Caution: much ego strength recommended.

1 Death and Western Thought 2940-2940
2 The Immortalist 2941-2945
3 The Hour of Our Death 2946-2948
4 History of Thanatology 2949-2952
5 Dictionary of Quotations in Sociology 2953-2956
6 Death and the Afterlife 2957-2957
7 Irvin D. Yalom 2958-2970
8 Ernest Becker 2971-3026
9 The Life and Work of Otto Rank 3027-3032
10  David Loy 3033-3053
11 Van A. Harvey 3054-3054
12 Feuerbach and the Interpretation of Religion 3055-3058




from: Death and Western Thought, Jacques Choron [1904 - 1972], Collier, 1973 (c1963), "7":


Yo quiero que me enseñen donde está la salida

           para este capitán atado por la muerte.



—FEDERICO GARCIA LORCA, Llanto por Ignacio Sanchez Mejiás Tr. by Ilsa Barea

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from: Richard Strauss [1864 - 1949], An Intimate Portrait, Kurt Wilhelm, translated by Mary Whittall, "Dedicated to Frau Alice Strauss in admiration and gratitude", Thames and Hudson, 1989 (1984 German).

"Tod und Verklärung (Death and Transfiguration) op. [opus: (Latin) work] 24, 1888–9, has a poetic idea which was Strauss's own. Though he had never been seriously ill himself, he depicts a dying man who remembers his youth and his ideals; a conviction steals upon him with ever-growing strength, and in his death-agony the ideals which it was impossible to realize in life rise up before him out of the darkness, transfigured. The theme representing transfiguration does not appear until well into the work, but forms the basis of the final, culminatory section. Once again, the poetic idea determines the form and structure of the work." [42-43].

"Alice [Jewish daughter-in-law] nursed him. 'I hear so much music', he [Richard Strauss] said. She offered to bring him manuscript paper. 'I wrote it sixty years ago, in Tod und Verklärung. This [dying] is exactly like that.' Uraemia began to undermine his resistance. Angina and increasingly severe heart attacks weakened him further. He was given oxygen. The catheter inserted after his bladder operation had been hurting him for months. The last days were very painful, but then he died peacefully at 2.12 p.m. on 8 September 1949.

There had been bulletins on his condition for days in the international press. Now radio stations changed the scheduled programmes in order to pay tributes and play his music. A prince had died.

That evening Bernard Shaw, ninety-four years old, sat down at his piano and played and sang from Ariadne.

There were so many mourners at the funeral on 12 September that the ceremony was held in the open air outside the crematorium at the Ostfriedhof in Munich, for it was a mild early autumn morning. The orchestra of the State Opera, under its conductor Georg Solti, played the second movement of the Eroica. Among the speakers Egon Hilbert, director of the Vienna Opera, found the most beautiful words: 'Richard Strauss has entered eternity, and his music immortality.' A late butterfly fluttered over the flowers and wreaths, settled on the pall for a while then flew up into the blue sky. At the end the concluding trio from Der Rosenkavalier was sung. The entire congregation was in tears. Pauline [widow] slipped from her chair sobbing, and her cry rang out in silence: 'Richard! Richard!'" [286].

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from: The Immortalist, An Approach to the Engineering of Man's Divinity, Alan Harrington, Random House, c1969. [See: 2975 (Becker)].

          'The most imaginative philosophical and religious answers to the "problem of death" have become precisely irrelevant to the fact that we die. HUMANITY'S POWERS OF SELF-DECEPTION SEEM TO BE RUNNING OUT. Modern theological word-games may be pleasing to seminarians. Let jazz be permitted in the old spiritual gathering places. Such developments must be understood as gallant but altogether pathetic holding operations.' ["3"-4].

          'One of the advantages in having a cause is that it saves you from worrying about what life means. (Indeed, this is what attracts many people to communal action.) Just as during World War II "anti-fascism" seemed a sufficient excuse for living, so the fight against one injustice or another has tended to deliver present-day activists from such maladies of privilege as intellectual doubt, cosmic weariness and boredom. While the revolution assaults any given establishment, the fact that an abyss waits at the end of life does not for the time being bother the rebel. Hatred of the system and concern with advancement of the war gives a man enough to think about. Only when the battle has ended does the freed soul turn and face the cosmic menace.' [4-5].

          'Quite evidently the people of our time are reporting an emotional displacement; a condition not new but, some say, "aggravated by the complexities of modern life." The diagnosis, roughly speaking: angst, alienation. The treatment? Any public library catalog offers an assortment of prescriptions. Also a host of new preachers and messiahs. Their life-plans usually involve one or a combination of these choices: spiritual uplift; psychiatric consultation; group action; drunkenness [and other "legal drugs"]; embracing the outdoors; making love as often as possible to the very edge of consciousness and forgetting about anything else; burying oneself in work, games and large families; trying to follow the complicated religio-philosophical excuses for what Reinhold Niebuhr describes as man's "natural contingency," and in more recent years the skillful employment of narcotics, blowing your mind, and seeking rebirth in the psychedelic voyage.

          UNFORTUNATELY, THESE PANACEAS HAVE A SINGLE FAULT IN COMMON: THEY ARE ALL VARIETIES OF SELF-HYPNOSIS. Without exception they aim to cover up our condition rather than change it. Tiptoing [Tiptoeing] around like the old man with a young bride, they dare not come to grips because the bride is death [?].

          Meanwhile, frightened, vulnerable and increasingly angry civilized men continue to signal their warnings. Though coded, the message is that of a grown-up child, and childishly easy to read. The "problem" expressed in whatever form—feelings of isolation; aggressive behavior toward one another; massive paranoia, and the common inability to believe, commit or care—DERIVES, going back to the beginning, FROM A SINGLE CAUSE.


          At the heart of this distress, the illness may be identified, simply and without sham, as THE FEAR OF AGING AND DEATH. All else is peripheral and finally unimportant. Hence, no therapeutic treatment, however inspirational, can do more than apply a coating of salve [I (LS) have "always" considered religions lubricants] to our concern.

          The problem causing civilized men to semaphore frantically and strike out in all directions is neither social nor philosophical, not religious or even psychiatric. Rather, it is based solidly on an intolerable recognition only now emerging to general consciousness; with protective myths and orthodoxies having been stripped away, not merely the knowledge but the gut-realization that the VOID is waiting for everybody and that each of us is going to vanish into it. The gloomiest projection of this awareness comes from a master scientist and mathematician, the seventeenth century Jansenist, Pascal [Blaise Pascal 1623 - 1662]:

...that death, which threatens us every moment, must infallibly place us within a few years under the dreadful necessity of being for ever either annihilated or unhappy. There is nothing more real than this,, nothing more terrible. Be we as heroic as we like, that is the end which awaits the noblest life in the world....I know not who put me into this place rather than in another, nor why the short time which is given to live is assigned to me at this point rather than at another of the whole eternity which was before me or which shall come after me. I see nothing but infinities on all sides, which surround me as an atom, and as a shadow which endures only for an instant and returns no more....


          In our era Paul Tillich [1886 - 1965] updates the same idea:

We are a generation of the End and we should know that we are....Death has become powerful in our time....For nearly a century this was concealed in Western Civilization....We forgot that we are finite, and we forgot the abyss of nothingness surrounding us.

          We need not detail any more such pronouncements. The point is not that philosophers feel this way, but that insight into doom, once the privilege of certified thinkers, has now been brought home to nearly everybody who can read. It is the "something new" of our day. All around us we have the spectacle of overflowing millions no longer praying but grasping for salvation, behind all façades of sophistication and toughness, each in his own style, every man for himself. Salvation by whatever means—and quickly. It has become the central passion that drives us, a need rapidly turning into an imperious demand to be rescued from nothingness.

          This is not to deny that life can be sunny and lusty, packed with fascinating hours; that everybody has the chance to turn his span into an adventure filled with achievement and love-making, and that we dance, skydive, float in space, build marvelous computers, and climb mountains under the sea. Admit too that we have never had such music, and proliferating excitement, and varieties of challenge. Still...


          After the exuberance of being young, as young men and women grow only a little older, there begins to intrude on all our scenes a faint disquiet. At first it visits intermittently. The occasional feeling of a shadow seems not too important, perhaps an illusion. Then it reappears....

Not that we think about it all the time; people have other things to do. Still, it remains just beyond our attention, waiting.

          We do our best to put the vision off somewhere, make it remote. Or close it [death] off with black jokes. Any new religion is eagerly grasped for a little while. We must kick the vision by whatever means; otherwise all experience dissolves in irony, since it and we will soon be gone [reminiscent of Ecclesiastes].' [6-8, 9].

          'The mysterious happening of death has led humanity to expiate primal guilt in both monstrous and beautiful ways. Hope of setting things right with the gods has driven us to lunacies of self-denial, cruelties, persecutions, elaborate ceremonies with incense and smoke, dancing around totem poles, the thumbscrewing of heretics; from Mexico to India, the casting of shrieking innocents into pits, and all kinds of psychotic, shameful and ludicrous practices such as would make whatever gods might be watching hide their eyes.

          In the East we have been more subtle, attempting to placate destiny by an elaborate pretense of not wanting to survive, or preferring nirvana to the eternal return. But elsewhere listen to the wails, songs, shouts, hymns and chants. The voices of Islam, Judaism, Christianity and atheism join as one. Massed units in Red Square as well as Vatican City combine their energies in a single mighty appeal: Save Us. For the beauty and cruelty in the world, the kindness and the murder; our art trying to illuminate this wilderness; speculations of philosophers; and the descent into drugs and drunkenness; today's wildly emotional crowds rushing around the world's streets—all are organized around death, and designed to protect each of us from annihilation here or elsewhere.

          Dostoevsky penetrates our situation with one quick thrust. In The Possessed, Kirilov, the engineer, about to become his own god by committing suicide: "Man simply invented God in order not to kill himself. That is the sum of universal history down to this moment."

          Tracking man's spiritual history, we can follow this path: from the beginning, human consciousness longs and plans to perpetuate itself. Out of individuated consciousness, which is original sin, what Miguel de Unamuno called the "hunger of immortality" is born. Man craves personal immortality, but observes that everyone dies. He then creates gods, and worships and placates them. Assuming that "we must have done something wrong," he constructs systems of self-punishment to pay for the primal crime. Still everybody dies. Then, since eternal life on earth obviously is not forthcoming, and placating divine authority hasn't worked, he more or less unknowingly resolves to knock down the gods or replace them, or to become God. Since this must be done warily, for fear of retribution, he informs himself of what he


is doing through myths. In these dream-projections the Promethean and satanic types, or the "Foolish Women" such as Eve, always undergo a severe chastising, but the idea of rebellion is thereby passed along. No good; everyone goes on dying.

          He attempts to trick fate, as in the Far East, by pretending that he doesn't want to come back to life. That doesn't accomplish anything either. Now he grovels before the gods, saying, All right, I won't eat or make love too often; I'll play half-dead in advance, refuse to enjoy, even die before I die, offer myself for wounding, expose my undefended belly, genitals, backside, anything, is that what you want? No help.

          Thus men alternate between abject surrender and assertiveness....' [10-12].

          "Having lost faith, a great many men and women have returned to the old superstitions now cloaked in new disguises. God may have retreated, but the gods today are by no means dead. Though disposed to destroy them, we simultaneously bow down to some of the weirdest assortment of deities ever known, such as History, Success and Statistics. We worship purveyors of Luck, Fashion and Publicity. We follow shifting gospels based on journalistic graffiti passing for honest news. We humbly receive the word from makeshift divinities seated at the head of couches, sexual statisticians, psychological testers, polltakers, various merchants of paranoia, the manipulators of public relations and television personalities—the multiple gods of our quickening century.

          This is to say that increasing numbers of civilized men and women are progressing, or retrogressing, to a pagan state of mind. The most sophisticated as well as humble people live in fear of these gods and, atheists most of all, are guided by the need either to live up to their examples or compete for their approval. What emerges, astonishingly, is that the old gods in new forms live on in our heads not metaphorically but for all practical purposes alive, and that they exert a dominating influence over the great bulk of modern affairs. One development is new here. For want of any other way, the publicizing of one's excellence (fitness for survival beyond death)—publicity great and small—has become the path to immortality. The lust for do-it-yourself immortality has produced an emotional transformation in which the ideal of Right Conduct (formerly the passport to heaven) is being replaced everywhere by the ideal of Printing One's Image on All Things." [15-16].

          'An unfortunate awareness has overtaken our species: masses of men and women everywhere no longer believe that they have even the slightest chance of living beyond the grave. The unbeliever pronounces a death sentence on himself. For millions this can be not merely disconcerting but a disastrous perception.

          Like accident victims showing no visible abrasion, those who have lost the dream of immortality sustain a grave internal injury. Viscerally, and in the very impulses of the nervous system, they have always felt rebirth waiting on the other side. Now that it no longer waits there, the rhythmic "imitation of immortality" lived


out from day to day is being disrupted. With the prospect of survival denied him, the unbelieving man—who may outwardly, perhaps to fool himself, still be professing some kind of faith—tends to become emotionally cornered and thrown back into his doubtful self.' [34].

          'Anxiety increases with education. As we grow more sophisticated, which is to say more "unnatural," ever more ingenious rationalizations are needed to explain death away. Faith survives among intelligent people, but not so easily now. The devout must somehow manage to embrace absurdity or ignore it. The second comes much more naturally. Mens sana [healthy mind] is still best maintained by not thinking about possibilities. Unhappily, with the immense input of information at our disposal today, a certain number of ideas destructive to peace of mind will be almost bound to penetrate one's protective screen.' [35].

As I (LS) recall, from my "time in the desert", San Francisco, 1964: Lord Byron

[George Gordon Byron 1788 - 1824] [one cold, foggy December night, 1995 [see Article #6, 166-179], in Venice, Italy, I looked for the house where Lord Byron stayed—with his menagerie (eagle, falcon, monkeys, etc.)—and socialized with Countess Teresa Guiccioli. I was on location, but not sure which residence in view, had housed his sojourn in Venice]:

          Death! A thing which makes men weep

          And yet a third of life is spent in sleep

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Additional References:

The Complete Essays of Montaigne [1533 - 1592], translated by Donald M. Frame, Stanford U., Pb, 1966 (1958): "That to philosophize is to learn to die" (see 2963); "Of judging of the death of others"; "Of vanity"; etc.

Montaigne, Hugo Friedrich, U. California, c1991 (German, c1949).

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from: The Hour of Our Death, by Philippe Ariès, translated from the French by Helen Weaver, Alfred A. Knopf, New York, 1981.


The Vanities....

Throughout the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries there is a kind of inexorable downward movement on all levels of society toward the yawning gulf of NOTHINGNESS." ["322"].

"The Temptation of Nothingness

We might expect to arrive, by the beginning of the eighteenth century, at a certain equilibrium of melancholy simplicity, an equilibrium that would be symbolized by the English and American cemetery. But already the bittersweet sentiment in which this culture was steeped was turning sour, and THERE WAS A SHIFT FROM THE VANITIES TO THE VOID. Not always, not necessarily, but often to characterize the style of an era. What took place was a sort of dramatic return of a melancholy life to its empty center." [341].

          '"As long as we are at home in the body," Increase Mather, who was descended from a family of great New England preachers, wrote in 1721, "we are absent from the Lord....We are willing rather to be absent from the body and at home with the Lord."

          The body that remains after death is of no interest to the English Puritan. "Thy body, when the soul is gone, will be a horrour to all that behold it, a most loathsome and abhorred spectacle. Those that loved it most cannot now finde in their hearts to look on it, by reason of the griefly deformedness which death will put upon it. Down it must into a pit of carions and confusion; covered with wormes, not able to wag so much as a little finger, to remove the vermine that feed and gnaw upon its flesch." Not so the soul: "When the soule departs this life, it carries nothing away with it but grace, God's favour, and good conscience."33

          Bossuet comes very close to the English nonconformist when he asks in his "Sermon sur la mort," "Will I be permitted today to open a tomb in the presence of the court, and will not those delicate eyes be offended by such a dismal sight?"

          Bossuet [Jacques-Bénigne Bossuet 1627 - 1704] had started this meditation on death when he was twenty years old. In his "Méditation sur la brièveté de la vie," he writes, "My life will consist of eighty years at most....How little space I occupy in the great abyss of time!" He repeats the idea almost word for word in his "Sermon sur la mort": "If I cast my eyes before me, what an infinite space in which I do not exist! And if I look behind me, what a terrible procession of years in which I do not exist, and how little space I occupy in this vast abyss of time!"

          We recognize here the idea of vanity, the brevity of life, the flight of time, the


insignificance of man in the vastness of time and space; a Pascalian idea [reminds me of Marcus Aurelius (see Appendix VII, 793)]. As early as 1648, in his "Méditation sur la brièveté de la vie," Bossuet made the transition from this little space to nothing at all: "I am nothing. This little interval is incapable of distinguishing me from the void into which I must go. I am a nonentity; the world had no need of me." This passage is also repeated word for word in the "Sermon sur la mort."

          "I am nothing...the world had no need of me." This, from a man who was so important that the treasury of the Church was mobilized for his personal salvation, his successes and failures were of vital concern to the entire community, and there were holidays celebrating the great events of his life. This life was now regarded as "a candle that had consumed its substance" by Bossuet, a puff of smoke in the breeze by the German Cryphius (1640), "a drop of dew that has fallen on a lily" by Binet (Essay des merveilles), a drop of dew or a soap bubble by the Englishman Richard Crashaw: ....' [342-343].

"Whether intimate or lofty, these variations on the theme of NOTHINGNESS are now buried in books that are seldom read. This NOTHINGNESS has lost some of its impact. We can pass by without noticing it and pretend that we have forgotten it. At most, it could be an exercise in erudition. But even today NOTHINGNESS can compel our attention with the same force as in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. In the churches it remains beneath the surface; but tombs and epitaphs hurl it in our faces like a dirty word, and anyone who has seen this word can never forget it. The power of expression of funerary art can be extraordinary." [344].

'....Many other funerary inscriptions of the same period [16th–18th centuries] dispense with theological subtleties and make no attempt to balance contradictory truths. They state bleakly that the world is nothing, with no allusion to salvation, Christ, or any celestial comforter to act as a counterbalance. For example, this Neapolitan [relating to Naples, Italy] epitaph at San Lorenzo Maggiore:

                                What is the world?

                                What is it? Nothing.

                                If it is nothing, why is it?

                                The world is as nothing.

          Or this other epitaph, also Neapolitan, at San Domenico [Maggiore]: "Terra tegit terram" (Earth covers earth).


Cardinal Antonio Barberini [1569 - 1646], who died in 1671 [1646], can hardly be suspected of atheism; yet he chose for his Roman epitaph [now, in Santa Maria Della Concezione, Rome] the same idea, which strikes our ears with the accent of despair:

"HERE LIE ASHES AND DUST [these are the traditional symbols of penitence, but the last word falls like an executioner's blade] AND NOTHING [intentions of Cardinal Antonio Barberini?]."36

Excursus: from: maria della concezione.htm

[Latin epitaph of Cardinal Antonio Barberini] "hic jacet pulvis, cinis et nihil"

[Italian translation of above Latin] "qui giace polvere, cenere e nient'altro"

[(my) English translation of above Latin] "HERE LIES DUST, ASHES AND NOTHING"

Common English translations have: "nothing more". The Italian (above), has "nient'altro" ("nothing other"). I find the addition of "more" and "other", to be examples of "stuffing" (see 2897) for mental horror vacui].

End of Excursus


No doubt they managed to keep it within bounds, but the balance became precarious when the two realms, the realm of NOTHINGNESS and the realm of immorality, became too widely separated, without communication. It required only a decline in faith or rather, as I believe, a decline in eschatological concern within the Christian faith, for the balance to be destroyed and for NOTHINGNESS to take over. The way was now open for all the fascination of NOTHINGNESS, nature, and matter.'


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from: History of Thanatology, Philosophical, Religious, Psychological, and Sociological Ideas Concerning Death From Primitive Times to the Present, Panos D. Bardis, Lanham, c1981.

          "The science dealing with death is known as thanatology (Greek thanatos, death, and logos, word or science)." [1].


         PREFACE                                                                                                                     ix

   1.   INTRODUCTION                                                                                                           1

   2.   DEFINITION OF DEATH                                                                                               7

   3.   THE EAST                                                                                                                   11

         A. China                                                                                                                     11

         B. India                                                                                                                       12

         C. Persia                                                                                                                    16

         D. Mesopotamia                                                                                                         16

   4.   ANCIENT EGYPT                                                                                                       19

   5.   ANCIENT GREECE                                                                                                    25

   6.   ANCIENT ROME                                                                                                         33

   7.   THE OLD TESTAMENT AND JUDAISM                                                                    37

   8.   THE NEW TESTAMENT AND CHRISTIANITY                                                          45

   9.   ISLAM                                                                                                                         51

 10.   THE MIDDLE AGES                                                                                                   57

 11.   MODERN TIMES                                                                                                        63

 12.   CONCLUSION                                                                                                            77

         BIBLIOGRAPHY                                                                                                         81

         INDEX                                                                                                                         85

         ABOUT THE AUTHOR                                                                                               91



          Because of Hellenistic influences, Christianity dealt with death much more extensively than the Old Testament did. But its emphasis on eternal life prevented Western philosophy from studying death systematically. An important Christian concept is that of dualism, namely, soul versus body, or eternal-spiritual world versus temporal-material world. Man, having an immortal soul, is in the middle of these two poles, the ideas of Easter-resurrection giving him hope. Thus, as in the hymn Dies Irae, death means a metamorphosis, not the end of life. The ultimate goal in this system is salvation, that is, eternal life with God. That is why, according to the Gospel of John, biological death is less important than one's deeds, and those who


accept the teaching of Jesus become immortal: "And whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die" (11:26). Indeed, the New Testament explains that Jesus has conquered death: "Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is they victory?" (I Corinthians 15:54–55).



          1. The end of natural life: "But Jesus said unto him, follow me; and let the dead bury their dead" (Matthew 8:22).

          2. The departure of the soul from the physical body: "For I am now ready to be offered, and the time of my departure is at hand" (II Timothy 4:6).

          3. The laying aside of the body: "For we know that if our earthly house of this tabernacle were dissolved, we have a building of God, an house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens" (II Corinthians 5:1).

          4. A form of sleep: "Our friend Lazarus sleepeth; but I go, that I may awake him out of sleep" (John 11:11).

          5. Complete separation from God, which is the second death: "Blessed and holy is he that hath part in the first resurrection: on such the second death hath no power....And death and hell were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death" (Revelation 20:6, 14).


          As for the etiology of death, two main theories are presented:

          First, death is the result of sin: "That as sin hath reigned unto death, even so might grace reign through righteousness" (Romans 5:21).

          Second, death is caused by the spiritual night of God's absence from one's life: "To give light to them that sit in darkness and in the shadow of death" (Luke 1:79).

          In New Testament times, burial almost always consisted in inhumation ["burying in the ground" (O.E.D.)], embalmment was exceedingly uncommon, and the typical tomb was a cave The body was wrapped in clean linen ("And when Joseph had taken the body, he wrapped it in a clean linen cloth"--Matthew 27:59), anointed with spices and ointments ("And they returned, and prepared spices and ointments"--Luke 23:56), and buried immediately in order to avoid unpleasant odors: "and the young men came in, and found her dead, and, carrying her forth, buried her by her husband" (Acts 5:10). Coffins were never used and the funeral (this word does not occur in the Bible) was not elaborate. Burial in sarcophagi with beautiful iconographic illustrations began in the fourth and fifth centuries.


          In medieval times, the Catholic Church adopted a funeral based on the belief in purgatory. This ceremony included black vestments, black candles, and the tolling of church bells, and consisted of five main stages:

          1. A cortege of mourners and clergy carried the corpse to the church, while psalms were sung and incense was used for purification.

          2. The coffin was deposited in the church and covered with a black pall. Then followed the Office of the Dead, the participants constantly repeating: "Eternal rest grant unto him, O Lord: and let perpetual light shine upon him."

          3. The Requiem Mass came next.

          4. The Absolution of the deceased included perfume, incense, and holy water for the coffin.

          5. The burial of the body, with the appropriate prayers, took place in consecrated ground.

          In modern times, the Second Vatican Council (1962–1965) introduced white vestments and prayers of joy and hope.

          After death, God will raise the physical body again and judge every man's deeds. Then, the righteous will enjoy everlasting bliss in heaven: "For the Lamb which is in the midst of the throne shall feed them, and shall lead them unto living fountains of waters: and God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes" (Revelation 7:17). The wicked, however, will undergo perpetual punishment in hell [see 2754-2799]: "But he that shall blaspheme against the Holy Ghost hath never forgiveness, but is in danger of eternal damnation" (Mark 3:29).

          One of the greatest Christian thinkers, Saint Paul, made the first profound statement regarding resurrection. His use of the term soma, however, meant neither flesh nor spirit, but personality, ego, identity, Gestalt. He also theologized death, which, according to him, results from man's original sin: "by one man's disobedience many were made sinners" (Romans 5:19). But death was conquered by Jesus and resurrection now leads to a newness of life: "Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life" (6:4). Death, despite its ephemeral biological victory, has lost its power, and those who believe in Jesus may now become immortal: "For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality" (I Corinthians 15:53).

          The Apocryphal New Testament speaks both of immortality and of an active existence on the part of the soul. This is especially true of The Vision of Paul [see 2762, 2763, 2772, 2773], which influenced Dante and generated the later belief that the soul often returns to the body to praise or scold it, depending on the state of the soul. The famous dialogues between body and soul concerning moral principles were also inspired by this book.



          Saint Irenaeus (130–200 A.D.), the martyr and bishop of Lyons in Gaul who wrote Against Heresies, believed that the soul is immortal but inactive after death. Its residence is an invisible place where the soul is waiting for the day of the Last Judgment (Against Heresies, V, 31).

          Saint Gregory (330–395 A.D.), the Cappadocian Church Father who became bishop of Nyssa, wrote De Anima et Resurrectione. In this brilliant treatise, he defined the soul as man's immortal or divine component, adding that the body and soul cannot be separated completely. After death, Gregory said, the soul merely waits for the day of resurrection, which means the reunion of the body and soul.

          Saint Augustine (354–430 A.D.), one of the greatest Latin Church Fathers and the author of De Civitate Dei, defined death as man's punishment for his sins. Concerning the fear of death, he asserted that only divine grace can liberate us from it.

          Pope Gregory the Great (540–604 A.D.), whose name was given to the Gregorian chant, believed that death is the separation of the soul from the body, and that their reunion will take place at resurrection. Moreover, the soul may go through purgation. As for visions of life after death, which some persons have, they are indicative of sanctity that the truly virtuous achieve as soon as death occurs.

          Saint Anselm (1033–1109 A.D.), the archbishop of Canterbury who became famous for his ontological argument for the existence of God, wrote the celebrated Cur Deus Homo ["Why God Became Man"]? on the atonement in 1097. This theory of penitential discipline dealt with penances imposed by the Church. If a person died before completing such penances, he could continue them as an active soul between death and the moment of resurrection on Judgment Day. If no penances were necessary, or if the imposed penances were completed, the soul would enjoy a blissful existence after death. The soul, of course, was judged as soon as it left the body.

          Saint Thomas Aquinas (1226–1274 A.D.), the greatest Schoolman of the Middle Ages and author of Summa Theologica, also believed in such rewards and punishments for the human soul after death.

          Among modern Christians, Martin Luther (1483–1546) and John Calvin (1509–1564) rejected purgatory. Both of them, however, were basically medieval thinkers who placed great emphasis on the immortality of the soul and the period between death and resurrection. Later on, Catholicism stressed neo-Thomism, while Protestantism adopted a neo-orthodoxy based on the teachings of the reformers.'

[45-50] [end of Chapter Eight].

_____ _____ _____


from: Dictionary of Quotations in Sociology, Panos D. Bardis, Greenwood, 1985.


          "Weeping will not bring back a man from the other one has ever come back after he has gone there" (The Book of the Dead, c. 2500 B.C.).

          "But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die" (Genesis 2:17).

          "While you do not know life, how can you know about death?" (Confucius, Analects, c. 500 B.C.).

          "A wealthy man and a poor man move side by side toward the end of death" (Pindar, Odes of Victory, c. 480 B.C.).

          "Who knows if what we call death is life, and what we call life is death?" (Euripides, Phrixus, c. 420 B.C.).

          "By avoiding death, men pursue it" (Democritus, Fragments, c. 400 B.C.).

          "Since true philosophers always deal with the practice of dying, to them death is less terrible than to any other men" (Plato, Phaedo, c. 400 B.C.).

          "As for the exposure and rearing of children born, let there be a law that no defective infant shall be reared" (Aristotle, Politics, c. 350 B.C.).

          "The most horrible of all evils, death, is nothing to us, for when we exist, death is not present; but when death is present, then we are not. So it is not present either for the living or for the dead, since for the former it does not exist, and the latter do not exist" (Epicurus, Letter to Menoeceus, c. 300 B.C.).

          "If among the things which man dislikes there were nothing which he disliked more than death, why should he not do everything by which he could avoid danger?" (Mencius, Book of Mencius, c. 300 B.C.).

          "It would be natural to mention all the different causes of death, in order that the one real cause of that man's death be mentioned among them" (Lucretius, On the Nature of Things, c. 60 B.C.).

          "A dead man, says the law of the Twelve Tables, must not be buried or burned within the city. I believe that the latter is on account of danger of fire. But the addition of the words 'or burned' indicates that a body which is cremated is not considered buried, but only one which is inhumed ["laid in the earth" (De Legibus, II., 58 (Cicero, in twenty-eight volumes, Harvard, MCMLXXVII, volume XVI, 443))]" (Cicero, Laws, c. 50 B.C.).


          "Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is thy sting?" (I Corinthians 15:54–55).

          "We do not fear death, but the thought [mental horror vacui? (see 2897-2898)] of death" (Lucius Annaeus Seneca, Letters, 63).

          "Death is such that, like birth, it is a mystery of nature" (Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, c. 170).

          "Ten strong things have been created in the world...death, however, is stronger than them all" (Talmud: The Last Gate 10a).

          "The angel of death...will gather you, and afterward unto your Lord ye will be returned" (Koran: Prostration 11).

          "Man naturally shrinks from death" (Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica, 1274).

          "He that hath a will to die by himself fears it not from another" (William Shakespeare, Coriolanus, 1608).

          "Men fear death as children fear to go in the dark; and as that natural fear in children is increased with tales, so is the other" (Francis Bacon, Essays, 1625).

          "Even Rome cannot grant us a dispensation from death" (Jean Baptiste Poquelin Molière, The Scatterbrain, 1665).

          "The human species is the only one which knows that it will die, and it knows this through experience" (François Marie Arouet de Voltaire, Philosophical Dictionary, 1764).

          "The fear of death is worse than dying" (Johann Christoph Friedrich von Schiller, The Robbers, 1781). [see above (Seneca)]

          "The dead do not hear the sound of the funeral bells" (Denis Diderot, Rameau's Nephew, 1823, posthumously).

          "Death seems to be a harsh victory of the species over the definite individual and to contradict their unity[?]" (Karl Marx, Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts, 1844).

          "Death is like a fisherman who catches fish in his net and leaves them for a while in the water" (Ivan Sergeevich Turgenev, On the Eve, 1860).

