Death:  What Do You Believe?

April 14, 1992





            Death. What is it? What do you believe? It’s a mystery that either intrigues or repulses people for the only way to solve it is to experience it but it’s a one way street. There can only be speculation. Everyone has their own views of death and dying. These views change with time and circumstances. All of us will be tapped on the shoulders by the Grim Reaper’s scythe in some point in our lives, reminding us that our time could be anytime. There is no hiding from the indirect constant reminder since we are surrounded by it everyday by media. We are numb to that though but not to real life occurrences such as if a family member or friend dies. This is one of the few the times we question ourselves: What is death? What do I believe about it? When will I go? When will another of my loved ones go? What will happen to them? What will happen when I get there? So many questions but they go unanswered until it is our time. Some do manage to come to a conclusion and will either fear or accept death in various ways. It is the fear of death that makes others anxious about it and so therefore contribute to the idea that death is a taboo subject (Vernon, p. 13).

            There are beliefs and theories of all sorts ranging from personal, religious to philosophical to scientific to cultural. No matter what the belief or theory is, there will be some overlap because of the influences of one or more of these factors. What you believe and/or theorize about death has been influenced by one, many or all of these factors. In fact, Douglas Walton put it best when he said “The concept of death is not only multidisciplinary but also heavily philosophical in content (p.18).”

            I do not wait for a death of someone I know to question this concept, this aspect of life. I do not say the end of life for it isn’t. I believe that death is a transition from one state of being to another and so therefore do not fear death nor what may come after. I know that my beliefs have been influenced in many ways by all that I have mentioned above. I know that time and new knowledge has repeatedly changed my view of what’s after death but never about death itself. do not like to believe that we were put on this Earth to just to live then cease to exist because to me that would not be logical and serve no real purpose. I believe that God put us on this planet so that we may live in this existence and then to continue the experience in a different way.

            In this paper, I explore through these aspects like the viewpoints of the different types of religions and cultures, as well as the philosophical/psychological/scientific theories. As I go through it, I urge you to think about it since so many people don’t really think about it because they are either uncomfortable with the subject or never really thought about it since we usually feel that it couldn’t happen to us now. It could happen anytime. Think about it. What do you believe?


The Meaning of Death

Edited by Herman Feifal

Copyright: 1959

McGraw-Hill Book Company

Call number: BD444 F415 19G5


            This book dealt with various viewpoints on death. The first section, Theoretical Outlooks on Death, mentions six psychologists: Carl Jung, Charles Wahi, Paul Tillich, Walter Kaufman, and Herbert Marcuse and their viewpoints on death according to what their theories say about death. In an example viewpoint, Carl Jung says “Hence it would seem to more in accord with the collective psyche of humanity to regard death as the fulfillment of life’s meaning and as its goal in the truest sense, instead of a mere meaningless cessation (p.5).” Although he is saying that life isn’t worthless because we die, it is clear that he doesn’t believe that there is anything after death. He states “Therefore I shall certainly not assert now that one must believe death to be a second birth leading to a survival beyond the grave (p.7).” The other psychologists obviously do believe that death is the end for that is how they refer to death the whole time. They do talk about how to live life and that it is the important part. To them, death is just the end. That is a fairly pessimistic point of view and rather boring. Although Jung refers to it as a “fulfillment of life’s goals”, the point seems moot if you are not going to be rewarded for

it. Rewarded meaning, going on to a different and better level of life.



Confrontations with the Reaper:  The Philosophical Study of the

Nature and Value of Death

By: Fred Feldman

Copyright: 1992

Oxford University Press

Call number: BD444.F44 1992



            The book contains many psychological theories on life as well as death. The theory that they mention for death is the Materialist way of death. According to the author, “In typical cases, according to materialism, formerly living objects go on existing as corpses for a while after their deaths. Eventually, they go the way of all flesh. They deteriorate and finally go out of existence (p.106).”  “Thus, in the materialist conceptual scheme, life entails existence - to be alive at a time, a thing must exist. But death entails neither existence nor nonexistence. Something may be dead at a time whether it exists then or not (p. 115).”  Now I have to agree with these quotes to a certain degree. In the first quote, I think that it is true that former living things decay and cease to exist, meaning only the physical body. In the second quote, it is true that in one has to be alive to exist but I am not only thinking on the physical body but the spiritual body, too. That line that “death entails neither existence nor nonexistence.” is something that I believe to be true because at death, the physical body will cease to exist while the spiritual body is not nonexistent. So, in other words, the physical body dies and the spiritual body continues to exist so therefore death is not final, but a transition from the physical to the spiritual.



