Yesterday I got a “like” message from Chris Nicholas, an Australian author. I visited his blog as I do just with just about everybody who takes the time to comment on my blog or “like” it. While there I was introduced to a word that I had not heard or used before – Thanatophobia. Chris has a nice post about that word and its meaning in his life, which you can read here. Basically Thanatophobia is an overwhelming anxiety about one’s own death. Perhaps it is brought about by the realization that time is a one-way street.
The name Thanatophobia is made from the Greek figure of death known as Thanatos. Thanatophibia or death anxiety is the morbid, abnormal or persistent fear of one’s own mortality. One definition of death anxiety is a “feeling of dread, apprehension or solicitude (anxiety) when one thinks of the process of dying, or ceasing to ‘be’”. It is distinguished from necrophobia, which is a specific fear of dead or dying persons and/or things (i.e. others who are dead or dying, not one’s own death or dying).
I suspect that we all experience some form of Thanatophobia in our lives. Hopefully it is mild and fleeting for you and not debilitating. The thing that I think may often precede those thoughts about our own death is the point in time in our lives that we come to the realization that time is a one way street. There is no going back in time. One may try again, but that is not a do-over because time has passed and one cannot get back to a previous state in time. Once you wrap your head around that concept the next thing that pops to mind is that our time, the time we have here in this human state, is limited. There was a beginning (which few of us remember much about) and there will be an end (which none of us can predict). Time is life’s one-way street. No matter how many twists and turns your life may take, time marches on in a straight line and headed towards that inevitable end point.
I suspect that it was this realization that at some point in history caused man to invent modern religions. Before that what might have passed for religion in mankind was more a fear of and wonderment about Nature and the events going on around them. The initial “religions” of mankind didn’t seem to assign human characteristics to the great unknowns that they feared or worshiped. It didn’t take too long before man’s growing ego about his place in the world began to be reflected in his religions and he bagan assigning names and human faces and characteristics to the Gods that he imagined – Gods which by then had taken on human visages in many religions.
The next step was man’s need to believe in some role for himself (again an ego-driven thing) after death, which led to the creation of very complex scenarios for life after death. Most modern religions have those scenarios and many of them are very much driven by visions of the afterlife within the context of our current lives – only much better. Most of the afterlife explanations are also derived from male-dominated scenarios, i.e. I will have many wives and they will all be virgins. I can’t see how that would be considered to be heaven for the virgins involved. Perhaps having streets paved with gold and honey flowing like rivers would appeal to some, but may not be for everyone. Most religions, but not all, also settled on a single God, which allowed focus, as opposed to the multiple Gods religions which required worshiping all of them somehow.
So, we now have religions that are there to make us feel better about the end time – our own deaths – and to hold out the hope (a devout Christian would say the certainty) that there is something after death. Fortunately, the Gods that we’ve created look a lot like us so we don’t have to use much imagination to picture them or to depict them in paintings. They have also promised us some level of existence after death and once again made it more convenient for us by excluding those who, unlike us, don’t believe in them. After all, we wouldn’t want our heaven to get too crowded with all of those non-believers. To give the believers something to hold on to all of the modern religions have also created books which are believed to contain the words and wisdom of their Gods and religious leaders, although all of the books were written and edited by men. We have also created elaborate organizations called relions to promote and carry on our beliefs and built buildings in which to gather to worship our Gods. All of this made us feel better about ourselves; yet none of it changed the fact that time is a one-way street.
Is the anxiety about pour own deaths justified or have we created enough of a ruse for ourselves about life after death in our religions to bring us comfort? I suppose that is a question that each person must answer for themselves. My personal philosophy is to try to focus more on living each day to its fullest and not to spend time or energy worrying about something that I can neither predict nor prevent. I choose to believe in life after death, but I temper that with a skeptical view that it will involve my physical body or that heaven will look just like earth only better. Making that choice to believe that some “essence” of me will live on after death is an ego thing, too, and I understand that. Still, it is more comforting to believe that than to spend what time I have worrying about death. Time is a one way street and I intend to travel it as far as I can and to spend my time enjoying the journey. At the end of the line, I hope that my faith is the transfer ticket that I believe it is for the next ride.
Have a great day today and don’t worry about tomorrow.