          "I think the proof of the universal use of fire in regular burials at this period [Trojan War, 1100 B.C.] is conclusive....In case of notable persons, the combustion was not complete. For not the ashes only, but the bones, were carefully gathered. In the case of Patroclos, they are wrapped in fat, and put in an open cup or bowl...until


the funeral of Achilles, when with those of Achilles himself, similarly wrapped, and soaked in wine, they are deposited in a golden urn" (W. Gladstone in Henry Schliemann, Mycenae, 1880).

          "One should part from life as Odysseus parted from Nausicaa—blessing it rather than in love with it" (Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil, 1886).

          "The fear of death is alien to the child" (Sigmund Freud, The Interpretation of Dreams, 1900).

          "It is indeed a sad insight into the human conscience to discover what elaborate precautions were considered necessary in order to avoid the persecutions of the revengeful dead" (Bertram Puckle, Funeral Customs, 1926).

          "The final aim of the destructive instinct is to reduce living things to an inorganic state. For this reason we also call it the death instinct" (Sigmund Freud, An Outline of Psychoanalysis, 1940).

          "Death is never sweet, not even if it is suffered for the highest ideal" (Erich Fromm, Escape from Freedom, 1941).

          "In the depth of the anxiety of having to die is the anxiety of being eternally forgotten" (Paul Tillich, The Eternal Now, 1963).

          "Death is an exit which they [Vietnamese] not infrequently choose for themselves deliberately, sometimes for motives of honor but sometimes also for surprisingly futile reasons. Life is all the less valued because of the Vietnamese belief in the survival of the individual after death; and continued contact with the family" (E. Hammer, Vietnam, Yesterday and Today, 1966).

          "The dying of the elderly is, by and large, the least disturbing. In our society the aged are not especially valued. I once asked a group of about two dozen Cambodian students in their mid-twenties whether, given the necessity for choice, they would save the life of their mother, their wife or their daughter. All responded immediately that they would save their mother" (Richard Kalish in Leonard Pearson, ed., Death and Dying, 1969).

          "[The dying persons says] No, it cannot be me....Oh yes, it is me, it was not a mistake" (Elizabeth Kübler-Ross, On Death and Dying, 1969).

          "Most developmental psychologists believe that the very young child (from birth to about two years) has no understanding of death" (Robert Kastenbaum and Ruth Aisenberg, The Psychology of Death, 1972).

          "Grief is mastered, not by ceasing to care for the dead, but by abstracting what was fundamentally important in the relationship and rehabilitating it" (P. Marris, Loss and Change, 1974).


          "Death is a biological event, a rite of passage, an inevitability, a natural occurrence, a punishment, extinction, the enforcement of God's will, absurd, separation, reunion, a time for judgment. It is a reasonable excuse for anger, depression, denial, repression, guilt, frustration, relief, absolution of self, increased religiousness....It has one set of meanings for the dying person, another for those who love him, yet another for those responsible for his health care, and still another set of meanings for those involved with funerals, legal documents, insurance, estates and trusts, public health statistics, wars and executions" (Richard Kalish in R. Binstock and E. Shanas, eds., Handbook of Aging and the Social Sciences, 1976).

          "Changes in man's attitude toward death either take place very slowly or else occur between long periods of immobility" (Philippe Ariès, The Hour of Our Death [see 2946], 1977).

          "To exorcise the fear of death, we make those who are about to die redundant and irrelevant while they are still alive. By rendering the about-do-die trivial in life, we lessen the fear that death holds for us. If the about-to-die do not matter, we reason, death may be meaningless also, and we need not be afraid of it" (R. Jones, The Other Generation, 1977).

          "Greek poets...seldom mentioned graves or cemeteries or funeral processions" (Emily Vermeule, Aspects of Death in Early Greek Art and Poetry, 1979).

          "Grief, bereavement, and mourning are related terms used in relation to surviving the death of a significant other person, often of a close family member" (Kathy Charmaz, The Social Reality of Death, 1980).

          "The science dealing with death is known as thanatology (Greek thanatos, death, and logos, word or science)....[A] prevalent attitude throughout history has been that birth control is much less important than death control (except for infanticide and child exposure, human sacrifice, cannibalism, capital punishment, and war)...some societies have considered senilicide, or geronticide (the killing of the aged), perfectly acceptable" (Panos Bardis, History of Thanatology, 1981).

          "Belief in some life after death came very early to mankind, as is indicated by the ceremonial burial customs of Neanderthal man. However in our earliest records of beliefs about life after death it was most unpleasant....The idea of a more attractive after-life is a special feature of the Socratic dialogues, being derived from the Orphic mysteries" (John Eccles, ed., Mind and Brain, 1982).'

[285-288] [end of Thanatology].

● ● ● ● ●


from: Death and the Afterlife, A Cultural Encyclopedia, Richard P. Taylor, ABC-CLIO, c2000.


Literally meaning "refreshment," the Latin word refrigerium ["A period of coolness." (Ox. Latin Dict. ["a cooling;...a mitigation, consolation (eccl. Lat. [ecclesiastical Latin])" (Lewis Latin Dict.)]] was given a more specific usage by early Christian writers to refer to the "refreshment of souls" who awaited the judgment of God after death. In the early Christian church it was believed that most of the dead did not go immediately to Heaven or to Hell but awaited the final judgment at the end of time (martyrs were believed to be an exception and proceeded directly to heaven after death without any trial or judgment). Some Christian thinkers believed that the dead waited in dreamless slumber until they were awakened by the trumpet call of the angel and the general resurrection; others believed that the souls of the dead waited—somewhere, perhaps in Hades—in full consciousness for the end to come. One such thinker was the African theologian Tertullian (fl. c. 160 to 220 C.E.), who believed that all the dead waited in Hell for the end. However, those disembodied souls who would be saved by God in the future were not suffering in Hell but even in that dismal place were already experiencing some measure of Heaven's "refreshment." (Tertullian was unique in creating a new level of Hell in accordance with this doctrine. See REFRIGERIUM INTERIM.)

          According to Jacques Le Goff [see 2768], it was common for inscriptions on early Christian tombs to look forward to the coming "refreshment" of the righteous, whether this was expected to occur immediately or only later in Heaven. Such inscriptions read, for example, "in pace et refrigerium" (in peace and refreshment), "esto in refrigerio" (may he be in refreshment), "deus refrigeret spiritum tuum" (may God refresh his spirit), and so on. They attest to one of the most important aspects of the new Christian religion, namely that after the death and resurrection of Jesus, immortality and refrigerium were open to all who would only believe, whereas traditional Greeks and Romans could only anticipate gloomy Hades or the vague promise of Elysium [see 2823]....' [294].

● ● ● ● ●


from: Existential Psychotherapy, Irvin D. Yalom, Basic Books, c1980.

'Ernest Hemingway [1899 - 1961], the prototype of the compulsive hero, was compelled throughout his life to seek out and conquer danger as a grotesque way of proving there was no danger. Hemingway's mother reports that one of his first sentences was , "'fraid of nothin'."13 In an ironic way he was afraid of nothing precisely because he [Hemingway], like all of us, was afraid of nothingness. The Hemingway hero thus represents a runaway of the emergent, individualistic solution to the human situation. This hero is not choosing; his actions are driven and fixed; he does not learn from new experiences. Even the approach of death does not turn his gaze within or increase his wisdom. The Hemingway code contains no place for aging and diminishment, for they have the odor of ordinariness. In The Old Man and the Sea, Santiago meets his approaching death in a stereotyped way—the same way he faced every one of life's basic threats—by going out alone to search for the great fish.14

          Hemingway himself could not survive the dissolution of the myth of his personal invulnerability. As his health and physical prowess declined, as his "ordinariness" (in the sense that he like everyone must face the human situation) became painfully evident, he grew bereft and finally deeply depressed. His final illness, a paranoid psychosis with persecutory delusions and ideas of reference, temporarily bolstered his myth of specialness. (All persecutory trends and ideas of reference flow from a core of personal grandiosity; after all, only a very special person would warrant that much attention, albeit malevolent attention; from his environment.) Eventually the paranoid solution failed; and, left with no defense against the fear of death, Hemingway committed suicide. Though it seems paradoxical that one would commit suicide because of a fear of death, it is not uncommon. Many individuals have said in effect that "I so fear death I am driven to suicide." The idea of suicide offers some surcease from terror. It is an active act; it permits one to control that which controls one. Furthermore, as Charles Wahl has noted, many suicides have a magical view of death and regard it as temporary and reversible.15 The individual who commits suicide to express hostility or to generate guilt in others may believe in the continued existence of consciousness, so that it will be possible to savor the harvest of his or her death.' [122].

_____ _____ _____


from: [found 2/23/2005]

'Religion and Psychiatry

by Irvin D. Yalom, M.D.


The American Psychiatric Association awarded Irvin Yalom the 2000 Oscar Pfister prize (for important contributions to religion and psychiatry.) Here is his acceptance speech delivered at the American Psychiatric Association annual meeting in May 2000 at New Orleans. A version of this lecture has been published in the American Journal of Psychotherapy (number three –2000)

When Dr. Harding first notified me that the committee on psychiatry and religion had honored me with this wonderful award I experienced an onslaught of feelings, primarily great pleasure and also pride at being in the company of former recipients, all of them thinkers I have much admired. I was particularly delighted to learn that the first recipient of the Oscar Pfister prize was one of my mentors, Jerome Frank, whom I am pleased to inform you is, at the age of 93, as thoughtful, curious, and coherent as ever.

But there were also other feelings—more complicated, quirky, dark, difficult to express. "Religion? Me? There must be some mistake." Hence, my first words of reply to Dr. Harding were: "ARE YOU SURE. YOU KNOW I REGARD MYSELF AS A PRACTICING ATHEIST?" His immediate response to me was: "We believe you've dedicated yourself to religious questions." The graciousness of his reply disarmed me and brought to mind many conversations with my former therapist and, later, my dear friend, Rollo May, who insisted on regarding my textbook, Existential Psychotherapy, as a religious book. I remember, too, that Lou Salome referred to Nietzsche as a religious thinker with an anti-religion perspective.

My talk today will focus on the issues raised by these dissonant feelings and especially on some of the existential therapeutic issues that, as Dr. Harding points out, are often considered to be religious in nature [1-2 of 27]....

Gradually my understanding of existence led me more and more to a scientific, materialistic world view. I resonate greatly with the views of Schopenhauer, Voltaire, Nietzsche, Freud. In fact, recently while preparing these remarks I reread Freud's writings on religion (The Future of an Illusion) and was at first surprised to see how closely I agreed with him until it occurred to me that these very writings had, no doubt, been instrumental in shaping my own beliefs. I grew to believe that religious and the scientific world view were incompatible [4 of 27]....


I also find myself much in agreement with the views expressed so well in Francis Crick's (the DNA Nobel laureate) recent book (The Astonishing Hypotheses). The first lines of his book are :


"The astonishing hypotheses is that you, your joys, your sorrows, your memories, and your ambitions, your sense of personal free will, are in fact no more than the behavior of a vast assembly of nerve cells and their associated molecules [see 2929]." [4-5 of 27] ....

I've been particularly drawn to the presocratics, the stoics, Lucretius, Schopenhauer, Sartre, Camus, Heidegger, Nietzsche, Corlis Lamont, and Santayana [7 of 27]....

Andre Malraux, the French novelist, described a country priest who had taken confession for many decades and summed up what he had learned about human nature in this manner: "First of all, people are much more unhappy than one thinks...and there is no such thing as a grown-up person." Everyone—and that includes therapists as well as patients—is destined to experience not only the exhilaration of life, but also its inevitable darkness: disillusionment, aging, illness, isolation, loss, meaninglessness, painful choices, and death. No one puts things more starkly and more bleakly than Schopenhauer [Arthur Schopenhauer 1788 - 1860]:


"In early youth" Schopenhauer says, "as we contemplate our coming life, we are like children in a theater before the curtain is raised, sitting there in high spirits and eagerly waiting for the play to begin. It is a blessing that we do not know what is really going to happen. Could we foresee it, there are times when children might seem like condemned prisoners, condemned, not to death, but to life, and as yet all unconscious of what their sentence means."

Though Schopenhauer's view is colored heavily by his own personal unhappiness, still it is difficult to deny the inbuilt despair in the life of every self-conscious, free-thinking individual [11-12 of 27]....

When I speak of the ultimate concerns, of death, meaning, freedom, isolation, I am obviously veering close to the domain which is the stuff of every religious tradition. It is indisputable that religious belief and practice has been ubiquitous throughout the ages—has there ever been a culture discovered without some form of religious observation? Sometimes it is suggested that the omnipresence of religious belief constitutes confirmation or validation of an omnipresent divinity.

As many do, I take the reverse position—in other words, that, throughout history, every being in every culture has had to deal with the ultimate concerns and has sought some way to escape the anxiety inbuilt in the human condition. Every human being experiences the anxiety accompanying thoughts of death, meaninglessness, freedom (that is, the fundamental lack of structure in existence, das nichts) and fundamental isolation—and religion emerges as humankind's basic attempt to quell


existence anxiety. Hence the reason that religious belief is ubiquitous is that existence-anxiety is ubiquitous. Rather than being created by Gods, it seems obvious that we create Gods for our comfort and, as philosophers have pointed out since the beginning of the written word [overstated] , we create them in their own image [our image]. As Xenophanes, the Presocratic free-thinker, wrote 2500 years ago, "If Lion could think, their Gods would have a mane and roar [? (see Addition 3, 864-865)]." [13-14 of 27] ....

Finally, in addition to intra-psychic and interpersonal isolation, there is EXISTENTIAL ISOLATION which cuts even deeper; it is a more basic isolation which is riveted to existence and refers to AN UNABRIDGEABLE GULF BETWEEN ONESELF AND OTHERS, A SEPARATION NOT ONLY BETWEEN ONESELF AND OTHERS BUT BETWEEN SELF AND WORLD. It is a phenomenon that, in my experience, is experienced most keenly by patients facing death for it is as that time that one truly realizes that one was born alone into the world and must exit from the world alone. We may want others to be with us at death, we may die for another or for a cause but no one can, in the slightest degree, have one's solitary death taken from him or her. Though we may wish that other's accompany us in death (as did rulers in several cultures of antiquity) still dying remains the loneliest of human experiences....

Religious consolation and psychotherapy have each developed its methods of quelling the dysphoria ["anxiety, depression, or unease" (] of the various forms of isolation. The Oxford English dictionary informs us that one of the roots of the word "religion" is RELIGARE—to tie or to bind. The Romans used the term RELIGARE to connote a variety of ties—to family, to ancestors, to the state. That meaning—tying or binding together or let us refer to it as connectivity—vividly illuminates the similar missions of psychotherapy and religion. In fact, connectivity is a good common denominator for all the present forms of the contemporary spiritual search.

In any discussion of religion and psychiatry that term "connectivity" has great value. Therapists place nothing above the goal of connecting with patients as deeply and authentically as possible [19, 20, of 27]....

Religion provides powerful forms of connectivity. A religious person is offered the consolation of a personal eternally observing deity, who is not only aware of his/her existence but also promises ultimate reunion—with lost loved ones, with the Godhead, with the universal life force. And of course it is readily apparent that organized religion provides connectivity through community: the church provides a stable congregation of like-minded individuals, sponsors enormous numbers of small groups including social groups, special interest groups, bible study, book groups, marriage encounter groups, singles groups. Large numbers of individuals undoubtedly join the religious community for reasons of social connectivity rather than allegiance to the substance of a particular religious doctrine.


Death is the most obvious, intuitively apparent ultimate concern. Though some therapists, whenever possible, avoid the subject in therapy following Adolph Meyer's adage, "Don't scratch where it doesn't itch," most therapists realize that concerns about death are always there, percolating under the surface. Death haunts us as nothing else; we've been preoccupied with its dark presence, often just at the rim of consciousness, since early childhood and we have erected denial-based defenses against death anxiety that play a major role in character formation [21-22 of 27]....

OFTEN I EXPERIENCE SHEER AMAZEMENT AT THE POWER AND PERSISTENCE OF OUR NEED TO BELIEVE. It does not go away: our need to believe in something beyond biology is so remarkably tenacious that we are everywhere surrounded by not only a variety of religious beliefs with many of them insisting upon the uniqueness of one particular set of beliefs, but we are also surrounded by the presences of less thoughtful and more patently irrational beliefs: past-life channelers, abduction by extraterrestrials, clairvoyance, psychic surgery, ghosts, witches, astrology, TM levitation, astral traveling, dowsers, necromancy, miracles, after-death experiences, I Ching, Feng Shui, Angels, healing crystals, palm reading, astrology, aura reading, psychokinesis, poltergeists, exorcism, Tarot cards, precognition, synchronicity and I'm sure each of you could add to this list. To repeat my earlier statement, such extraordinary claims demand extraordinary proof [compare: David Hume] and no such extraordinary proof has ever been posited.

And sometimes I feel a deep sorrow for the underlying fragility of the human condition which begets our gullibility and our powerful need to believe that, like nascent oxygen, must and will instantaneously adhere to something. Sometimes I fear the future because of the dangers that irrational belief creates for our species. It is supernatural belief, not absence of belief that may destroy us. We need only to look to the past to trace out the huge swaths of destruction that unyielding conviction has caused. Or look to contemporary conflicts in the Mideast or the Indian subcontinent where conflicting and unyielding fundamentalist belief systems threaten millions. I love Nietzsche's aphorism that it is not the courage of one's convictions that matters but the courage to change one's convictions.

There are times when I feel (but keep to myself) sorrow as I consider the amount of an individual's life that can be spent in bondage to obsessive-compulsive behavior, and to practices of prolonged meditation or excessive preoccupation with ritualistic practice. What is lost is some part of human freedom, creativity and growth [25-26 of 27]....


My work with individuals facing death has taught me that death anxiety is directly proportional to the amount of each person's "unlived life." Those individuals who feel they have lived their lives richly, have fulfilled their potential and their destiny, experience less panic in face of death. Therapists have much to learn from Nikos Kazanzakis [1885 - 1957], the author of so many great life-celebratory works of art, for example, Zorba the Greek and The Greek Passion. Kazanzakis was, like Nietzsche, an anti-religion religious man whose grave (placed just outside the city walls of Heraklion on Crete, because of excommunication from the church) bears his chosen epitaph, "I want nothing, I fear nothing, I am free." I love the advice he offers in his major work, A Modern Sequel to the Odyssey. His advice for life is: "Leave nothing for death but a burned-out castle [commonly conflicts with the "social self" (see 2937)]." It's not a bad guideline for our life—and for our work in therapy.

Copyright ©2000 Irvin D. Yalom, M.D.' [27 of 27].

Excursus: from: Recollections, John, Viscount Morley [1838 - 1923], In Two Volumes, Vol. II, Macmillan, 1917.

"MONTAIGNE [1533 - 1592].—Look on earth and at the poor people scattered over it, bowed and bent, intent on their work, knowing nothing of Aristotle [384 - 322 B.C.E.] or Cato [Cato the Younger 95 - 46 B.C.E.], either of example or precept; from them day after day nature exacts lessons of constancy and patience, purer and more unsophisticated than those we study with such care in the school; how many of them do I regularly see who make little of poverty; how many who would fain die, and who pass death without fright or affliction. The man there digging my garden has this morning buried his father or his son. The names by which they call their maladies take off their edge and soften them; phthisis is for them a cough, dysentery only a looseness, pleurisy no more than a stitch; and as they name them gently, so they bear them; they must be grievous indeed to stay their everyday toil; they never keep to their beds save to die." [Montaigne, essay III:12] [116-117]. [See: 3042].

'[Morley] The relations of body and soul, the poet [Lucretius c. 99 - c. 55 B.C.E.] argues, well considered in all their analogies and phenomena in the universe of sentient being, bid us shake ourselves free from that terror of death, and the mysterious dread of the continuity of conscious individual life in an unknown hereafter, which so darkly overshadows, distracts, and paralyses the life of "momentary man." Of all the countless hosts of poets, preachers, philosophers, and theologians who, with every variety of aspect and approach, have held, by way either of promise to the good or menace to the bad, that all philosophy of life is in essence commentatio mortis ["preparation for death." (Montaigne [1533 - 1592], essay I:20 (Cicero [106 - 43 B.C.E.], Tusc. Disputations, I.74 (Plato, Phaedo 67D (Socrates 469 - 399 B.C.E.))))], Lucretius [disciple of Epicurus c. 341 - 271 B.C.E.] is most strenuous, lofty, and insistent on enforcing the sombre lesson taught by the ancient Hebrew long[?] ages before him: "Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might; for there is no work, nor knowledge, nor wisdom in the grave, whither thou goest [Ecclesiastes ("450 - 250 B.C.E."?) 9:10]."' [123-124].

"Yet, say what we will, believers or unbelievers. Death is Death." [254].

End of Excursus.

_____ _____ _____


from:                                            3/12/05

'The Salon Interview

Irvin Yalom

To live fully, one must accept that it ends,

says the existential psychoanalyst.

But Yalom, too, knows the demons of 4 a.m. [see 2745]


By FRED BRANFMAN│Photo by Reid Yalom


"Of all the world's wonders, which

                                is the most wonderful? That no

                                man, though he sees others dying all

                                around him, believes that he himself

                                will die." -- Yudhishtara answers

                                Dharma, from "The Mahabharata"

It is not just love that we look for in all the wrong places. If Irvin Yalom is right, it is life itself. By denying death, the psychoanalyst suggests, we misdirect our search for happiness. The true meaning of life, his work suggests, lies in engaging what we most fear.

Yalom has the credentials to make such a claim. He is the author of the highly regarded 1980 textbook, "Existential Psychotherapy [see 2965]" and his bestselling work "Love's Executioner" [see 2966, 2968] shows how such neuroses as eating disorders can be alleviated by bringing patients' death-anxieties to the surface. His novel "When Nietzsche Wept" is a thought-provoking exploration of how psychology might have fared had it been invented by the Ur-existential thinker Nietzsche rather than Freud. His new novel, "Lying on the Couch," will be published next month.

I spoke with Yalom in the office he has built next to his comfortable home on a peaceful street in Palo Alto. A quiet man, he exudes an air of mild anxiety oddly appropriate to the existential realities -- death, freedom, isolation, meaninglessness -- of which he writes. He becomes passionate mainly when affirming his strong belief in science and his skepticism about non-material or spiritual understandings of life.

Most striking was the contrast between Yalom's brilliantly successful career and the place he has reached now, at age 65. This lifelong academic has abandoned teaching and now writes novels instead [compare: Voltaire's Candide (last page, last words): "but we must cultivate our garden."]. This professor who worked so extraordinarily hard at his career now


urges a focus on what is important beyond work. Irvin Yalom is fascinating not only because of what he says but also because of how he lives.

[Fred Branfman] Most of us feel we do not want to think about death. But you assert that confronting death is a key to living a full, authentic, happy life. I wonder if you could describe in personal terms what living authentically means to you?

[Irvin Yalom] Certainly as I've grown older, I've been thinking a lot more about the end of my life, which may not be too far away. My father and his brothers all died relatively young because of heart conditions.

So I think, Well, life is finite. I don't have unlimited years left, and I want to know what is more central to me and my life right now. Above all, I don't want to do anything that feels repetitious.

And I tell myself that I don't want to belong to any more committees or teach anymore, because the field is becoming drugs, pharmacotherapy. The next generation of therapists isn't going to be trained for psychotherapy because the insurance companies aren't going to be paying for it any longer.

What feels more central for me is being creative and looking at the way in which I have creative talents and gifts that I haven't used. I basically see myself as a storyteller engaged in ideas that have to do with an existential, deeper approach to life. I feel very uncomfortable with the idea of these gifts being unused.

I also really enjoy looking at those bonsai [points to trees outside his window]. I love the garden that I have out here [see 2964]. I turn down lunch invitations from a lot of people that I just don't want to be with. The few people I see talk about the kinds of issues and concerns that I really like.

And I feel extremely tender towards my wife. Every time I see her, I'm filled with pleasure. There's a real sense of poignancy about my relationship and feelings toward her. I'm very concerned that I do whatever I can to make her happy.

And I don't take myself very seriously. There's an old Italian proverb that sticks in my mind a lot: "When the chess game is over, the pawns, rooks, kings and queens all go back into the same box." Somehow I find that quite an important comment.


"The primitive dread of death resides in the unconscious--a dread that is part of the fabric of being, that is formed early in life before the development of precise, conceptual formulation, a dread that is chilling, uncanny, and inchoate ["just begun"? "rudimentary"?], a dread that exists prior to and outside of language and image [description of mental horror vacui?]."-- "Existential Psychotherapy [book by Irvin Yalom]"


[FB] You've written that "a denial of death any level is a denial of one's basic nature." How do most of us deny death?

[Irvin Yalom] We--in the unconscious portion of the mind that protects us from overwhelming anxiety-- split off or disassociate from the terror of death. But though it is invisible to us, we can known it's in our subconscious because of those rare but real episodes when the machinery of denial fails and death anxiety breaks through in full force--such as when a loved one dies, or when we have nightmares. As I wrote in "Existential Psychotherapy," a nightmare is a failed dream, a dream that, by not "handling" anxiety, has failed in its role as the guardian of sleep. Though nightmares differ in manifest content, their underlying process is the same: Raw death anxiety has escaped its keepers and exploded into consciousness.

We simply put it out of mind by immersing ourselves in what Becker calls "IMMORTALITY PROJECTS," or by using other techniques to deny our creature-deaths, like the idea of a supreme "ultimate rescuer" and the idea of "specialness," that somehow you yourself are immune to natural biological law. This often translates into some kind of belief in the supernatural, a para-reality in us that is going to transcend reality as it is.

[FB] After reading your and Becker's work, I assumed that there would be a huge debate within the psychology community on the importance of helping people confront their fears of death. But the subject, by and large, seems to have been ignored. Why is that?

[Irvin Yalom] Psychotherapists and psychologists are themselves in denial of death. They are not really very different in this regard than the general population.


A real confrontation with death usually causes one to question with real seriousness the goals and conduct of one's life up to then. So also with those who confront death through a fatal illness. How many people have lamented: 'What a pity I had to wait till now, when my body is riddled with cancer, to know how to live!"--"Love's Executioner [book by Irvin Yalom]"

[FB] How might the knowledge of death enrich our lives?

[Irvin Yalom] What comes to mind right now is a friend of mine who's so caught up in the rat race for success in his field that he's never taken a sabbatical. The university is willing to give him a year off and he has not taken it. It's insane.

In talking with him, I've pushed him to look at the fact that he is not going to have his children at home forever, and to think about what an experience like a sabbatical would mean for him and them. I mean, I've been at Stanford all these years, and I can't remember one year from the next--they all sort of blur together. But I spent a year in London, another year at Oxford and another year in Paris. And every day of those years stands out for me and was very rich for my children.


[FB] But what if your friend said he enjoyed his work, that working hard is his core?

[Irvin Yalom] You know, I've never heard anyone near death say--and I've never heard of anyone who's ever known anyone near death say--"I wish I had spent more time at work [and/or watching television]."

Nobody ever says this. Everybody, everybody, says, "God, I wish I'd spent time doing the things I wanted to do--reading more, writing more, traveling, seeing all these places, being closer to people, to my children." Everybody says things like that. So that means something.

[FB] Do you also believe it would be useful for people in their 20s and 30s to break through their denial of death?

[Irvin Yalom] Well, based on the patients I've worked with, I think that's true. Adolescents, by and large, have a pretty keen awareness of these issues. They tend to have less denial operating for them than perhaps we do at most other ages of life. But when they finally get thrown out into the world, other needs--needs for economic success, or raising a family--begin to press in. And to satisfy these needs, their fear of death gets pushed into obscurity or the unconscious.

If people in their 20s had more death awareness, would that in fact temper their ambition or drive? My hunch is yes. It would certainly do something for those who are most ruthless, who tend to make others most miserable. Some sort of greater awareness of their own finiteness and what their time on earth really is, and what they really want to do with their lives, could help improve them.

[FB] I asked a young guy the other day how he felt and he said, "Terrific! I'm enjoying my work. I just started dating a woman. Life is great!" Now, it seems to me that he wasn't engaging his primal death anxieties. Would you recommend that he consider doing so?

[Irvin Yalom] Hmm. Well, the first thought that occurs to me concerns his relationship. My sense is that if he were to engage his unconscious existential concerns, the relationship might be much richer, more tolerant, more loving. When we see the other person as a fellow creature in the same type of life situation, we often have a greater appreciation. There might be less of a chance of him using or being used by her, and more of a possibility that he would be looking for some sort of deeper communion.

[FB] How might his work be affected by engaging death?

[Irvin Yalom] That's a much more problematic issue for me. I've always had a sense that engaging the fear of death can be quite injurious to work for many people. If one


doesn't have the option of changing a job one does not like, a heightened awareness of death could increase dissatisfaction.

[Irvin Yalom] But if one does have the luxury of changing distasteful work, the confrontation with death might be a wake-up call. He or she might see how the repetitious quality of the work is deadening and might think, "I'll do whatever I can, move, get to another part of the country, do something to change my work."

[FB] What is the mechanism whereby engaging death leads to a more authentic life?

[Irvin Yalom] Well, one way to describe it is through a disidentification exercise we have conducted with cancer patients. People answer the question "Who am I?" on cards and then arrange them by priority. They then start letting go of the less important cards, for example, "I am someone who is very concerned about whether people love or like me."

And they have to let go of their bodies, because their bodies are riddled with cancer. But then they often discover that there is something beyond the body, other things that are more important. It kind of gives you more courage. It doesn't make any difference anymore if people like you or not.

Heidegger makes the distinction between being absorbed in the way things are in the world and being aware that things are in the world. And if you do the latter, you're not so worried about the everyday trivialities of life, for example, petty concerns about secrecy or privacy.

Another way of saying it is that death cures psychoneurosis [etc.]. In a sense all these neurotic concerns--fear of rejection, interpersonal concerns--seem to melt away, and people get another perspective on their lives. The important things are really important, and the trivia of life is trivialized.

In a study, we did of bereavement, we found that rather impressive numbers of widows and widowers had not simply gone back to their pre-loss functioning, but grown. This was due to a kind of increased existential awareness that resulted from this confrontation with the death of another. And I think it brought them in touch with their own death, so they began to experience a kind of preciousness to life that comes with an experience of its transiency.


"[There is] a juncture to which full awareness inevitably leads. One stands before the abyss and decides how to face the pitiless existential facts of life. Of course, there are no solutions. One has a choice only to be 'resolute,' 'engaged,' courageously defiant, stoically accepting or to, in awe of mystery, place one's trust in the providence of the divine."--"Love's Executioner"

[FB] As you sit here now, would you say you are in denial of your death or engaging it?


[Irvin Yalom] I'll be 65 [(3/18/2005) I (LS) will be 70 in June] in eight days or so. So I'm at that time. I'm filled with ideas about death, and my nights and dreams and certainly dream-thoughts are filled with that kind of imagery.

[FB] What does it feel like?

[Irvin Yalom] Well' it's different in the middle of the night and in a waking state. In the middle of the night, actually, it's kind of attenuated terror. There are times when the anxiety rather overtakes me. I've never imagined getting to a point where that won't happen. I feel like it's too intrinsic to us.

If it gets to be particularly anxious, I like to think of Lucretius' doctrine: "Where death is, I am not; where I am, death is not." [reminiscent of a remark by Woody Allen: (approximate) "I am not afraid of death, I just don't want to be there when it happens"] The two are never coexistent in a sense. I find that, in a strange way, a very comforting thought.

