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Posted by S.H. Le on March 29, 2001 00:26:17 UTC

In western nations at least, we take enormous steps to prevent/delay death. While the "primitive" societies of the past embraced death with various ceremonies, we completely deny it. "Normal" North Americans are highly neurotic people… I think it's manifest in the defense mechanisms we use to pacify our death anxieties.

Defense Mechanisms
1) Sex: I would contend it's the most dominant subject on the western hemisphere (although with the economic/social globalism, soon the whole world will be effected). I think our collective obsession with sex may stem from an unconscious denial of death. Our focus on sexual behavior (an act that epitomizes youth and vigor), is a manifestation of our infatuation with youth, and a means of denying that our physical experience ends. In this way, sex provides a form of escapism.

2) Religion: Another possible solution for coping with death anxiety is to deny that life actually ends. One might believe that when our physical bodies cease to exist, our spiritual selves persist. Belief in an afterlife can help us alleviate fears of dying. I've read of various psychological studies describing a negative correlation between death anxiety and church attendance. One of the reasons this may be so successful is that church activities provide some form of social support that makes it easier to cope with the prospect of death. Also, the act of praying may be a source of therapy to those facing such anxieties.

3) Generativity: It's been suggested that the anticipation of death is so unacceptable that while we remove every indication of it from our daily lives - it unconsciously permeates every aspect of our behavior. Our need to "make a mark on the world" could simply be an unconscious fear of death manifested in a drive to create something that will survive our death e.g. having a family, scientific discoveries, art, etc.

So in the psychoanalytic tradition, I think the only course of action is to fully acknowledge death squarely in a forthright manner - it's likely that our efforts to avoid death is precisely what aggravates our anxieties towards it. Though life may have no objective meaning, it's clear that death provides life with opportunities for unearthing a subjective one. Death gives value and importance to time… without it the human psyche would rot in perpetual stasis.

As an atheist, many Christians have asked me how I find meaning in a life that simply ends… if nothing continues the destruction of our physical bodies, then how can life have meaning? It seems to me that an infinite existence fosters meaninglessness.

"If there is a sin against life, it consists perhaps not so much in despairing of life as in hoping for another life and in eluding the implacable grandeur of this life." - Albert Camus

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