I was in a discussion recently where someone suggested that we, as a species, might want to rethink the practice of burying our dead because it wastes valuable space that could be used for something better. It’s not a bad question to be sure, although I don’t think we’re out of usable land quite yet so this might be a premature consideration, but one of the people in the discussion completely freaked out and said that we should never, ever do that, that anyone who doesn’t want to be buried and have their body preserved has something wrong with them and that everyone ought to go spend tons of time hanging around with their dead relatives and friends so they can remember them. Nobody can be cremated, nobody can donate their body to science and nobody can possibly disagree because this woman is absolutely right in her assertions.
Yeah, not so much. I had to point out that the only reason humans do this is because they tend to have this really irrational, bizarre fear of death so they want to keep their deceased loved ones close so they don’t have to feel they’re truly gone forever. That’s why we, at least in the United States, tend to put dead people in a box, pumped full of chemicals to retard the natural decomposition process, with stone markers so you don’t forget where they’re buried. People go out and put flowers on graves for years or decades after their death, just to let the dead know we’re still thinking about them.
But why? It makes no sense. Personally, ever since my father was buried over a decade ago, I have never once gone to his graveside, not since the funeral. Why would I? He’s dead. I don’t need to stand in the vicinity of his remains to remember him. And when my mother dies and gets put into the same hole, she’s got some over/under shared grave thing set up, I’m not going to go see her either. So far as I know, she’s never gone to the graveside either. What’s the point? It doesn’t really matter what your perspective is on the whole thing, if you’re religious, then the soul has left the body and it doesn’t matter. If you’re not, whatever brain activity that made that person who they were, that stopped at death, the piece of meat in the hole really doesn’t mean anything.
Let’s be honest, it’s all about fear. You can claim that it’s about respecting the dead and all that but that’s bullshit. If we’re going to be rational, there’s no point in respecting a hunk of dead meat, any more than we respect a hamburger. Personally, I couldn’t care less what happens to my body after I’m dead because I’m dead and won’t be aware of it. Therefore, what difference does it make what’s done with the dead bodies of others? They’re gone! What made them who they were isn’t there anymore. It’s just a shell. Use it for something worthwhile.
So let’s get back to fear. I suppose I can understand that fear, although I don’t share it at all. That doesn’t mean I want to die right this second but when that time comes, I’m not afraid of it, any more than I was afraid of not existing before I was born. Death is a natural part of life. Everything that is alive will die. Everyone you know will die. In 1000 years, it’s likely that nobody will know you were ever alive or care. Learning to deal with the reality that actually is, rather than the reality they wish were true, is part of the maturation process. People who have these strange beliefs and strange fears that make no sense whatsoever really haven’t grown up and become adults.
People really need to knock this stuff off and grow up. Death isn’t scary. Non-existence isn’t a big deal. As Samuel Clemens said, “I do not fear death. I had been dead for billions and billions of years before I was born, and had not suffered the slightest inconvenience from it.” Neither will you.