[FB] Sam Keen has described waking up at night feeling incredible terror at his death. And he wants to push it away but doesn't because all his training has taught him to stay with it. And his terror is then followed by a tremendous joy at being alive, as he leans over and embraces his wife. What is it like for you?

[Irvin Yalom] I do not have that kind of experience at night. It's harder for me to dispel the anxiety at night. Whereas when I think about it later on, when I wake up in the morning, or later on during the day, then I do experience real joy. I can't switch from one mode to the other at night.

[FB] As you stand before the abyss, where are you--resolute, engaged, courageously defiant, stoically accepting or in awe before the mystery, placing your trust in the divine?

[Irvin Yalom] Stoically accepting, I guess.

[FB] And what about feeling awe before the mystery?

[Irvin Yalom] Well, you can say "awe" in the sense that I am in awe at the elegance and complexity of the way that our brains happen to have evolved. Happen to have evolved. You know, not designed, but happen to have evolved. I can say "awe" there. But I'm separating that from a kind of supernatural religious belief.

[FB] It seems to me that "awe" argues against belief. Awe leads to no belief, to "don't know."


[Irvin Yalom] Yes, I have some awe of mystery. But it's sort of tempered by a belief that ultimately we'll be able to comprehend it all. I'm more of a scientific positivist in that regard.

[FB] Last night I was reading Sam Keen's famous deathbed interview of Ernest Becker. You know, Becker did not give much credence to the reality of religious belief-systems in "Denial of Death" [see 2975]...

[Irvin Yalom] Oh, sure, I agree with every word he said...

[FB] ...But at the very end of Becker's life Keen asked him about the possibility of a transcendence of death. And Becker said, "I would have to agree that the transcendence of death, symbolically or from the point of view of the whole universe, may be very real." He left the door open for a transcendent reality.

[Irvin Yalom] Well, I think at that point he may have been quite frightened, and the wish for continued persistence may have been very strong. And if I on my deathbed embrace that wish, I don't consider that proof of anything except that I am frightened.

[FB] I find the idea of dying, of not existing for the next 5 billion years and beyond, chilling. It takes my breath away. Can you offer any comfort?

[Irvin Yalom] Well, did the last 5 billion years bother you? I mean, it seems to me that what happens after we die is not really the problem. It is a kind of peace. The challenge for us is how we live between now and then, whether we have the courage to stop denying it and use our anxieties to live more authentic, meaning-filled and purposeful lives. [end of "The Salon Interview"]

Fred Branfman is a veteran political activist and commentator. He is a regular contributor to Salon.

Are you living in denial of your own death? Join the Table Talk discussion.'

● ● ● ● ●


ERNEST BECKER 1924 - 1974


  1      flightfromdeath                                                                                           2972-2973


  2      About Ernest Becker (Liechty)                                                                  2973-2973


  3      Educating Heroes                                                                                       2974-2974


  4      The Denial of Death (Ernest Becker)                                                        2975-3006


  5      The Ernest Becker Reader                                                                        3007-3014


  6      Escape from Evil (Ernest Becker)                                                             3015-3017


  7      The Denial of Death and the Practice of Dying                                        3018-3021


  8      Masterpiece of Synthesis and Insight                                                      3021-3022


  9      Reviewer of The Denial of Death                                                               3023-3023


10      Immortality Projects                                                                                   3024-3026



"Dr. Becker [Ernest Becker 1924 - 1974], a cultural anthropologist and interdisciplinary scientific thinker and writer, came to the realization that psychological inquiry inevitably comes to a dead end beyond which belief systems must be invoked to satisfy the human psyche. The reach of such a perspective consequently encompasses science and religion, even to what Sam Keen suggests is Becker's greatest achievement, the creation of the science of evil. Because of his breadth of vision and avoidance of social science pigeonholes (given the independence of his thinking in the 60s), Becker was an academic outcast in the last decade of his life. It was only with the award of the Pulitzer Prize in 1974 for his book, Denial of Death (two months after his own death from cancer at the age of 49) that his enormous contributions began to be recognized. The second half of his magnum opus, Escape from Evil [published posthumously] (1975) developed the social and cultural implications of the concepts explored in the earlier book and is an equally important and brilliant companion volume.

Over the past two decades a trio of experimental social psychologists has amassed a large body of empirical evidence substantiating the universal inflexible motive of death denial as advanced by Becker. Many scholars in many fields are studying, teaching, researching and writing about the works of Ernest Becker. If you wish to read more about these ideas and the research being done see our list of recommended reading.

- Daniel Liechty" [See 2973]

_____ _____ _____


"The rich who are unhappy are worse off than the poor who are unhappy;

for the poor, at least, cling to the hopeful delusion that more money would solve their problems -- but the rich know better.

--Sydney J. Harris"

_____ _____ _____



_____ _____ _____



'"Is there any meaning in my life that the inevitable death awaiting me does not destroy?" - Leo Tolstoy'

_____ _____ _____



Ernest Becker [1924 - 1974] and the Science of Man

By Daniel Liechty

1. Biographical Sketch

What makes people act the way they do? This was the absorbing question of Ernest Becker's intellectual life. He was determined to pursue this question wherever it led him. Because he refused to allow his search to be confined to the boundaries of any one discipline, his academic career, cut short by cancer, was scattered and stormy. From the time when he completed his Ph.D. in 1960 until his death in 1974, he produced a steady stream of books and journal articles of rare and unusual depth in which he outlined his "Science of Man." His works brim with insights for spiritual, pastoral and psychological counseling.

Becker was born into a Jewish family in Massachusetts in September of 1924.(1) After completing military service, in which he served in the infantry and helped to liberate a Nazi concentration camp, he attended Syracuse University in New York. Upon graduation he joined the US Embassy in Paris as an administrative officer. A recent cache of personal correspondence between Becker and his close friend (the now renowned medical anthropologist) Philip Singer, written in the period between 1952 and 1956, is presently being analyzed and will help to fill in the gaps in our knowledge about Becker's activities in Europe and America during that period. Although he valued the experience of living in Paris, he became bored with this work and the prospects of life in the diplomatic corps. Therefore, in his early 30s, he returned to Syracuse University to pursue graduate studies in cultural anthropology. He was attracted to this field because of its interdisciplinary and cross-cultural approach to the study of human beings. His interest soon centered on philosophical anthropology and this remained his consuming passion. Although a simplification, it is useful to think of his intellectual career as a quest to come to terms with what is enduring in the philosophical anthropology of Freud and Marx....' [page 1 of 7].

_____ _____ _____


from: Educating Heroes: The Implications of Ernest Becker's Depth Psychology of Heroism for Philosophy of Education, Michael Alan Kagan, Hollowbrook Publishing, Durango, Colorado, 1994.


          No longer, it seems, for Becker, is religion the opiate of the masses, shielding the people in developing technological capitalist society from the terrors and responsibilities of a fully lived life. Rather today's opiates are 1) the opiates—anaesthetics and mind destroying drugs serve to curtail awareness, and 2) any obsessive fetishistic coping behavior as well:


Becker argues that since our culture no longer can provide opportunities for the heroism awareness demands, "society contrives to help...[us]...forget."25

          If Becker is basically right, to secure education we need to change the world of our culture into one in which it is less easy to forget.' [93].

_____ _____ _____


from: The Denial of Death, Ernest Becker [1924 - 1974], The Free Press, c1973.

[I effusively thank my friend E. R. (technical rock climber, etc.), for alerting me to this author and his books]. [Research to corroborate, etc.].


"The man of knowledge in our time is bowed down under a burden he never imagined he would ever have: the overproduction of truth that cannot be consumed. [x].


Introduction: Human Nature

and the Heroic" [1]

          'One of the key concepts for understanding man's urge to heroism is the idea of "narcissism." As Erich Fromm has so well reminded us, this idea is one of Freud's great and lasting contributions. Freud discovered that each of us repeats the tragedy of the mythical Greek Narcissus: we are hopelessly absorbed with ourselves. If we care about anyone it is usually ourselves first of all. As Aristotle somewhere put it: luck is when the guy next to you gets hit with the arrow. Twenty-five hundred years of history have not changed man's basic narcissism; most of the time, for most of us, this is still a workable definition of luck. It is one of the meaner aspects of narcissism that we feel that practically everyone is expendable except ourselves....

This narcissism is what keeps men marching into point-blank fire in wars: at heart one doesn't feel that he will die, he only feels sorry for the man next to him. Freud's explanation for this was that the unconscious does not know death or time: in man's physiochemical, inner organic recesses he feels immortal [strange! Here, man feels immortal—elsewhere, man feels damn mortal. Explanation?].' [2].

          'It doesn't matter whether the cultural hero-system is frankly magical, religious, and primitive or secular, scientific, and civilized. It is still a mythical hero-system in which people serve in order to earn a feeling of primary value, of conscious specialness, of ultimate usefulness to creation, of unshakable meaning. They earn this feeling by carving out a place in nature, by building an edifice that reflects human value: a temple, a cathedral, a totem pole, a skyscraper, a family that spans three generations. The hope and belief is that the things that man creates in society are of lasting worth and meaning, that they outlive or outshine death and decay, that man and his products count. When Norman O. Brown said that Western society since Newton, no matter how scientific or secular it claims to be, is still as "religious" as any other, this is what he meant: "civilized" society is a hopeful belief and protest that science, money and goods make man count for more than any other animal. In this sense everything that man does is religious and heroic, and yet in danger of being fictitious and fallible.' [5].


"The great perplexity of our time, the churning of our age, is that the youth have sensed—for better or for worse—a great social-historical truth: that just as there are useless self-sacrifices in unjust wars, so too is there an ignoble heroics of whole societies: it can be the viciously destructive heroics of Hitler's Germany or the plain debasing and silly heroics of the acquisition and display of consumer goods, the piling up of money and privileges that now characterizes whole ways of life, capitalist and Soviet." [7].

          "I drink not from mere joy in wine nor to scoff at faith—no, only to forget myself for a moment, that only do I want of intoxication, that alone.

—Omar Khayyam" ["9"]. [See: Appendix VII, 788-789; Addition 20, 1067; 2867].


The Terror of Death

          It is not for us to confess that in our civilized attitude towards death we are once more living psychologically beyond our means, and must reform and give truth its due? Would it not be better to give death the place in actuality and in our thoughts which properly belongs to it, and to yield a little more prominence to that unconscious attitude towards death which we have hitherto so carefully suppressed? This hardly seems indeed a greater achievement, but rather a backward step...but it has the merit of taking somewhat more into account the true state of affairs....

—Sigmund Freud [1856 - 1939]1' [11].

          'Anthropological and historical research also began, in the nineteenth century, to put together a picture of the heroic since primitive and ancient times. The hero was the man who could go into the spirit world, the world of the dead, and return alive. He had his descendants in the mystery cults of the Eastern Mediterranean, which were cults of death and resurrection. The divine hero of each of these cults was one who had come back from the dead. And as we know today from the research into ancient myths and rituals, Christianity itself was a competitor with the mystery cults and won out—among other reasons—because it, too, featured a healer with supernatural powers who had risen from the dead. The great triumph of Easter is the joyful shout "Christ has risen!", an echo of the same joy that the devotees of the mystery cults enacted at their ceremonies of the victory over death. These cults, as G. Stanley Hall so aptly put it, were an attempt to attain "an immunity bath" from the greatest evil: death and the dread of it.4 All historical religions addressed themselves to this same problem of how to bear the end of life. Religions like Hinduism and Buddhism performed the ingenious trick of pretending not to want to be reborn, which is a sort of negative magic: claiming not to want what you really want most.5 When philosophy took over from religion[this clause?] it also took over religion's central problem, and death became the real "muse" of philosophy" from its beginning in Greece right through Heidegger and modern existentialism." [12].


'If you have a "sour" character structure or especially tragic experiences, then you are bound to be pessimistic. One psychologist remarked to me that the whole idea of the fear of death was an import by existentialists and Protestant theologians who had been scarred by their European experiences or who carried around the extra weight of a Calvinist and Lutheran heritage of life-denial. Even the distinguished psychologist Gardner Murphy seems to lean to this school and urges us to study the person who exhibits the fear of death, who places anxiety in the center of his thought; and Murphy asks why the living of life in love and joy cannot also be regarded as real and basic.14' [14].

'The first document that I want to present and linger on is a paper written by the noted psychoanalyst Gregory Zilboorg; it is an especially penetrating essay that—for succinctness and scope—has not been much improved upon, even though it appeared several decades ago.18 Zilboorg says that most people think death fear is absent because it rarely shows its true face; but he argues that underneath all appearances fear of death is universally present:

[Zilboorg] For behind the sense of insecurity in the face of danger, behind the sense of discouragement and depression, there always lurks the basic fear of death, a fear which undergoes most complex elaborations and manifests itself in many indirect ways....No one is free of the fear of death....The anxiety neuroses, the various phobic states, even a considerable number of depressive suicidal states and many schizophrenias amply demonstrate the ever-present fear of death which becomes woven into the major conflicts of the given psychopathological conditions....We may take for granted that the fear of death is always present in our mental functioning.19....

Zilboorg points out that this fear is actually an expression of the instinct of self-preservation, which functions as a constant drive to maintain life and to master the dangers that threaten life:

[Zilboorg] Such constant expenditure of psychological energy on the business of preserving life would be impossible if the fear of death were not as constant. They very term "self-preservation" implies an effort against some force of disintegration; the affective aspect of this is fear, fear of death.21

In other words, the fear of death must be present behind all our normal functioning, in order for the organism to be armed toward self-preservation. But the fear of death cannot be present constantly in one's mental functioning, else the organism could not function. Zilboorg continues:

[Zilboorg] If this fear were as constantly conscious, we should be unable to function normally. It must be properly repressed to keep us living with any modicum of comfort. We know very well that to repress means more than to put away and to forget that which was put away and the place where we put it. It means also to maintain a constant psychological effort to keep the lid on and inwardly never relax our watchfulness.22


And so we can understand what seems like an impossible paradox: the ever-present fear of death in the normal biological functioning of our instinct of self-preservation, as well as our utter obliviousness to this fear in our conscious life:

[Zilboorg] Therefore in normal times we move about actually without ever believing in our own death, as if we fully believed in our own corporeal immortality. We are intent on mastering death....A man will say, of course, that he knows he will die some day, but he does not really care. He is having a good time with living, and he does not think about death and does not care to bother about it—but this is a purely intellectual, verbal admission. The affect of fear is repressed.23

          The argument from biology and evolution is basic and has to be taken seriously; I don't see how it can be left out of any discussion. Animals in order to survive have had to be protected by fear-responses, in relation not only to other animals but to nature itself. They had to see the real relationship of their limited powers to the dangerous world in which they were immersed. Reality and fear go together naturally. As the human infant is in an even more exposed and helpless situation, it is foolish to assume that the fear response of animals would have disappeared in such a weak and highly sensitive species. It is more reasonable to think that it was instead heightened, as some of the early Darwinians thought: early men who were most afraid were those who were most realistic about their situation in nature, and they passed on to their offspring a realism that had a high survival value.24 The result was the emergence of MAN as we know him: A HYPERANXIOUS ANIMAL WHO CONSTANTLY INVENTS REASONS FOR ANXIETY EVEN WHERE THERE ARE NONE.' [15-17].

"Man is literally split in two: he has an awareness of his own splendid uniqueness in that he sticks out of nature with a towering majesty, and yet he goes back into the ground a few feet in order blindly and dumbly to rot and disappear forever. It is a terrifying dilemma to be in and to have to live with. The lower animals are, of course, spared this painful contradiction, as they lack a symbolic identity and self-consciousness that goes with it. They merely act and move reflexively as they are driven by their instincts. If they pause at all, it is only a physical pause; inside they are anonymous, and even their faces have no name. They live in a world without time, pulsating, as it were, in a state of dumb being. This is what has made it so simple to shoot down whole herds of buffalo or elephants. The animals don't know that death is happening and continue grazing placidly while others drop alongside them. The knowledge of death is reflective and conceptual, and animals are spared it. They live and they disappear with the same thoughtlessness: a few minutes of fear, a few seconds of anguish, and it is over. But to live a whole lifetime with the fate of death haunting one's dreams and even the most sun-filled days—that's something else." [26-27]. [too dismissive of what "lower animals" experience?].


"Ferenczi [Sándor Ferenczi 1873 - 1933] had already seen behind the tight-lipped masks, the smiling masks, the earnest masks, the satisfied masks that people use to bluff the world and themselves about their secret psychoses. More recently Erich Fromm [1900 - 1980]2 wondered why most people did not become insane in the face of the existential contradiction between a symbolic self, that seems to give man infinite worth in a timeless scheme of things, and a body that is worth about 98¢. How to reconcile the two?" [27-28].


Human Character as a Vital Lie

Take stock of those around you and you will...hear them talk in precise terms about themselves and their surroundings, which would seem to point to them having ideas on the matter. But start to analyse those ideas and you will find that they hardly reflect in any way the reality to which they appear to refer, and if you go deeper you will discover that there is not even an attempt to adjust the ideas of this reality. Quite the contrary: through these notions the individual is trying to cut off any personal vision of reality, of his own very life. For life is at the start a chaos in which one is lost. The individual suspects this, but he is frightened at finding himself face to face with a curtain of fantasy, where everything is clear. It does not worry him that his "ideas" are not true, he uses them as trenches for the defense of his existence, as scarecrows to frighten away reality.

—JOSÉ ORTEGA y GASSET [1883 - 1956]1' [47].

"I once wrote2 that I thought the reason man was so naturally cowardly was that he felt he had no authority; and the reason he had no authority was in the very nature of the way the human animal is shaped: all our meanings are built into us from the outside, from our dealings with others. This is what gives us a "self" and a superego. Our whole world of right and wrong, good and bad, our name, precisely who we are, is grafted into us; and we never feel we have authority to offer things on our own. How could we?—I argued—since we feel ourselves in many ways guilty and beholden to others, a lesser creation of theirs, indebted to them for our very birth." [48].

'The hostility to psychoanalysis in the past, today, and in the future, will always be a hostility against admitting that man lives by lying to himself about himself and about his world, and that characters, to follow Ferenczi and Brown, is a vital lie. I particularly like the way Maslow [Abraham Harold Maslow 1908 - 1970] has summed up this contribution of Freudian thought:

[Maslow] Freud's greatest discovery, the one which lies at the root of psycho-dynamics, is that the great cause of much psychological illness is the fear of knowledge of oneself—of one's emotions, impulses, memories, capacities, potentialities, of one's destiny. We have discovered that fear of knowledge of oneself is very often isomorphic with, and parallel with, fear of the outside world.


And what is this fear, but a fear of the reality of creation in relation to our powers and possibilities:

[Maslow] In general this kind of fear is defensive, in the sense that it is a protection of our self-esteem, of our love and respect for ourselves. We tend to be afraid of any knowledge that could cause us to despise ourselves or to make us feel inferior, weak, worthless, evil, shameful. We protect ourselves and our ideal image of ourselves by repression and similar defenses, which are essentially techniques by which we avoid becoming conscious of unpleasant or dangerous truths.8' [51-52].

'["Defenses"] allow him to feel that he controls his life and his death, that he really does live and act as a willful and free individual, that he has a unique and self-fashioned identity, that he is somebody—not just a trembling accident germinated on a hothouse planet that Carlyle for all time called a "hall of doom." We called one's life style a vital lie, and now we can understand better why we said it was vital: it is a necessary and basic dishonesty about oneself and one's whole situation. This revelation is what the Freudian revolution in thought really ends up in and is the basic reason that we still strain against Freud. We don't want to admit that we are fundamentally dishonest about reality, that we do not really control our own lives. We don't want to admit that we do not stand alone, that we always rely on something that transcends us, some system of ideas and powers in which we are embedded and which support us. This power is not always obvious. It need not be overtly a god or openly a stronger person, but it can be the power of an all-absorbing activity, a passion, a dedication to a game, a way of life, that like a comfortable web keeps a person buoyed up and ignorant of himself, of the fact that he does not rest on his own center. All of us are driven to be supported in a self-forgetful way, ignorant of what energies we really draw on, of the kind of lie we have fashioned in order to live securely and serenely. Augustine was a master analyst of this, as were Kierkegaard, Scheler, and Tillich in our day. They saw that man could strut and boast all he wanted, but that he really drew his "courage to be" from a god, a string of sexual conquests, a Big Brother, a flag, the proletariat, and the fetish of money and the size of a bank balance.

          The defenses that form a person's character support a grand illusion, and when we grasp this we can understand the full drivenness of man. He is driven away from himself, from self-knowledge, self-reflection. He is driven toward things that support the lie of his character, his automatic equanimity. But he is also drawn precisely toward those things that make him anxious, as a way of skirting them masterfully, testing himself against them, controlling them by defying them. As Kierkegaard taught us, anxiety lures us on, becomes the spur to much of our energetic activity: we flirt with our own growth, but also dishonestly. This explains much of the friction in our lives. We enter symbiotic relationships in order to get the security we need, in order to get relief from our anxieties, our aloneness and helplessness; but these relationships also bind us, they enslave us even further because they support the lie we have fashioned. So we strain against them in order to be more free. The irony is that we do this straining uncritically, in a struggle within our own armor, as it were; and so we increase our drivenness, the second-hand quality of our struggle for


freedom. Even in our flirtations with anxiety we are unconscious of our motives. We seek stress, we push our own limits, but we do it with our screen against despair and not with despair itself. We do it with the stock market, with sports cars, with atomic missiles, with the success ladder in the corporation or the competition in the university. We do it in the prison of a dialogue with our own little family, by marrying against their wishes or choosing a way of life because they frown on it, and so on. Hence the complicated and second-hand quality of our entire drivenness. Even in our passions we are nursery children playing with toys that represent the real world. Even when these toys crash and cost us our lives or our sanity, we are cheated of the consolation that we were in the real world instead of the playpen of our fantasies. We still did not meet our doom on our own manly terms, in contest with objective reality. It is fateful and ironic how the lie we need in order to live dooms us to a life that is never really ours.

          It is not until the working out of modern psychoanalysis that we could understand something the poets and religious geniuses have long known: that the armor of character was so vital to us that to shed it meant to risk death and madness. It is not hard to reason out: If character is a neurotic defense against despair and you shed that defense, you admit the full flood of despair, the full realization of the true human condition, what men are really afraid of, what they struggle against, and are driven toward and away from. Freud summed it up beautifully when he somewhere remarked that psychoanalysis cured the neurotic misery in order to introduce the patient to the common misery of life. Neurosis is another word for describing a complicated technique for avoiding misery, but reality is the misery. That is why from earliest times sages have insisted that to see reality one must die and be reborn. The idea of death and rebirth was present in shamanistic times, in Zen thought, in Stoic thought, in Shakespeare's King Lear, as well as in Judeo-Christian and modern existential thought. But it was not until scientific pathology that we could understand what was at stake in the death and rebirth: that man's character was a neurotic structure that went right to the heart of his humanness. As Frederick ["Fritz"] Perls [1893 - 1970] [I saw "Fritz" Perls at The American Psychological Association meeting, Fairmont Hotel, San Francisco, 1968. "Fritz" was wearing Birkenstock sandals, and at the podium, with a favorite of mine—Albert Ellis, who remarked, and "Fritz" responded (as I recall): "Oh! Bullshit!" A funny and charming moment. Obviously, the two were friends] put it, "To suffer one's death and to be reborn is not easy." And it is not easy precisely because so much of one has to die.

          I like the way Perls conceived the neurotic structure as a thick edifice built up of four layers....' [55-57].

          "It was Rank [Otto Rank 1884 - 1939] who very early admitted that anxiety could not all be overcome therapeutically, and this is what he meant: that it is impossible to stand up to the terror of one's condition without anxiety. It was Andras Angyal who got to the heart of the matter of psychotherapeutic rebirth when he said that the neurotic who has had therapy is like a member of Alcoholics Anonymous: he can never take his cure for granted, and the best sign of the genuineness of that cure is that he lives with humility.13" [58].


'Full humanness means full fear and trembling, at least some of the waking day. When you get a person to emerge into life, away from his dependencies, his automatic safety in the cloak of someone else's power, WHAT JOY CAN YOU PROMISE HIM WITH THE BURDEN OF HIS ALONENESS? When you get a person to look at the sun as it bakes down on the daily carnage taking place on earth, the ridiculous accidents, the utter fragility of life, the powerlessness of those he thought most powerful—what comfort you can give him from a psychotherapeutic point of view? Luis Buñuel likes to introduce a mad dog into his films as counterpoint to the secure daily routine of repressed living. The meaning of his symbolism is that no matter what men pretend, they are only one accidental bite away from utter fallibility. The artist disguises the incongruity that is the pulse-beat of madness but he is aware of it. What would the average man do with a full consciousness of absurdity? He has fashioned his character for the precise purpose of putting it between himself and the facts of life; it is his special tour-de-force that allows him to ignore incongruities, to nourish himself on impossibilities, to thrive on blindness. He accomplishes thereby a peculiarly human victory: the ability to be smug about terror. Sartre has called man a "useless passion" because he is so hopelessly bungled, so deluded about his true condition. He wants to be a god with only the equipment of an animal, and so he thrives on fantasies. As Ortega so well put it in the epigraph [see 2979] we have used for this chapter, man uses his ideas for the defense of his existence, to frighten away reality. This is a serious game, the defense of one's existence—how take it away from people and leave them joyous [compare:]?' [59].

'The irony of man's condition is that the deepest need is to be free of the anxiety of death and annihilation; but it is life itself which awakens it, and so we must shrink from being fully alive. Marcia Lee Anderson draws the circle not only on Traherne, but on Maslow, on humanistic psychoanalysis, and even on Freudian Norman O. Brown himself. What exactly would it mean on this earth to be wholly unrepressed, to live in full bodily and psychic expansiveness? It can only mean to be reborn into madness. Brown warns us of the full radicalness of his reading of Freud by stressing that he resolutely follows Ferenczi's insight that "Character-traits are, so to speak, secret psychoses."20 This is shaking scientific truth, and we have also subscribed to it with Brown. If it has seemed hard for men to get agreement on such a truth during the age of Freud, one day it will be secure.


          But the chilling reality behind this truth is even more upsetting, and there doesn't seem to be much that we can do with it or will ever be able to do with it: I mean that without character-traits there has to be full and open psychosis. At the very end of this book I want to sum up the basic contradictions of Brown's argument for new men without character defenses, his hope for a rebirth of mankind into a "second innocence." For now, it is enough to invoke Marcia Lee Anderson's complete scientific formula: "Stripped of subtle complications [i.e., of all the character defenses—repression, denial, misperception of reality [brackets and contents, by author]], who could regard the sun except with fear?"' [66].


"....We admire Freud for his serious dedication, his willingness to retract, the stylistic tentativeness of some of his assertions, his lifelong review of his pet notions.* We admire him for his very deviousness, his hedgings, and his misgivings, because they seem to make of him more of an honest scientist, reflecting truthfully the infinite manifold of reality. But this is to admire him for the wrong reason. A basic cause for his own lifelong twistings was that he would never cleanly leave the sexual dogma, never clearly see or admit that the terror of death was the basic repression." [97].

          'Fortunately, thanks largely to Ernest Jones's biographical labor of love, we have a well-documented picture of Freud the man. We know about his lifelong migraines, his sinus, his prostate trouble, his lengthy constipations, his compulsive smoking of cigars [add: cocaine, vasectomy]. We have a picture of how suspicious he was of people around him, how he wanted loyalty and recognition of his seniority and priority as a thinker; how ungenerous he [Freud] was toward dissenters like Adler, Jung, and Rank. His famous comment on Adler's death is absolutely cynical:

[Freud] For a Jew-boy out of a Viennese suburb a death in Aberdeen is an unheard-of career in itself, and a proof of how far he had got on. The world really rewarded him richly for his service of contradicting psychoanalysis.†' [100-101].

"Unlike most men, Freud was conscious of death as a very personal and intimate problem. He was haunted by death anxiety all his life and admitted that not a day went by that he did not think about it." [102].

'One of the main reasons that it is so easy to march men off to war is that deep down each of them feels sorry for the man next to him who will die. Each protects himself in his fantasy until the shock that he is bleeding. It is logical that if you are one of the few who admits the anxiety of death, then you must question the fantasy of immortality, which is exactly the experience of Freud. Zilboorg affirms that the problem troubled Freud all his life. He yearned for fame, anticipated it, hoped that through it he could create his own immortality: "Immortality means being loved by many anonymous people." This definition is the Enlightenment view of immortality: living in the esteem of men yet unborn, for the works that you have contributed to their life and betterment.

          But it is entirely "this-worldly" immortality—there's the rub.' [120-121].

          'On the one hand you make psychoanalysis your private religion, your own royal road to immortality; on the other hand you are unique and isolated enough to question the whole career of man on this planet. At the same time you cannot abandon the project of your own creation of immortality, because THE RELIGIOUS PROMISE OF IMMORTALITY IS A PURE ILLUSION, FIT FOR CHILDREN AND FOR THE CREDULOUS MAN IN THE STREET. Freud was in this terrible bind; as he confessed to the Reverend Oskar Pfister:


[Freud] I can imagine that several million years ago in the Triassic age all the great -odons and -therias were very proud of the development of the Saurian race and looked forward to heaven knows what magnificent future for themselves. And then, with the exception of the wretched crocodile, they all died out. You will object is equipped with mind, which gives him the right to think about and believe in his future. Now there is certainly something special about mind, so little is known about it and its relation to nature. I personally have a vast respect for mind, but has nature? Mind is only a little bit of nature, the rest of which seems to be able to get along very well without it. Will it really allow itself to be influenced to any great extent by regard for mind?

          Enviable he who can feel more confident about that than I.57

It is hard for a man to work steadfastly when his work can mean no more than the digestive noises, wind-breakings, and cries of dinosaurs—noises now silenced forever [see: "A Guide to Christianism"]. Or perhaps one works all the harder to defy the callous unconcern of nature; in that way one might even compel her to defer to the products of mysterious mind, by making words and thoughts an unshakable monument to man's honesty about his condition. This is what makes man strong and true—that he defies the illusory comforts of religion. Human illusions prove that men do not deserve any better than oblivion. So Freud must have reasoned as he made psychoanalysis the competitor of religion. Psychoanalytic science would establish the true facts of the moral world and would reform it—if anything could. We see why psychoanalysis itself was a religion for Freud, as so many authoritative thinkers from Jung and Rank to Zilboorg and Rieff have remarked.' [121-122].




Neurosis and psychosis are modes of expression for human beings who have lost courage. Anyone who has acquired this much insight...will thenceforth refrain from undertaking with persons in this state of discouragement tedious excursions into mysterious regions of the psyche.

—Alfred Adler [1870 - 1937]' ["125"].

"Ah, mon cher, for anyone who is alone, without God and without a master, the weight of days is dreadful. Hence one must choose a master, God being out of style.

—Albert Camus [1913 - 1960]1" [127].

' one can argue away the manifestations of transference in everyday human affairs. It is not visible on the surface: adults walk around looking quite independent; they play the role of parent themselves and seem quite grown up—and so they are.


They couldn't function if they still carried with them the childhood feeling of awe for their parents, the tendency to obey them automatically and uncritically. But, says Ferenczi [Sándor Ferenczi 1873 - 1933], although these things normally disappear, "the need to be subject to someone remains; only the part of the father is transferred to teachers, superiors, impressive personalities; the submissive loyalty to rulers that is so wide-spread is also a transference of this sort."13' [131].