Sociology of Death: An Analysis of Death-Related Behavior

By: Glenn M. Vernon

Copyright: 1970

The Ronald Press Company

Call number: BD444.V45



            This book dealt with the sociological aspects of death such as the different ways people think of death as, as well as the way people deal with it in society. The book states that “Death is frequently experience as a crisis (p.13)” so the sociologists therefore treat death as such. I can agree with that statement because it usually is especially, since it happens rather unexpectedly many times causing grief. But, in my opinion, it can only cause grief to last long if one thinks that death is the end of the life instead of the consigning of it. The book also mentions other ways that people view death such as the section on the temporal way of viewing things. In this view, there is “Belief in the finality of death, Death is seen as the end of the individual (p.33).”  In another section of the book there is Symbolic Immortality. This is the idea that what you do that lives past you immortalizes you. For example, Homer wrote the Iliad and that story has lived past him so therefore he lives through this and never really died. So even if your physical body dies, you live on in symbols such as a story like the Iliad. Death is not final if you have what you did survive you. This is true but eventually things get lost, forgotten or destroyed so that means that death is final when that happens. To me, whether that work of art or such lives on or not, you do in a different plane of life, in a different body. There is also a section on the view that death is a form of sleep To me, this makes the least sense of all because it means that one is still alive but sleeping without a body. It seems illogical to me to think this way because if you can sleep in this state then you can wake up in it. Also, if it’s sleep, then on what level of the universe is this? My answer is: the same one you go to when your physical body dies. In one sense it is saying that there isn’t finality but it is weak in that it serves no purpose to sleep spiritually for eternity. But there are religions that have modified this into saying that we sleep until God wakes us up in the spiritual life. That sounds more plausible to me than the original one because then the spirit then has a purpose.


Perspectives on Death

Editor: Liston 0. Miller

Copyright: 1969 Abingdon Press

Call number: BD444.M5



            This book explores a couple of religious views as well as a few other things. It addresses the Hebrew bible and the New Testament views of death. In the Hebrew bible, it says that death is not the end for there is something after it. But they don’t really call it living because they feel that “The dead themselves are shadows, shades, ghosts in this far land (p.21).”  To me this is not living especially since the book says that “For the dead are but echoes of the living; perhaps even fading echoes (p.21).”  If they are “fading echoes” then they truly cease to exist; then therefore death is final. Another line that bothers me is “The dead have no experience either of God or man (p.25).”  If they have no experience with either then what are they doing, IF they exist at all? This is all contradictory to me because at one point they are saying that death is not final and yet it is. It should be that they believe one or the other. Either that death is final or not. In the New Testament, they believe that death isn’t final because of the resurrection and this is the main idea in it. The New Testament gives a mixed message about death because of different ideas that Jesus and Paul had about it. I really don’t like reading the Bible for information on what death is and what happens after because there are too many contradictory statements. Like there is a distinction made between resurrection and immortality. It said that the dead will be resurrected but not that they will live forever. What I wonder is how is it being resurrected? Is the physical body itself being resurrected or are they speaking of the spirit? The book mentions that Paul doesn’t believe the disembodied spirit while Jesus doesn’t make the distinction. Is it any wonder why the church is so split and that there are so many ways of thinking on what is death and what’s after that?


Death and the Western Thought

Jacques Choron

Copyright:  1963

The Macmillan Company

Call number: BD444.C45 1963a



            This book deals with a variety of influences with the Western views of death. They deal with the philosophers of Greece and Roman such as Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, and Epicurus. Then it deals with the Christian point of view, the Renaissance, modern philosophers and the contemporary ones. Of the ancient ones, Socrates felt that there were “two possibilities: death is either a dreamless sleep or migration of the soul to another world (p.43).” But whichever the case, “. . . death is not to be feared (p.43).”  Plato supported this idea that there was immortality after death for he states “The soul, whose essence is life and thus the very opposite of death, cannot be conceived of as dying... (p.48).” Aristotle believed that the soul gets released from the body, too, but couldn’t decide what came after that. As for the modern philosophers, many like Descartes, Spinoza, Leibniz and Kant believed that there was something beyond death, too, but vary as to what was. Of the contemporaries, there is a mixed group of philosophers. Not all believed that there was something beyond death. For example, Ludwig Claus took the extreme part of denying that death was not the end. The book states that “he realizes not only that individual existence is a constant dying, and after a short reprieve dissolves into eternal silence, but that all life is doomed to annihilation (p.210).”   He is very vehement in his argument in the finality of death. To me this seems like he is scared of death and of what lies beyond it to have to deny it so strongly.


