This week two ‘newsworthy’ deaths occurred, James Gandolfini and Michael Hastings, the former newsworthy because his name is almost Gandolf (and because he was Tony Soprano… that too, but I havn’t seen the Sopranos or any part of it…) the latter because he was a journalist who died somewhat bizarrely. Gandolfini died of a heart attack in Italy, and Hastings died in a flaming single car accident. (I find myself thinking more and more like a conspiracy theorist these days. It is mostly the governments fault, if it behaves in a way that justifies the suspicious people like me, we will eventually become flat out conspiracy theorists. Why, for instance, is it impossible that Hastings was shut up permanently by the thug politicians? You may say that intimidation is one thing, and murder another, but what evidence is there that those in the government, the president, the appointees, the union bosses, have any moral red line?) But this is about death not conspiracies.
Hastings died in a fatal single-car crash at 4:25 on Tuesday morning. A witness said his car “suddenly jackknifed” before crossing the median and hitting a tree, causing a ferocious explosion that reportedly threw the engine block of the brand new Mercedes Hastings was driving 30 or 40 yards from the car. Mercedes engine blocks typically weigh between 290 and 540 pounds. It would take tremendous speed or force to throw one nearly half the length of a football field.
These two news reports trigger in my mind a whole series of thoughts about death and modern society. It is a strange paradox that a culture obsessed with not dying is also, in fact, a culture of death. We just don’t want to see it, but apparently most people are comfortable using it to avoid responsibility. A huge number of people embrace abortion and euthanasia, with various platitudes and pretenses, but in reality abortion and euthanasia are nothing more than the state-sanctioned murder of those who are inconvenient. And at the same time, people religiously pursue a cure for cancer. Here I may tread on a few toes, but the cure for cancer is irrelevant and useless for what most people actually want it for. Instead of being a humble cure for a horrible, but rather pedestrian sickness, most people have a fanatic’s belief in the cure for cancer; for them it is the first step to curing death. And I have bad news for everyone: if we cure cancer, something else will kill us. We all owe God a death.
What would a culture of life look like? Unfortunately we will never know in this world in its entirety, but we must always strive for perfection, even knowing that it is doomed to fail. Chesterton (I think) says (somewhere) that Eastern courage is the disdain of life, while Western courage is the disdain of death. While the West is losing its grasp on its culture, the distinction is, I think, instructive for the culture of life. The Christian loves his life, for it is a gift from God, but his life is an eternal one, so earthly death is scorned and disdained. I very much wonder whether a culture of life might not be rather obsessed with death. Death is the end of our suffering, the release from the trials of the world, it is something to be welcomed when God brings it, not sought out upon the time-table we wish, but received with gratitude when God wishes to call us to our real home. In this way, people wish to die a good death. What is a good death? Remembering and believing that:
I know nothing more about the two deaths I started with, but every time someone ‘newsworthy’ dies it is like a somber bell ringing through the darkness of the mad modern world that death comes to all. You can pretend it doesn’t matter, you can even pretend that science will help you live forever like someone I knew in college: but the reality denied and obscured by this modern world is the clear and hard truth is that we do indeed owe God a death, and death certainly comes to all.