FEAR OF DEATH: The Politics of Fear and Loathing

21 Mar

FEAR OF DEATH: the Politics of Fear and Loathing
Louise Annarino
March 21, 2012

Few among us do not fear death. So much so, that most of us refuse to discuss it, nor even think about it. My 2d. grade Catholic catechism instructed me that God made me to show His goodness and to make me happy with Him in heaven. This told me 2 things: life was good, and heaven was good. But, I knew I had to die to get to heaven. I knew I was made to live, then to die, then to live again. Does it make dying any easier to contemplate I shall live again, or still, after I die? Not really. This is merely a theory, a tenet of faith, after all. Who really knows?

One thing I do know; death is not pretty. I have sat near the bedsides of my dying parents and friends. Their physical and emotional suffering, physical deterioration, sense of helplessness, utter dependence on others, and questioning why any of it is necessary is heartbreaking. I struggled to be faithfully present for them, to keep a smile on my face, to offer a gentle touch of personal care, to remain hopeful. I felt terror that I might have to stare death in the face, that my grief might overwhelm the loving relationship we shared, that I could cause physical or emotional pain. And I felt guilt.

I felt guilt that I would continue to live, that I enjoyed my free time, and that I planned for my future. Most of all, I felt guilt because I was relieved I was not the one who was dying. That is the secret we all keep to ourselves. We keep quiet about death because we rationalize that if we avoid thinking or talking about it, it will not happen; not to us. We act as though we are immortal, totally in charge of our world and our lives. We fear death. We have given it a power of its own. In reality, it belongs to us. It became ours the moment we were born. When we run from death we are running from ourselves.

What if an entire culture were facing death? First, we must answer the question, “What is death?” A simple answer might be : the end of life; or, perhaps, a transition from one life or energy form to another. What we really fear is the disintegration of self, the inability to be who we are at our core. The death of our body does not frighten us so much as the death of our soul-personality-inner being. Our essence, the “I” we feel at our deepest level, is immortal, never-ending, never-changing. Truly, we are made in the image of God, for these attributes are those we normally assign to God. We are god-like, on the way to becoming one with God. What we fear is the loss of our personhood, our individuality, the name we call ourselves, our personal power to be us. So even the thought of going to heaven to be one with God is a very scary proposition. We want to maintain our identity, our uniqueness, our control. We don’t even want to give it up to be one with God.

So, if a culture were facing disintegration; if it had to constantly adjust to the attempted merger with identities unlike itself, who might threaten its uniqueness and control…would it be afraid? Would it want to avoid any change to its identity? Would it want to persist in its uniqueness? Would it fear the “other”, no matter how good or god-like the other is? Would it be too afraid to talk about its fear? Would it be angry whenever someone else brought up related subjects. Would it fear a loss of control? Would it fear a disintegration of self ? Can a culture die? What happens when it does?

When I listen to the tea party, Republican leaders, and Republican presidential candidates attack President Obama I hear the fear of death; the death of an ideology, a political party. When I see what appears to be a Sanford,Florida police cover-up of the murder of Travyon Martin; and, when I listen to the phone tapes of his killer, witnesses etc. I hear the fear of death, the death of racial superiority. When I listen to Joe Arpaio, Sheriff of Maricopa County, Arizona discuss his need to control immigrants, I hear the fear of death; the death of white “good ole’ boy” culture that is “as American as motherhood and apple pie”. When I hear Rick Santorum denounce science and man-made climate change, I hear the fear of death; the death of religious domination of thought. When I tabulate the efforts to deny women access to birth control, reproductive freedom, and abortion rights I see the fear of death; the death of control by men over women. When I hear Governors such as Wisconsin’s Walker and Ohio’s Kasich attack labor unions, regulation of Wall Street and corporations, I hear the fear of death; the death of moneyed interests’ absolute control of wealth. When I hear FOX News and other media sources ignore facts, twist facts, create facts and outright lie I hear the fear of death; the death of media control of information.

What if we admit we will die? What if we admit our “culture” will die? I submit that once we accept death we can get on with living. But so long as we continue to live in denial we must live in fear. I am not afraid of dying. Either I will transition, or I won’t; but, I can do nothing to stop the system. It is an evolutionary scheme I am part of by reason of my birth. And, I am just ornery enough to believe my personality is immortal. I will go on and on and on. I have just as much confidence in my country, my nation, my American culture. It is a culture prepared for change, ready to evolve, eager to accept the “Other”. America is a country which transforms itself into something ever-new. It is this alchemy of spirit which makes us a strong nation. We take the base metal of so many different ethnicities, religions, and ideologies and turn them into gold. This does not make me afraid; it makes me hopeful. It makes me proud. President Obama, despite what the fearful “birthers” would have us believe, is the quintessential American.

Christian liberals marvel at the fear expressed by fundamentalist Christians, fundamentalist Muslims, and fundamentalist Jews. One thing all religions have in common is a story to resolve our fear of death. Perhaps, resolving the fear of death will allow us to enjoy an America where a civil conversation is possible, and we don’t need to lie to one another or ourselves. Now that would be heaven on earth.


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