Death Anxiety and Religiosity among an Older Adult Population

By: Wendy Holland, et al.

Publication Year: 1988

Journal Article

Cataloged in ERIC: Death attitudes



            In this journal article, Wendy Holland and her colleagues stated that “One of the most significant factors in accounting for death attitudes is religious beliefs, yet this factor has been little studied or understood.” so they proceeded to study sixty retired people ages 60 to 84 years old by giving them a test designed to measure death attitudes. There were three categories that these subjects had to classify themselves, Christian, non-Christian, or Born Again Christians. In the study they found that the Born Again Christians were less anxious about death compared to the regular Christians but both categories had less anxiety than the ones that were less religious. From this study, I speculate that the religious ones felt less anxiety about death because they felt that they were going to meet God and being believers made them less likely to think that they’d receive any punishment whereas the less religious ones had doubt as to what was going to happen. I feel that if you have something to believe in about death, that you fear it less and therefore feel calmer within yourself. Being that Christianity believes that death isn’t the end probably makes them feel better about death since it is viewed as a transition to another state. As to what exactly goes on beyond that is up to them but most, being Christians would feel that they are “meeting their Maker” and don’t feel fear about it. I can agree with that since this is where I got my belief that death isn’t the end. I know that I am comfortable with the idea of death and so probably have less anxiety than some people.


“Meanings of Death and Intrinsic Religiosity”

By:  James Thorson and F.C. Powell Publication year: 1990

Journal of Clinical Psychology Vol. 46(4), 379-391

                                                                                        Cataloged in PsychLit:  Death attitudes      



            In this journal article, Thorson and Powell studied correlation between the fear of death and dying and intrinsic religiosity. The also found that those that scored higher on the religious part, scored lower on the death anxiety scale. This correlates to what Holland found in the journal article mentioned before this one. But in this one, they studied a larger age range (18 yrs to 88 years) than did Ilolland and had more subjects. They also noticed that the age made the difference. The older and the more religious, the less the anxiety. I figured that being older, they had more time to think on the aspects of death because they are that much closer to it than the younger people. But also, the older people have already accomplished much in life so they must feel that they have done their job and that it is time for them to go on to the other side already. A young adult may not think so much on death because they feel that they have their whole life in front of them to go through despite the reality of unexpected deaths from accidents, diseases and such. But when something causes them to think on it, they fear more because then they might have more to worry since there are so many things that they haven’t done yet. Also, I believe that at this age, there aren’t many serious religious people, so even more they think on what death is about and if there is anything after it.


Attitudes Toward Death Across the Life Span

By: Robert Maiden and Gail Walker

Published year:  1985

Journal Article

Cataloged in ERIC:  Death and Religion



            In this journal article, Maiden and Walker also conducted a study on the attitudes on death and dying, using a broad age range but the subjects were primarily Protestant, white, and upper class status. They found that very little were anxious about death while more than half accepted death. But opposed to the study conducted by Thorson and Powell, they did not find a correlation between age and death anxiety. Walker and Maiden speculate that it could be the case that they were all of Protestant denomination and so therefore they believed the same things in about the same degree. I agree with this speculation because in the other study it did not say whether they all had the same religion or not. In this study of Maiden and Walker’s, the test group was much smaller and so didn’t get a wide variety of people to show any variation. If they had a bigger and mixed group like Thorson’s and Powell’s, they might have come up with fairly the same results. Maiden and Walker then concluded that “environmental factors and generational differences are more important than aging in the formation of adult’s view of death.” I don’t understand the separation of the aging and generational differences in their conclusion because they are very much linked. I believe that the generational differences are due to the aging. When a person ages and gets closer to death, they change their attitudes of death, this then reflects as a generational difference so they shouldn’t have separated the two because of that.