'No wonder that hundreds of thousands of men marched up from trenches in the face of blistering gunfire in World War I. They were partially self-hypnotised, so to speak. No wonder men imagine victories against impossible odds: don't they have the omnipotent powers of the parental figure? Why are groups so blind and stupid?—men have always asked. Because they demand illusions, answered Freud, they "["men"] constantly give what is unreal precedence over what is real."17 And we know why. The real world is simply too terrible to admit; it tells man that he is a small, trembling animal who will decay and die. Illusion changes all this, makes man seem important, vital to the universe, immortal in some way. Who transmits this illusion, if not the parents by imparting the macro-lie of the cultural causa sui ["self-causing"? (compare: self-induced [see 2897])]?' [133].

'Freud saw that the leader wipes out fear and permits everyone to feel omnipotent. Redl refined this somewhat by showing how important the leader often was by the simple fact that it was he who performed the "initiatory act" when no one else had the daring to do it. Redl calls this beautifully the "magic of the initiatory act." This initiatory act can be anything from swearing to sex or murder. As Redl points out, according to its logic only the one who first commits murder is the murderer; all others are followers. Freud has said in Totem and Taboo that acts that are illegal for the individual can be justified if the whole group shares responsibility for them. But they can be justified in another way: the one who initiates the act takes upon himself both the risk and the guilt. The result is truly magic: each member of the group can repeat the act without guilt. They are not responsible, only the leader is. Redl calls this, aptly, "priority magic."' [135].

'Redl showed that groups use leaders for several types of exculpation or relief of conflict, for love, or for even just the opposite—targets of aggressions and hate that pulls the group together in a common bond. (As one recent popular film advertisement put it: "They follow him bravely into hell only for the pleasure of killing him and revenging themselves.") Redl was not out to replace Freud's basic insights but only to extend and add nuances to them. The instructive thing about his examples is that most of the "central person's" functions do have to do with guilt, expiation, and unambiguous heroics. The important conclusion for us is that the groups "use" the leader sometimes with little regard for him personally, but always with regard to fulfilling their own needs and urges. W.R. Bion, in an import recent paper22 extended this line of thought even further from Freud, arguing that the leader is as much a creature of the group as they of him and that he loses his "individual distinctiveness" by being a leader, as they do by being followers. He has no more


freedom to be himself than any other member of the group, precisely because he has to be a reflex of their assumptions in order to qualify for leadership in the first place.23

          All of which leads us to muse wistfully on how unheroic is the average man, even when he follows heroes. He simply loads them up with his own baggage; he follows them with reservations, with a dishonest heart. The noted psychoanalyst Paul Schilder had already observed that man goes into the hypnotic trance itself with reservations. He said penetratingly that it was this fact that deprived hypnosis of the "profound seriousness which distinguishes every truly great passion." And so he called it "timid" because it lacked "the great, free, unconditional surrender."24 I think this characterization is beautifully apt to describe the timid "heroisms" of group behavior. There is nothing free or manly about them. Even when one merges his ego with the authoritarian father, the "spell" is in his own narrow interests. People use their leaders almost as an excuse. When they give in to the leader's commands they can always reserve the feeling that these commands are alien to them, that they are the leader's responsibility, that the terrible acts they are committing are in his name and not theirs. This, then, is another thing that makes people feel so guiltless, as Canetti points out: they can imagine themselves as temporary victims of the leader.25 The more they give in to his spell, and the more terrible the crimes they commit, the more they can feel that the wrongs are not natural to them. It is all so neat, this usage of the leader; it reminds us of James Frazer's [Sir James Frazer 1854 - 1941] discovery that in the remote past tribes often used their kings as scapegoats who, when they no longer served the people's needs, were put to death. These are the many ways in which men can play the hero, all the while that they are avoiding responsibility for their own acts in a cowardly way.' [136-137]. [compare: "people get the leader they deserve." Or, my (LS) (now) phrase: people get the leader they create].

          'This use of the transference object explains the urge to deification of the other, the constant placing of certain select persons on pedestals, the reading into them of extra powers: the more they have, the more rubs off on us. We participate in their immortality, and so we create immortals.47 As Harrington [see 2941] put it graphically: "I am making a deeper impression on the cosmos because I know this famous person. When the ark sails I will be on it."48 Man is always hungry, as Rank so well put it, for material for his own immortalization. Groups need it too, which explains the constant hunger for heroes:

[Rank] Every group, however small or great, has, as such, an "individual" impulse for eternalization, which manifests itself in the creation of and care for national, religious, and artistic heroes...the individual paves the way for this collective eternity impulse....49

          This aspect of group [see 2648] psychology explains something that otherwise staggers our imagination: have we astonished by fantastic displays of grief on the part of whole peoples when one of their leaders dies? The uncontrolled emotional outpouring, the dazed masses standing huddled in the city squares sometimes for days on end, grown people groveling hysterically and tearing at themselves, being


trampled in the surge toward the coffin or funeral pyre—how to make sense out of such a massive, neurotic "vaudeville of despair"?50 In one way only: it shows a profound state of shock at losing one's bulwark against death. The people apprehend, at some dumb level of their personality: "Our locus of power to control life and death can himself die; therefore our own immortality is in doubt." All the tears and all the tearing is after all for oneself, not for the passing of a great soul but for one's own imminent passing. Immediately men begin to rename city streets, squares, airports with the name of the dead man: it is as though to declare that he will be immortalized physically in the society, in spite of his own physical death. Compare the recent mournings of the Americans for the Kennedys, the French for De Gaulle, and especially the Egyptians for Nasser, which was a more primitive and elemental outpouring: immediately the cry was raised to renew the war with Israel.

As we have learned, only scapegoats can relieve one of his own stark death fear: "I am threatened with death—let us kill plentifully

[compare: the American President, George W. Bush, his administration, his followers, post September 11, 2001 ("9/11")]."

On the demise of an immortality-figure the urge to scapegoating must be especially intense. So, too, is the susceptibility to sheer panic, as Freud showed.51 When the leader dies the device that one has used to deny the terror of the world instantly breaks down; what is more natural, then, than to experience the very panic that has always threatened in the background?

          The void of immortality-substance that would be left by the absolute abandonment of the leader is evidently too painful to support, especially if the leader has possessed striking mana or has summed up in himself some great heroic project that carried the people on. One can't help musing about how one of the most advanced scientific societies of the 20th century resorted to improvements on ancient Egyptian mummification techniques to embalm the leader of their revolution. It seems as though the Russians could not let go of Lenin [1870 - 1924] even in death and so have entombed him as a permanent immortality-symbol. Here is a supposedly "secular" society that holds pilgrimages to a tomb and that buries heroic figures in the "sacred wall" of the Kremlin, a "hallowed" place. No matter how many churches are closed or how humanistic a leader or a movement may claim to be, there will never be anything wholly secular about human fear. Man's terror is always "holy terror"—which is a strikingly apt popular phrase. Terror always refers to the ultimates of life and death.52' [148-150].

'On the one hand the creature [man] is impelled by a powerful desire to identify with the cosmic process, to merge himself with the rest of nature. On the other hand he wants to be unique, to stand out as something different and apart. The first motive—to merge and lose oneself in something larger—comes from man's horror of isolation, of being thrust back upon his own feeble energies alone; he feels tremblingly small and impotent in the face of transcendent nature. If he gives in to his natural feeling of cosmic dependence, the desire to be part of something bigger, it puts him at peace and at oneness, gives him a sense of self-expansion in a larger beyond, and so


heightens his being, giving him truly a feeling of transcendent value. This is the Christian motive of Agape ["brotherly love"? etc.]—the natural melding of created life in the "Creation-in-love" which transcends it. As Rank put it, man yearns for a "feeling of kinship with the All." He wants to be "delivered from his isolation [compare: mental horror vacui (see 2896-2938)]" and become "part of a greater and higher whole." The person reaches out naturally for a self beyond his own self in order to know who he is at all, in order to feel that he belongs in the universe. Long before Camus [Albert Camus 1913 - 1960] penned the words of the epigraph [see 2984] to this chapter, Rank said: "For only by living in close union with a god-ideal that has been erected outside one's own ego is one able to live at all."55 ....

we understand the idea of God as a logical fulfillment of the Agape side of man's nature. Freud seems to have scorned Agape as he scorned the religion that preached it. He [Freud] thought that man's hunger for a God in heaven represented everything that was immature and selfish in man: his helplessness, his fear, his greed for the fullest possible protection and satisfaction. But Rank understood that the idea of God has never been a simple reflex of superstitious and selfish fear, as cynics and "realists" have claimed. Instead it is an outgrowth of genuine life-longing, a reaching-out for a plenitude of meaning—as James taught us.57 It seems that the yielding element in heroic belongingness is inherent in the life force itself, one of the truly sublime mysteries of created life. It seems that the life force reaches naturally even beyond the earth itself [compare: mental horror vacui], which is one reason why man has always placed God in the heavens.' [151-152, 153].

"Compared to the rest of nature man is not a very satisfactory creation. He is riddled with fear and powerlessness." [154].

          "Do we wonder why one of man's chief characteristics is his tortured dissatisfaction with himself, his constant self-criticism? It is the only way he has to overcome the sense of hopeless limitation inherent in his real situation. Dictators, revivalists, and sadists know that people like to be lashed with accusations of their own basic unworthiness because it reflects how they truly feel about themselves. The sadist doesn't create a masochist; he finds him ready-made. Thus people are offered one way of overcoming unworthiness: the chance to idealize the self, to lift it onto truly heroic levels. In this way man sets up the complementary dialogue with himself that is natural to his condition. He criticizes himself because he falls short of the heroic ideals he needs to meet in order to be a really imposing creation." [154-155].


'Projection is necessary and desirable for self-fulfillment. Otherwise man is overwhelmed by his loneliness and separation and negated by the very burden of his own life. As Rank so wisely saw, projection is a necessary unburdening of the individual; man cannot live closed upon himself and for himself. He must project the meaning of his life outward, the reason for it, even the blame for it. We did not create ourselves, but we are stuck with ourselves. Technically we say that transference is a distortion of reality. But now we see that this distortion has two dimensions: distortion due to the fear of life and death and distortion due to the heroic attempt to assure self-expansion and the intimate connection of one's inner self to surrounding nature. In other words, transference reflects the whole of the human condition and raises the largest philosophical question about that condition.

          How big a piece of "reality" can man bite off without narrowing it down distortingly? If Rank, Camus, and Buber are right, man cannot stand alone but has to reach out for support. If transference is a natural function of heroism, a necessary projection in order to stand life, death, and oneself, the question becomes: What is creative projection? What is life-enhancing illusion?' [158].


Otto Rank and the Closure of

Psychoanalysis on Kierkegaard

It seems difficult for the individual to realize that there exists a division between one's spiritual and purely human needs, and that the satisfaction or fulfillment for each has to be found in different spheres. As a rule, we find the two aspects hopelessly confused in modern relationships, where one person is made the god-like judge over good and bad in the other person. In the long run, such symbiotic relationship becomes demoralizing to both parties, or it is just as unbearable to be God as it is to remain an utter slave.

—Otto Rank1

One of the things we see as we glance over history is that creature consciousness is always absorbed by culture. Culture opposes nature and transcends it. Culture is in its most intimate intent a heroic denial of creatureliness. But this denial is more effective in some epochs than in others. When man lived securely under the canopy of the Judeo-Christian world picture he was part of a great whole; to put it in our terms, his cosmic heroism was completely mapped out, it was unmistakable. He came from the invisible world into the visible one by the act of God, did his duty to God by living out his life with dignity and faith, marrying as a duty, procreating as a duty, offering his whole life—as Christ had—to the Father. In turn he was justified by the Father and rewarded with eternal life in the invisible dimension. Little did it matter that the death was a vale of tears, of horrid sufferings, of incommensurateness, of torturous and humiliating daily pettiness, of sickness and death, a place where man felt he did not belong, "the wrong place," as Chesterton said,2 the place where man could expect nothing, achieve nothing for himself. Little did it matter, because it


served God and so would serve the servant of God. In a word, man's cosmic heroism was assured, even if he was as nothing. This is the most remarkable achievement of the Christian world picture: that it could take slaves, cripples, imbeciles, the simple and the mighty, and make them all secure heroes, simply by taking a step back from the world into another dimension of things, the dimension called heaven. Or we might better say that Christianity took creature consciousness—the thing man most wanted to deny—and made it the very condition for his cosmic heroism.' [159-160].

'Nature conquers death not by creating eternal organisms but by making it possible for ephemeral ones to procreate. Evolutionarily this seems to have made it possible for really complex organisms to emerge in the place of simple—and almost literally eternal—self-dividing ones.

          But now the rub for man. If sex is a fulfillment of his role as an animal [delete: "as an animal" ("animal" is a given)] in the species, it reminds him that he is nothing himself but a link in the chain of being, exchangeable with any other and completely expendable in himself. Sex represents, then, species consciousness and, as such, the defeat of individuality, of personality. But it is just this personality that man wants to develop: the idea of himself as a special cosmic hero with special gifts for the universe. He [Man] doesn't want to be a mere fornicating animal like any other—this is not a truly human meaning, a truly distinctive contribution to world life [ah! the impulses to heroics. The sufferings engendered. Compare (French saying): "The excellent is the enemy of the good."]. From the very beginning, then, the sexual act represents a double negation: by physical death and of distinctive personal gifts. This point is crucial because it explains why sexual taboo have been at the heart of human society since the very beginning. They affirm the triumph of human personality over animal sameness. With the complex codes for sexual self-denial, man was able to impose the cultural map for personal immortality over the animal body. He [Man] brought sexual taboos into being because he needed to triumph over the body, and he sacrificed the pleasures of the body to the highest pleasure of all: self-perpetuation as a spiritual being through all eternity. This is the substitution that Roheim was really describing when he made his penetrating observation on the Australian aborigines: "The repression and sublimation of the primal scene is at the bottom of totemistic ritual and religion,"11 that is, the denial of the body as the transmitter of peculiarly human life.' [163].

"the sexual partner does not and cannot represent a complete and lasting solution to the human dilemma.16" [165].

'How can a human being be a god-like "everything" to another? No human relationship can bear the burden of godhood, and the attempt has to take its toll in some way on both parties. The reasons are not far to seek. THE THING THAT MAKES GOD THE PERFECT SPIRITUAL OBJECT IS PRECISELY THAT HE IS ABSTRACT—as Hegel saw.19 He is not a concrete individuality, and so He does not limit our development by His own personal will and needs. When we look for the


"perfect" human object we are looking for someone who allows us to express our will completely, without any frustration or false notes. We want an object that reflects a truly ideal image of ourselves.20 But no human object can do this; humans have wills and counterwills of their own, in a thousand ways they can move against us, their very appetites offend us.21 God's greatness and power is something that we can nourish ourselves in, without its being compromised in any way by the happenings of this world. No human partner can offer this assurance because the partner is real. However much we may idealize and idolize him, he inevitably reflects earthly decay and imperfection. And as he is our ideal measure of value, this imperfection falls back upon us. If your partner is your "All" then any shortcoming in him becomes a major threat to you.

          If a woman loses her beauty, or shows that she doesn't have the strength and dependability that we once thought she did, or loses her intellectual sharpness, or falls short of our own peculiar needs in any of a thousand ways, then all the investment we have made in her is undermined. The shadow of imperfection falls over our lives, and with it—death and the defeat of cosmic heroism. "She lessens" = "I die." This is the reason for so much bitterness, shortness of temper and recrimination in our daily family lives. We get back a reflection from our loved objects that is less than the grandeur and perfection that we need to nourish ourselves. We feel diminished by their human shortcomings. Our interiors feel empty or anguished, our lives valueless, when we see the inevitable pettinesses of the world expressed through the human beings in it. For this reason, too, we often attack loved ones and try to bring them down to size. We see that our gods have clay feet, and so we must hack away at them in order to save ourselves, to deflate the unreal over-investment that we have made in them in order to secure our own apotheosis. In this sense, the deflation of the over-invested partner, parent, or friend is a creative act that is necessary to correct the lie that we have been living, to reaffirm our own inner freedom of growth that transcends the particular object and is not bound to it. But not everybody can do this because many of us need the lie in order to live. We may have no other God and we may prefer to deflate ourselves in order to keep the relationship, even though we glimpse the impossibility of it and the slavishness to which it reduces us.22 This is one direct explanation—as we shall see—of the phenomenon of depression.' [166-167].

"what is it that we want when we elevate the love partner to the position of God? We want redemption—nothing less. We want to be rid of our faults, of our feeling of nothingness. We want to be justified, to know that our creation has not been in vain. We turn to the love partner for the experience of the heroic, for perfect validation; we expect them to "make us good" through love.23 Needless to say, human partners can't do this. The lover does not dispense cosmic heroism; he cannot give absolution in his own name. The reason is that as a finite being he to is doomed, and we read that doom in his own fallibilities, in his very deterioration. Redemption can only come from outside the individual, from beyond, from our conceptualization of the ultimate source of things, the perfection of creation. It can only come, as Rank saw, when we lay down our individuality, give it up, admit our creatureliness and helplessness.24 What partner would ever permit us to do this, would bear us if we did? The partner


needs us to be as God. On the other hand, what partner could ever want to give redemption—unless he was mad? Even the partner who plays God in the relationship cannot stand it for long, as at some level he knows that he does not possess the resources that the other needs and claims. He does not have perfect strength, perfect assurance, secure heroism. He cannot stand the burden of godhood, and so he must resent the slave. Besides, the uncomfortable realization must always be there: how can one be a genuine god if one's slave is so miserable and unworthy?" [167-168].

'people need a "beyond," but they reach first for the nearest one; this gives them the fulfillment they need but at the same time limits and enslaves them. You can look at the whole problem of a human life in this way. You can ask the question: What kind of beyond does this person try to expand in; and how much individuation does he achieve it in? Most people play it safe: they choose the beyond of standard transference object like parents, the boss, or the leader; they accept the cultural definition of heroism and try to be a "good provider" or a "solid citizen. In this way they earn their species immortality as an agent of procreation, or a collective or cultural immortality as part of a social group of some kind. Most people live this way, and I am hardly implying that there is anything false or unheroic about the standard cultural solution to the problems of men. It represents both the truth and the tragedy of man's condition: the problem of the consecration of one's life, the meaning of it, the natural surrender to something larger—these driving needs that inevitably are resolved by what is nearest at hand.' [169-170].

"....something that women—like everyone else—are loathe to admit: their own natural inability to stand alone in freedom. This is why almost everyone consents to earn his immortality in the popular ways mapped out by societies everywhere, in the beyonds of others and not their own." [170].

"Rank was brought to exactly the same conclusion as Kierkegaard [Søren Kierkegaard 1813 - 1855]: that the only way out of human conflict is full renunciation, to give one's life as a gift to the highest powers. Absolution has to come from the absolute beyond. As Kierkegaard, Rank showed that this rule applied to the strongest, most heroic types—not to trembling and empty weaklings. To renounce the world and oneself, to lay the meaning of it to the powers of creation, is the hardest thing for man to achieve—and so it is fitting that this task should fall to the strongest personality type, the one with the largest ego. The great scientific world-shaker Newton was the same man who always carried the Bible under his arm." [173].

'Nietzsche [Friedrich Nietzsche 1844 - 1900] railed at the Judeo-Christian renunciatory morality; but as Rank said, he "overlooked the deep need in the human being for just that kind of morality...."34 Rank goes so far as to say that the "need for a truly religious inherent in human nature and its fulfillment is basic to any kind of social life."35 Do Freud and others imagine that surrender to God is masochistic, that to empty oneself is demeaning? Well, answers Rank, it represents


on the contrary the furthest reach of the self, the highest idealization man can achieve. It represents the fulfillment of the Agape love-expansion, the achievement of the truly creative type. Only in this way, says Rank, only by surrendering to the bigness of nature on the highest, least-fetishized level, can man conquer death. In other words, the true heroic validation of one's life lies beyond sex, beyond the other, beyond the private religion—all these are makeshifts that pull man down or that hem him in, leaving him torn with ambiguity[?]....' [174].

          'Man is a "theological being [see Article #3, 86; Addition 36, 1919]," concludes Rank [Otto Rank 1884 - 1939], and not a biological one. In all this it is as though Tillich37 were speaking and, behind him, Kierkegaard and Augustine; but what makes it uncanny in the present world of science is that these are the conclusions of the lifework of a psychoanalyst [Otto Rank], not a theologian.' [175].

'We cannot repeat too often the great lesson of Freudian psychology: that repression is normal self-protection and creative self-restriction—in a real sense, man's natural substitute for instinct. Rank has a perfect, key term for this natural human talent: he calls it "partialization" and very rightly sees that life is impossible without it. What we call the well-adjusted man has just this capacity to partialize the world for comfortable action.2 I have used the term "fetishization," which is exactly the same idea: the "normal" man bites off what he can chew and digest of life, and no more. In other words, men aren't built to be gods, to take in the whole world; they are built like other creatures, to take in the piece of ground in front of their noses.' [178].

[compare Goethe 1749 - 1832 (as I recall, from 1964, San Francisco): What then is mine? Only that which my activity can fill—no more, no less].

          'It may seem courageous to take in the whole world, instead of just biting off pieces and acting on them, but as Rank points out, this is also precisely a defense against engagement in it:

[Rank] ...this apparent egocentricity originally is just a defense mechanism against the danger of reality....[The neurotic] seeks to complete his ego constantly...without paying for it.14

To live is to engage in experience at least partly on the terms of the experience itself. One has to stick his neck out in the action without any guarantees about satisfaction or safety. One never knows how it will come out or how silly he will look, but the neurotic type wants these guarantees. He doesn't want to risk his self-image. Rank calls this very aptly the "self-willed over-valuation of self" whereby the neurotic tries to cheat nature.15 He won't pay the price that nature wants of him: to age, fall ill or be injured, and die. Instead of living experience he ideates [conceives] it; instead of arranging it in action he works it all out in his head.' [183].


'I used to wonder how people could stand the really demonic activity of working behind those hellish ranges in hotel kitchens, the frantic whirl of waiting on a dozen tables at one time, the madness of the travel agent's office at the height of the tourist season, or the torture of working with a jack-hammer all day on a hot summer street. The answer is so simple that it eludes us: the craziness of these activities is exactly that of the human condition. They are "right" for us because the alternative is natural desperation. The daily madness of these jobs is a repeated vaccination against the madness of the asylum. Look at the joy and eagerness with which workers return from vacation to their compulsive routines. They plunge into their work with equanimity and lightheartedness because it drowns out something more ominous. Men have to be protected from reality.' [186].

[having operated a 110 pound jack hammer (cement, and about 85°-105°), been a waiter, etc.—laughing!—my guess: the author (Ernest Becker) had (luckily) too symbolic a life (that is: no jack hammer, etc., experience)].

"We have seen that what we call the human character is actually a lie about the nature of reality. The causa-sui ["self-causing"?] project is a pretense that one is invulnerable because protected by the power of others and of culture, that one is important in nature and can do something about the world. But in lack of the causa-sui project whispers the voice of possible [delete "possible"] truth: that human life may not be more than a meaningless interlude in a vicious drama of flesh and bones that we call evolution; that the Creator may not care any more for the destiny of man or the self-perpetuation of individual men than He seems to have cared for the dinosaurs or the Tasmanians. The whisper is the same one that slips incongruously out of the Bible in the voice of Ecclesiastes [see Appendixes II, 707; VII, 783-784; etc.]: that all is vanity, vanity of vanities." [187].

'As Anaïs Nin [see 3032] put it graphically: "The caricature aspect of life appears whenever the drunkenness of illusion wears off."22 And don't some people drink to head off the despair of reality as they sense it truly is? Man must always imagine and believe in a "second" reality or a better world than the one that is given him by nature.23 In this sense, the neurotic symptom is a communication about truth: that the illusion that one is invulnerable is a lie. Let me quote another piece of Rank's powerful summing-up of this problem of illusion and reality:

[Rank] With the truth, one cannot live. To be able to live one needs illusions, not only outer illusions such as art, religion, philosophy, science and love afford, but inner illusions which first condition the outer [i.e., a secure sense of one's active powers, and of being able to count on the powers of others]. The more a man can take reality as truth, appearance as essence, the sounder, the better adjusted, the happier will he be...

this constantly effective process of self-deceiving, pretending and blundering, is no psychopathological mechanism....24


          Rank calls this a paradoxical but deep insight into the essence of neurosis, and he sums it up in the words we have used as an epigraph [see 2983] to this chapter. In fact, it is this and more: it absolutely shakes the foundations of our conceptualization of normality and health. It makes them entirely a relative value problem. The neurotic opts out of life because he is having trouble maintaining his illusions about it, which proves nothing less than that life is possible only with illusions.' [188-189].

'To lose the security of heroic cultural illusion is to die—that is what "deculturation" of primitives means and what it does. It kills them or reduces them to the animal level of chronic fighting and fornication. Life becomes possible [tolerable, etc.] only in a continual alcoholic stupor [historically, very popular] [see 2866-2868]. Many of the older American Indians were relieved when the Big Chiefs in Ottawa and Washington took control and prevented them from warring and feuding. It was a relief from the constant anxiety of death for their loved ones, if not for themselves. But they also knew, with a heavy heart, that this eclipse of their traditional hero-systems at the same time left them as good as dead.26' [189].

'IF HISTORY IS A SUCCESSION OF IMMORTALITY IDEOLOGIES, then the problems of men can be read directly against those ideologies—how embracing they are, how convincing, how easy they make it for men to be confident and secure in their personal heroism. What characterizes modern life is the failure of all traditional immortality ideologies to absorb and quicken man's hunger for self-perpetuation and heroism. Neurosis is today a widespread problem because of the disappearance of convincing dramas of heroic apotheosis of man.27 The subject is summed up succinctly in Pinel's [1745 - 1826] famous observation on how the Salpêtrière mental hospital got cleared out at the time of the French Revolution. All the neurotics found a ready-made drama of self-transcending action and heroic identity. It was as simple as that. [compare any conflict, from interpersonal to international]


It begins to look as though modern man cannot find his heroism in everyday life any more, as men did in traditional societies just by doing their daily duty of raising children, working, and worshipping. He needs revolutions and wars and "continuing" revolutions to last when the revolutions and wars end. That is the price modern man pays for the eclipse of the sacred dimension. When he dethroned the ideas of soul and God he was thrown back hopelessly on his own resources, on himself and those few around him. Even lovers and families trap and disillusion us because they are not substitutes for absolute transcendence. We might say that they are poor illusions in the sense that we have been discussing.28' [190].

'the hysterical reaction of 19th–century believers against Darwin [Charles Darwin 1809 - 1882] only shows the thinness and unimaginativeness of their faith. They were not open to plain and ordinary awe and wonder; they took life too much for granted; and when Darwin stripped them of their sense of "special wondrousness" they felt as good as dead.' [191].


'We can conclude with Rank that religion is "just as good a psychology" as the psychology that pretended to replace it.33 In some ways it is of course even better because it gets at the actual causes of universal guilt; in some ways it is much worse, because it usually reinforces the parental and social authorities and makes the bind of circumstantial guilt even stronger and more crippling.' [194].

"as Rank saw with such deep understanding, psycho-analysis actually stultifies the emotional life of the patient Man wants to focus his love on an absolute measure of power and value, and the analyst tells him that all is reducible to his early conditioning and is therefore relative. Man wants to find and experience the marvelous and the analyst tells him how matter-of-fact everything is, how clinically explainable are our deepest ontological motives and guilts. Man is thereby deprived of the absolute mystery he needs, and the only omnipotent thing that then remains is the man who explained it away.37 And so the patient clings to the analyst with all his might and dreads terminating the analysis.‡" [195].

          'The furthest one pushes his study of Rank the more his writings blur into those of Kierkegaard—all the more remarkably, as we now fully appreciate, because of the far greater sophistication of clinical psychoanalysis. By now it should be clear that this blurring of Rank and Kierkegaard is not a weak surrender to ideology but an actual scientific working-through of the problem of human character. Both men reached the same conclusion after the most exhaustive psychological quest: that at the very furthest reaches of scientific description, psychology has to give way to "theology"—that is, to a world-view that absorbs the individual's conflicts and guilt and offers him the possibility for some kind of heroic apotheosis. Man cannot endure his own littleness unless he can translate it into meaningfulness on the largest possible level. Here Rank and Kierkegaard meet in one of those astonishing historical mergers of thought: that sin and neurosis are two ways of talking about the same thing—the complete isolation of the individual, his dis-harmony with the rest of nature, his hyperindividualism, his attempt to create his own world from within himself. Both sin and neurosis represent the individual blowing himself up to larger than his true size, his refusal to recognize his cosmic dependence....' [196].

'The myth-ritual complex is a social form for the channelling of obsessions. We might say that it places creative obsession within the reach of everyman, which is precisely the function of ritual. This function is what Freud saw when he talked about the obsessive quality of primitive religion and compared it to neurotic obsession. But he didn't see how natural this was, how all social life is the obsessive ritualization of control in one way or another. It automatically engineers safety and banishes despair by keeping people focussed on the noses in front of their faces. The defeat of despair is not mainly an intellectual problem for an active organism, but a problem of self-stimulation via movement. Beyond a given point man is not helped by more


"knowing," but only by living and doing [as my dynamic friend, of 30 years, Jane K.C., stated: "activity is therapy"] in a partly self-forgetful way. As Goethe put it, WE MUST PLUNGE INTO EXPERIENCE AND THEN REFLECT ON THE MEANING OF IT. All reflection and no plunging drives us mad; all plunging and no reflection, and we are brutes. Goethe wrote maxims like these precisely at the time when the individual lost the protective cover of traditional society and daily life became a problem for him. He no longer knew what were the proper doses of experience. This safe dosage of life is exactly what is prescribed by traditional custom, wherein all the important decisions of life and even its daily events are ritually marked out. Neurosis is the contriving of private obsessional ritual to replace the socially-agreed one now lost by the demise of traditional society. The customs and myths of traditional society provided a whole interpretation of the meaning of life, ready-made for the individual; all he had to do was to accept living it as true. The modern neurotic must do just this if he is to be "cured": he must welcome a living illusion.45

          It is one thing to imagine this "cure," but it is quite another thing to "prescribe" it to modern man. How hollow it must ring in his ears. For one thing, he can't get living myth-ritual complexes, the deep-going inherited social traditions that have so far sustained men, on a prescription form from the corner pharmacy. He can't even get them in mental hospitals or therapeutic communities. The modern neurotic cannot magically find the kind of world he needs, which is one reason he tries to create his own [commonly, via alcohol and/or pharmaceuticals (preponderantly—"legal drugs")]. In this very crucial sense neurosis is the modern tragedy of man; historically he is an orphan.' [199-200].

"....MEN NEED PAGEANTS, CROWDS, PANOPLIES [IMPRESSIVE DISPLAYS], SPECIAL DAYS MARKED OFF ON CALENDARS—AN OBJECTIVE FOCUS for obsession, something to give form and body to internal fantasy, SOMETHING EXTERNAL TO YIELD ONESELF TO. Otherwise the neurotic is brought back to the point of his departure: how is he to believe in his lonely, inner sense of specialness?§" [220].

