"If the Christian religion is a victory over death, why do Western peoples who have had the benefits of the Christian religion for two thousand years fear death?"
I'm currently reading God Is Red by Vine Deloria, Jr. You might recall I read another of his books
last year so I put this one on my Amazon Wishlist and received it for
Christmas. This "Native View of Religion" presents quite a few
challenges for me especially since the author contrasts tribal religions
mostly with Christianity, the predominant religion of the white man in
the Americas. On many issues he makes great points. I've read some of
them to Andrew and we've agreed how sadly truthful those things are.
Yet I was reading this chapter on death and wanted to discuss a few
things because I wasn't sure I agreed with his conclusions about
Christian and/or Western beliefs on death.
Deloria cites the work of Oscar Cullman who came to the conclusion that "death,
in the Christian context, was a feared foe. ... an event to be avoided
at all costs, because it meant the cessation of identity."
Cullman's book deals with the Greek and Christian ideas of
immortality of the soul (Greek) and resurrection of the dead
(Christian). This he says explains why
"death was a welcome visitor for Socrates but a dreaded and tormenting experience for Jesus."
Socrates was glad to be free from his body in which the Greeks thought
their souls were trapped. So death was like getting out of prison
apparently. Yet for the Christian, death meant the body was no more.
Thus death is much more traumatic, right?
Deloria claims "a majority of tribal religions simply assume
some form of personal survival beyond the grave. As Chief Seattle
remarked, death is merely a changing of worlds."
"For the tribal
people, death in a sense fulfills their destiny, for as their bodies
become dust once again they contribute to the ongoing life cycle of
creation. For Christians, the estrangement from nature, their
religion's central theme, makes this most natural of conclusions fraught
with danger. Believing that they are saved and interpreting this
salvation as accumulating material possessions, Western people cannot
accept death except as a form of punishment by God. ... Death is feared
and rarely understood. People somehow want to see the death of their
loved one as part of God's plan (i.e., God needed Elvis to sing in
Several things about this:
1. I believe similarly to Chief
Seattle. How often have I heard "to be absent from the body is to be
present with the Lord" - a quote from Paul's letter to the Corinthians?
This is what I believe! This is what is quoted at Christian funerals
all the time in order to give comfort to the families who are missing
their loved ones' presence here. Yet thinking of them with the Lord is
comforting. Or it is for me anyway.
2. He mentions this "estrangement from nature" that we have several
times in his book. I'm guessing he thinks we hate nature because we
have chosen to cut down trees for houses and clear lands for shopping
malls and dig and drill under the earth for oil and coal and natural
gas. I suppose "progress" is actually a subjective term and for many
living life simply - off the land - as our ancestors did is the better
option. Or maybe he has seen the truly bad things: the pollution from
dumping chemicals in water sources, the depleted uranium from bombs
contaminating soil, the slaughter of animals on the Plains. Regardless,
I don't know that this is Christianity's central theme! What do you
3. I've never been taught or felt salvation interpreted means that
I'm supposed to accumulate possessions although I can see why Deloria
observing us with all our stuff might feel this is true! By contrast
Jesus teaches us to give to the poor and often speaks of getting rid of
things. (Yes, I realize there is a disconnect between what Jesus taught
and what Christians actually decide to do.)
4. I do tend to view
the death of someone as part of God's plan although the Elvis example
is taking it a bit too far. OK, I may have joked that way before, but ..
maybe Deloria is too?? I don't believe God takes people to heaven
because He needs a good laugh or great entertainment.
I could go on and say more, but I'm more curious what your thoughts are
on this topic. Do you fear death? If so, why? If not, WHY? Do you think
Deloria has correctly assessed Christianity and/or the Western view of
death? We speak of someone "passing" rather than "dying" for instance.
By the way, why do you think death was a "tormenting experience" for Jesus (if you believe this)?
What does your religion or belief system teach about death?
I'd love to hear your thoughts on any of it.