Death, Immortality, and Courage

Late modernity, having adopted naïve materialism as its religion, has dismissed the belief in the immortality of the soul, not merely as a logical consequence of rejecting the soul itself, but rather morally, objecting to the belief in an immortal soul as a kind of cowardice, specifically a refusal to accept the “hard truth” of life’s brevity and the absolute finality of death — as though entertaining the possibility of immortality represented mere immature escapism or denialism. So convenient is the internal logic of the self-protective modern ego.

Our naïve materialists are full of such psychological projections, as they deftly avoid the challenge of overcoming a great fear by substituting a trivial, momentary discomfort in its place, and then daring to accuse those willing to face the greater fear of being the cowards. “They are clinging to consoling fairytales,” the materialists mock, as though anxiety relief were the substance of what eternal life means to those who take the notion seriously. But what does the modern materialist view of death — brief, final, meaningless, merely a physical stoppage entailing no aftermath — have in the way of genuine terror to compete with the fearsome thought of eternal damnation, or alternately of a never-ending cycle of returning to this life again and again to endlessly relearn the same humiliating, painful, and dreary lessons of human folly and weakness?

O, the self-congratulatory smallness of the materialistic nihilist, cleverly denying the specter of all that is truly harrowing, and then denigrating as psychological children those who are prepared to acknowledge that deepest challenge of being alive. Fear of death? How much lighter, how much easier, how much less frightening life would be, if we could be certain, as the modern believes he is, that a brief episode of uncomfortable but absolute finality were the worst we could ever have to face. How Epicurean of our self-protective nihilists, to follow the all-too-enticing logic of the least threatening possibility — but then to characterize their most comforting of all possible conclusions as “the hard truth.”

“Most comforting?” you ask. Yes, of course. For is it even necessary to ask which fate, if accepted, would be easier on a man’s nerves and his moral fiber during this life, a death which promises to nullify the spiritual relevance of everything he ever does, thereby loosening even the imperatives or responsibilities of today, or a death which promises to crystallize all his deeds, misdeeds, and failures, and to infuse them into the cosmos as an inescapable personal consequence? If we could convince ourselves of the former possibility, how much less significant and disturbing death (and therefore life) would seem, whereas if we could convince ourselves of the latter, how much more meaningful and terrifying.

A man who truly wished to test his courage and his ability to moderate fear with reason would surely choose the latter fate — or would at least refuse to give himself the easy comfort of rejecting its implications outright with delusions of absolute certainty. And a man who refused to allow his reason to serve as the handmaiden of his fears would never be too quick to reveal himself by protesting too much about belief in an immortal soul being the cowardly or consoling view. On the contrary, the thinkers of greatest profundity and spiritual daring, as radically opposed as Socrates and Nietzsche, have insisted on maintaining the idea of personal eternity in some form or other, however speculative or hypothetical, as the surest way to earn, test, and prove one’s character and seriousness of mind.

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