          "[footnote, referenced above] §I think this helps explain the intensive evangelism of so many converts. Offhand we may wonder why they must continually buttonhole us in the street to tell us how to be as happy as they. If they are so happy, we muse, why are they bugging us? The reason, according to what we have said, must be that they need the conviction of numbers in order to strengthen and externalize something that otherwise remains very private and personal—and so risks seeming fantastic and unreal. To see others like oneself is to believe in oneself." [200].

          'Let me hasten to assure the reader that I am not developing an apologia for traditional religion but only describing the impoverishment of the modern neurotic and some of the reasons for it. I want to give some background for understanding how centrally Rank himself stands in the tradition of Pascal, Kierkegaard, and Chesterton on the problem of faith and illusion or creative play. As we have learned from


Huizinga and more recent writers like Josef Pieper and Harvey Cox, the only secure truth men have is that which they themselves create and dramatize; to live is to play at the meaning of life. The upshot of this whole tradition of thought is that it teaches us once and for all that childlike foolishness is the calling of mature men. Just this way Rank prescribed the cure for neurosis: as the "need for legitimate foolishness."47 The problem of the union of religion, psychiatry, and social science is contained in this one formula.

          We said earlier that the question of human life is: on what level of illusion does one live? This question poses an absolutely new question for the science of mental health, namely: What is the "best" illusion under which to live? Or, what is the most legitimate foolishness? If you are going to talk about life-enhancing illusion, then you can truly try to answer the question of which is "best." You will have to define "best" in terms that are directly meaningful to man, related to his basic condition and his needs. I think the whole question would be answered in terms of how much freedom, dignity, and hope a given illusion provides. These three things absorb the problem of natural neurosis and turn it to creative living....' [201-202].

          'Best of all, of course, religion solves[?] the problem of death, which no living individuals can solve, no matter how they would support us. Religion, then, gives the possibility of heroic victory in freedom and solves the problem of human dignity at its highest level. The two ontological motives of the human condition are both met: the need to surrender oneself in full to the rest of nature, to become a part of it by laying down one's whole existence to some higher meaning; and the need to expand oneself as an individual heroic personality. Finally, religion alone gives hope, because it holds open the dimension of the unknown and the unknowable, the fantastic mystery of creation that the human mind cannot even begin to approach, the possibility of a multidimensionality of spheres of existence, of heavens and possible embodiments that make a mockery of earthly logic—and in doing so, it relieves the absurdity of earthly life, all the impossible limitations and frustrations of living matter. In religious terms, to "see God" is to die, because the creature is too small and finite to be able to bear the higher meanings of creation. Religion takes one's very creatureliness, one's insignificance, and makes it a condition of hope. Full transcendence of the human condition means limitless possibility unimaginable to us.51

          What is the ideal for mental health, then? A lived, compelling illusion that does not lie about life, death, and reality; one honest enough to follow its own commandments: I mean, not to kill, not to take the lives of others to justify itself. Rank saw Christianity as a truly great ideal foolishness in the sense that we have been discussing it: a childlike trust and hope for the human condition that left open the realm of mystery. Obviously, all religions fall far short of their own ideals, and Rank was talking about Christianity not as practiced but as an ideal. Christianity, like all religions, has in practice reinforced the regressive transference into an even more choking bind: the fathers are given the sanction of divine authority. But as an ideal, Christianity, on all the things we have listed, stands high, perhaps even highest in some vital ways, as people like Kierkegaard, Chesterton, the Niebuhrs, and so many others have compellingly argued.52 The curious thing—as we can now fully


appreciate—is that Rank, after a lifetime of work, drew the circle of psychoanalysis itself on this tradition of thought. In this he stands side by side with Jung, as Progoff so well showed.53

          Finally, if mental health is a problem of ideal illusion, we are left with one large question on the matter of human character. If we are talking about the "best" ideal, then we should also talk about the costs of lesser ideals....' [203-205].

          'As we saw so poignantly with Freud, the strongest among us faint away like children when pushed to take the whole meaning of life on themselves, to support it with their own meager creature powers. We said at the end of Chapter Six that Freud couldn't take the step from scientific to religious creatureliness. As Jung understood only too well, that would have meant Freud's abandoning of his own peculiar passion as a genius. Jung must have understood it from within his own experience: he himself could never bring himself to visit Rome because—as he admitted—Rome raised questions "which were beyond my powers to handle. In my old age—in 1949—I wished to repair this omission, but was stricken with a faint while I was buying tickets. After that, the plans for a trip to Rome were once and for all laid aside."58 What are we to make of all these giants fainting at the prospect of what to us seems simple tourism? Freud, too, had not been able to visit Rome until later in life and turned back each time he approached the city.

          I think we can fully understand this problem now that we have discussed Rank's closure on Kierkegaard, especially his psychology of the artist. These men had problems that no simple tourist knows: they were innovators who tried to give a whole new meaning to creation and history, which meant that they had to support and justify all previous meanings and all possible alternative ones on their shoulders alone. Probably Rome epitomized these meanings in herself, her ruins and her history, and so she made their legs quiver. How much human blood was soaked into her soil; how many human dramas were played out there with what must seem, in the perspective of history, such unfeeling and extravagant wastefulness?....' [206-207].

"No living person can give genius the powers it needs to shoulder the meaning of the world.

          Yet, what are we to say about this problem if even Jung [Carl Gustav Jung 1875 - 1961], who always relied on God, could still faint away with the burden of life? Probably in the last analysis only this: that all men are here to use themselves up and the problem of ideal illusion doesn't spare any man from that. It only addresses the question of the best quality of work and life that men can achieve, depending on the beliefs they have and the powers they lean on. And this subject, as we said, is a matter for discussion by the empirical science of psychology itself. We have no reason about the highest actualization that man can achieve. At its ultimate point the science of psychology meets again the questioning figure of Kierkegaard [Søren Kierkegaard 1813 - 1855]. What world-view? What powers? For what heroism?" [207].


["Depression"] 'Adler [Alfred Adler 1870 - 1937] had already revealed how perfectly depression or melancholia is a problem of courage; how it develops in people who are afraid of life, who have given up any semblance of independent development and have been totally immersed in the acts and the aid of others.2 They have lived lives of "systematic self-restriction," and the result is that the less you do the less you can do, the more helpless and dependent you become. The more you shrink back from the difficulties and the darings of life, the more you naturally come to feel inept, the lower is your self-evaluation. It is ineluctable. If one's life has been a series of "silent retreats,"3 one ends up firmly wedged into a corner and has nowhere else to retreat. This state is the bogging-down of depression. Fear of life leads to excessive fear of death, as Boss too reminds us in the epigraph we have borrowed for this chapter. Finally, one doesn't dare to move—the patient lies in bed for days on end, not eating, letting the housework pile up, fouling the bed.

          The moral of this example of failure of courage is that in some way one must pay with life and consent daily to die, to give oneself up to the risks and dangers of the world, allow oneself to be engulfed and used up. Otherwise one ends up as though dead in trying to avoid life and death. This is how modern existentialist psychiatrists understand depression, exactly as Adler did at the beginning of this century.' [210].

'The depressed person uses guilt to hold onto his objects and to keep his situation unchanged. Otherwise he would have to analyze it or be able to move out of it and transcend it. Better guilt than the terrible burden of freedom and responsibility, especially when the choice comes too late in life for one to be able to start over again. Better guilt and self-punishment when you cannot punish the other—when you cannot even dare to accuse him, as he represents the immortality ideology with which you have identified. IF YOUR GOD IS DISCREDITED, YOU YOURSELF DIE [one significant reason why this website,, is not more perused]; the evil must be in yourself and not in your god, so that you may live. With guilt you lose some of your life but avoid the greater evil of death.7 The depressed person exaggerates his guilt because it unblocks his dilemma in the safest and easiest way.8 He also, as Adler pointed out, gets the people around him to respond to him, to pity him, and to value him and take care of him. He controls them and heightens his own personality by his very self-pity and self-hatred.9 All these things, then, make obsessive guilt prominent in the depression syndrome.

          We can thus see some of the complexities of the dynamics of DEPRESSION that have made it hard for us to understand it in an agreed and straightforward way, even though it is rather simple when conceptualized as THE NATURAL BOGGING-DOWN OF AN UNHEROIC HUMAN LIFE.' [213-214].

"I saw that often menopausal women in psychiatric hospitals were there because their lives were no longer useful. In some cases their role as wives had failed because of a late divorce; in others this circumstance combined with the expiration of their role as mothers because their children had grown up and married, and they were now alone with nothing meaningful to do. As they had never learned any social role, trade, or


skill outside of their work in the family, when the family no longer needed them they were literally useless. That their depression coincided with the time of menopause I thought was an excellent illustration that the failure of useful social role could alone be called upon to explain the illness....

The woman is reminded in the most forceful way that she is an animal thing; menopause is a sort of "animal birthday" that specifically marks the physical career of degeneration. It is like nature imposing a definite physical milestone on the person, putting up a wall and saying "You are not going any further into life now, you are going toward the end, to the absolute determinism of death." As men don't have such animal birthdays, such specific markers of a physical kind, they don't usually experience another stark discrediting of the body as a causa-sui ["self-causing"?] project. Once has been enough, and they bury the problem with the symbolic powers of the cultural worldview. But the woman is less fortunate; she is put in the position of having all at once to catch up psychologically with the physical facts of life. To paraphrase Goethe's aphorism, death doesn't keep knocking on her door only to be ignored (as men ignore their aging), but kicks it in to show himself full in the face.*' [214, 215].

'the schizophrenic is burdened, like all of us, with an "alien" animal body. What makes his burden greater is that he is not securely rooted in his body. In his early childhood development he did not develop a secure "seating" in his body: as a result his life is not anchored intimately in his neuroanatomy. He cannot make available to himself the natural organismic expansion that others use to buffer and absorb the fear of life and death. He does not feel this natural animal plenitude. We might say with Santayana that the healthy "Animal Faith" is denied him, which is why he has to develop complex ideational systems of thought. We know today that the cultural sense of space, time, and perception of objects are literally built into the neural structure.16 As the cultural immortality ideology comes to be grounded in one's muscles and nerves, one lives it naturally, as a secure and confident part of one's daily action. We can say that the schizophrenic is deprived precisely of this neurological-cultural security against death and of programming into life. He relies instead on a hypermagnification of mental processes to try to secure his death-transcendence; he has to try to be a hero almost entirely ideationally, from within a bad body-seating, and in a very personal way. Hence the contrived nature of his efforts. No one understood better than Chesterton [G.K. Chesterton 1874 - 1936] how freakish men become when they must rely on thoughts alone, separate from generous emotions in an expansive and secure body.17' [218-219].

"We can conclude quite categorically that hypochondrias and phobias are focalizations of the terror of life and death by an animal who doesn't want to be one." [227].

"....the developmental history that makes some people weaker and more anxious than others in the face of experience." [229].


          'Take, for example, Freud's seasoned thoughts on human nature, and his idea of where he stood on the pyramid of struggling mankind:

[Freud 1856 - 1939]...I have found little that is "good" about human beings on the whole. In my experience most of them are trash, no matter whether they publicly subscribe to this or that ethical doctrine or none at all....If we are to talk of ethics, I subscribe to a high ideal from which most of the human beings I have come across depart most lamentably.1

When perhaps the greatest psychologist who ever lived lets drop the stock phrase "in my experience," it has the authority of a Papal Bull during medieval times. Of course, he also implies that if most people are trash, some aren't, and we can surmise who is one of the few exceptions. We are reminded of those once-popular books on eugenics that always carried a handsome frontispiece photograph of the author beaming his vitality and personality as the ideal type for the book's argument.

          As we would expect, Freud's self-evaluation would hardly be agreed upon by everyone; almost each of his major dissenting disciples could find something to look down upon him for, with a certain condescending pity. Wilhelm Reich [1897 - 1957] once remarked that Freud was caught in the psychoanalytic movement, trapped by his disciples and his own creation, that his very cancer was the result of being shut in upon himself, unable to speak as a free agent.2 There's our problem again, you see: Reich's judgment would have carried more authority if it had come from a god instead of from a man who was even more caught up in his own movement and who was more decisively and ignominiously undone by it....' [256].

'failure to push the understanding of psychodynamics to its limits is the hurdle that none of the utopians can get over; it finally vitiates their best arguments. I am thinking here, too, of Alan Harrington's tremendously effective writing on fear of death as the mainspring of human conduct. Like Brown he [Harrington] pins an entirely fanciful and self-defeating thesis onto the most penetrating and damaging insights.

[following, is a mocking of Brown and Harrington] Is fear of death the enemy? Then the cure is obvious: abolish death. Is this fanciful? No, he answers, science is working on the problem; admittedly, we may not be able to abolish death entirely, but we can prolong life to a great extent—who knows how much eventually. We can envisage a utopia wherein people will have such long lives that the fear of death will drop away, and with it the fiendish drivenness that has haunted man so humiliatingly and destructively all through his history and now promises to bring him total self-defeat. Men will then be able to live in an "eternal now of pure pleasure and peace, become truly the godlike creatures that they have the potential to be.22

          Again, the modern utopians continued the one-sided Enlightenment dream. Condorcet [1743 - 1794] had already had the identical vision in 1794:

...a period must one day arrive when death will be nothing more than the effect either of extraordinary accidents, or of the slow and gradual decay of the vital powers: and that the duration of the interval between the birth of man and his decay will have itself no assignable limit.23


But Choron [Jacques Choron 1904 - 1972 (see 2940)] offers a caution on this vision that goes right to heart of it and demolishes it: that the "POSTPONEMENT OF DEATH IS NOT A SOLUTION TO THE PROBLEM OF THE FEAR OF DEATH...there still will remain the fear of dying prematurely."24 The smallest virus or the stupidest accident would deprive a man not of 90 years but of 900—and would be then 10 times more absurd. Condorcet's failure to understand psychodynamics was forgivable, but not Harrington's today. If something is 10 times more absurd it is 10 times more threatening. In other words, death would be "hyperfetishized" as a source of danger, and men in the utopia of longevity would be even less expansive and peaceful than they are today!' [266-267].

'The Limits of Psychotherapy

          As we have already covered this problem in Chapter Four where we first broached the dilemma of life, let us refresh our memories here. We saw that there really was no way to overcome the real dilemma of existence, the one of the mortal animal who at the same time is conscious of [alarmed at!] his mortality. A persons spends years coming into his own, developing his talent, his unique gifts, perfecting his discriminations about the world, broadening and sharpening his appetite, learning to bear the disappointments of life, becoming mature, seasoned—finally a unique creature in nature, standing with some dignity and nobility and transcending the animal condition; no longer driven, no longer a complete reflex, not stamped out of any mold. And then the real tragedy, as André Malraux [1901 - 1976] wrote in The Human Condition [La Condition Humaine (English title: Man's Fate)]: that it takes sixty years of incredible suffering and effort to make such an individual, and then he is good only for dying. This painful paradox is not lost on the person himself—least of all himself. He feels agonizingly unique, and yet he knows that this doesn't make any difference as far as ultimates are concerned. He has to go the way of the grasshopper, even though it takes longer.

          We said that the point was that even with the highest personal development and liberation, the person comes up against the real despair of the human condition. Indeed, because of that development his eyes are opened to the reality of things; there is no turning back to the comforts of a secure and armored life. The person is stuck with the full problem of himself, and yet he cannot rely on himself to make any sense out of it. For such a person, as Camus [Albert Camus 1913 - 1960] said, "the weight of days is dreadful." What does it mean, then, we questioned in Chapter Four, to talk fine-sounding phrases like "Being cognition," "the fully centered person," "full humanism," "the joy of peak experiences," or whatever, unless we seriously qualify such ideas with the burden and the dread that they also carry? Finally, with these questions we saw that we could call into doubt the pretensions of the whole therapeutic enterprise. What joy and comfort can it give to fully awakened people? Once you accept the truly desperate situation that man is in, you come to see not only that neurosis is normal, but that even psychotic failure represents only a little additional push in the routine stumbling along life's way. If repression makes an untenable life liveable, self-knowledge can entirely destroy it for some people. Rank [Otto Rank 1884 - 1939] was very sensitive to this problem and talked about it intimately. I would like to quote him [Otto Rank] at length here in an unusually mature


and sober psychoanalytic reflection that sums up the best of Freud's own stoical world-picture:

[Freud 1856 - 1939] A woman comes for consultation; what's the matter with her? She suffers from some kind of intestinal symptoms, painful attacks of some kind of intestinal trouble. She had been sick for eight years, and has tried every kind of physical treatment....She came to the conclusion it must be some emotional trouble. She is unmarried, she is thirty-five. She appears to me (and admits it herself) as being fairly well adjusted. She lives with a sister who is married; they get along well. She enjoys life, goes to the country in the summer. She has a little stomach trouble; why not keep it, I tell her, because if we are able to take away those attacks that come once in a fortnight or so, we do not know what problem we shall discover beneath it. Probably this defense mechanism is her adjustment, probably that is the price she has to pay. She never married, she never loved, and so never fulfilled her role. One cannot ever have everything, probably she has to pay ["pay"! reminds me of an expression I hate: "You play You pay!" Here, it is: You don't play You pay! I suspect Puritan origins]. After all, what difference does it make if she occasionally gets these attacks of indigestion? I get it occasionally, you do too, probably, and not for physical reasons, as you may know. One gets headaches. In other words, it is not so much a question as to whether we are able to cure a patient, whether we can or not, but whether we should or not.28 [this was a severe era; "everything" was "in your head"]

No organismic life can be straightforwardly self-expansive in all directions; each one must draw back into himself in some areas, pay some penalty of a severe kind for his natural fears and limitations. It is all right to say, with Adler [Alfred Adler 1870 - 1937], that mental illness is due to "problems in living,"—but we must remember that life itself is the insurmountable problem.' [268-270].

'Commercial industrialism promised Western man a paradise on earth, described in great detail by the Hollywood Myth, that replaced the paradise in heaven of the Christian myth. And now psychology must replace them both with the myth of paradise through self-knowledge. This is the promise of psychology, and for the most part the psychotherapists are obliged to live it and embody it. But it was Rank who saw how false this claim is. "Psychology as self-knowledge is self-deception," he said, because it does not give what men want, which is immortality. Nothing could be plainer. When the patient emerges from his protective cocoon he gives up the reflexive immortality ideology that he has lived under—both in its personal-parental form (living in the protective powers of the parents or their surrogates) and in its cultural causa-sui ["self-causing"?] form (living by the opinions of others and in the symbolic role-dramatization of the society). What new immortality ideology can the self-knowledge of psychotherapy provide to replace this? Obviously, none from psychology—unless, said Rank, psychology itself becomes the new belief system....

As in any religion, the adept "swears by"" it because he has lived it; the therapy is "true" because it is a lived experience explained by concepts that seem perfectly to fit it, that give form to what the patient actually is undergoing.' [271-272].


          'It is no wonder that when therapies strip man down to his naked aloneness, to the real nature of experience and the problem of life, they slip into some kind of metaphysic of power and justification from beyond. How can the person be left there trembling and alone? Offer him the possibility of mystical contact with the void of creation, the power of "It," his likeness to God, or at the very least the support of a guru who will vouch for these things in his own overpowering and harmonious-appearing person. Man must reach out for support to dream, a metaphysic of hope that sustains him and makes his life worthwhile. To talk about hope is to give the right focus to the problem. It helps us understand why even the thinkers of great stature who got at the heart of human problems could not rest content with the view of the tragical nature of man's lot that this knowledge gives. It is today well known how Wilhelm Reich [1897 - 1957] continued the Enlightenment in the direction of a fusion of Freud with Marxist social criticism, only to reach finally for Orgone, the primal cosmic energy. Or how Jung wrote an intellectual apologia for the text of ancient Chinese magic, the I Ching. In this, as Rieff [Philip Rieff b. 1922] has so bitingly argued, these men are of lesser stature than their master the great Stoic Freud [Sigmund Freud 1856 - 1939].32" [275-276].

'....The critique of guru therapies also comes to rest here: you can't talk about an ideal of freedom in the same breath that you willingly give it up. This fact turned Koestler against the East,39 just as it also led Tillich [Paul Johannes Tillich 1886 - 1965] to argue so penetratingly that Eastern mysticism is not for Western man. It is an evasion of the courage to be; it prevents the absorption of maximum meaninglessness into oneself.40†' [279-280].

"this brings up the second great problem raised by the therapeutic revolution, namely, So What? Even with numerous groups of really liberated people, at their best, we can't imagine that the world will be any pleasanter or less tragic a place. It may even be worse in still unknown ways. As Tillich warned us, New Being, under the conditions and limitations of existence, will only bring into play new and sharper paradoxes, new tensions, and more painful disharmonies—a "more intense demonism." Reality is remorseless because gods do not walk upon the earth; and if men could become noble repositories of great gulfs of nonbeing, they would have even less peace than we oblivious and driven madmen have today. Besides, can any ideal of therapeutic revolutions touch the vast masses of this globe, the modern mechanical men in Russia, the near-billion sheeplike followers in China, the brutalized and ignorant populations of almost every continent? When one lives in the liberation atmosphere of Berkeley, California, or in the intoxications of small doses of unconstriction in a therapeutic group in one's home town, one is living in a hothouse atmosphere that shuts out the reality of the rest of the planet, the way things really are in this world. It is this therapeutic megalomania that must quickly been seen through if we are not to be perfect fools. The empirical facts of the world will not fade away because one has analyzed his Oedipus complex, as Freud so well knew, or because one can make love with tenderness, as so many now believe. Forget it. In this sense again it is Freud's somber pessimism, especially of his later writings such


as Civilization and Its Discontents [see 125, 553.], that keeps him so contemporary. Men are doomed to live in an overwhelmingly tragic and demonic world." [281].

          'What are we to make of a creation in which the routine activity is for organisms to be tearing others apart with teeth of all types—biting, grinding flesh, plant stalks, bones between molars, pushing the pulp greedily down the gullet with delight, incorporating its essence into one's own organization, and then excreting with foul stench and gasses the residue. Everyone reaching out to incorporate others who are edible to him [existential cannibalism!]. The mosquitoes bloating themselves on blood, the maggots, the killer-bees attacking with a fury and a demonism, sharks continuing to tear and swallow while their own innards are being torn out—not to mention the daily dismemberment and slaughter in "natural" accidents of all types: an earthquake buries alive 70 thousand bodies in Peru, automobiles make a pyramid heap of over 50 thousand a year in the U.S. alone, a tidal wave washes over a quarter of a million in the Indian Ocean. Creation is a nightmare spectacular taking place on a planet that has been soaked for hundreds of million of years in the blood of all its creatures. The soberest conclusion that we could make about what has actually been taking place on the planet for about three billion years is that it is being turned into a vast pit of fertilizer [see 2909]. But the sun distracts our attention, always baking the blood dry, making things grow over it, and with its warmth giving the hope that comes with the organism's comfort and expansiveness. "Questo sol m'arde, e questo m'innamore [innamora?] [(provisional) This sun burns me, and this [transitive verb: innamoràre] enchants (charms, captivates) me]," as Michelangelo [1475 - 1564] [I was in one of the residences of Michelangelo, in Florence (see Article #6, 166-179)] put it....' [282-283].

          "Modern man is drinking and drugging himself out of awareness, or he spends his time shopping, which is the same thing. As awareness calls for types of heroic dedication that his culture no longer provides for him, society contrives to help him forget....

          We can conclude that a project as grand as the scientific-mythical construction of victory over human limitation is not something that can be programmed by science. Even more, it comes from the vital energies of masses of men sweating within the nightmare of creation—and it is not even in man's hands to program. Who knows what form the forward momentum of life will take in the time ahead or what use it will make of our anguished searching. The most that any one of us can seem to do is to fashion something—an object or ourselves—and drop it [stuff it] into the confusion [mental horror vacui (see 2897-2898)], make an offering of it, so to speak, to the life force."

[284-285]. [end of text].

_____ _____ _____


from: The Ernest Becker [1924 - 1974] Reader, Selected, Edited, and Introduced by Daniel Liechty, The Ernest Becker Foundation in association with The University of Washington Press, Seattle and London, Pb, c2005.


Ernest Becker has long been something of an enigma in the world of scholarship. His academic career endured for less than 15 years. For all but the final few years of that career, Becker led a rather nomadic academic life, existing on short-term contracts, often not knowing when one year ended where he would be for the coming year. Even as article after article and book after book appeared, he was continually denied contract renewal and any pathway to the academic tenure track. When finally he was offered a position that included some security, it was in a rather contentious and experimental interdisciplinary program that eventually spun apart. In any case, cancer soon intervened to cut Becker's career short at the young age of 49 years. The absorbing question Ernest Becker pursued in all of his research and writing was simply, WHAT MAKES PEOPLE ACT THE WAY THEY DO? Although Becker certainly did receive some significant accolades, even these were not unambiguous. When in 1967, for example, students at the University of California at Berkeley [I (LS) was a student there, 1956] heard that Becker's contract as a visiting lecturer would not be renewed by the administration, they voted to pay Becker's salary out of student funds in order to retain him, being the first and only time this gesture of student support has been given. Unfortunately, the administration understood this gesture as an attempt by students to intervene in the hiring and firing process and the offer was roundly rejected. This strong gesture of student support for Becker's teaching did nothing to endear him to the college administration. Similarly, as he was dying, Becker's book, The Denial of Death (1973), was awarded a Pulitzer Prize for Nonfiction. While this award would certainly be more than a feather in the cap of any writer, in the academic world in which Becker worked, a Pulitzer Prize was generally viewed as a 'literary' award for writing, rather than an academic or scientific award in recognition of a major contribution to an academic field....' ["11"].

"The gist of Becker's mature theory was best outlined by public philosopher Sam Keen, in his introductory preface to the 1997 printing of The Denial of Death. Keen summarized Becker's theory as containing four main strands of emphasis.

          [1] THE WORLD IS A TERRIFYING PLACE. Here it is important to recognize that Becker purposely situated his views as a corrective to overly optimistic versions of evolutionary philosophies, in which increasing human perfection is our natural destiny. Becker pled humble ignorance on human destiny; we simply cannot know what aims the cosmic Life Force may have. But viewing our situation on this planet with jaundiced empiricism, we do know that we are inextricably bound up in a systemic food chain in which living organisms sustain themselves only by ingesting, digesting and creating fertilizer of other living organisms. For all but a very few of its organisms, this must be seen a nightmarish system of constant terror. Even for our own species, recent anthropological literature suggests that the transition from prey to


predator took place only very recently in our evolutionary history. Accordingly, we may assume that the rumblings of a prey animal's terror, as well as the exaggerated human fascination with power and weaponry that facilitated this recent transition from prey to predator, remain very present in the collective unconscious of our species. The undeniable awe and wonder in nature's beauty aside, Becker insisted that there is a real terror in the most basic structures of this world, terror that is echoed in the deepest recesses of our being. Even as we repeat our cultural narratives of conquest and comfort, we cannot mistake these narratives for empirical reality itself. We employ an array of culturally constructed 'necessary FICTIONS' to aid us in the repression of our real anxiety of death and vulnerability, giving us as individuals and as societies a sense of purpose and forward movement. Yet because such narratives are bound to conflict across cultures and this will have real consequences, including overt violence between people, we must keep on our mental horizons the narrative nature of our transcending Truths.

          [2] THE BASIC MOTIVATION FOR HUMAN BEHAVIOR IS THE NEED TO CONTROL OUR BASIC ANXIETY, TO DENY THE TERROR OF DEATH. The most basic anxiety is not sexual urgency or aggressiveness. It is the anxious terror produced in an animal that has attained self-awareness and knows that it will die. Though in his own time, Becker's theories were not widely accepted by specialists, hypotheses derived from these theories (called 'Terror Management Theory' in the specialized literature) have been proving amazingly resilient under rigorous empirical testing.

          [3] SINCE THE TERROR OF DEATH IS SO OVERWHELMING WE CONSPIRE TO KEEP IT UNCONSCIOUS. Death awareness and the anxiety it produces is not simply uncomfortable. It does not simply make us uneasy. It is so overwhelmingly threatening to the human psyche that it positively has to be repressed. The entire range of psychological defenses must be employed to keep this basic anxiety masked and disguised, and this need to repress death anxiety from consciousness may well have been, in fact, the stimulus at the origin of these psychological defense mechanisms. Individual and social character emerge from a dynamic unconscious, which must expend an enormous amount of energy in this positive repression of the terror of death from conscious awareness. The very definition of a successful culture is that it offers satisfactory, convincing and viable avenues for achieving triumphant sublimation of this basic anxiety in the form of cultural 'heroics. The heroic drive is the varied and culturally-contoured drive to excellence, by which individuals 'make their mark,' prove their larger worth and value, and thereby earn self-esteem and SYMBOLIC IMMORTALITY.

          [4] OUR HEROIC PROJECTS, AIMED AT DESTROYING EVIL, HAVE THE PARADOXICAL EFFECT OF BRINGING MORE EVIL INTO THE WORLD. Because it remains unconscious and repressed, human beings will displace and scapegoat the terror of death almost willy-nilly. We are able to focus on almost any perceived threat, whether of people, political or economic ideology, race, religion, and blow it up psychologically into a life and death struggle against ultimate evil. In doing so, we lose the very faculties that allow us to place limits on the violence we are willing to employ against this perceived threat. This dynamic of spiraling violence, more than


anything else, remains the underside of human social interaction at all levels, from personal interactions, to group interactions, to interactions between nation states.

          BECKER'S THEORY OF HUMAN BEHAVIORAL MOTIVATION IS NOT easily OPTIMISTIC; if the ultimate human struggle is ultimately an unconscious fight against mortality itself, and therefore doomed to repeated defeat, it is hard to see how the spirals of violence can ever be eliminated from our behavior. On the other hand, if we are able to recognize the true nature of our struggles against evil, this may assist us in demythologizing the real threats posed by 'evil empires' and other perceived enemies, thus yielding at least some handle of rationality for setting controls and prior limits on our violence." [15-16]. [Compare: President George W. Bush, his administration and supporters].





"Chapter 7

Meaning and Self-Esteem

Self-Esteem (1971)*" ["161"]

Freud failed to explain satisfactorily human motives....But if Freud was wrong about motives it was because he was wrong about biological instincts. And if instincts do not drive man, what then does? The main reason that the great Alfred Adler is still contemporary is that he broke with Freud very early on this problem, when he very clearly saw and strongly proclaimed that THE BASIC LAW OF HUMAN LIFE IS THE URGE TO SELF-ESTEEM. Once you make this break with Freud, stand up for it openly, and build your theories and clinical interpretations around it, a whole new world of understanding opens up to you. After all, you have laid bare man's motive, which is what Freud himself set out to do.... ....

[footnote] *Original, full text: The Birth and Death of Meaning, Second Edition by Ernest Becker. Copyright ©1962, 1971 by The Free Press.... ....

the person's entire life becomes animated by the artificial symbolism of self-worth; almost all his time is devoted to the protection, maintenance, and aggrandizement of the symbolic edifice of his SELF-ESTEEM. At first he nourishes it in the appraisal of his playmates, and usually at this time it depends entirely on his physical and athletic prowess—overt qualities that other children easily recognize and admire, especially fearlessness. Later it may depend on earning good grades in school, on dressing well, on dancing expertly at the school prom, and so on. Finally, in the twenties one comes


to earn his self-esteem by performing in the roles that society provides: doctor, lawyer, corporation man, teacher, engineer, and so on. Then we get our vital sense of inner worth by repeating, "I am a good doctor, lawyer, engineer. Look at the operation I performed, the business deal I pulled off, the way that beautiful girl looks at me..." and so on. Almost all of one's inner life, when he is not absorbed in some active task, is a traffic in images of self-worth.

