Why Do We Fear Death?

I’ve been reading an article in the New Yorker about Death and Dying. It talks about people’s reluctance to accept that there comes a point when there is nothing more that can be done for them, medically. This is part of the reason why people are so reluctant to move into hospice: it means giving up on getting better.

All of this makes perfect sense: after all, death is the big bugaboo, that which we fear above all else. But why?

From a religious point of view, if one believes in an afterlife, then death should bring rewards, or at least peace (at least for those who have led good lives, and who truly believes that they have done more evil than good?). For those who do not believe in an afterlife, death should simply be seen as a cessation. I suppose for that small minority of religious believers in an afterlife who think they have done great evil, death is something to fear. Yet it is, almost universally, feared.

Is it the unknown? The fact that death is the barrier beyond which lies the great undiscovered? If so, one would expect that there would be those who would see it as an adventure, the next frontier to be explored.

When faced with death, we, as humans, twist and turn to try to avoid it. We will go to great lengths and discomfort to prolong our lives even a little bit. We accept great pain, unhappiness, physical infirmity, rarely wondering if that is actually better than death.

There is an old Jewish joke: A man is complaining about how hard his life is. How he works three jobs for just enough money to feed himself, he hurts all the time and has no hope for the future. He tells his friend, “it would be better had I never been born.” His friend replies, “ah, but how many are that lucky? Maybe one in a million!”

As humans, we seem to be hard-coded to seek life. No doubt this is good for the survival of the species. But I have to ask, is it good for us as human beings? How much suffering is created because we fear death? I don’t know what the answer is, but I believe our current attitudes aren’t serving us well.