People have interesting ways of reacting to death. Most often, even for people of no faith, this includes the idea of continuation. Even atheists often voice wishes for after they die (for example: “I’d like to be remembered for …”, or “scatter my ashes….”, etc)
Two recent news stories are interesting in that respect. One of them relates to the burial of the dead suspect behind the Boston Bombings. He had to be buried in an undisclosed location under serious controversy, as no community wanted to take his corpse. The other news story, is a short piece about a Georgian (christian orthodox) tradition of going to cemeteries for family picnics and remember the dead.
In the first case, I don’t see a reason that the hatred against the bomber should extend to his lifeless rotting flesh. Why should his bones and tissue be seen as contaminating a certain location? What magical power do they have, that they should not be allowed to be laid somewhere, or that should motivate someone to go vandalize them? None, is the only answer I can find plausible. If anyone disagrees I’d like to understand why. What justifies such a strong moral reaction against a powerless, buried, dead body?
The second case recounts the habit of people going to have a meal in a cemetery. This seems like a beautiful tradition and simultaneously a delusion (as it turns out, they might not be incompatible). In the BBC video, a couple laments the death of their son: the man speaks and drinks wine, and the women can’t hide her tears. People leave food and wine in the cemetery on the graves of their loved ones. Everyone knows that the dead will not eat the food or drink the wine, but the tradition helps them feel a connection between the living and the dead; a connection between being and non-being. Going to the cemetery and accepting death as part of existence seems like a healthy thing to do. I am, however not so sure about the value of entertaining the belief that there is a connecting between the dead and the living. Finally, it can’t escape anyone that going to the cemetery and try to be joyful and connect with the dead, is also a way of mitigating people’s fear of their own death – after all if I act to make the dead feel good, maybe when I’m dead someone will make me feel good, and therefore death isn’t so bad.
In both these cases people attribute to the dead a state of ambiguous existence. By implication, death itself is seen also with ambiguity. While hating the corpse of a criminal seems of no value whatsoever, I’m uncertain about what to make of the cemetery picnics, and other rituals of interacting with the dead. Delusion, or healthy reminder of mortality? Both?