The Inner-Newsreel

          If our first reaction is to shrug at this as an exaggeration, let us try to be honest and admit to ourselves what we do most of the time. We run what I like to all an inner-newsreel' that passes in constant review the symbols that give self-esteem, make us feel important and good. We are constantly testing and rehearsing whether we really are somebody, in a scenario where the most minor events are recorded, and the most subtle gradations assume an immense importance. After all, the self-esteem is symbolic, and the main characteristic of symbols is that they cut reality very fine....

          Everyone runs the inner-newsreel, even if it does not record the same symbolic events. Always it passes in review the peculiar symbols of one's choice that give him a warm feeling about himself: the girl he seduced, the money he made, the picture he directed, the book he published, the shrewd putdown at the cocktail party, the smooth ordering from the menu in the chic restaurant, the beautifully executed piano suite, and so on and on. All day long we pass these images in review, and most of us even in our sleep. The difference is that while we are awake we have some control over the scenario. When the newsreel records a negative image—the slip-of-the-tongue, the loss of money, the bungled seduction, the bad car purchase, the lousy book—we immediately counter the negative image with a positive one, to try to get our self-esteem in balance and onto the favorable side. But while we are asleep the ego is not working, it has no conscious control over the messages we send to ourselves about our sense of worth. Our deeper experience may have on record that we really feel worthless, helpless, dependent, mediocre, inadequate, finite: this is our unconscious speaking, and when the ego cannot oppose any positive images to counteract these negative ones, we have the nightmare, the terrible revelation of our basic uselessness....

          When we think about the terror of the nightmare, or the simple disgust of a bad dream, with its confused and degrading images of ourselves, we can see that something really important is at stake here. The scenario of self-value is not an idle film hobby. The basic question the person wants to ask and answer is "Who am I? What is the meaning of my life? What value does it have?" And we can only get answers to these questions by reviewing our relationships to others, what we do to others and for others, and what kind of response we get from them. SELF-ESTEEM depends on our social role, and our inner-newsreel is always packed with faces—it is rarely a nature documentary. Even holy men, who withdraw for years of spiritual development, come back into the fold of society to earn recognition for their powers. [Friedrich] Nietzsche said of [Arthur] Schopenhauer that he was a model for all men because he could work in isolation and care nothing for the plaudits of the human marketplace. The implication is that he had his sense of value securely embedded in


himself and his own idea of what his work was worth. Yet this same Schopenhauer spent his lonely life scanning the footnotes of learned journals to see whether there was ever going to be recognition of his work....The anthropologist Robert Lowie once said that primitive man was a natural peacock, so open was he in self-display and self-glorification. But we play the same game, only not as openly. Our entire life is a harangue to others to establish ourselves as peacocks, if only on furtive and private inner-newsreel images. Again the brilliant writer teaches us the scientific truth, as did James Thurber in The Secret Life of Walter Mitty.' ["161", 162-163].

'Chapter 9

Beyond Psychology

A Conversation with Ernest Becker (1974)*

['*Original, full text: "The heroics of every day life: A conversation with Ernest Becker by Sam Keen." Psychology Today, April (1974), pp. 71–80. Copyright © Sussex Publishers, Reprinted with permission.' ["219"]]

[from: Psychology Today, April, 1974.


"Sam Keen  70      The Heroics of Everyday Life: A Theorist of Death Confronts His Own End, a conversation with Ernest Becker. With his own death clearly in sight, the author of The Denial of Death discusses his theories, his belief in God, and his conclusion that mankind is abandoned on this planet.

Sam Keen    73      A Day of Loving Combat, a sketch of Ernest Becker." [3].

'A sketch of Ernest Becker....

The titles of his books reflect his persistent global focus:

Zen: A Rational Critique (Norton, 1961)

The Birth and Death of Meaning (Free Press, Second Edition, 1971)

The Revolution in Psychiatry (Free Press, 1967)

Beyond Alienation (Braziller, 1968)

Angel in Armor (Braziller, 1969)

The Lost Science of Man (Braziller, 1971)

The Denial of Death (Free Press, 1973)

          A year ago Angel in Armor created a wave of enthusiasm among PT [Psychology Today] editors and we put Becker's name on the list for a future conversation. Then in early December his new book, The Denial of Death, arrived and the wave swelled. On December 6th, I called his home in Vancouver to see if he would be willing to tape a conversation. His wife Marie informed me that he had just


been taken to the hospital and was in the terminal stage of cancer. The next day she called to say that Ernest would very much like to do the conversation if I could get there while he still had the strength and clarity. So I went to Vancouver with speed and trembling, knowing that the only thing more presumptuous than intruding into the private world of the dying would be to refuse the invitation.

          Our conversation started slowly. I asked leading questions and Becker answered. At times my mind raised objections but I did not have the heart to push critical points [also!, the complexities of oral exchanges. In addition to skills: timing, luck, etc.]. The hours wove us together and our talk became crisper. It was clear that Becker neither wanted nor offered intellectual quarter. The nearness of the unthinkable was not to be an excuse for thinking poorly or softening argument. As our dialogue entered what Karl Jaspers called the stage of "loving combat," the color returned to Becker's face and for two hours death was absent from the room. When it came time for me to go, we shared a paper cup of medicinal sherry the nurse had left on the night stand for Ernest. And I left, having learned something about courage that I will not forget.

—Sam Keen' [73].]

Ernest Becker: You are catching me in extremis. This is a test of everything I've written about death. And I've got a chance to show how one dies. The attitude one takes. Whether one does it in a dignified, manly way; what kinds of thoughts one surrounds it with; how one accepts his death.

Sam Keen: This conversation can be what you want it to be. But I would like to relate your life to your work and I would like to talk about the work you haven't been able to finish.

Becker: That's easy enough. As far as my work is concerned, I think its major thrust is in the direction of creating a merger of science and the religious perspective. I want to show that if you get an accurate scientific picture of the human condition, it coincides exactly with the religious understanding of human nature. This is something Paul Tillich was working on but he didn't achieve because he was working from the direction of theology. The problem is to work from the direction of science....I think I have delivered the science of man over to a merger with theology.

Keen: How have you done this?

Becker: By showing that psychology destroys our illusions of autonomy and hence raises the question of the true power source for human life. Freud, Wilhelm Reich, and particularly Otto Rank, demonstrate how we build character and culture in order to shield ourselves from the devastating awareness of our underlying helplessness and the terror of our inevitable death. Each of us constructs a personality, a style of life or, as Reich said, a character armor, in a vain effort to deny the fundamental fact of our animality. We don't want to admit that we stand alone. So we identify with a more powerful person, a cause, a flag, or the size of our bank account. And this picture of the human condition coincides with what theology has traditionally said: man is a creature whose nature is to try to deny his creatureliness....' ["219"-220].


'....Keen: ....Your personal philosophy of life seems to be a stoic form of heroism.

Becker: Yes, though I would add the qualification that I believe in God....' [225].

"Keen: ....As a philosopher, you have thought as hard about death as anybody I know. And now, as it were, you are doing your empirical research [dying].

Becker: It only hurts when I laugh.

Keen: And somehow, I would like to ask you what you can add now that you are closer to experience [dying].

Becker: I see what you mean.... What makes dying easier is to be able to transcend the world into some kind of religious dimension. I would say that the most important thing is to know that beyond the absurdity of one's life, beyond the human viewpoint, beyond what is happening to us, there is the fact of the tremendous creative energies of the cosmos that are using us for some purposes we don't know. To be used for divine purposes, however we may be misused, this is the thing that consoles. I think of Calvin [John Calvin 1509 - 1564] when he says, 'Lord, thou bruises me, but since it is You, it is all right.' I think one does, or should try to, just hand over one's life, the meaning of it, the value of it, the end of it. This has been the most important to me. I think it is very hard for secular men to die [apparently not].

Keen: Has this transcendent dimension become more tangible to you since you became ill or were you always connected through some religious tradition?

Becker: I came out of a Jewish tradition but I was an atheist for many years. I think the birth of my first child, more than anything else, was the miracle that woke me up to the idea of God, seeing something pop in from the void and seeing how magnificent it was, unexpected, and how much beyond our powers and our ken. But I don't feel more religious because I am dying. I would want to insist that my wakening to the divine had to do with the loss of character armor. For the child, the process of growing up involves a masking over of fears and anxieties by the creation of character armor. Since the child feels powerless and very vulnerable, he has to reinforce his power by plugging into another source of power. I look at it in electrical circuit terms. Father, mother, or the cultural ideology becomes his unconscious power source. We all live by delegated powers. We are utterly dependent on other people. In personality breakdown, what is revealed to the person is that he is not his own person....[T]he fundamental deception of social reality is that there are persons, independent, decision-making centers walking around. But the human animal has no strength and this inability to stand on one's own feet is one of the most tragic aspects of life. When you finally break through your character armor and discover your vulnerability, it becomes impossible to live without massive anxiety unless you find a new power source. And this is where the idea of God comes in.

Keen: But that is only one side of the story. When the personality defenses are surrendered, there is more anxiety but there is also automatically more energy, more


Eros, available to deal with the world, since less of it is being invested in a holding action. So there is an overflow, a net increase in joy.

Becker: Yes, definitely. There is an increase in creative energies....

Keen: ...[T]raditionally women satisfied their immortality drive more by creating children than by a fabricating artifacts. Men must create ex nihilo while women have the option of biological reproduction. I think because men's creativity inevitably involves the ephemeral world of symbols, there is greater insatiability among males than females. We make a building or write a book and then we have to do it all over again to keep proving to ourselves that we are creative.

Becker: A book is such a shallow phenomenon compared to a child, isn't it? And it is such transient heroics compared to a baby. I don't know about my work. I think there is an awful lot of femininity in it in terms of the kinds of things I had to feel in order to write. When it comes to the drive toward heroism, I think men are more competitive than women. The whole drama of history is the story of men seeking to affirm their specialness. One war after another has been caused by the efforts of man to make the world into something it can't be. And look at the energy we put into symbolic pursuits. You just can't imagine a feminine Bobby Fischer with that fantastic, energetic devotion to a symbolic game like chess...." [226-228].

[from: Psychology Today, April, 1974.

"....Becker: We seem to be all talked out, don't we? In an uncanny way we have covered everything. You have put some questions to me that really stumped me and made me think beyond what I would normally do. I am really surprised that I was able to respond to you as well as I have, because I have been very tired. But the mind works quite a bit better than the body in that sense; it has its own alertness.

          I am sorry to have put you through this trial. It is a little bit like the anthropologist with the dying American Indian, you know, trying to get the last names down on the tape recorder before the Indian expires and there isn't time. You never had an interview like this before, did you?

Keen: No. But once I opened the possibility and you wanted to do it, it had to be done. And it has been an event in my life....

Keen: I guess I should go.

Becker: What time is it?

Keen: A quarter after six...

To obtain reprints of this article, see page 102. For a tape of this conversation, see page 102." [80].]

_____ _____ _____


from: Escape from Evil, Ernest Becker, The Free Press, c1975 [published posthumously].

"There is no doubt that healthy-mindedness is inadequate as a philosophical doctrine, because the evil facts which it positively refuses to account for are a genuine portion of reality; and they may after all be the best key to life's significance, and possibly the only openers of our eyes to the deepest levels of truth.

William James [1842 - 1910]1" ["vii"].


Thomas Hardy [1840 - 1928]" ["ix"]

          'All organisms want to perpetuate themselves, continue to experience and to live. It is a great mystery that we don't understand but observe every day: we are amazed, as we try to club a cornered rat, how frantically he wants to live. All animals are this frantic, without even knowing what death means; they probably only sense the danger of crushing opposing power; this is as far as the "instinct of self-preservation" takes them, out of the way of what threatens to overwhelm and engulf them. For all organisms, then, opposing and obliterating power is evil—it threatens to stop experience. But men are truly sorry creatures because they have made death conscious. They can see evil in anything that wounds them, causes ill health, or even deprives them of pleasure. Consciousness means too that they have to be preoccupied with evil even in the absence of any immediate danger; their lives become a meditation on evil and a planned venture for controlling it and forestalling it.

          The result is one of the great tragedies of human existence, what we might call the need to "fetishize evil," to locate the threat to life in some special places where it can be placated and controlled. It is tragic precisely because it is sometimes very arbitrary: men make fantasies about evil, see it in the wrong places, and destroy themselves and others by uselessly thrashing about. This is the great moral of Melville's Moby Dick, the specific tragedy of a man driven to confine all evil to the person of a white whale.2 The result is that he pulls down around his shoulders the lives of almost all those he comes in contact with.' [148].

          'A second result of man's animal vulnerability to death and his symbolic consciousness of it is the struggle to get power to fortify himself. Other animals must simply use those powers that nature provided them with and the neural circuits that animate those powers. But man can invent and imagine powers, and he can invent ways to protect power. This means, as Nietzsche saw and shocked his world with, that ALL MORAL CATEGORIES ARE POWER CATEGORIES; they are not about virtue in any abstract sense. Purity, goodness, rightness—these are ways of keeping power intact so as to cheat death; the striving for perfection is a way of qualifying for


extraspecial immunity not only in this world but in others to come. Hence all categories of dirt, filth, imperfection, and error are vulnerability categories, power problems. For young children Band-Aids are already an obsessive religion that sets the whole tone of it: cleanliness is safety.  

          So we see that as an organism man is fated to perpetuate himself and as a conscious organism he is fated to identify evil as the threat to that perpetuation. In the same way, he is driven to individuate himself as an organism, to develop his own peculiar talents and personality. And what, then, would be the highest development and use of those talents? To contribute to the struggle against evil, of course. In other words, man is fated, as William James [1842 - 1910] saw, to consider this earth as a theater for heroism, and his life as a vehicle for heroic acts which aim precisely to transcend evil. Each person wants to have his life make a difference in the life of mankind, contribute in some way toward securing and furthering that life, make it in some ways less vulnerable, more durable. To be a true hero is to triumph over disease, want, death. One knows that his life has had vital human meaning if it has been able to bring real benefits to the life of mankind. And so men have always honored their heroes, especially in religion, medicine, science, diplomacy, and war. Here is where heroism has been most easily identifiable. From Constantine [Roman Emperor 306 (312) - 337 (280? - 337)] and Christ to Churchill [Winston Churchill 1874 - 1965] and De Gaulle [Charles de Gaulle 1890 - 1970], men have called their heroes "saviors" in the literal sense: those who have delivered them from the evil of the termination of life, either of their own immediate lives or of the duration of their people. Even more, by his own death the hero secures the lives of others, and so the greatest heroic sacrifice, as Frazer [Sir James George Frazer 1854 - 1941] taught us, is the sacrifice of the god for his people. We see this in Oedipus at Colonus, in Christ, and today in the embalmed Lenin [Vladimir Lenin 1870 - 1924]. The giants died to secure mankind; by their blood we are saved. It is almost pathetically logical how man the supremely vulnerable animal developed the cult of the heroic.

          But if we add together the logic of the heroic with the necessary fetishization of evil, we get a formula that is no longer pathetic but terrifying. It explains almost all by itself why man, of all animals, has caused the most devastation on earth—the most real evil. He struggles extra hard to be immune to death because he alone is conscious of it; but by being able to identify and isolate evil arbitrarily, he is capable of lashing out in all directions against imagined dangers of this world. This means that in order to live he is capable of bringing a large part of the world down around his shoulders. History is just such a testimonial to the frightening costs of heroism. The hero is the one who can go out and get added powers by killing an enemy and taking his talismans or his scalp or eating his heart. He becomes a waking repository of accrued powers. Animals can only take in food for power; man can literally take in the trinkets and bodies of his whole world. Furthermore, the hero proves his power by winning in battle; he shows that he is favored by the gods. Also, he can appease the gods by offering to them the sacrifice of the stranger. The hero is, then, the one who accrues power by his acts, and who placates invisible powers by his expiations. He kills those who threaten [and do not threaten] his group, he incorporates their powers to further protect his group, he sacrifices others to gain immunity for his group. In a word, he becomes a savior through blood. From the head-hunting and


charm-hunting of the primitives to the holocausts of Hitler [Adolph Hitler 1889 - 1945], the dynamic is the same: the heroic victory over evil by a traffic in pure power. And the aim is the same: purity, goodness, righteousness—immunity. Hitler Youth were recruited on the basis of idealism; the nice boy next door is the one who dropped the bomb on Hiroshima; the idealistic communist is the one who sided with Stalin [Joseph Stalin 1879 - 1953] against his former comrades: kill to protect the heroic revolution, to assure the victory over evil. As Dostoevsky [Fydor Dostoevsky 1821 - 1881] saw, killing is sometimes distasteful, but the distaste is swallowed if it is necessary to true heroism: as one of the revolutionaries asked Pyotr Verhovensky in The Possessed, when they were about to kill one of their number. "Are other groups also doing this?" In other words, is it the socially heroic thing to do, or are we being arbitrary about identifying evil? Each person wants his life to be a marker for good as his group defines it. Men work their programs of heroism according to the standard cultural scenarios, from [the fictional Jesus story and] Pontius Pilate through Eichmann and Calley. It is as Hegel [George Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel 1770 - 1831] long ago said: men cause evil out of good intentions, not out of wicked ones.




● ● ● ● ●


from: htpp://



By Glenn Hughes

About the title:

"The denial of death" is a phrase from Ernest Becker, and the title of his most famous book, which won the Pulitzer Prize in 1974. Becker's book focuses on how we human beings develop strategies to fend off awareness of our mortality and vulnerability and to escape into the feeling that we're immortal. "THE PRACTICE OF DYING" is a phrase used by Socrates, as recorded by Plato [427 - 347 B.C.E.], for describing one aspect of how a person becomes morally mature. Socrates is urging us to face into our mortality and to let an awareness of death purify our motives.

I think that Becker [Ernest Becker 1924 - 1974] and Socrates [469 - 399 B.C.E.] are both on the money. Denying death/or practicing dying[see 2963] are well juxtaposed as two basic responses to our awareness of mortality. So I want here to investigate these two responses and follow out some of their consequences. —GH

Two Contrasting Orientations

I'll begin by recapping Becker's main thesis in The Denial of Death.

As a cultural anthropologist, Becker was searching for explanations of why human society develops in the way that it does, and he was particularly interested in why human society is so violent, why different social groups are so intolerant and hateful of each other. By the time of writing The Denial of Death, his ninth book, he had reached the conclusion that he had found a very important explanatory principle for understanding human behavior and human culture. This principle, summarized with extreme brevity, is as follows. Human beings are mortal, and we know it. Our sense of vulnerability and mortality gives rise to a basic anxiety, even a terror, about our situation. So we devise all sorts of strategies to escape awareness of our morality and vulnerability, as well as our anxious awareness of it. This psychological denial of death, Becker claims, is one of the most basic drives in individual behavior, and is reflected throughout human culture. Indeed, ONE OF THE MAIN FUNCTIONS OF CULTURE, according to Becker, IS TO HELP US SUCCESSFULLY AVOID AWARENESS OF OUR MORTALITY. That suppression of awareness plays a crucial role in keeping people functioning--if we were constantly aware of our fragility, of the nothingness we are a split second away from at all times, we'd go nuts. And how does culture perform this crucial function? By making us feel certain that we, or realities we are part of, are permanent, invulnerable, eternal. And in Becker's view, some of the personal and social consequences of this are disastrous.


First, at the personal level, by ignoring our mortality and vulnerability we build up an unreal sense of self, and we act out of a false sense of who and what we are. Second, as members of society, we tend to identify with one or another "IMMORTALITY SYSTEM" (as Becker calls it). That is, we identify with a religious group, or a political group, or engage in some kind of cultural activity, or adopt a certain culturally sanctioned viewpoint, that we invest with ultimate meaning, and to which we ascribe absolute and permanent truth. This inflates us with a sense of invulnerable righteousness. And then, we have to protect ourselves against the exposure of our absolute truth being just one more mortality-denying system among others, which we can only do by insisting that all other absolute truths are false. So we attack and degrade--preferably kill--the adherents of different mortality- denying-absolute-truth systems. So the Protestants kill the Catholics; the Muslims vilify the Christians and vice versa; upholders of the American way of life denounce Communists; the Communist Khmer Rouge slaughters all the intellectuals in Cambodia; the Spanish Inquisition tortures heretics; and all good students of the Enlightenment demonize religion as the source of all evil. The list could go on and on.

In my view, Ernest Becker was right about this core thesis. I think it is accurate to say that a


The notion of IMMORTALITY SYSTEMS [the principal expression of Ernest Becker, appears to be: "Immortality Projects"] is an especially useful diagnostic tool. It is easy to spot people (including oneself, of course) clinging to absolute truths in the way he describe[s]--and it is not hard to understand why they do. It is not just anxiety over physical vulnerability. It goes deeper than that. We all want our lives to really count, to be finally real. If you think about it, most all of us try to found our identities on something whose meaning seems permanent or enduring: the nation, the race, the revolutionary vision; the timelessness of art, the truths of science, immutable philosophical verities, the law of self-interest, the pursuit of happiness, the law of survival; cosmic energy, the rhythms of nature, the gods, Gaia, the Tao, Brahman, Krishna, Buddha-consciousness, the Torah, Jesus. And all of these, Becker says, function as "IMMORTALITY SYSTEMS," because they all promise to connect our lives with what endures, with a meaning that does not perish. So let's accept Becker's thesis: that fear of death and meaninglessness, and a self--deluding denial of mortality, leads many people to these "IMMORTALITY SYSTEMS."

But then again: is this true for every person with a passionate commitment to a meaning that endures? Are there Buddhists or Christians, for example, whose convictions and commitments do not constitute an evasion of morality--who on the contrary face up to and embrace their mortality? In The Denial of Death, Becker tells us that there certainly are such people. In the fifth chapter, titled "The Psychoanalyst Kierkegaard," Becker applauds Kierkegaard's portrayal of the person who does not lie about the human condition, who breaks away from the cultural network of lies that


ward of the awareness of mortality, and who faces the precariousness and fragility of existence--with inevitable anxiety. Becker praises these people for their courageous "destruction of...emotional character armor." Such a courageous and frightening passage to honesty is symbolized in the literary figure of King Lear: through the terror of being stripped of all his illusions of invulnerability, he comes finally to a profound if tragic reconciliation with reality. As for actual cultural representatives, he mentions Zen Buddhists, but "in fact," he writes, it is a process undergone by "self-realized men in any epoch (88–9)."

Becker affirms, then, that it is possible to face up to the human situation. The denial of death is not inevitable. But what must be done, how must one proceed, to engage in this process of courageous self-realization?

Above all, Becker [Ernest Becker 1924 - 1974] says, adopting a phrase from Luther [1483 - 1546], you must be able to "...taste death with the lips of your living body [so] that you can know emotionally that you are a creature who will die (88)." Then quoting William James (who is himself quoting the mystic Jacob Boehme [1575 - 1624]), Becker further describes this "tasting" of death as a "passage into nothing, [a passage in which] a critical point must usually be passed, a corner turned within one (88)." Thus in this process of self-realization, Becker writes, the self is "brought down to nothing." For what purpose? So that the process of what Becker calls "self-transcendence" may begin. And he [Becker] describes the process of self-transcendence this way:


Man breaks through the bounds of merely cultural heroism; he destroys the character lie that had him perform as a hero in the everyday social scheme of things; and by doing so he opens himself up to infinity, to the possibility of cosmic heroism ... He links his secret inner self, his authentic talent, his deepest feelings of uniqueness ... to the very ground of creation. Out of the ruins of the broken cultural self there remains the mystery of the private, invisible, inner self which yearned for ultimate significance. ...This invisible mystery at heart of [the] creature now attains cosmic significance by affirming its connection with the invisible mystery at the heart of creation.

"This," he concludes, "is the meaning of faith." Faith is the belief that despite one's "insignificance, weakness, death, one's existence has meaning in some ultimate sense because it exists within an eternal and infinite scheme of things brought about and maintained to some kind of design by some creative force (90, 9 1)."

This, then, is what we might call good faith, not a flight into some IMMORTALITY SYSTEM. And clearly, some Christians, some Buddhists--at least the Zen Buddhists Becker himself mentions!--have faith in this sense, a faith that Becker characterizes as growing out of tasting one's own death, embracing one's own nothingness, and affirming--not a known ultimate meaningful [meaning]--but an "invisible mystery" of ultimate meaning.

So Becker is suggesting a difference between (1) inauthentic clinging to the supposed absolute truth of an IMMORTALITY SYSTEM; and (2) authentic faith in a mystery of


enduring meaning. Psychologically the distinction here is between (1) turning away from the awareness of death, and possessively claiming certain knowledge of eternal meaning; or (2) tasting one's own mortality, and placing one's trust in a mystery of eternal meaning.

Now Becker doesn't always emphasize this second possibility of authentic faith. One can get the impression from much of his work that any affirmation of enduring meaning is simply a denial of death and the embrace of a lie. But I believe the view expressed in the fifth chapter of The Denial of Death is his more nuanced and genuine position. And I think it will be worthwhile to develop his idea of a courageous breaking away from culturally-supported IMMORTALITY SYSTEMS by looking back in history to a character who many people have thought of as an epitome of a self-realized person, someone who neither accepts his culture's standardized hero-systems, nor fears death: the philosopher Socrates [469 - 399 B.C.E.]....'

_____ _____ _____


'The DENIAL OF DEATH by Ernest Becker "The first thing we have to do with heroism is to lay bare its underside, show what gives human heroics its specific nature and impetus..."'


Reviewer: S.A. Felton (southern OR USA)"

'There are some books that are brilliant because they delve deeply into one subject. There are other books that are brilliant because they synthesize a panorama of other great books. Finally, there are perhaps the rarest of works that in one book combine the insights of many other brilliant tomes and make the synthesis seem like one subject. "The Denial of Death" belongs to this rarest of books. The excellence of the insights on so many pages is breathtaking, and it's only fitting that Becker, certainly a great writer previously, made his last [Becker's last book, Escape from Evil, was published posthumously] book, published shortly and ironically before his death, his best.

Becker states at the outset the problem in our day is not that there isn't enough knowledge, the problem is that there isn't enough integration of this knowledge into a kind of wisdom that would properly summarize the accumulated knowledge. At the outset he acknowledges the difficulty in claiming that there is one direct insight into what causes (almost) all of the neuroses of life, which is the inability of people to see and overcome what I feel is the ultimate paradox of life, that we live and die at the same time. Yet in one book Becker succeeds so well it is astounding!

To summarize a summarizing book is difficult indeed! Basically what Becker claims is that man has twin but conflicting ontological needs/motives - to individuate and yet at


the same time to feel a part of something greater. Man is a paradox in many other ways. Unlike other animals inside he (I will omit she to keep it simple) is largely symbolic - in his mind he can imagine the farthest mysteries of the universe, he can philosophize about the deepest meanings of life and its purpose. Yet like other animals man is anal (discussed extensively!) and possesses a body that is only too mortal.

Countless times Becker makes the point that the way most people live with these paradoxes is a "lie in the face of reality." That is, starting from childhood most people use all kinds of repressions to pretend that they aren't going to die. Much of society is based on symbolic systems for people to feel heroic, because when we achieve heroism we feel that we have transcended our mortality. Much of this heroism is in fact false, even disempowering, because for example most pointedly with entertainers and athletes we often in fact project our need for heroism onto them. In psychology this is called transference, which manifests itself in group psychology and other ways that Becker thoroughly covers.

Modern man has lost its way because science has removed the need for God, something transcendent beyond the physical life. Transcending[?] Freud, citing Otto Rank most by far, as well many other fine psychologists, and even including Kirkegaard who predated them, Becker claims that it has been "scientifically" proven that the only way for man to deal with his fate, to achieve his innate heroic need, is to give his life up to something greater than the physical, call it God or whatever you wish. Thus he merges psychology with religion, in my opinion, quite correctly.

In bare form these are some of the main themes of "The Denial of Death." The book is a must read if a person has the courage to tackle this most "urgent" issue. I don't think you'll find a better analysis than Becker's. It could dramatically change the way you look at the world and the people who live in it.

In the end I did feel that Becker got somewhat carried away with his insight that the denial of death is the key to understanding people's deepest neuroses - he took it to what I felt was the extreme that it is simply impossible to transcend the denial of death. People who have had near death experiences in many cases seem to have overcome the fear of death, people who have mastered Eastern disciplines like meditation have done the same, and finally self-actualized people who simply live knowing that they are souls having a physical experience can also overcome the angst of physical mortality.' [this paragraph?]. [end of review].

_____ _____ _____


'*****A deep and brutally honest treatment, July 25, 1997

Reviewer: A reader

All lovers of existentialism will enjoy Becker's treatment of life and death. Becker won the Pulitzer Prize for this work [Denial of Death] when it was first published in 1974. Ironically and tragically, Becker himself died of cancer that very same year. He was 50 [49 (see 2972)] years old. I have been unsuccessful in my efforts to find out whether or not Becker knew of his sickness when he wrote the work. He certainly writes as one who understands the darkness of human life. Becker's thesis is that human personality and behavior has its deepest roots in our denying our death (thus the title). By this he means not only our death itself, but all of the horrors associated with our mortality as human beings. Becker makes frequent reference to Otto Rank, and reiterates Rank's point that all human cultural creation is inevitably religious in nature. There is also a wonderful treatment of Freud which will be especially refreshing to all those nauseauted [nauseated] by modern attempts to dress up Freud's theories and make them appear more optimistic than they are, as well as a discussion of Freud's breaks with Jung and others. There is even a chapter on Kierkegaard. Becker also attempts to show that neurosis is at least in part a result of not being able to erect the 'denial of death' defense mechanisms so many do, and that those who traverse the depths of human existence cannot but go mad to some degree. He says at one point, "No wonder the road of the artist so often detous [detours] through the madhouse." Finally, Becker bashes modern psychology, which makes this book an absolute must for any deep thinker who is considering entering this field. The Denial of Death is brutally honest, scholastic, and beautiful. Best of all, Becker doesn't[?] make the all too common mistake of attempting to provide a solution (something all lovers of Camus will appreciate). The last 10 pages alone make this book worth reading. Read it thoughtfully and you will never be quite the same[.] [end of review].

_____ _____ _____



'Words as Weapons

Inspiring social change

through print, spoken word,

and live performance.

NONKONFORMIST: What interests me the most is Ernest Becker [1924 - 1974], his books, ideas. Could you please talk about the so called IMMORTALITY PROJECTS?

GREG [Greg Bennick]: Sure. Ernest Becker, who died in the early 1970's of cancer, was a cultural anthropologist who synthesized the work of a number of different thinkers into a framework of looking at human psychology from the perspective of examining the ramifications of death and the role which death plays in shaping personality and culture. Becker identified that humans are trapped psychologically between two concurrent modes of thought: the temporal and the eternal. From the perspective of the temporal, Becker noted that humans are animals, and that as animals we bleed and mate, and die and are born and suffer and exist as other creatures do. Concurrently, he noted that humans are gifted with the abilities both to reason and also to think of themselves in symbolic terms. Translation: people can imagine themselves doing something more than what they currently are doing or being in a better position than they currently found themselves. Becker took the next step with this though to identify that spirituality and religion is an extension of this thinking: that humans aspire to the heroic, and to the eternal...largely because both provide an escape from the temporal and the animalistic and the eventual withering and death that the temporal and animal world offer. Becker said, with all this in mind, that humans were trapped. We were doomed to die, but would die dreaming of something more, something better, something other than the fate to which we were prescribed. Becker went on to say that in the midst of our being trapped, that the anxiety produced by these two polar opposites of existence caused psychological unrest. He said that we create PROJECTS in our lives and in the things that we do in order to expand our lives beyond the immediate fear of the eventual death that awaits us. The point and hope of these projects, on a psychological level is to reach closer to the immortal and away from the finite. These "IMMORTALITY PROJECTS" take the form of our art, our passions, our loves, our self-definition...all of the things which distract us from the inevitable and which serve to soothe our tortured hearts and minds.

NONKONFORMIST: If we call a project an "IMMORTALITY PROJECT", how can that be? An IMMORTALITY PROJECT which brings death? I mean, death is unavoidable, but if we strive for IMMORTALITY, we should be doing something positive instead? At least this is my interpretation.


GREG: Becker's suggestion was that IMMORTALITY PROJECTS are our lives. He suggested that striving to exist beyond the body is an inevitable part of existence in our culture, given the psychological battle between the temporal and the eternal that we face consciously or unconsciously on a daily basis [see 2897-2898]. The question, if we frame it from the perspective of our striving for IMMORTALITY as a psychological soothing process and not one with any actual reachable goal, is not whether or not we should be doing positive or negative things, but rather whether or not we identify at all what it is we are doing. An important note is that Becker warned against getting caught up in all this: he was aware of the fact that thinking about all of this stuff too much is a trap in and of itself. His ultimate suggestion was to live, and live artistically and passionately, and just offer the things you do to existence itself. It is a process of basically throwing your hands into the air and saying "Here you go!" to the world and to the universe.

POST-INTERVIEW NOTE: The process of coming to terms with one's death denial is not a process of "giving up" or "giving in" ("a process of basically throwing your hands into the air", etc.), but rather, living courageously in the face of the unknown.

Back to World Leader's Project page' [1-2 of 2].

Comment (LS): "having kids" (procreation), is a perennial favorite Immortality Project (pushed by "Mother Nature"). See 2897-2898.

_____ _____ _____ 



'Words as Weapons

Inspiring social change

thought print, spoken word,

and creative action.

Perspectives on Violence

An examination of human aggression through the work of Dr. Ernest Becker




- Shakespeare: Macbeth, Act 1, Scene 7

Prepared by:

- Greg Bennick, Seattle WA

- Sheldon Solomon, Ph.D., Saratoga NY

- Patrick Shen, Los Angeles CA' [page 1 of 3].

'The potential for change


Sheldon Solomon writes, "All conflict stems from our psychological inability to tolerate those who are different from ourselves". Our feeling is that if the issues we have addressed here are a psychological manifestation inherent in all people, then perhaps it is possible to address this psychology in the public through policy or gentle persuasion. Therefore, even if violence is a given, perhaps through policy and persuasion the lashings-out which result from fear could happen with less frequency, less intensity, and with a less reactionary approach.

Back to World Leaders Project page' [3 of 3].

● ● ● ● ●


from: Acts of Will, The Life and Work of Otto Rank [1884 - 1939], E. James Lieberman, M.D., The Free Press, c1985.

"The thought and the form are equal in the order of time, but in the order of genesis the thought is prior to the form. The poet has a new thought: he has a whole new experience to unfold; he will tell us how it was with him, and all men will be the richer in his fortune. For, the experience of each new age requires a new confession, and the world seems always waiting for its poet.

R.W. Emerson, "The Poet," Essays....

Biography is as little an objective science as history...the main purpose is the picture of the creative personality and not merely of the man of actuality, and the two portraits can naturally never ben wholly identical. The effort to make them so is, however, the avowed or unavowed tendency not only of the biographer, but of the artist himself and of his public, present and future.... That in every age the poet's life should be revalued and re-edited to suit the ideology of that age is only natural....

—O. Rank, Art and Artist"

[opposite title page]. [compare: new versions of the Bible, through the centuries].

          "Considering the duration and extent of the attack on Rank, it stands out among examples of psychoanalytic character assassination. He was demeaned in public and private, in plain words and in jargon, in professional and lay circles. It is hard to imagine a stigma greater than to be labeled mentally ill by leading authorities in psychiatry and psychoanalysis. Rank did not fight back directly: he tried to find assistance in disseminating his views but did not defend or counterattack. (I have found no mention of Ernest Jones, for example, in Rank's publications or correspondence after 1925.) The sorry result of the stigma has been the virtual disappearance of the works of Otto Rank [compare: Alexander Del Mar (see Addition 21, 1074); et al.]. For a whole generation only a few hardy souls studied his books, and even fewer taught his ideas in universities and clinics.


The late Ernest Becker, a professor of sociology, was one of those exceptions. He came upon Rank relatively late, but his last two books—The Denial of Death (Pulitzer Prize, 1974) and Escape from Evil—brought his discovery to a wide and enthusiastic audience. "You cannot merely praise much of his work," Becker said, "because in its stunning brilliance it is often fantastic, gratuitous, superlative; the insights seem like a gift.... Rank's thought always spanned several fields of knowledge." Becker recognized the problems, too: "Rank is very diffuse, very hard to read, so rich that he is almost inaccessible to the general reader."16

          Although Rank did not live into the nuclear age, Becker shows how his ideas touch our present dilemmas with characteristic subtlety and force. Thus in a sentence is distilled an explanation of "overkill," be it in primitive warfare or the irrational arms


race of today: "To be stronger than enemies who wish your death is to be stronger than death itself."17 Demagogues through the ages have seduced multitudes by promising to defeat (or defend against) an evil enemy that symbolizes death itself [compare: the American President George W. Bush [b. 1946], and his administration].

          The modern era brought the democratization of immortality: The photograph, sound recordings, radio, newsreels, and magazines gave a sense of permanence to images and events of ordinary life. Science and technology opened new paths to eternity as the traditional routes—established religion, royalty, and tribal or racial identity—were obstructed by doubt and change. Rank witnessed the advent of the telephone, the automobile, radio, cinema, the airplane [add: Internet, cell phones, etc.]—devices which made common folk feel in command of destiny. But he also saw the unprecedented destruction wrought by World War I. Although he died before the holocaust and the leveling of cities which came with World War II, Rank's teaching about life fear and death fear needs no revision. It can help us face constructively the marvels and threats of the nuclear age, when we can obliterate all the trophies and tokens of immortality, all human history, even the future.

          On a less global scale, the psychology of Otto Rank [1884 - 1939] is being discovered—sometimes unwittingly reinvented—by leading scholars and therapists. "Knowingly or unknowingly, every therapist assumes that each patient has within him the capacity to change through willful choice. The therapist, using a variety of strategies and tactics, attempts to escort the patient to a crossroads where he can choose.... The interpretive remarks of the therapist can all be viewed in terms of how they bear on the patient's will." So states psychiatrist Irvin Yalom, a recognized authority on group and existential psychotherapy who readily acknowledges his debt to Rank." [xxxiv-xxxv].

          'Although of humble origins, Rank, like many of the philosophers he read, was himself an elitist, and felt the pull of genius. He wrote about self-confidence, "the first condition for greatness," coupled with realism, humility, and humor. In the diary, he offers a ladder of mankind's development, in order from the lowest to the highest:


          1.       Religiosity. Smeared with tar, because customs or prejudices are usually pasted on.

          2.       Respect for art. Covered with a sticky sweetness which soon cloys and disgusts.

          3.       Worship of women. Most hang on this rung their whole lives. It is smeared with sweet fly poison, at first intoxicating but later cruelly lethal. One must be light of foot, heart, mind, and free, to be able to slip away.

          4.       Inertia. Here sit the practical people.

          5.       Disgust. Grumblers, sick and morose.

          6.       Knowledge. The learned.

          7.       Skepticism. Skeptics and psychologists.

          8.       Philosophy. Here, on the last and highest, stands the philosopher, if such a one exists. Seldom does one climb so high. That air is too rare and thin, the thoughts also. His powers fail before then.' [12-13].



Otto Rank's Vienna was the cosmopolitan center of Europe. It has been compared to the Athens of Pericles, and to Florence under the Medici. After a long development from pre-Roman outpost to seat of the Holy Roman Empire to capital of the far-flung Hapsburg Empire, Vienna had become a mecca for students of music, art, and medicine. A crossroads city on the Danube, a southeastern conduit from Europe to the Ottoman Empire, Vienna held together a diverse realm of nationalities and ethnic groups and a Babel of tongues, customs, costumes, and currencies. The Hapsburg Empire stretched from Belgrade to Brussels and from Milan to Breslau, having grown since the Middle Ages more by prudent matrimony than by military prowess. Perhaps because languages did not meld—eight were official in parliament when Rank was a youth, and many more unofficial—music, which needed no interpreter, charmed and moved the populace and made Vienna famous...." [13].

'Discussing sexual intercourse, Rank creates a somber dualism: Every pleasure is balanced by pain, and vice versa.


Every coitus, the momentary pleasurable sinking into the unconscious feeling of eternity, into Nothingness, is compensated by a death (that of the child) and the momentary painful sinking away into the selfsame unconscious nothingness. Death, the insoluble riddle which life bestows on man. Curiosity and thirst for knowledge will not let him rest; he knows how to get the answer from life—he dies.

          Already Rank was expressing ambivalence about living fully in the passing moment. He felt the universal human imperative toward immortality. Without religion, he found in art a way of preserving part of the self for posterity rather than exhausting it in living. Eventually as Rank's own experience balanced his erudition, Rank found art to be overvalued at the expense of life. In an undated, early romantic essay on meeting a girl, he poignantly expresses the internal conflict between living fully and savoring the event in memory—but without being sure he actually lived it.7

          On March 19, 1904, Rank took a position in a Vienna machine shop earning 31 Heller (six cents) an hour. He writes of suffering horribly, waking up mornings feeling empty and aimless, and wanting to go to sleep again "at once and forever." At the same time he began to analyze, and remove himself from, two favorite authors. Both Weininger and Nietzsche, Rank decided, admire what they lack and want; what they have, they deprecate. Thus Weininger's sensitive, feminine endowment made him anti-woman. Rank pursued the analysis further:


Great men are usually woman-haters because sensuality, only a momentary stimulus, does not fill their lives as with the average man (as with all women), but hems it in, limits and degrades. But after fulfillment they realize the complete absurdity, aimlessness, and shame of these desires and rage against the woman instead of their own senses, themselves. Ascetics never were


enemies of women. Illustrious men project their rejection of lust upon the woman who allays it, only to have it flare up the more violently. Wagner seems always to have composed right after intercourse.

From Schopenhauer's will to live, via Nietzsche's will to power, to Weininger's will to value. One sees that the life of the philosophers becomes more powerful and worthless.

A normal man is done in thirty years. Life brings him nothing new any more. Fortunate are the souls to whom every day of existence is a new birth until their death.

          In this passage, Rank offers a dazzling glimpse of his own future development. He uses the concept of projection to explain Weininger's [Otto Weininger 1880 - 1903 (suicide)] frantic, belabored, indeed hysterical attack on women, making them the sole source and provocation of sex. Rank's own view of coitus may be somber, his reserve toward women still strong, but he no longer shares Weininger's phobia.'


[Interesting! My guess: these sex comments originated from the Judaeo-Christian milieu, and have little or no relevance in Buddhist countries (my influences include three vacations in Thailand). Might as well complain of food and eating. "Every pleasure is balanced by pain, and vice versa [see 3029]." Eat (death of food (and prior death of food source)), shit (constipation?, etc.), hunger ("nothingness"), etc. My dental colleague, Dr. P. G., calls most of us "Converters" (persons whose "only" function is to convert food to shit [see 3002 (Freud)]).

The author, Alex Comfort [1920 - 2000], writing on sex, has been a huge "breath of fresh air" (when we both were living (about 1978) in Santa Barbara, I had a short phone conversation with him. He graciously invited my friend Mildred E., to visit with him. Another event, damnit!, that never "got together")].

          'Throughout the diary, Rank expresses both his humility in the face of genius and his confidence that he too is an artist.


I am an artist, even if I fail to bring forth a single work of art. I lack the practical skill and the theoretical basis to be a musician, painter, or sculptor and the general, historical, and linguistic education for poet and philosopher. Well, the skills might be acquired; the rest I have. It seems too late for acquiring these skills systematically; moreover, beginning in youth, because of ignorance, and at ripe manhood, because of knowledge, I have lacked perseverance and focus on a small area. I have tasted too many fruits.

          Rank's mind was already a cornucopia, overflowing with ideas and interests. Instead of choosing an art, he would study the artist type, that is himself, one who has a creative gift and drive even if he or she never produces a work of art in the conventional sense. Self-consciousness, he says, is the artist's only good fortune.' [18-19].


          'Death, like sex, terrified [related to the prevalence of syphilis?] Rank in childhood and youth and then became a tolerable thought, even a form of release. He had already entered his last will, "Mein Testament," in his diary.


As it is possible that I shall not survive my dying day, and the slight physiological change called death can come at any hour, I state here for this unpredictable event my firm and solemn will. Above all I do not want printed announcements to publicize my death....should the news of my death be placed in a paper...I commission my bother, whom I name as the unrestricted sole executor, heir, and legal successor, to make the following correction...: It is untrue that they who published the notice are deeply moved over my "departure"...Further, it is unimportant that I was "deeply loved" by them; indeed I never made such an absurd demand, yet as I must correct it, I was only tolerated by them. Further, the title "vocation" under my name is incorrect—much better to say I was never "called," but a series of needs and accidents dragged me into this business.

Further, it is senseless to impart to "all friends and acquaintances" that "after great, long suffering" or "after brief, slight suffering"" or otherwise have I "gently" passed away or "entered sleep." For to measure suffering by length or weight is an affair of small merchant souls, and few people dare to fix in words the substance of their sorrow. But if suffering is a synonym for illness, which is not always appropriate, the length and type of my sickness would only interest doctors. As for the "gentle sleep in the Lord," that can happen to an old woman on the fifteenth rosary. Evidently one "passes on" unpeacefully with noisy organ chords into the house or hotel of the dear God. Good for sleeping, prompt service, prices to suit.

Further, it is of no consequence that my "earthly shell" be "consigned to eternal rest." It is more in order that a rummage dealer (maybe the one person who is interested in my death) buy it, and that my cadaver, as I hope, be burned in a crematorium. Wreaths are to be refused, though not in the mind of the deceased, since no one has fathomed that. Dry foliage, brushwood, and wilted flowers, however, are to be accepted for fueling the fire. Whether the management of the crematorium agrees, I know not.

Otto R.

          As a therapist Rank later became known for his focus on the ending. As a theorist he viewed each separation, starting with birth, as a painful beginning which human beings must both endure and embrace. As an existentialist Rank focused on living fully in the limited time between beginnings and endings, facing the anxiety and accepting the pain of transience and separation.

          "I am a poet!" he exclaimed. "And I might rejoice, that I have already borne so much pain." One of his poems, "To the Old Year," expresses the glory of having ripened quickly, but continues: "What ripens early also dies early."' [22-23].



'The individual is not responsible for everything, but he or she must create an identity—a soul, if you will—given a particular genetic endowment and an environment, a reality, to push against. Where life and art conflict, or life and knowledge, Rank chooses life. Rank's first motto from Shakespeare [1564 - 1616] never lost its depth for him: "Is it possible, he should know what he is, and be that he is?"' [405].

'The Diaries of Anaïs Nin [1903 - 1977] [see 2994]

[thanks to my friends J. P. and L. L., on two occasions, I was part of Anaïs's entourage in San Francisco and Berkeley; and, about 1977, enjoyed an afternoon in the Los Angeles home of Anaïs Nin and Rupert Pole. Anaïs was entertaining two other people, in addition to our party of five. Rupert retrieved his cello, and with the two musicians in our party—a trio!—an impromptu classical concert. As a "Thank You", I sent a copy of a photograph I took in East Africa, and Anais responded with a (treasured) card. Months later, I attended her Memorial Services in the Scottish Rite Temple, on Wilshire Boulevard, in Los Angeles. The same night, there were numerous Memorial Services in the world]

have acquainted a large readership with Rank's name since 1966. And Ernest Becker's [1924 - 1974] The Denial of Death (1973) rests heavily on Rank [Otto Rank 1884 - 1939], "a mine for years of insights and pondering." Brilliantly written but somewhat uneven, the book won a Pulitzer Prize for its author, who was dying of cancer as he wrote. In places Becker makes Rank too much a prophet of doom and too much a religious preacher, but his writing engages Rank and the reader forcefully. Through Nin and Becker a large public has gained a partial, indirect knowledge of Rank, a stimulating introduction that, however, cannot substitute for a deeper, more direct acquaintance with Rank's own works. Becker's posthumous book, Escape from Evil (1975), was dedicated to Rank's memory.22' [406].

● ● ● ● ●



'Frederick J. Streng Book Award

David Loy Interview

The 1999 winner of the Frederick J. Streng Book Award is David R. Loy, professor on the Faculty of International Studies at Bunkyo University in Chigasaki, Japan. Professor Loy received the award for his book, Lack and Transcendence: The Problem of Death and Life in Psychotherapy, Existentialism, and Buddhism [see 3037], published by Humanities Press (New Jersey) in 1996. The book places Western patterns of thought developed in tandem with Christian ideas into dialogic contact with Buddhism. It is thus a very Buddhist book, but a signal contribution to the practice of Buddhist-Christian dialogue. Buddhist-Christian Studies asked David about his writing of the volume.

Buddhist-Christian Studies: Why did you write this book?

David Loy: It was the product of an existential crisis, both intellectual and personal. My father, who had always been healthy and full of life, suddenly became ill with pancreatic cancer. Then my Zen teacher Yamada Koun had a bad fall that led to his death a year later. Not long before that my relationship with him and the Sanbo Kyodan had become somewhat problematic. This threatened my 'spiritual ground'. Finally, I was without a job. All this gave me plenty of time not only to sit intensively but also to read widely everything I could find on death and related issues.

Did you think that sitting and studying would lead to a book?

I didn't know. I could feel something gestating. I realized something was needed in this area. I was (and still am) very impressed by the last two books of Ernest Becker, but despite their brilliance his notion of death-denial is a little off-center [my Father's term] from a Buddhist perspective. Fear of death projects our problem into the future, while the groundlessness of our sense-of-self accounts better for our sense-of-lack right here and now.

What was the final trigger for doing the book?

Another Zen teacher suggested that I try to write a Zen teisho [sermon or talk]. I sat down but after a few lines so many other thoughts began to bubble up that I couldn't write them down fast enough. There was no obvious or immediate logical connection among them, but they kept coming. This went on for about two, almost non-stop days. After that the thoughts slowed down. I read over the notes I'd written, which led to more ideas, and then I began to perceive their relationship. After five days or so I had a detailed outline for the book, and the real work began. [End Page 321] [brackets and bolded contents, by author]


What kind of response to the book, both positive and negative, have you received?

There have not been many reviews, but they have generally been positive. It's not an easy book to evaluate: it brings together many different thinkers and traditions in order to address many different issues. In the process it attempts what is almost a grand synthesis of Buddhism, existentialism, and psychotherapy around the notion of our 'sense of lack', which I argue motivates us all. This involves close readings of Freud, Heidegger, Nietzsche, Nagarjuna, and many others. Unfortunately, the print is small and not easy to read, the cover is ugly, and the price is too high. For all these reasons readers have my sympathies! But there are some readers for whom the book really 'clicks'. I'm pleased that it seems to work on the existential as well as the intellectual level, for such people.

After several years of reflection, would you write it any differently today?

Yes, probably. The first thing I would do is take out the last chapter "Transcendence East and West," which was an afterthought and doesn't really fit in very well. As published, the chapter takes the concept of 'lack' into a new dimension which needs to be worked out much more carefully than I did in the book. It argues that, in place of the usual East-West dichotomy, it is more insightful to view South Asian Indian- influenced cultures as in some ways the opposite of East Asian Chinese-influenced cultures. As some viewers pointed out, however, it is rather superficial because, among other things, it relies on a simplistic 'Neo-Vedantist' interpretation of Indian culture.

What else?

The book overemphasizes the negative side of our sense-of-lack. Like s'unyata itself, our lack is also the source of our freedom and creativity. Spiritual practice works to transform lack into this more positive force in our lives, so that THIS BOTTOMLESS PIT WE CAN NEVER FILL UP becomes the wellspring of life itself, bubbling up from we-know-not-where, FROM SOMEPLACE WE CAN NEVER OBJECTIFY OR GRASP.

In what directions has the research and writing of this book led you in the ensuing years?

I've been exploring further the historical and cultural implications of our sense-of-lack. Lack, as I view it, is more or less a constant in our lives, but different cultures and historical periods have understood it in different ways and tried to cope with it in different ways.

Give us an example.

Sure. In chapter five, "Trying to Become Real," I discuss how modern preoccupations with fame, romantic love, and money--which we now take for granted--developed during the Renaissance when the Christian story began to lose its spiritual power for many people. Fame, romantic love, and money seemed to offer more [End Page 322] [brackets and bolded contents, by author] individualistic ways to cope with our


sense-of-lack. Since the book, I have written several articles offering other perspective on sense-of-lack during different periods in the historical development of the West: the classical valuation of freedom, the papal revolution in the eleventh century, the development of modernity in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, and others. These articles have been published in various journals. Now I'm putting them together into a book tentatively titled, "A Buddhist History of the West [see 3046]."

How does Lack and Transcendence: The Problem of Death and Life in Psychotherapy, Existentialism, and Buddhism contribute to Buddhist-Christian dialogue?

Even though the book says almost nothing about Christianity, the implications for Christianity are pretty obvious. What is offered as a modern interpretation of Buddhism can be developed quite easily in a Christian direction, in terms of the kind of inner emptying and transformation that we all need to experience if we are to overcome our greed, ill-will, and delusion--and realize that not I but Christ liveth in me.' [end of "David Loy Interview"].

_____ _____ _____



"Reviews the article 'Lack and Transcendence: The Problem of Death and Life in

Psychotherapy, Existentialism, and Buddhism,' by David Loy

by Carl Becker [relation to Ernest Becker?]

Mortality Vol. 2 No. 1 May. 1997 Pp. 73–77"

"Even the terror of death represses something, for that terror is preferable to facing one's lack of being now. Death-fear at least allows us to project the problem into the future. In that way we avoid facing what we are (or are not) right now .... The death fear is itself symbolic of a yet deeper fear, that right here and now I am not real (pp. 27–28)."

"Loy repeatedly uses animals as examples of beings who are not preoccupied with questions of self, future, and death [this has been my (LS) sentiment—for years]. He quotes with approval the lilies of the field, 'which take no thought for the morrow' (p. 35); Rilke's 'the free animal has its decline in back of it forever, and God in front, and eternity' (p. 49), in contrast to the human 'animal who endeavors to

real-ize himself in ways that keep unravelling' (p. 98).

On one level, Loy is indeed advocating that we learn to live moment by moment [this also has been my (LS) sentiment—for years], like the animals, less caught up in projects of fame and social status. This can be achieved by meditation and enlightenment, not to attain some different realm of existence, but to realize our interconnectedness with everything else:

In one way, nothing becomes different: one still gets up in the morning, eats breakfast, goes to work, and so on. Yet there is something timeless about these activities. In place of the apparently solid self that does them and feels them to be lacking something, there is a groundless and therefore indisturbably peaceful quality to them (p. 48).

On the other hand, Loy is not arguing that we abandon human philosophizing, religion, or responsibility for our human condition. Quite to the contrary, he is keenly aware of the ecological and political problems which plague our planet. Rather than facing them with more human contrivances and policies alone, however, Loy suggests a change of mentality which alone can overcome the snowballing effects of consumptive materialism: ...."

[Note: of the above, I am only attracted to the animal comments; the rest, cliches/hopes].

_____ _____ _____


from: Lack and Transcendence, The Problem of Death and Life in Psychotherapy, Existentialism, and Buddhism, David Loy, Humanities Press, New Jersey, Pb, 1996.

"David Loy is a professor on the Faculty of International Studies at Bunkyo University, Japan. He has been a student of Zen for over twenty years and is a qualified Zen teacher. He has published numerous articles and a book, Nonduality: A Study in Comparative Philosophy (Yale University Press, 1988)." [back cover].

"Introduction" [xi]

          'Much has happened to psychoanalysis in a century, and Freud today would have difficulty recognizing many of his progeny. Among those descendants, Jungian analysis and more recently transpersonal psychology have attracted most of the attention of students of religion. This book focuses on existential psychoanalysis, which originated from an early cross-fertilization between Freudianism and phenomenology, especially Heidegger's Being and Time. The most innovative figure was the Swiss psychiatrist Ludwig Binswanger, who is also distinguished by the fact that he was able to disagree with Freud without that leading to a break between them. For reasons that become apparent in chapter 2, I think this original movement made a mistake in allying itself with the early Heidegger, and what follows is more influenced by the second- and third-generation of existential psychologists in the United States: among the analysts, Rollo May and Irvin Yalom; of the scholars, Norman O. Brown and most of all Ernest Becker, whose influential books The Denial of Death and Escape from Evil (the second unfinished at his own death) are used in chapter 1 to summarize the existential approach to psychoanalysis.

          These figures are more pragmatic than the first generation. For them, the "existential" in existential psychology means not so much existentialism as being rooted in the fundamental issues of life and death, freedom and responsibility, groundlessness and meaninglessness. Despite this—or is it because of this?—their feelings display a remarkable agreement with the best of the existentialist tradition. Becker refers often to Pascal and Kierkegaard, and he could have found as much in Nietzsche and Sartre to buttress his conclusions. This confluence is important because it is one of the fertile places where science and philosophy meet today. Psychoanalysis/psychotherapy is many things: a religion (with founder, dogma, and schisms), a philosophy (Freud and many since him couldn't resist metaphysical extrapolations), but also perhaps the rudimentary, groping beginnings of something that is capable of learning from its mistakes. One important example of such self-correction: In place of the doctrinal disputes which preoccupied early psychoanalysis, contemporary therapists are more aware of the relativity of their theoretical constructs. Yet this hardly a recent discovery, as we shall see.' [xii].

'LIKE NIETZSCHE, BUDDHISM DENIES BOTH GOD AND ANY "HIGHER WORLD," for the difference between samsāra and nirvāna is found in the ways we experience this world. Like Being and Time, Buddhism notices a relationship between authenticity


and another way of experiencing time, yet its understanding of that relation implies a critique of the temporality Heidegger recommends. Buddhism agrees with Sartre that our ego-consciousness is a lack, but its deconstruction of the duality between consciousness and object allows for a solution that Sartre does not envision. Like Kierkegaard's attitude toward anxiety, the Buddhist solution to the problem of duhkha ["our human disease"] is not to evade it but to become it and see what that does to us.

          Sākyamuni Buddha declared that he taught only the fact of our duhkha and how to end it. The path that ends duhkha requires developing our awareness, since, as in psychotherapy, transformation occurs through insight. And the most important insight is realizing how the self does not exist: For Buddhism, the root cause of our suffering is the delusion of self. In response to existential-psychological emphasis on death-repression, Buddhism views the problem of life-fearing-death as merely one version of our more general problem with bipolar thinking. We distinguish one pole (e.g., success) from its opposite (failure) in order to attain the first and reject the other, but that bifurcation does not work because the two terms are interdependent. Since the meaning of each depends on negating the other, we can have both or neither, the two sides of a single coin. So, our hope for success is shadowed by an equal fear of failure, and in the same manner OUR REPRESSION OF DEATH REPRESSES LIFE. For those who deny death, the interdependence of life and death implies a death-in-life.

          That is the issue in the first chapter, "The Nonduality of Life and Death." Insofar as we repress our fear of death, the repressed returns as our compulsion to secure and if possible immortalize ourselves symbolically. Our yearning for fame is a good example, for "how can he be dead, who lives immortal in the hearts of men?" Unfortunately, no amount of fame can satisfy me if it's not really fame I want. The Buddhist approach to this issue is presented mainly by explicating what the twelfth-century Japanese Zen master Dōgen wrote about the dualism of life-and-death. However, from the Buddhist perspective, our primary repression is not death-terror but another fear even more fundamental: the suspicion that "I" am not real. Rather than being autonomous in some Cartesian fashion, our sense of self is mentally and socially conditioned, therefore ungrounded and (as the mentally ill remind us) fragile.

          In many ways the difference between this approach and death-repression is slight, and much of Becker's argument remains valid with some adjustments. The main distinction is that death-repression allows us to project our problem into the future, as we dread losing what we think we have now, whereas the repression of our groundlessness is a way to avoid facing what we are (or are not) right now. Freud and many others have noticed the peculiarity of fearing one's own death: There's nothing to fear if I will not be here to notice that I'm missing. Epicurus [341 - 270 B.C.E.] concluded that "the most horrible of ends, death, is nothing to us," and the early Freud [1856 - 1939] supposed that death-fear must disguise other repressions, notably castration. Yet that fear is all too understandable if it is the closest we usually come to glimpsing our own groundlessness. The difference becomes crucial because of the different possibilities they allow.

          The Buddhist emphasis on the groundlessness of the ego-self implies that our most troublesome dualism is not life-versus-death but being versus nothingness (or no-thing-ness): the anxious self intuiting and dreading its own lack of being (or thing-ness). As a result, our sense-of-self is shadowed by a sense of lack that it perpetually


yet vainly tries to resolve. The interdependence of bi-polar dualisms still holds: To the extent I come to feel autonomous, my consciousness is also infected with a gnawing sense of unreality, usually experienced as the vague feeling that "there is something wrong with me." Since we do not know how to cope with such an intimate sense of lack, it is repressed, only to return in projected form as the compulsive ways we attempt to make ourselves real in the world—which implies, among other things, a time orientation focused on the future.' [xiii-xiv].

          'Chapter 5, "Trying to Become Real," discusses some of our more compulsive games,


Although now so widespread we take them for granted, these pursuits are not "natural" (i.e., not needing to be explained) but historically conditioned. All four began to become important just before or during the Renaissance, when the Western individual sense of self—and therefore its shadow sense of lack as well—became hypertrophied. Each of the four can be viewed as a demonic secular religion: secular because by pursuing it we seek a salvation for the self in this world; religious because in that pursuit a basically spiritual urge for reality manifests in distorted form; and tending to become demonic because the inability to overcome our sense of unreality through these pursuits is usually experienced as "I do not yet have enough...."

          If the concept of lack can illuminate such aspects of Western culture, might it also shed light on other cultures? In place of a more conventional summary, the conclusion speculates about the differences among Indian, Sino-Japanese, and Western cultures and about the possible role of lack in those differences: some key distinguishing features may be understood as different ways of responding to our sense-of-lack. The distinction between this world and another transcendental dimension is fundamental to India but much less important in China and Japan, which emphasize this phenomenal world. In terms of lack, Indian culture traditionally orients itself to another reality that can fill up the sense of lack we feel here, while China and Japan try to resolve human groundlessness by grounding their members more tightly into a hierarchical social system. In the West, an early transcendental dimension was gradually internalized to become the supposedly autonomous and self-directed individual addressed above.' [xvi].



Why was I born, if it wasn't forever.


Every fear is fear of death.


Is there any meaning in my life that the inevitable death awaiting me does not destroy?


