Friday, March 30, 2012

Selfish Tears for the Dead

Selfish Tears for the Dead

The only thing we are guaranteed in life is the end of it; death. This has been something we have all acknowledged and have come to expect. There is nothing we can do to prevent it. Billions of have died over the short span of human history and billions more will die in the future. Some of us will die comfortably and surrounded by friends. Others of us will die painful and violent deaths. Yet we will all die, eventually.

We mark these deaths by the sorrow and emotional pain felt by survivors at the loss of individuals. We mourn their loss, give cares to their remains and hold rituals to show last respects. The families and friends of the honored dead are obligated to carry out these rituals and perform other duties needed to tend to accounts, estates, and other things left behind. Kind words of reverence are expected by the matriarch or patriarch of the family, and those seen as best friends and favored family members. This is also a time of bonding between the family of those left behind. Tears and sorrow are shared, comforts and condolences are exchanged.

Through these events, the religious among us find comfort in the phrase "They are in a better place now."

This has always seemed to be a bit of a contradiction to me, and though I believe I understand it-I can't help but wonder just how many others see it as well.

Tears are a sign of a greatly excited emotional state, though more commonly for very sad or painful states rather than not. It is quite understandable, then, to see people at funerals and other post-death rituals in a state of sorrow and despair, expressing those pains with tears and quiet comfort to their friends and families. The subconscious reaction to the death of those we care for is expressed in this way, and has been since before human history no matter which culture we happen to be from. The conscious reaction to the death of those we care about is to rationalize the event with a purpose, meaning, or of simple consequence.

When a Christian faces the death of a loved one, their religious beliefs compel them to rationalize the death as a release or transition from the physical form to a spiritual form where the person begins a new existence that will span eternity. The destination or location of that new life depends on the deeds and beliefs of that person who died, according to the Christian religion. When a Christian person is confronted with the death of another close "good Christian", their reaction is just the same as it would be in any other culture at any other time: sorrow and pain. Sure, the rituals change from culture to culture, but on a personal level, the reaction is the same.

When someone is sobbing over the open casket of their lover of three decades, do they really believe that the person they knew and loved is "in a better place"? When a friend holds another friend in their arms, the injured friend bleeding out from a bullet wound sustained during a robbery at a gas station, does the surviving friend look into their eyes with pain-free reassurance that their death will only set their "soul" into an eternal paradise? In any number of ugly, heart wrenching, and sad situations like these, can anyone really admit that their emotions will actually reflect what they "know" is the truth about reality?

This is the contradiction I find so blatant, which is emphasized by the pointed question: "Why do Christians cry at funerals?"

The question is about understanding human behavior and how it relates to their intelligence working on the situation. I believe this question validates the obvious conclusion that humans are adept at lying to themselves and compartmentalizing emotional pain in such a way that they can continue their daily lives without self-destructing. In short, we find ways to lie to ourselves to avoid crippling depression.


One possibility I see is that humans are so overwhelmingly emotional that there is no helping the vast amount of sorrowful and sad feelings that flood into their system during and after such events. This means that these emotional responses would be completely unrelated to reality as it actually works, which only brings up another question: "why is it that way?" If humans were specially created by a divine entity, why would these emotions, or at least this level of emotional response, endure when it is so unnecessary?

Another is that humans are incredibly selfish. Despite the "knowledge" that the spiritual essence of the person who just died will live on for eternity in a paradise before the creator of the universe, the tears, sorrow, and sadness would seem to reflect nothing but the survivors own selfish desire not to be left "alone". And even then, is every single Christian crying at funerals so ungrateful for the marvelous gift of being admitted into paradise that the reason for their sorrow is because of some kind of jealousy? Why wouldn't the Christian be happy or even ecstatic for their departed loved one? Wouldn't the Christian also remember that they too will eventually join their dead friends and family in "Heaven" for the rest of eternity as well? So... why cry at all unless it isn't for completely selfish reasons?

What if Christians cry at funerals because they are human-and that they know, "deep down", we do not survive death? What if their religion is nothing more than a defensive mechanism erected to help protect themselves against a harsh world, but actually fails when it comes to the death of close friends and family? We develop many emotional coping mechanisms to deal with our various issues. The more people think about and analyze these mechanisms, however, the more we realize just how fragile we are.


To me, there are not many more blatant or obvious signs of pure contradiction and intellectual hypocrisy than what I have seen here. We are emotionally fragile. We have always relied on our subconscious coping mechanisms to deal with the various situations we find ourselves in, but they do not always work. Many times, they provoke unintentional responses, or even completely fail to work at all and leave us in desperately vulnerable states of mind. We are not alone in the world when it comes to depression and emotional issues as a result of death. Evidence of the failure in emotional coping mechanisms can be found in many, many more species of higher animal on this planet.

My question to others out there:
If you believe in some form of existence after the death of our physical form, can you understand why your sadness seems to be a contradiction to those of us who do not share your beliefs?

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