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A problem with many fantasy fictions that I have, such as Elder Scrolls and LotR, is that people know that there's an afterlife, a good one at that, so why fear death? Why mourn those who died? As long as you're faithful/good, you're going to heaven/paradise/nirvana/etc...

How would it be possible to, even in such terms, make one fear death?

Edit - Thanks everyone for answering, this has been more than educational considering the vast amount of answers with different philosophies, but I'm afraid I can't go into more detail on this question, because I'm not currently making much use of this in a fiction, though I plan on in the near future, and I'm trying to grasp a basic understanding on how a society would fear death if it was empirically proven that there is a benevolent afterlife.

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    $\begingroup$ Same way as with any religion that promises afterlife - no one can be absolutely sure that he goes to heaven rather than hell. $\endgroup$
    – Alexander
    Dec 18 '17 at 18:50
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    $\begingroup$ There are many religions who promise some form of afterlife. Every follower probably has their own reasons to fear death, or perhaps they do not. History is filled with individuals who became martyrs for causes they believed in. This sounds like an incredibly personal subject that is entirely dependent upon the individual in question. $\endgroup$
    – sphennings
    Dec 18 '17 at 18:53
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    $\begingroup$ Which are you looking for: fear of death, or mourning the loss of others? They're really very different concepts, psychologically. $\endgroup$
    – Cort Ammon
    Dec 18 '17 at 19:11
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    $\begingroup$ People are sad when their friend moves away. Even if there is a really good after life, you'd be sad if you had to leave everything you had in this life. $\endgroup$ Dec 18 '17 at 19:20
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    $\begingroup$ @sphennings and all the other VTCers. This is a fairly well scoped psychology question. Why, exactly, was it put on hold? It has a lot in common with, "people know there's a glass platform extending out over the Grand Canyon... so why do people fear walking on it?" Recommending to reopen. $\endgroup$ Dec 19 '17 at 1:21
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One could fear death if motivated to achieve goals in life. The artist who was never appreciated in his time might fear death if he aspires to see the fruits of his labor change the world. Many a fear of one's own death are driven not by the unknown but the lack of tangible legacy that they leave behind. Death is inevitable, but men can live beyond death through their achievements and the memories of others, but then for how long before they fade?

Remember, Ozymandias, King of Kings, implored people who believed themselves mighty to look upon his works and achievements and compare his legacy to theirs, and despair at the thought of beating that.

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  • $\begingroup$ Unfinished Business! That's a good answer +1. $\endgroup$
    – Lee Leon
    Dec 18 '17 at 19:58
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Even if you have positive evidence there's an afterlife (as opposed to believing there's one) there still are several (possible) reasons to try to avoid death as long as possible:

  • There may be some kind of judgment on your whole life before Valhalla's doors will open; it's extremely unlikely someone can be really sure of the outcome.
  • Your good judgment may depend on your deeds, and being killed too easily would look really bad on your slate (variation on the above).
  • Family bonds may be strong and dying young means you won't support your family as you should.
  • If you are a warrior being unafraid to die is a boon, up to a point (in medieval Japan they had the problem of keeping Samurai from uselessly throwing away their life).
  • Dying you could have a nice "heavenly" life, but you surely lose some earthly things, such as having children.
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  • $\begingroup$ exactly, life is a proving ground for the afterlife so if you expedite it you run the risk of not receiving a good judgment. THE REAL QUESTION should be ; if there were certain judgement based afterlife, would anyone commit evil? $\endgroup$
    – anon
    Dec 18 '17 at 19:42
  • $\begingroup$ @anon There is a certain judgment based life and people still commit murders... $\endgroup$
    – kingledion
    Dec 18 '17 at 19:49
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    $\begingroup$ @anon: Definition of "good" and "evil" is not so unambiguous as some people likes to think. $\endgroup$
    – ZioByte
    Dec 18 '17 at 21:49
  • $\begingroup$ @ZioByte I was agreeing with (first vote) however the point of my comment. If there is a clear after life and clear judgment, than good and evil is also clear. In that case the question becomes can "evil" really exist. Obviously there will always be a portion of society psychologically hard wired for "evil" but overall wouldn't its occurrence be dramatically reduced? $\endgroup$
    – anon
    Dec 18 '17 at 22:06
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    $\begingroup$ @anon: I do understand you, and I concur... to a point. Problem is whenever you try to codify behavior in a (small) set of rules, as it's always the case with religions, you unavoidably over-simplify reality and thus inherently create loopholes where personal (however fallacious) judgement is required. Law says "do not kill", but David killed Goliath, Abram was requested to kill Isaak and countless other examples. Something similar holds true for every religion and for every Law. Coward Vikings refusing to exterminate doubtless felt perfectly justified to do so and bet Wotan would understand. $\endgroup$
    – ZioByte
    Dec 18 '17 at 22:56
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It happens just like it does with humanity

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. - John 3:16

I am a Christian and I believe that is true. Though I am not so familiar with other religions, I am reasonably sure that the other Abrahamic religions (Judaism, Islam, Mormonism) hold such scriptural promises in similarly high esteem. There are about a billion Christians around and a similar number of Muslims. So we can say with some confidence that there are billions of humans who know that there is a benevolent afterlife that they can reach.

