Wednesday, November 28, 2007

UPDATE: If I died?

From friend and commenter Lacey:

Death used to scare me quite a bit, but ever since my
grandmother passed away, I'm hardly scared of it anymore. I think mostly because
I believe that she's in a better place, and that when I die, I'll also be in
that place with her. I've always found comfort in my faith in religion that I'll
be in a better place with God/Jesus, but it was hard to really grasp that until
my [grandmother] passed away.

When I write about faith on this blog, and I don't expound upon which particular faith I'm writing about, I'm speaking in general about the Islamic/Christian/Jewish tradition that dominates Western culture. I'm not an expert in any of the three, but I know a thing or two. (Please comment when I incorrectly generalize across the traditions, or otherwise make a muck of things.)

Faith plays a complicated role in how we look at the end of living. Death is usually viewed as a sorrowful occasion, with teary good-byes at the wake and moving eulogies delivered shortly thereafter. Sometimes, death is seen as a release, such as the whole Terri Shaivo situation. (As an aside, I would say this to those who thought that she should continue to receive nourishment: would you not lose your mind sitting inside your head for all of those years, if "she" was still in there somewhere? I would find such a death an immense relief, if I hadn't gone nuts by then. That's why I've got signed AMD's and POA's in the right hands.)

The faith interaction causes tension in some instances, and provides a justification for not feeling guilty in others. Selfishly, we miss the passing of the loved one. But we don't need to feel guilty about it, because, well, we're left here to toil and the other is in that better place. Since I am not an expert on faith, please leave your comments below.

Interestingly enough, Lacey continues on to note that she defines the quality, or worth, of her life, by entirely internal metrics, not external measures:
I don't think the point of my life is to leave anything behind, or even to have
people think of me after I've passed away, because I don't think that would
happen. Therefore, I probably won't feel I've lived my life fully until I get to
that point where I think to myself, "Ok, I think I've helped all the people I
could ever help", and as that probably would never happen, I'll always feel that
I could have done more in life.

What is better - or are both important? I would tend to lean toward the "both" side of the debate, although Lacey was just throwing her point of view out there, not presenting an argument for its adoption. The reason I would argue this: it is important to do some things because they are, in and of themselves, good. That is intrinsic value. But some things are not good of themselves, but rather are good for what they impart. Extrinsic value. Helping other people can be many things - a way to score points, a way to clear our conscience, or trying to effect a positive change in the people. Or is that too jaded? Discuss.

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