Freedom from the Fear of Death | Freedom to Love
Over the past year, for reasons you might be able to imagine on all sides of our culture, I've thought a great deal about fear and the role it plays in forming our friendships, and our politics, and even our own selves.
There was a psychologist named Ernst Becker who was at odds with Freud in that he believed it was not so much sex that was the base driver of human nature and behavior, but the fear of death. I'm inclined to agree.
And it doesn't take too much work to see how our personalities and pathologies -- from the -isms that drive us to put others down (racism, sexism, what have you) to the -isms that drive us to numb ourselves (consumerism and the other addictions of which we all partake) -- could spring from from this source. As Paul says in Corinthians, inverting the way we typically put it: "The sting of death is sin."
When you are afraid, it is very hard to love. Love requires openness and vulnerability with the other: to embrace and give. It is rooted in and produces community (and, if we are to extend it so far as our enemies, it suggests a much wider circle of community than we would typically draw). Fear, on the other hand, drives us to separate: to avoid, negate, or turn violence. It is rooted in and produces alienation.
Even if you do not believe in the resurrection, as I do, the wisdom of the story reveals itself more deeply through these lenses because it teaches us to no longer fear death. It's role was to "free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death," as the author of Hebrews says. And being so freed, we are freed to love and freed into community (instead of freed into our self-interest and individuality as the Modern story-tellers would have it).
We have lost practices that allow us to know and love death. We do not farm, and so we do not see the beauty born from death and rotting. Instead, we invest in stocks and so only know the heartless demands of growth. We do not have communities that include death, and so we do not know the aging, or host their wake in our home, or see the graves in our neighborhoods. We do not know the foreigner or the stranger or the convicted, and so we do not mind that our wars, and our trade policies, and our laws put them to death.
Take a moment to listen to the story below. And for further reflection, consider picking up The Slavery of Death by Richard Beck.
As my scriptures repeat more regularly than any other phrase: do not be afraid.
Instead, beloved, love.