Thursday, June 16, 2011

Love and Death

"Death is our enemy, our last enemy." Love is Stronger than Death by Peter Kreeft

Death the stranger, death the friend, wait... death is all of us. Death is a mother, death is a lover...  Philosopher and author, Peter Kreeft will not allow his reader to loiter in Love is Stronger than Death. The topic for many is wholly unexamined, and yet at some time it will greet each and all. "Life is always fatal. No one gets out of it alive... It is a mysterious country...a bottomless pit... we have not unraveled her riddle...little chance we will." Kreeft writes in addition, that there is the meaning of life in the meaning of death. The empirical absolute of life is death. It is the backdrop, if you will, against which all of life plays out.

Death makes a life have either more or less meaning; it provokes some to be more mindful and others to become more and more forgetful. If death is meaningful "then life is startlingly more meaningful or startling less meaning-full than we usually think." Kreeft goes on to say that his book is about death, not about the feelings we may have towards death. He asks and examines questions about what is ultimately a reality, death, a measurable and empirical fact, like the sun rising and setting.

The 'democracy of the dead,' as C.K. Chesterton called it, refers to death as the great leveler, the one force in life that makes all equal. He asks what is the 'end of life?' Is it death? Can we know what the purpose of life is when faced with its 'death' shadow? How can it be like love, a desired end, the goal, a consummation? In the view of death, these terms seem strange, strange indeed. He, Kreeft, says we cannot begin to know why we die until we begin to know why we live. Knowing one's purpose in life sets the course for a whole host of other directions and priorities.

Death gives rise to questions about life after death. It forces the questions of the eternal, of God, of Bliss, of Nirvana and more. But first on to death as an enemy. It must be the enemy before we can recognize it as a possible friend. Many current, popular books on death teach confusion, in Kreeft's view. He says that, "denying, ignoring death, [it is] treated as a stranger...what this does is add to the denial of death."

He writes that as an enemy and yet the inevitable, somehow, we may come to befriend this one. But to say that it is merely natural, not to be overly played out is like the difference between tolerance and forgiveness. Forgiveness sees beyond the evil; it sees all the more. Tolerance refuses to acknowledge evil at all; therefore it is blinded. So instead of finding the way free of evil, tolerance is a block, a trap into evil. Thus the modern cycle of the enmity with death continues with tolerance.

Writing about the ways people consider death such as sleep, loss, or darkness, Kreeft writes we "find our selves at birth plunged into a madly rushing river", that flows towards a subterranean cave; within that cave, life co-exists. Between these two finite poles, we 'strut our stuff.' Always we fall in timeless direction. And finally he notes that "death is irreversible because time is irreversible... In fact time is another word for death."

And isn't death, like life, composed of both meetings and partings? we look forward to all the great and potential meetings in our life, despite the wistfulness  of departures. And so for the puzzle of it: we all rebel against this fact, eventual.  In a sort of lover's quarrel with the world, we diligently resist, rebel; railing against time. "Is that all there is?" We shout. But wait! There is joy, there is bliss. The religious and spiritual among us insist. The quest for meaning, for purpose, for love and friendship give to us what death will not.

There is a reason to live and a reason to die. Can modern society have fallen so far from the traditions that made these reasons clear? In Kreeft's view the answers and the results of our traditions, our ancient wisdom, in part, leads us back to the way of a rising heart of humanity, a rising to meet the One, the beloved. Death is then the friend.

No comments: