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Ursula Goodenough – Two Responses

 . . . it is here that we arrive at one of the central ironies of human existence.
Which is that our sentient brains are uniquely capable of experiencing
deep regret and sorrow and fear at the prospect of our own death,
yet it was the invention of death . . .
that made possible the existence of our brains. 

Religious naturalism offers two responses to human death. The first is the response to the death of someone loved, or a death that is premature or senseless. These directly ravage our personal fabric of relationship, or activate our empathy and compassion, and we experience unmitigated loss and grief. I was told of a school-age child whose mother was killed in an automobile accident-how weeks later he would go into her clothes closet and bury his face in her dresses so he could smell her smell. I am undone by his savage loss, and outraged by her death, even though these people are strangers to me. Our sorrow at the death of others is a universal human emotion that transcends cultural and religious particularities. Indeed, ape mothers have been observed carrying their dead babies around for several days, suggesting that this form of grieving far antedates our humanness.

And then there is the response to the fact of death itself, and, in particular, to the fact of my own inevitable death. When I wonder what it will feel like to be dead, I tell myself that it will be like before I was born, an understanding that has helped me to cope with my fear of being dead. But what about the fact that I will die? Does death have any meaning?

Well, yes, it does. Sex without death gets you single-celled algae and fungi; sex with a mortal soma gets you the rest of the eukaryotic creatures. Death is the price paid to have trees and clams and birds and grasshoppers, and death is the price paid to have human consciousness, to be aware of all that shimmering awareness and all that love.

My somatic life is the wondrous gift wrought by my forthcoming death.

 Excerpt from:
      Ursula Goodenough. The Sacred Depths of Nature. Oxford University Press. 2000.
            Chapter 11: Multicellularity and Death, pages 150-151.