Vision of Life and Death

1. As a rule, a skeptic’s perspective on death excludes any speculation on afterlife as a concept adjacent to death and dying. Moreover, a skeptical attitude toward death would describe and define it first and foremost functionally, as biological death. Thus, a  definition of death by skeptic would refer to biological markers that indicate it. Physical death is the moment when brain activity is down to a zero level, i.e. absent, coupled by a condition when there are no signs of respiration or heartbeat. The main marker of physical death is the brain death or, in medical terms, cessation of cerebral activity, since other indicators are related symptoms rather than unmistakable determinants of death. Respectively, a skeptic would describe dying as the process of degradation, gradual or instantaneous, of bodily functions. Unlike a skeptic, a believer would expand the definition of death beyond the spectrum of pure biology. In understanding of a person with faith, death is the moment of life when the mortal shell can no longer be the vessel that contains the soul. The physical body decays freeing the immaterial substance in which human spirit, personality and consciousness are concentrated in the form of the energy that science can not describe or measure. Interestingly, however, some scientific experiments seem to prove existence of the soul. For some believers, it is one more proof of what they put in faith, whereas for other people with faith, it is an irrelevant discovery because their faith does not need scientific proof. However, for skeptics, such experiments may bring a scientific belief in existence of immaterial part of a human being and, accordingly, the possibility of idea of afterlife. Thus, for believers, human biological life [in a particular body] ends while his/her life as a human person may continue through transcendence to a new level of immaterial existence or rebirth, depending on the believer’s religious background. In such case, dying can be described as a preparatory stage that allows a person to make a transition.

2. For the believers, personhood is the cradle of all actions and choices made throughout a lifetime. It means that human essence – the contained knowledge, moral compass, etc. – predetermine the lifestyle. A person’s lifestyle, in turn, predetermines his/her death. In particular, if a person leads a moral life in accord with the religious teachings and personal understanding of the Good and the Evil, if he/she withstands and avoids sins, then the individual will be rewarded after the death. If, on the contrary, a person lacks necessary qualities or strengths to be considered a good man or a God’s man, then death will mark his/her time for punishment and atonement. Interestingly, some faithful, especially the Christians, believe that even the sins of the previous generations may affect the lives of a contemporary. Thus, if a person leads an amoral life that contradicts the norms of the faith, it is a possibility that their children or grandchildren will suffer the atonement for the old sins during their lives. Evidently, the issue of personhood plays a crucial, long-term role for the believers. As for skeptics, they do not believe that someone’s death can depend on a lifestyle. Naturally, they do not deny such “simple truths” as the positive effect of a healthy lifestyle on duration of life or the fact that narcotic substances may cause health damage and death. However, the non-believers do not see how death can be redemption for a life. They see that innocent children die and serial killers live long lives. For skeptics, there is no high purpose or a higher punitive force in such a life order, at all. Respectively, skeptics don’t see how personhood may affect either life and its duration or death and its cause.

3. One with faith and one with doubt can define death and dying the same way if this definition is narrow and pertains only to the common denominator, i.e. the part of the two definitions that overlap. For example, both a believer and a skeptic would agree that death is the moment when a physical body stops functioning. However, for an individual with faith, this definition will comprise only a part of the “truth” about death and imply the existence of a big and important phenomenon beyond death. For a skeptic, the aforementioned partial definition would, basically, comprise all the de facto truth about death. As for the definition of dying, both a skeptic and a believer would agree that dying means a degradation of the body and its activities. Again, in a bigger context, the same phrase and the same piece of knowledge would mean different things and be understood, perceived and even moaned in a different way. It being said, a person with faith and that with doubt will use the same words, but put different meaning into them and have different concepts and general pictures of the phenomenon. A skeptic would see the natural law or a cycle of birth, living and dying, while a faithful individual will see a higher purpose. Nevertheless, none of them would deny death and dying as a biological decay and ceased physical existence. A simplified version of a theological definition of death implies separation of the two substances – the mortal shell and the soul it contained during a lifetime. Naturally, people of faith accept this position and those with doubt deny it, at least partially. Skeptics admit only the part regarding the physical death of the body and argue that any personality (personhood) or mind that was contained in a particular body dies with the ceased brain impulses. The believers oppose the skeptics’ perspective and appeal to the idea of the earthly life as a material stage that prepares a person for an immaterial transition in which personhood is preserved and keeps existing in a new quality and new dimension. Thus, while believers see death as a separation of the material and the immaterial (i.e. body and soul), skeptics see it as an undoubted end of both.

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