Thanatology: A Thematic Approach to Teaching

By: Adrian McClaren

Publication year:  1987

Journal article

Cataloged in ERIC:  Death beliefs



            In this journal article, McClaren advocated the teaching of death in a coherent and creative way so that they can “learn to express themselves” about death. This teaching of death can help shape what students know about death and how they will deal with it should it ever occur within their lives. Part of this teaching includes trips to the cemetery, literature on death, making visuals and discussions on the issues of death. They will be given various viewpoints to study about death. To some, this sounds like a real morbid thing to have to study death and visit cemeteries as a field trip expedition but I think that this is an interesting idea. This will allow the students to examine and come to a conclusion for themselves about death so that they don’t have much fears about death. Also, I feel that this will enable them to cope with death should it happen to a family member or friend. They will be less traumatized this way. To add, it helps bring the reality of death to them without confusion and fear but in a logical and rational way. It would be interesting to see something like this taught in all levels of schooling like math and English is but I can see the concern of parents about the morbidity of the subject and having to deal with their uncomfortableness on death. It will probably never really catch on because of this.


On Defining Death: An Analytic Study of the Concept of Death in

Philosophy and Medical Ethics

By:  Douglas N. Walton

Copyright:  1979

McGill-Queen’s University Press

Call number: BD444 .W34



            This book deals with mostly the medical ethics of death and dying. It seems irrelevant but it has much to do with the attitudes and beliefs about death for they influence many medical decisions and dilemmas. For example, the dilemma of the patients who are brain dead but are kept alive by machines. Are they really dead? The decision as to whether to keep the patient on the machines or to just pull the plug is an ongoing debate that deals with many beliefs about death. Religion plays a big part of this. What the patient’s family believes will enable them to make the decision as to whether the patient should be kept on or not. This isn’t the only matter. There is the issue of euthanasia. If you are certain denomination in the Christian religion, you wouldn’t contemplate this because it is considered suicide and suicide is considered as murder. Murder is considered punishable in heaven. But if you believe that death is final and you don’t want to suffer from, say a terminal illness, which is usually the case, then you would have no anxiety in doing it. In the book, they make a distinction between two types of euthanasia: active and passive. It is “the distinction between kill and allow-to (p.92). The book also states that the passive one is usually more morally acceptable than the active one. The beliefs that you carry influence the decision you make on this one. Religion plays the biggest role here.


Death and the Eastern Thought

Edited by:  Fredrick H. Holck

Copyright: 1974

Abingdon Press

Call number:  BL504.H6



            This book deals with three of the eastern beliefs on death:  Hinduism, the Chinese Confucianism and Taoism, and the Japanese Buddhism. In Hinduism, “Death is a terrifying phenomenon to the man who is burdened by unbelief and whose future is bound up in birth after birth. ... the nondevotee can anticipate only one hell to be followed by another. but for the man who is devoted to the supreme deity (Visnu or Siva), the world is a gratuitous realm, and death is the door to the abode to the eternal bliss (p.93).”  To the Chinese, “acceptance was the dominant attitude toward death (p.198).”  In the Confucianism, “The dominant Confucian attitude can be summed up as humanistic and moderately skeptical, though not to the point of denying some form of afterlife (pp. 199-200).” The Taoism part ranges as much as the beliefs of western beliefs; from thinking of it as sleep to an end. The Japanese believed that death was not final for they believed in “other worlds (p.227).” In the Japanese Buddhist tradition at one point, they believed that death “was something that might be forestalled, outwitted, and escaped by means of semi magical operations and precise knowledge of the ‘whereabouts’ of death and danger (p.229)”  and “that death is the prime moment of release from the illusion of having a separate and ongoing ego or soul and the moment for a total unification with truth and also with the cosmic natural processes (p.252).”  Later on, death also became the “occasion for the demonstration of an individual’s loyalty, integrity and honor (p.252).”  So in all, the eastern beliefs of death are as varied as the western beliefs even though they are different. I found these beliefs of death very interesting and most of all I was impressed by their lack of anxiety of death itself.


A Last Stronghold of Traditional Zoroastrianism. Teaching Aids for

the Study of Inner Asia, No. 7.

By:  Mary Boyce

Publication year: 1977

Journal Article

Cataloged from ERIC: Death and religion



            This journal article studies the ancient Iranian belief of Zoroastrianism that is still practiced in Iran and India. The interesting thing about this is that death was “considered the greatest source of impurity.” In fact, those that dealt with the bodies were themselves considered impure. It still shows a fear of death but in a different manifestation. I found this of great interest to me because of all the other religions and beliefs that I have read, nothing even comes close to the way that Zoroastrianism treats death. I have a difficult time thinking of why they belief that it is a source of impurity. I can only guess that it is because when the corpses rot, they are disgusting and the stench would be considered a sign of filth. But it doe not explain why death itself is viewed as an impurity. This must cause great anxiety as one approaches old age and near death or gets ill and near death. I can only speculate that one must be treated rather poorly as they near it. It is a truly different way of believing in death.