Post Mortem: The Importance of Funerals

Paleolithic burial in sleeping position.

Palaeolithic burial in sleeping position. Source: Journal of Cosmology.

Dealing with death through funerals is one of the oldest signs of human culture, some anthropologists even define the onset of culture by the fact whether the dead were buried or not.

Our fascination with and fear of death relates directly to our ability to think about the future. We are the only animal that seems to have the ability to ponder life and conclude that there is only one certainty: we will all die. That insight creates a whole lot of existential anxiety, which is the defining factor of the human condition. This anxiety is mitigated by developing vehicles for meaning, such as religion.

Funerals are an amazing ritual. It is our way to pay respect to the memory of the deceased and their family. It is also a form of catharsis for the emotions that have built up since the death occurred. The announcement of somebody’s death is surreal. The funeral brings reality to the death, helping to anchor the irreversibility into our psyche.

Funerals make us ponder our own mortality and provoke good intentions that we should make the most of the time available to us. The funeral ritual is the end of one life, but provides new beginnings for al those who attend.

Christian funeral rites are, however, unsatisfying. The empty promise of eternal life and the hope that we will meet the deceased again after we have fallen to the same fate lead us astray. The promise of a life after death diverts our focus from life itself to the afterlife. One could argue that it doesn’t really matter and it is better to believe, it is better to play it safe, just in case religion is true. Religion is founded on metaphysical sky-hooks—there is no justification for the idea of life after death, besides our existential anxiety.

I choose to accept that there is no metaphysical foundation. My philosophy is not based on a sky-hook, but a metaphysical hot-air balloon, floating over the cultural landscape. Accepting that there is no certainty, no absolute truth is a very liberating experience. It forces one to choose life over death!

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