The Culture Of Life

I was engaged in some deep thought whilst at work today and the end result is this little pondering.

Why is it that we have such a "culture of life" in our society?

Let me throw out some examples:

There's a series of popular phrases that show a preference for life over death, such as "any day above ground is a good day" or "any landing you can walk away from is a good one".

We talk about dying for your country as the "ultimate sacrifice" and we consider the death penalty the ultimate punishment.

We spend billions per year staving off death, with doctors and medicines. Our average life expectancy has doubled not just due to medical science, but also thanks to our willingness to use it.

We consider it an achievement to be old. People express awe at meeting those who've passed the century mark. In England, you get a telegram from the Queen on your 100th birthday, and every birthday thereafter.

We've made the killing of a human being, under almost any, every, and all circumstances a crime.

We refuse to allow euthanasia and assisted suicide, even though we regularly euthanise animals to save them pain. But no matter how intense the pain, no matter how debilitating the disease, no matter how horrific the suffering, humans must be kept alive.

And yet, we are told, 90-odd percent of the population believes in an afterlife. So why should death be something to be feared for those people?

I get it for atheists. Death is it. The big one. The end to end all ends.

But for those who believe in the afterlife, in divine judgment, in heaven, hell or whatever, a logical person would think that death would be welcomed.

Why is it deemed so great a sacrifice to die in combat? What do you really sacrifice anyway? This life means nothing compared to getting to the afterlife, right? And death as a punishment? Surely keeping a person alive for as long as possible would be greater punishment?

Why do we spend so much money - the elderly disproportionately moreso - staving off our audience with God? Surely it would make more sense to forget the medication and let nature - or God's will - take its course.

Why do we take so much pride in getting old? As Bones said in Star Trek: The Next Generation - Encounter At Farpoint: "what's so great about not having died?"

Why do we insist on keeping people alive for so long? Machines, drugs, surgery, all to prolong a life that's pointless, when the patient could be enjoying the harp music.

Why is it, if so many people believe that the Big Guy In The Sky awaits us at the end of our lives, that we spend so much time, effort and money in delaying that meeting?

I'm not talking about committing suicide to get there early, I'm talking about the senselessness of putting off the inevitable.

For an atheist, yeah. You have one life, so you might want it to be as long as possible (although, most atheists I've known prefer quality over quantity), but for theists, this life is only a precursor to the next. Why delay?

Survival instinct is hard-wired into us. We evolved that way. Had our ancestors not possessed the will to survive, they wouldn't have made it far. So those that didn't care about survival fell by the wayside, and only those that fought tooth and nail to make it to the end of another day lived and thrived. The same can be said for grief. Grief is the expression of an evolved sense that our group - our tribe, pack, herd, whatever - is lessened by the passing of this individual.

But, of course, most of the theists don't agree with evolution, so that answer's out.

Can it possibly be, for example, a Christian's duty to extend the life of a person, even to the point of causing constant, extreme pain and suffering? Aren't Christians commanded to be merciful?

Of all theists, I'd think that Christians would be most eager to meet their God, not put it off as long as possible.

And, when we die, why the crying? Why aren't Christian funerals joyous, glorious events? Why don't people express their envy for the departed, now relaxing in eternal heavenly bliss? I mean, the dude's in heaven, right? Why are you crying? Why are you sad? I know that some cultures try to celebrate at the funeral, but it's almost always buried in the avalanche of grief. When Pope John Paul II died, billions across the world grieved. Why aren't you partying? I mean, if anyone got in, he did, right?

Again, for the atheist, I get it. The person is gone, forever. You'll never talk with them again, never hug them, kiss them, share a joke with them. For the atheist, a funeral really is a time for grief.

But for the theist?

Don't get me wrong, I do believe in the use of medical science in extending lives. I believe that as long as a person wants to go on, they must be afforded every chance to do so.

But why do theists believe that? And why do they believe in the opposite? That people, even if they decide they don't want to go on, must be made to no matter what?

Is it because, deep down, in some dark, hidden corner, they suspect that there is no meeting set up, no appointment to keep? Or is it just that they're worried they might not like the result of that appointment?

Perhaps their faith just isn't as strong as they pretend it is.

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