Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Disposing of the dead

How a culture disposes of the dead is a cultural interpretation of what human lives mean. It's said that contemporary American culture is post-Christian, but that's simplistic. There's a vibrant, influential Christian presence. But America is highly polarized on the religious question. Many Americans are misotheists. 

That's an opportunity to examine what had been unquestioned Christian customs. For the average atheist, a corpse is just a dead body. Even when alive, humans were nothing more than their bodies. Why not treat a corpse as fertilizer? But even from a Christian standpoint, are traditional ways we treat a corpse rationally unwarranted sentimentalism? 

Let's take a comparison. Many people take pictures of friends and relatives. They have family pictures at work, on the deck in their office (or cubicle). Or at home on the nightstand or the fireplace mantle. They used to carry family pictures in their wallet. Nowadays, they have family pictures on their smartphone. 

Would they stomp on a picture of their mother? No. Although a picture of their mother is not their mother, it represents their mother. In one respect it's just a piece of paper. But it's more than that. If the object represents something, then the action of stomping on the picture represents something as well. For instance, vandalizing the picture of a hated dictator is a symbolic gesture. 

So we need to strike a balance. Symbolism isn't everything, but symbolism isn't nothing. 

The corpse of your mother (or father or grandmother or wife or brother) isn't your mother, but it still represents your mother. So it's proper to treat it differently than a dead rat. 

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