Imagine a world where there is no death.
Or better yet, imagine a world where there is no concept of death.
People would die, but it just wouldn’t enter into the experience of anyone around them.
On this imaginary world, when someone passes they disappear into a puff of air. The deceased’s loved ones don’t miss them because when someone dies, they are also erased from all memory.
People only notice that there is a new uninhabited house or new things which have no apparent owner just lying around to be taken.
Art, literature, and poetry would be very different because a lot of it here deals with death, either our own or of people we love.
Relationships would probably not consist of the strong bonds we find between family and loved ones here. In fact, the concept of a family might be hard to visualize.
And history would be impossible. What are you studying in history except for the doings and accomplishments of people who lived and died? If one had no concept of death, and immediately forgot those who were gone, history would be impossible to create.
There probably wouldn’t be religion in such a world, at least, not a religion like anything we know. Religion is primarily a function of helping us deal with the idea that one day we will no longer exist. We dream of an afterlife of some kind to help assuage the terror of non-being, something that is difficult for us even to conceive.
So it seems to me we would barely have a civilization at all was it not for death. The awareness of death, knowing that it’s hanging over our heads, seems to be the precise thing that makes us human. That makes love possible. That creates art, literature, and history, and the willingness to build and do great things, to leave a legacy behind. It also enables us to understand and appreciate someone else’s legacy.
As Todd May writes in “Death,” “the fact that we die is the most important fact about us. There is nothing that has more weight in our lives.”
So, death may be scary. We find so many fascinating (and sometimes frightening) ways to whistle past the graveyard, but it makes us human. Even if one doesn’t believe in an afterlife, we still believe in death. It still drives us to build, to do, to accomplish, to love, to remember.
We would not be human beings without death.