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By Philip Yancey


Our Bodies, Our Stories, Part 3

(continued from Part 2)

Yancey: Do you know the book by the Frenchman Philippe Aries, "The Hour of Our Death?" He describes the change in language from graveyard to cemetery, a change wrought by Christians in the Middle Ages. Graveyard is a spooky place out from town where goblins and ghosts live. Cemetery is a sleeping place, and ultimately the tombs were brought in from the barrens outside town to the churchyard. Aries suggests that Christians tamed death, as it were, with their emphasis on the afterlife. It made death less of an enemy.

Selzer: Yes, but it didn't work, not to my knowledge. No one is accepting of death. You jog up and down the mountains because you don't want to die. You want to live forever and be slim and beautiful in your coffin. Along with other religions, Christianity has invented the hereafter to make it easier on us all.

Yancey: It's very significant that the afterlife is barely mentioned in the Old Testament. I think it's rather admirable of God, if I may use such language, to make that the last thing he brought up. In other words, God wanted us to love him for what he was, not for any future reward.

Komp: Bonhoeffer's theology--that your faith should not depend on whether or not there's life after death.

Selzer: But for most people it does. Being a nonbeliever, I must honestly say that I'm at peace about dying. Although I have no thought that anything of me will survive after my last breath, I am strangely at peace with that idea. Why is that? Why is a nonbeliever able to accept death with equanimity whereas so many people who have an abiding faith cannot?

Yancey: If I thought existence ended with death, then all anxiety would end, too. There will be nothing to survive on the other side to face any kind of threat. Existence ends--what's to fear? Unless, of course, you're wrong, and there is an afterlife.

Komp: I have to admit that during the 15-year period I would describe myself as an atheist, I had no fear of death. I now have a different view--that ...

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