Vigen Guroian

death and dying

Well, this past semester I had the privilege of teaching a graduate course in philosophical and theological ethics that took up the theme of death as its starting point. The topic of death has consistently crossed my desk the past several years, and has become one of my principal scholarly interests. From death anxiety to death obsession (maybe those are the same thing) ... much of my reading, thinking, and watching (documentary and feature films) has in one way or another attempted to grapple with death and dying. 

It seems to me that death, as realized by current human experience, is both inevitable and unknown while also accompanied by wonder and worry. And the questions of death and its beyond have seemingly continued to go unanswered by philosophers, theologians, and other interested scholars for the subject itself is an obscure and tenuous one where prevailing attitudes and beliefs are incomplete and often inadequate. But what is generally evident is that people do not wish for death to come too early.

Ernest Becker has written, "To have emerged from nothing, to have a name, consciousness of self, deep inner feelings, an excruciating inner yearning for life and self-expression—and with all this yet to die." This solemn premonition is one that may very well be the reason the marketplace of biomedical knowledge and technology has focused a great deal of capital, intellectually and fiscally, on death—to grapple with this creaturely dilemma.  Though, such science has aimed to focus on the problem of death by seeking to determine how to prolong the valued commodity of human life—attempting to thwart human finitude and outsmart what Oxford philosopher Nick Bostrom has called the dragon-tyrant, Death.

Anyway, the topic of death will certainly be a regular theme of this blog.

But here is a brief quote from theologian, Vigen Guroian:

In his funeral oration on the death of his father, the great fourth-century theologian St. Gregory of Nazianzus observed that because of the Son of God's loving sacrifice on the cross, 'Life and death, as they are called, apparently so different, are in a sense resolved into, and successive to, each other.' The Son's sacrifice and death on the cross was God's deepest and most profound act of love for humankind. The Father left his Son vulnerable to death for our sakes. The Son, whose love for his fellow human beings knows no limit, voluntarily gave himself up to death to accomplish salvation for all. The existential and personal surety of this saving act of God is contingent, however, on our serious and faithful meditation upon the cross.

But death is trivialized in the contemporary world, and the cross of Christ is being forgotten. Television and the movies bombard us with false images of death, while those among us who are truly dying are placed out of sight in hospitals and nursing homes. ... [this] denial of death ... reflects and contributes to our diminished capacity to love others steadfastly and lastingly.

Vigen Guroian. Life's Living toward Dying (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1996), p. 34.