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The Denial of Death

Lee and Douglas shared some writing by fellow Canadian Douglas John Hall, who maintains that the demise of Christendom should be occasion for Christian celebration. Yet the church, oddly, mimics culture in celebrating success and denying failure. We invest great energy and great hope in the heroics of fixing things, keeping death at bay. Being “change agents” is a lot more appealing than that uncomfortable gospel preached by Dietrich Bonhoeffer: “When God calls a man, he bids him come and die.”

Becker’s analysis of the human condition is rich. I’m about a third of the way into the book, having just finished a chapter on “The Psychoanalyst Kierkegaard.” For Kierkegaard, facing up to the reality of our condition — our dread, our anxiety, our death — is the path to authenticity. Letting go of our attempts to control this reality is the way of faith: the opening to possibility and growth, meaning and “real freedom,” as Becker puts it.

In his summary of Kierkegaard, Becker quotes these words from José Ortega y Gasset:

The man with the clear head is the man who frees himself from those fantastic “ideas” … and looks life in the face, realizes that everything in it is problematic, and feels himself lost. And this is the simple truth – that to live is to feel oneself lost – he who accepts it has already begun to find himself, to be on firm ground. Instinctively, as do the shipwrecked, he will look round for something to which to cling, and that tragic, ruthless glance, absolutely sincere, because it is a question of his salvation, will cause him to bring order into the chaos of his life. These are the only genuine ideas; the ideas of the shipwrecked. All the rest is rhetoric, posturing, farce. He who does not really feel himself lost, is without remission; that is to say, he never finds himself, never comes up against his own reality.

How strange yet what good news that the words of the shipwrecked are life.