Posts Tagged ‘Death’


I just read a self-indulgent, useless piece by an editor at another small press regarding a recently deceased prominent sci-fi author (Ursula Le Guin). The editor had nothing interesting to say — whatever; it’s what I expected — but what really irritated me was her use of the term “passed away” in place of “dead” or “deceased.”

If you’re trying to convey useful information, euphemisms — even the most commonly understood — are a lousy, inefficient way to do it. Let’s take this euphemism: “passed away” is a  term with two words, a dipthong, and three syllables. The slightly more polite but still accurate “deceased” is a single word with two syllables. “Dead” consists of a single word and a single syllable.

Over the last three-and-a-half years, nearly of 20 my friends have died (all younger than me). They’re dead; they didn’t “pass”; they didn’t “pass away”; they didn’t “go to a better place.” They’re dead. And I miss them.

There’s no way to sugar coat it, and trying to do so is obnoxious, condescending — taking the reader as a delicate flower who can’t handle the truth.

As Lemme put it, my friends are “stone dead, forever.”

Using euphemisms wastes time and makes honest discourse more cumbersome.

Stop it. Please stop it.


DEATH, n. For Christians, a blessing — the gateway to heaven, the portal to paradise. It speaks volumes of the generosity of Christians that they so freely bestow this blessing upon their enemies, yet routinely do all in their power, even in extreme old age, to deny this same blessing to themselves.

* * *

–from the revised and expanded edition of The American Heretic’s Dictionary, the best modern successor to Ambrose Bierce’s Devil’s Dictionary

American Heretic's Dictionary revised and expanded by Chaz Bufe, front cover


Front cover of "The Heretic's Handbook of Quotations

 

by Chaz Bufe, compiler/editor of The Heretic’s Handbook of Quotations, and See Sharp Press editor

I was talking yesterday about the fear of death with one of the See Sharp Press authors, and how incongruous it seems that religious “believers” are so often terrified of death. The author mentioned that his  sister teaches at a Catholic university on the West Coast, and during a recent conversation she’d said that one of her colleagues, a Catholic priest, was dying of cancer.  When the priest told her of this, she’d said to him that his religious faith must be a great source of comfort. He admitted that it wasn’t, and that he was terrified. Score one for the priest: at least he was honest about it.

That begs the question, why are so many devout Christians, who stoutly maintain that they look forward to everlasting life in heaven, terrified of death? The obvious answer is that their actual beliefs do not match their professed beliefs. They desperately want to believe in an afterlife, but they don’t actually believe in it.

This explains a lot, including why “believers” routinely do everything in their power, even in extreme old age, to stave off death. It also explains why they’re so often hostile to atheists: the pointed words of nonbelievers threaten to burst their carefully constructed wishful-thinking bubbles. If “believers” actually believed, they wouldn’t care what atheists say. But they do. Like frightened children, they stomp their feet, howl angrily, and lash out at those who say anything that calls their wishful thinking into question.

A related aspect of this childish clinging to comforting illusions is that “believers” are pathetically eager to hear their “beliefs” parroted by others. The “reasoning” is that if everyone says their particular brand of bullshit is true, it must be true. Hence childhood religious indoctrination. Hence the perennial popularity of priests and preachers, no matter how transparently phony. Hence the huge industry in Christian books and videos, almost all of which flatter their fear-driven consumers (“the chosen,” “the elect,” “God’s people”), and tell them exactly what they want to hear.

In itself, this is enough to explain why so many Christians are terrified of death. But there’s one additional reason: atheists accept death as inevitable. For the most part we’re far from happy about it, but we accept it.  And most of us have had decades to come to terms with our own mortality. Religious “believers,” on the other hand, have spent their entire lives pretending that death doesn’t exist. They’ve spent their entire lives not coming to terms with it. So when they come face to face with death, they’re terrified.

 

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