As a digression, I would argue that the promise of said benevolent afterlife is the most important part motivating religion. Religion often doesn't offer that much on Earth; it forbids such enjoyable things as sex, wealth, booze and bacon; it requires such onerous sacrifices as tithing, turning the other cheek, and even martyrdom. So the promise is one that many people wrestle with: what happens when I die? For many people the promise of comfort and salvation from the yawning void of forever is what makes you religious. I can tell you from first person experience the difference between hearing about the afterlife and knowing about the afterlife.

Back to the main argument, if we accept that billions on Earth do believe in a benevolent afterlife, then those same people as a whole display fear of death and mourning for those loss. The reasons are many, but can include fear of the pain that often accompanies dying, prioritization of the present over a nebulous future (i.e. I want to see my dad today, not in heaven), and general uncertainty about the truth of the afterlife--lack of faith.

Faith and reason, fragile apart but strong together, are ever at war in the mind and soul of Man. The fruits of this struggle are fear and doubt, bubbling up from the sub-conscious, threatening to destroy both.

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    $\begingroup$ Faith ≠ knowledge. "general uncertainty about the truth of the afterlife" is what this question apparently removes. At least in examples shown, you can simply ask someone who been there. $\endgroup$
    – Mołot
    Dec 18 '17 at 19:55
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    $\begingroup$ @Mołot No offense to you, but you must understand that this is your opinion. Yes: belief in gravity and math and science and everything is your opinion. I know people as assured of salvation through Jesus as you are in $F=ma$. There are many people whose uncertainty about the afterlife is less than their uncertainty about arithmetic. What you think is knowledge is considered by others to be faith, and what you view as faith, they think of as knowledge. $\endgroup$
    – kingledion
    Dec 18 '17 at 20:20
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    $\begingroup$ You know people who are assured of salvation through Jesus, but there are more people on Earth who do not hold that belief than who do. So what makes your position right as opposed to say, a Mormon or a Hindu or a Jew? There's clearly no objective way of proving the case, otherwise that would have been done long ago and the only people who disagreed would be easily dismissed cranks. Thus, faith. On the other hand, it's trivial to demonstrate gravity exists and math works, and they'll work the exact same way for a Christian and an atheist. No faith required because anyone can prove. $\endgroup$ Dec 18 '17 at 20:37
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    $\begingroup$ No, lack of knowledge about afterlife is not an opinion, it's a fact. Afterlife is (if at all) something no one here ever experienced, tested, proved etc... Faith is ok, but mistaking it for knowledge is what lead to religious wars. $\endgroup$
    – Mołot
    Dec 18 '17 at 20:39
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    $\begingroup$ "alternative facts" and "alternative knowledge" are just fancy names for lies. $\endgroup$
    – Mołot
    Dec 18 '17 at 20:48
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This is somewhat similar to kingledion's answer. As a Christian, I absolutely know that I will go to heaven when I die. However, that doesn't mean I'm in a hurry to get there. If I were to meet an untimely death, I'd be very concerned about the wife I leave behind - for many reasons that should be obvious. If we had children, I'd be equally concerned about their welfare. And though my employer could replace me eventually, it would certainly be disruptive. In short, there are people on earth who depend on me, and I'm not willing to turn my back on them, even with the promise of something better for me.

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    $\begingroup$ Correction - You believe, you don't know. Knowing requires proof and there isn't a single religion out there with a shred of proof of any of their claims. Everything is taken on blind faith alone. (Hint: The Bible isn't proof) $\endgroup$
    – Thorne
    Dec 19 '17 at 0:15
  • $\begingroup$ We can argue back and forth on that point for the rest of our lives. It's not relevant to the point I was making however. Suffice it to say that I feel assured of my salvation. Why, then, would I be afraid of death? For the reasons outlined above - namely, the negative impact on those left behind. I think that's a relevant answer to the question regardless of what others think about a person's religious doctrine. $\endgroup$ Dec 19 '17 at 1:26
  • $\begingroup$ Still comes back to the difference between knowing and believing. Unless you have proof, it's a belief. All you have is a book and it's full of mistakes. As for Christianity, God has a plan for everyone thus worrying about people left behind when you die isn't logical. It means you have no faith in God's plan. $\endgroup$
    – Thorne
    Dec 19 '17 at 1:55
  • $\begingroup$ The original question, which you keep choosing to ignore, asks why someone might fear death even if he feels his own soul (however you define that) is secure. I cited my own Christian faith for illustration purposes, but the original question is more broad. You have yet to cogently explain why you think concern for people left behind is not a legitimate reason to fear dying. It seems to me that your comments are more motivated by anti-christian bigotry than a face-value assessment of my answer. $\endgroup$ Dec 19 '17 at 2:26
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    $\begingroup$ @Thorne I think you're wrong but I'm not going to spend any more time arguing about it. Rather, I'll just point out that I don't think it's reasonable to completely ignore the substance of my answer, but downvote anyway simply because my supporting argument offends your sensibilities. $\endgroup$ Dec 19 '17 at 17:23

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