
No heaven, no hell, and no karmic wheel of death and rebirth, just oblivion, which I never complained of before I was born, and won’t worry myself about upon and after my end.