The Root of the Problem

“Who needs to feel they will survive their death, either as a transcendent conscious soul residing in heaven or reentering nature again and again? What we are given is precious enough – a moment of awareness.”

– Andrew Olendzki

A while back, a friend told me of a new and disturbing conflict within him.  He first  mentioned what I already new about him — that he had never been religious — but then he went on to state how he was now for the  first time in his life going to church.

After a bit of discussion, it came out more fully that the changes he was undergoing somehow arose from his love for his sons.  Most of his life, he had focused on building his business, and that was more or less enough.   But then, in his 40s, he had fallen in love with a relatively young woman, married, and had two children.  He soon discovered that his sons were the most important thing in the world to him, and he even began to resent the time that his business took him away from them.

About when he turned 50, he began to spontaneously consider the meaning of death, and how it would separate him from all that he loved and especially from his sons.   It’s then that he began to go to church, seeking metaphysical protection from mortality.

Now, as I understand my friend’s situation, he has become attached to the pleasure he gets from loving his sons.  With his attachment to that pleasure has come fear it might end.  To escape that fear, he has bought into the common and hopeful notion that something of us survives our death.  It does not seem very complex at this point.   It is even, in a way, pretty straight forward.

Faced with the same problem, I think I would address it by studying the nature of fear and attachment.  I believe to the extent you understand those things, they become manageable.  But understanding them does not so much involve thinking about them, as it involves looking at them,   Seeing fear and attachment for what they are seems key.

We seem to have a problem — especially in the West — that stems from our reliance on, and preference for, intellectual knowledge.  That is, we think thinking about something is the same as knowing it.   But is that true?  Does thinking about the more or less straight forward way in which attachment leads to fear, which leads to an attempt to escape fear, mean we understand the process?   I don’t think so.  I think to understand it, you must see it.

Now, let’s assume, for the moment, that my friend has lucked out and is actually right to believe there’s an afterlife.  Even if that were true, nothing has really changed because his life at this point is in thrall to fear.   He believes in his afterlife because of fear.  The same fear will soon — if it has not already — invade his relationships with his sons.  It will, if unaddressed,  work it’s poisons into everything.  All of this can and has been seen in other cases.  There is no reason to believe my friend is so special he will escape the bullet.  And that’s why I believe he must manage his problem — not by trying to escape from fear via the notion of an afterlife — but instead by working on the root of the problem.

8 thoughts on “The Root of the Problem

  1. That was a very good and completely logical analysis but implied one opinion to be a fact. Fear.

    I have absolutely no fear of death whatsoever. I, in fact, plan to eventually completely die. I love my children whom I do not remember and remain alive as I am today hoping to watch my youngest son grow up. I realize he will grow up and will enjoy witnessing it unless it becomes unpleasant.

    I already ‘died’ once and will never describe the afterlife to anyone. I know afterlife is there and faith must remain the exclusive rational.

    Fear of ceasing to exist or fear of an eternal fiery pit may not be the reason you chose to believe. The fiery pit called hell causes many alleged Christians to believe and this belief is exactly as close to determining an afterlife destination as a non-theist gets to choosing.

    I dread dying completely but I do not fear it in any way. I believe you need to focus your significant ability to reason on the massive differences in fear and dread as well as their similarities when used as verbs.

    The open Internet will very likely cease to exist as you know it today by 2012 and perhaps even by Christmas. Good to see you posting while you “kick against the pricks” and every kick you post is an expression of your “fear” of death or perhaps simply your “dread” of dying.

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  2. Hi, Curtis! Thank you for your kind words. I think it’s worth noting, though, that you are discussing fear of death in general or at least as it might apply to you, whereas my post mentions fear of death as part of a process of attachment that a friend of mine is involved in. I’m not sure, but I don’t think it would help him if I were to philosophize to him about other people’s fears. But thank you for reading the post!

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  3. I feel uncomfortable with this post.

    It hits too close to home for me. If I were ever to become religious, it would be out of hopes that somehow it could preserve the relationships I have for an eternity. My girlfriend, who I love completely and with a depth I have never imagined, makes me want to die first, so I never have to feel the pain of losing her. I feel like I can truly understand where your friend is coming from and can’t judge him for it – even if I am a lifelong atheist.

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  4. Hi Astasia! I agree judging my friend gets us nowhere. But I believe we should seek to understand what’s happening to him, and I further believe that what’s happening to him is the process of “attachment/fear/and attempted escape from fear” that I have described in the post. In the past, I have gone through what he’s going through now, as have millions of people before us. I believe that if anything will help him in his circumstances, it is for him to reject any false escape from fear and instead turn his energies to understanding how that fear is generated through attachment. It can be a very disturbing subject. The night he told me of his conflict, I was quite distressed to hear of it.

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  5. Paul, I do understand what you mean by the attachment/fear/attempted escape from fear, but maybe I just haven’t considered it long enough or read enough on the subject, but I’m not sure once one understands how fear is generated through attachment how to be free from it. Even if we know that we have this fear that poisons us, how do we change the fear? I’m assuming the answer is not to be free from attachments.

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  6. Astasia, I think the way to manage the fear begins with studying it. We must get very clear about it’s cause, nature and path before anything else. And that sort of clarity, so far as I know, can only be achieved through dispassionate observation, which is often called “meditation”.

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