The thought that really crushes us is the thought of futility of life of which death is the visible manifestation.


The meaning of life is that it stops.


The nature of finite things is to have the seed of their passing-away as their essential being: the hour of their birth is the hour of their death.


The major sin is the sin of being born.


The terrible thing about death is that it transforms life into destiny.


Yaksha: What is the greatest wonder in the world?

Yudhishthira: Every day men see others called to their death, yet those who remain live as if they were immortal.

The Mahābhārata

The king is surrounded by persons whose only thought is to divert the king, and to prevent his thinking of self. For he is unhappy, king though he be, if he thinks of himself.

          This is all that men have been able to discover to make themselves happy. And those who philosophize on the matter, and who think men unreasonable for spending a whole day in chasing a hare which they would not have bought, scarce know our nature. The hare in itself would not screen us from the sight of death and calamities; but the chase which turns away our attention from these, does screen us.


One can no more look steadily at death than at the sun.

—La Rochefoucauld


We do not fear death, but the thought of death.


Death is easier to bear without thinking of it, than is the thought of death without peril.


All our knowledge merely helps us to die a more painful death than the animals who know nothing.


He who most resembles the dead is the most reluctant to die.

—La Fontaine

The irony of man's condition is that the deepest need is to be free of the anxiety of death and annihilation; but it is life itself which awakens it, and so we must shrink from being fully alive.

—Roy Waldman

"I had to die to keep from dying."

—Common schizophrenic remark

History is what man does with death.


The self-assertion of technological objectification is the constant negation of death.


If what we call the problem of life, the problem of bread, were once solved, the earth would be turned into a hell by the emergence in a more violent form of the struggle for survival.


The struggle for success becomes such a powerful force because it is the equivalent of self-preservation and self-esteem.


Immortality means being loved by many anonymous people.


One must pay dearly for immortality: one has to die several times while still alive.


The most horrible of all evils, death, is nothing to us, for when we exist, death is not present; but when death is present, then we are not.



For life in the present there is no death. Death is not an event in life. It is not a fact in the world. Our life is endless, in just the same way that our field of vision has no boundaries.


By avoiding death, men pursue it.


Striving for life, I seek death; seeking death, I find life.


Man has forgotten how to die because he does not know how to live.


How could those who never live at the right time die at the right time?


While you do not know life, how can you know about death?


It is true: we love life not because we are used to living but because we are used to loving.


Whoever rightly understands and celebrates death, at the same time magnifies life.


The artist carries death in him like a good priest his breviary.


Art has two constants, two unending concerns: it always meditates on death and thus always creates life.


Only the man who no longer fears death has ceased to be a slave.


A free man thinks of nothing less than of death, and his wisdom is a meditation not on death but on life.


To live in the face of death is to die unto death.


The Kingdom of God is for none but the thoroughly dead.



Since anxiety is the ego's incapacity to accept death, the sexual organizations were perhaps constructed by the ego in its flight from death, and could be abolished by an ego strong enough to die.

—Norman Brown

As long as you do not know how to die and come to life again, you are but a poor guest on this dark earth.


Who knows if what we call death is life, and what we call life is death?


We live in a world of generation and death, and this world we must cast off.


Q: Do not one's actions affect the person in after-births?

A: Are you born now? Why do you think of other births? The fact is that there is neither birth nor death. Let him who is born think of death and palliatives therefor.

—Ramana Maharshi

Just understand that birth-and-death is itself nirvana. There is nothing such as birth and death to be avoided; there is nothing such as nirvana to be sought. Only when you realize this are you free from birth and death.

—Dōgen' [xix-xxii].



The Nonduality of

Life and Death


—Samuel Johnson [Dr. Johnson 1709 - 1784]' [1].


The Moving Image

of Eternity


The distraction of human life to the war against death...results in death's dominion over life. The war against death takes the form of a preoccupation with the past and with the future, and the present tense, the tense of life, is lost.

Norman Brown1


Clor: Do you believe in the life to come?

Hamm: Mine was always that.

Samuel Beckett, Endgame' [30].


The Pain of Being Human


When Samuel Johnson was asked, "I wonder what pleasure men can take in making beasts of themselves?" he answered: "He who makes a beast of himself gets rid of the pain of being a man."

—(Murray's Johnsonia)



Today we have caught up with his insight: Existentialism highlights the anguish of the human condition, and psychoanalysis traces neurosis, including the low-grade neurosis called normality, back to anxiety. Yet why is it so painful just to be a human being? What causes our anguish and anxiety? Can the analysis be carried any further?.... [51].



Transcendence East

and West

The concept of lack has helped to raise some fresh questions about the distinction we too easily make (or too easily deny) between sacred and secular. Insofar as lack remains a constant, and religion our means to resolve it, the development of the modern West has been characterized not by a decline in religious faith but by the replacement of a collective, socially agreed route to salvation with more individualistic attempts to cure oneself. If my argument is correct, much of the frenetic quality of our lives today is due to the fact that these quack cures keep promising to fill in our lack yet never quite do so, which encourages us to run ever faster from our shadow into an ever-elusive future.

          If lack helps us understand the development of Western culture, can it also help us to understand other cultures? I conclude by speculating about the implications of lack for some important cultural differences. I shall offer a tentative theory which explains some of the distinctive features of Indian, Sino-Japanese, and Western cultures as different ways of responding to and acculturating our sense-of-lack. The first section will set the stage by challenging our usual stereotype about "the East." In order to compensate for the generalization, it argues not only that there is no such thing as the East, but that the contrasts between India and China/Japan are more significant than their similarities. This will amount to another stereotype, yet one useful for exploring the possibility that more is at stake here than dissimilarity...." [154].

_____ _____ _____


from: A Buddhist History of the West, Studies in Lack, David R. Loy, State University of New York Press, Pb, c2002.

          'Buddhism teaches that to become happy, greed, ill-will, and delusion must be transformed into their positive counterparts: generosity, compassion, and wisdom. The history of the West, like all histories, has been plagued by the consequences of greed, ill-will, and delusion. A Buddhist History of the West investigates how individuals have tried to ground themselves to make themselves feel more real. To be self-conscious is to experience ungroundedness as a sense of lack, but what is lacking has been understood differently in different historical periods. Author David R. Loy examines how the understanding of lack changes at historical junctures and shows how those junctures were so crucial in the development of the West.

          "This book expands the dialog, enlarges the vocabulary, takes instruction from other cultural traditions, and throws light on our own Occidental problems. I like its clarity in a territory that is of critical importance and is intrinsically difficult. The book has to do with ways of coming to a better understanding of civilization, history, politics, and our own human psyches, and how it is that certain sets of problems—war and exploitation among them—keep arising. David Loy is opening up new territory that is of great value. He is a very exciting thinker."

Gary Snyder, author of The Gary Snyder Reader:

Prose, Poetry, and Translations, 1952–1998

          DAVID R. LOY is Professor in the Faculty of International Studies at Bunkyo University, Japan. He is the author of Lack and Transcendence: The Problem of Death and Life in Psychotherapy, Existentialism, and Buddhism and Nonduality: A Study in Comparative Philosophy.' [back cover].




If one looks with a cold eye at the mess man has made of his history, it is difficult to avoid the conclusion that he has been afflicted by some built-in mental disorder which drives him towards self-destruction.

—Arthur Koestler

If our sense of self is a construct, as Buddhism and contemporary psychology agree, it is also ungrounded. This book is about the ways we have tried to ground ourselves, to make ourselves feel more real. To be self-conscious is to experience our ungroundedness as a sense of lack, but what we are lacking has been understood differently in different historical periods. The chapters that follow show how our understanding of this lack changed at crucial historical junctures; in fact, these new understandings of lack seem to be why those junctures were so crucial in the development of the West....' [1].


          "Although psychotherapy today has more specific insight into the dynamics of our mental dukkha (repression, transference, etc.), I believe that Buddhism points more directly at the root of the problem: not dread of death, finally—that fear still keeps the feared thing at a distance by projecting it into the future—but the more immediate and terrifying (because quite valid) suspicion each of us has that "I" am not real right now. No—self implies a subtle yet significant distinction between fear of death and fear of the void—that is, terror of our own groundlessness, which we become aware of as a sense of lack and which motivates our compulsive but usually futile attempts to ground ourselves in one way or another, according to the opportunities for self-grounding that our particular situations seem to provide. In short, our lack represents the link between dukkha (our inability to be happy) and anatta (our lack of self)." [3-4].

          'The problem with all objectifications, however, is that no object can ever satisfy if it is not really an object that we want. When we do not understand what is actually motivating us—because what we think we want is only a symptom of something else (according to Buddhism, our desire to become real, which is essentially a spiritual yearning)—we will end up compulsive. According to Nietzsche, someone who follows the Biblical admonition literally and plucks out his own eye does not kill his sensuality, for "it lives on in an uncanny vampire form and torments him in repulsive disguises." Yet the opposite is also true: insofar as we think we have escaped such a spiritual drive we are deceiving ourselves, for that drive (to escape our lack and become real) still lives on in uncanny secular forms that obsess us because we do not understand what motivates them.

          Then the neurotic's anguish and despair are not the result of symptoms but their source. Those symptoms are necessary to shield him or her from the tragedies that the rest of us are better at repressing: death, meaninglessness, groundlessness. "The irony of man's condition is that the deepest need is to be free of the anxiety of death and annihilation [i.e., lack]; but it is life itself which awakens it, and so we must shrink from being fully alive" (Becker 1973, 66). If the autonomy of self-consciousness is a delusion that can never quite shake off its shadow feeling that "something is wrong with me," it will need to rationalize that sense of inadequacy somehow.

          This shifts our focus from the terror of future annihilation to the anguish of a groundlessness experienced here and now. On this account, even fear of death and desire for immortality symbolize something else [mental horror vacui? (see 2897-2898)]: they become symptomatic of our vague intuition that the ego-self is not a hard core of consciousness but a mental construction, the axis of a web spun to hide the void. Those whose constructions are badly damaged, the insane, are uncomfortable to be with because they remind us of that fact.' [5].

          'According to Otto Rank [1884 - 1939], contemporary man is neurotic because he suffers from a consciousness of sin just as much as premodern man did, but without believing in the religious conception of sin, which leaves us without a means to expiate our sense of guilt. Why do we need to feel guilty, and accept suffering, sickness, and death as condign punishment? What role does that guilt play in


determining the meaning of our lives? "The ultimate problem is not guilt but the incapacity to live. The illusion of guilt is necessary for an animal that cannot enjoy life, in order to organize a life of nonenjoyment" (Brown 240). Even a feeling of wrongdoing gives us some sense of control over our own destinies, because an explanation has been provided for our sense of lack. We need to project our lack onto something, because only in that way can we get a handle on it.

          It contrast to the Abrahamic religions, Buddhism does not reify ["convert into our regard as a concrete thing" (Random House Dict.)] the sense of lack into an original sin, although our problems with attachment and ignorance are historically conditioned. Shakyamuni Buddha declared that he was not interested in the metaphysical issue of origins and emphasized that he had one thing only to teach: how to end dukkha. This suggests that Buddhism is best understood as a way to resolve our sense of lack. Since there was no primeval offense and no divine expulsion from the Garden, our situation turns out to be paradoxical: our worst problem is the deeply repressed fear that our groundlessness/no-thing-ness is a problem. When I stop trying to fill up that hole at my core by vindicating or real-izing myself in some symbolic way, something happens to it—and therefore to me.' [6].

'"Men are afraid to forget their minds, fearing to fall through the Void with nothing to stay their fall. They do not know that the Void is not really void, but the realm of the real dharma" (Huang-po 41). Then, when I no longer strive to make myself real through things, I find myself "actualized" by them, says Dogen.

          This process implies that what we fear as nothingness is not really nothingness, for that is the perspective of a sense-of-self anxious about losing its grip on itself. According to Buddhism, letting go of myself into that no-thing-ness leads to something else: when consciousness stops trying to catch its own tail, I become no-thing, and discover that I am everything—or, more precisely, that I can be anything. With that conflation, the no-thing at my core is transformed from a sense-of-lack into a serenity that is imperturbable because there is nothing to be perturbed.


This Buddhist account of the sense-of-self's sense of lack (developed at greater length in Lack of Transcendence) provides a psychological and existential explanation of the self-built mental disorder that Koestler noticed. If that gives us insight into the individual human condition, can it also shed light on the collective dynamics of societies and nations? If, as Nietzsche puts its somewhere, madness is rare in individuals but the rule in groups, peoples, and ages, does our history demonstrate a group dynamic of lack?

          This issue is explored in the chapters that follow. To appreciate the argument, it is important to keep in mind that such an understanding of lack straddles our usual distinction between sacred and secular. The difference between them is reduced to where we look to resolve our sense of lack. If that lack is a constant, and if religion is understood as the way we try to resolve it, we can never escape a religious interpretation of the world. Our basic problem is spiritual inasmuch as the sense-of-self's lack of being compels it to seek being one way or another, consciously or unconsciously, whether in overtly religious ways or in "secular" ones. What today we understand as secular projects are sometimes just as symptomatic of this spiritual need. Rather than reductionistically viewing the sacred as a deluded projection of the


secular, this book argues that many of our modern worldly values acquire their compulsiveness, and many modern institutions their authority, from this misdirected spiritual drive. Our lack is a constant, but how we understand it and how we try to overcome it have varied greatly throughout history....' [7-8].

          'The pursuit of fame and money are attempts to realize oneself through symbols; romantic love tries to fill one's lack of being with the being of the beloved. All three are individualistic in that as they attempt a more personal solution to our lack, and all are secular insofar as they seek a salvation in the affairs of this world, but nonetheless religious in that they are still motivated by the spiritual desire to ground oneself and become real. Since they cannot fulfill that need, they threaten to spin out of control and become demonic.

          In most Western societies belief in an afterlife has been largely replaced by a craving for fame, as an alternative way to become more real. Since the real world for us has become what's in the newspapers or on television, to be unknown is to be nothing. Because our sense-of-self is internalized through social conditioning, the natural tendency is to cope with our shadow sense of unreality by continually reassuring ourselves with the attention of other people, and the more attention the better. But if fame is my project to end my lack, disappointment is inevitable: no amount of fame can satisfy me when there is really something else I seek from it.

          Another "personal religion" widely accepted today as a way to overcome our sense of lack, and also historically conditioned, is romantic love. When we fall in love (Madame de Stael [1766 - 1817] called it "self-love a deux"), our formless sense of lack projects itself onto a particular lacked person, which provides us with a project to gain the lacked thing. Now I know what is wrong with me: I do not have her (or him). Originally the romantic myth had strong spiritual overtones, but for us it survives mostly in our preoccupation with sex. Why has sex become so obsessive for so many today? If we do not dualize secular from sacred, we can see the same "spiritual" urge: we want sex to fulfill us and heal us—that is, we want to resolve our lack, but that is something it cannot do except for the briefest of moments.

          Money is perhaps our strangest social construction: a socially agreed symbol worthless in itself, yet one that has more value than anything else because it is how we define value. The psychological problem with this approach occurs when life becomes motivated by the desire for such pure value, owing to an ironic reversal between means and ends: everything else is devalued in order to maximize a "worthless" goal, because our lack has become fetishized into that symbol. Today the most popular explanation for our lack—our contemporary original sin—is that we don't have enough money. This leads to a need for constant growth: an ever higher "standard of living" and the gospel of sustained economic "development."

          These constitute a defective myth because they can provide no real expiation of lack. Today our temple is the stock market, and our rite of worship is communing with Dow Jones average. In return we receive the kiss of profits and the promise of more, yet there is no atonement in this. Of course, since we have lost belief in sin we no longer see anything to atone for, which means we end up unconsciously atoning in the only way we know, by working hard to acquire all those things that society tells us are important—and then we cannot understand why they do not make us happy, why they do not resolve our sense that something is lacking in our lives.' [11-12].


          'From a lack perspective, the problem with market capitalism is twofold: greed and delusion. Desire for profit fuels it, and an insatiable desire to consume ever more must be generated to create markets for what can be produced. From a religious perspective, this greed is based on a delusion: the belief that happiness is to be found in this way, that this will resolve our lack. For Buddhism, in contrast, such desires are not the solution but a main source of the dukkha frustration that infects our daily lives.

          As this suggests, lack as a category of historical interpretation does not aspire to be value neutral in the sense of making dispassionate "objective" claims. Our past is much too important to us for that. The Pali Buddhist term dukkha, along with the English words greed, ill will and delusion, are value laden, for that is what enables them to point to the increasingly obvious situation that, as increasing social problems in the "developed" world suggest, consumerism is unable to bring about the social happiness it promises. If that is so—and it is becoming increasingly difficult to deny it—don't we need to consider other ways to address our sense of lack?' [16] [end of Introduction].

'Dostoyevsky's Grand Inquisitor emphasizes that man has "no more pressing need than the one to find somebody to whom he can surrender, as quickly as possible, that gift of freedom which he, unfortunate creature, was born with." We are not born free—what freedom we have is the result of complex historical conditions—but Dostoyevsky's arrow is otherwise right on target: if (as the sense-of-self's sense-of-lack implies) freedom makes us anxious, the more free we are the more anxious we will be, and the greater our need to resolve that anxiety one way or another—usually by surrendering it to some father protector or other authority figure.' [22].

          'The psychoanalyst Otto Rank divided our anxiety into two complimentary fears. Life fear is the anxiety we feel when we stand out too much, thereby losing our connection with the whole; death fear is the anxiety of losing one's personhood and dissolving back into the whole. "Whereas the life fear is anxiety at going forward, becoming an individual, the death fear is anxiety at going backward, losing individuality. Between these two fear possibilities the individual is thrown back and forth all his life." This can just as well be expressed in terms of freedom: we feel the need to be free, but becoming more free makes us more anxious and therefore more inclined to sacrifice that freedom to someone who promises us security (including absolution for our sense of lack). In short, human beings have two great psychological needs, freedom and security, and unfortunately they conflict. This explains the temptations of totalitarianism:


Totalitarianism is a cultural neurotic symptom of the need for community—a symptom in the respect that it is grasped as a means of allaying anxiety resulting from the feelings of powerlessness and helplessness of the isolated, alienated individuals produced in a society in which complete individualism has been the dominant goal. Totalitarianism is the substitution of collectivism for community.... (May 212)


Today the anonymity of mass men and women within impersonal societies no longer offers the securities of clientage hierarchies and lineages, leading to an accumulation of anxiety (lack) that can seek a collective outlet. The history of Greece and Rome reminds us that this problem is not uniquely modern.' [22-23].

          'For the masses totalitarianism is a temptation to surrender our freedom, yet the sense-of-self's sense of lack also enables us understand this authoritarianism from the autocratic side. Another way to try to resolve one's sense of lack is by extending control over others. If the self is groundless and therefore naturally anxious, it can try to defend itself and gain control by seeking to dominate what its outside it. "This absoluteness, the sense of being one (my identity is entirely independent and consistent) and alone ('There is nothing outside of me that I do not control') is the basis for domination—and the master-slave relationship" (Benjamin 33). If, again, no amount of control can allay the insecurity that haunts the self, this search for control also has a tendency to become demonic. Stalin [Joseph Stalin 1879 - 1953] never felt secure enough because it is not possible to feel secure enough.' [23].


'The many basic terms [the Greeks] contributed to our lexicon—history, physics, geometry, geography, logic, theology, ethics, politics, aesthetics, etc.—testify to the literally extraordinary range of their thought.


There remains a significant exception: the Greeks did not develop a higher religion. (H. Muller 158)

On the contrary, the Greeks developed the higher religion of the self—i.e., humanism—and the result of their experiment was the discovery that such a religion does not work. The Greco-Roman experiment with secular humanism failed, not for extraneous historical reasons (e.g., the Roman conquest of Greece, the barbarian conquest of Rome) but because it self-destructed. Its distinctive contribution to the development of freedom (and the individual self) survived only as sublated [incorporated] into the Augustinian synthesis of Neoplatonic thought with Christian theology, which devised another way to cope with the greater anxiety of greater inwardness: by postulating an original sin, caused by Adam's misuse of freedom. Our lack is the result of his original sin. Fortunately it can be resolved, but unfortunately only in the afterlife.

          In "discovering" the eternal psyche that persists unchanged, early Greek thought also discovered the idea of eternal substance (Parmenides' Being, etc.). That which was believed to persist unchanged (the psyche) sought that which was believed to persist unchanged (Being). Beginning with Parmenides, only that which is permanent can be grasped by genuine knowledge, for comprehending transient things provides merely a semblance of knowledge. From a Buddhist point of view, however, the knowledge that the Greeks sought was from the beginning a delusion, in retrospect an intellectually glorious but nonetheless vain quest of a constructed individual to ground itself by discovering the eternal Ground of all things.

          In setting up reason as the method whereby this psyche and this Being may be discovered, the Greek thinkers opened a door to what proved to be a blind alley. Despite its other fruits, rationality, the science of thinking, does not by itself provide a


handle to grasp and resolve the sense-of-self's sense of lack. The new religions of the self that tried to do so, such as Epicureanism and Stoicism, eventually reached a dead end in the speculations of Epictetus and Marcus Aurelius. Yet Neoplatonic emphasis on subjective inwardness survived in the Augustinian emphasis on the self's essential sinfulness. Sin required constant watchfulness and introspection, thus deepening the self's introversion, and it provided that self with a way to understand and cope with the deeper sense of lack shadowing it. As we shall see in the next chapter, faith that this lack will be overcome (initially, in the return of Christ and the millennium that it would inaugurate) generated a future orientation that would continue long after that faith had yielded to more secular preoccupations.' [24-25].


'Lack: anxiety and, 23, 106, 109; bifurcation of supernatural from natural and, 121;

Buddhist perspective on, 35, 61; capitalism and, 105; causes of, 169; of civil society, 13–14, 125–170; communal approach to, 162; community and, 25; creation of future and, 61; defective myths of, 12; economic solution to, 111; ego and, 6; of enough money, 12; fame and, 66–72; feeling of "I don't yet have enough..," 65, 83; feeling of "something is wrong with me" and, 6, 39, 65; of freedom, 9, 17–40; future of, 211–215; individuality and, 36; ineradicable, 150; institutional, 13, 122; letting go of self in, 74; of modernity, 12–13, 87–124; New World and, 110; objectification of, 9, 13, 96, 122; as origin of the origin, 67; personal solutions to, 11; privatization of, 162; of progress, 9–10, 41–64; rationality and, 24; religious solution to, 45; Renaissance of, 10–11, 65–85; resolution of, 6, 10; sin and, 36; social understanding of, 169; thriving on love, 73; in traditional societies, 25

Lack, sense of, 1, 4, 58, 8; acknowledgment of, 90; attempts to overcome, 122;

Buddhist perspective of, 8, 143; collective, 89; coping with, 35; nation-states and, 103; overcoming, 138; predestination and, 94; religious explanation, 81; resolving, 8–9; scientific knowledge and, 117; secular alternatives to, 81; social behavior and, 8; as source of social domination, 88; strength of, 39; time and, 45' [236].

"Nothingness: fear of, 8; sense-of-self and, 6, 19" [239].

"Void: charismatic rulers in, 12–13; falling into, 7; fear of, 3; as realm of real

dharma, 7" [244].

_____ _____ _____


from: Death and Denial, Interdisciplinary Perspectives on the Legacy of Ernest Becker [1924 - 1974], edited by Daniel Liechty, Praeger, 2002.

"Chapter 20




David R. Loy" ["217"].

          'In contrast to the Abrahamic religions, Buddhism does not reify the sense of lack into an original sin, although our problems with attachment and ignorance are similarly historically conditioned. Sakyamuni Buddha declared that he was not interested in the metaphysical issue of origins and emphasized that he had one thing only to teach: dukkha [suffering, etc., etc. (Yours!, to define)] and the end of dukkha, our unhappiness now and the path to end that unhappiness. This suggests that Buddhism is best understood as a way to resolve our sense of lack. Since there was no primeval offense and no expulsion from the Garden, our situation turns out to be paradoxical. Our worst problem is the deeply repressed fear that our groundlessness, our "no-thing-ness," is a problem. When I stop trying to fill up [stuff (see 2897)] that hole at my core by vindicating or "real-izing" myself in some symbolic way, something happens to it and to me [compare: mental horror vacui].' [225].

'....Trying to ground ourselves by fixating on something we condemn ourselves to perpetual dissatisfaction, for the impermanence of all things means no such perch can be found. But insofar as it is our lack that compels us to seek such a perch, the end of lack allows a change of perspective. The solution is a different way of experiencing the problem: in Hegelian terms, the free-ranging variable, which always has some finite determination yet is not bound to any particular one. The bad infinite of lack transforms into the good infinite of a variable that needs nothing. In Buddhist terms, this transforms the alienation of a reflexive sense-of-self always trying to fixate itself into the freedom of an "empty" mind [compare: mental horror vacui] that can become anything because it does not need to become something.' [227].

[end of essay, by David R. Loy].


"Chapter 23



Van A. Harvey" [247]. [See: 3055].


          If this interpretation of Becker [Ernest Becker 1924 - 1974] is correct, it follows that his evaluation of religion was not as different from that of the atheist Feuerbach [Ludwig Feuerbach 1804 - 1872] as it might first appear. Both Becker and Feuerbach believed, although for slightly different reasons, that traditional religions, especially Christianity, obscure the limits of both humans and nonhuman nature, although Feuerbach, writing before the wide dissemination of Darwin's theory of natural selection, considered nature to be less a nightmarish reality than did Becker. Indeed, Feuerbach, who still more or less held a Newtonian view of nature, could understand quite sympathetically why some cultures are tempted to worship nature. Nevertheless, in both thinkers, nature is indifferent to human desires and wishes, and insofar as the religious believer wants a living, feeling being that recognizes and loves the individual, religion is not merely an illusion, a form of wishful thinking, but a delusion because it obscures this truth of nature's indifference.

          Further research, which cannot be pursued here, might explore the question whether the criticisms of traditional religions presented by Feuerbach and Becker would apply also to all forms of Buddhism, particularly that form of Buddhism that is agnostic regarding the gods. It might be argued, for example, that this form of Buddhism does view nature as indifferent to the individual, that life is anguish and suffering, and that the cause of this suffering is the craving and desire to preserve the self. But quite unlike the various forms of theism, this Buddhism does not offer any metaphysical comfort. Rather, insofar as it offers anything, it offers a practice and


          As for Becker, it is difficult to see how his own conclusion can give any aid and comfort to most religious apologists. For the last lines of The Denial of Death [see 2975] are not any sort of qualified endorsement of a creative illusion, but rather these sobering words: "The most that any one of us can seem to do is to fashion something—an object or ourselves—and drop it into the confusion, make an offering of it, so to speak, to the life force" (Becker 1973, 285) [compare: horror vacui].


          I would like to express my gratitude to Cambridge University Press for permitting me to draw upon portions of my book Feuerbach and the Interpretation of Religion [see 3055] (1995).' [255].

● ● ● ● ●


from: Feuerbach [Ludwig Feuerbch 1804 - 1872] and the Interpretation of Religion, Van A. Harvey [see 3054], George Edwin Burnell Professor of Religious Studies, Stanford University, Cambridge University Press, 1995.

"Van A. Harvey is best known for his book The Historian and the Believer (1967), which was hailed as a classic statement of the problems biblical criticism raises for Christian belief. He is known also for his Handbook of Theological Terms, which is still in print after thirty years and is widely used both in Germany and throughout the English speaking world.

Twice winner of the John Simon Guggenheim Fellowship, Harvey has held fellowships from the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Bolingen Foundation. He has taught at Princeton University, Southern Methodist University, the University of Pennsylvania, where he won a distinguished teaching award, and Stanford University, where he was Chairman of the Department of Religious Studies and in which he now holds the George Edwin Burnell Professorship in Religious Studies. He has lectured widely in Europe and in North America, and has contributed articles to many learned journals in his field." [dust jacket].

"the Protestant theologian Karl Barth could write that this ferocious atheist, Feuerbach, was in reality an unhappy lover of theology.19" [9].

"Feuerbach's view...are most like those of Ernest Becker, who, in his The Denial of Death [see 2975], argued that the human being differs from other organisms by virtue of being an embodied consciousness absolutely dedicated to Eros but also able to envisage its own death. As conscious and free, it is continually confronted by possibility. As embodied and finite, it is bound to the earth and death. The roots of religion lie in this ontological [ontology: "a branch of metaphysics relating to the nature and relations of being" (Webster's Third)] structure of the human being: the loneliness and helplessness of the ego that participates in and confronts the forces and beings that impinge upon it; the anxiety of the psyche facing necessity and death; and, above all, the desire for recognition and self-esteem." [24].


"Projection" in "The Essence of Christianity"


If any text qualifies as an example of the suspicious interpretation of religion, surely it is The Essence of Christianity. Its basic premise is that the superhuman deities of religion are, in fact, involuntary projections of the essential attributes of human nature, and this projection, in turn, is explained by a theory of human consciousness heavily indebted to Hegel. Moreover, unlike most suspicious interpreters of religion who, like Marx, Freud, and Nietzsche, simply claim that religion is projection,


Feuerbach sought to demonstrate the truth of his theory by systematically decoding the major doctrines and symbols of Christianity: the idea of a personal God, the doctrine of the Incarnation, the mystery of the Trinity, the idea of the Logos [see 2730], the beliefs in providence, in miracles, in prayer, and, above all, in immortality.

          When the conclusions of the book are badly stated, it seems outrageous: the idea of GOD IS really A COMPOSITE OF HUMAN PREDICATES [ASSERTIONS, ETC.]. What is worshiped as divine is really a synthesis of the human perfections. THEOLOGY IS ANTHROPOLOGY and, therefore, the hidden meaning of Christianity is atheism. And if all this were not outrageous enough, Feuerbach claimed that he had not imposed his own meaning on Christian symbols but had discovered this by letting religion speak for itself. "I constitute myself only its listener and interpreter, not its prompter," he wrote.1

          The book was a tour de force, and it burst like a bombshell on the German intellectual scene in the early 1840s. Immediately translated into English by one of England's best-known authors, George Eliot, it became like a Bible to a group of revolutionary thinkers, including Arnold Ruge, the Bauers, Karl Marx, Richard Wagner, and Friedrich Engels. David Friedrich Strauss, whose Life of Jesus had created a similar furor earlier, wrote that Feuerbach's book "was the truth of our time"; and Friedrich Engels [1820 - 1895], reminiscing many years later, reported that "at once we all became Feuerbachians."2' [25-26].

          'What evokes the most contemporary interest in Feuerbach, however, is his theory that the gods are projections together with the ingenuity with which he used this theory to interpret Christian ideas. But unlike other projection theorists, he did not evaluate religion in a purely negative fashion. His treatment was inherently dialectical. Religion, to be sure, is a projection, but it also serves as "man's earliest and also indirect form of self-knowledge."11 As the objectification of human nature, it [religion] is alienating; but it is also the means by which human beings come to reappropriate love for others [?]. Human beings first discover what human nature essentially is when it is projected in the form of another being. "Every advance in religion is therefore a deeper self-knowledge."12' [31].

          'The Logos doctrine [see 2730] with which Feuerbach was concerned arose in the second and third centuries when the apologetic theologians of the Christian Church turned to Greek philosophy as an aid in articulating the theological relationship between God and Christ. Indeed, the doctrine probably represents the synthesis of several more ancient strains of thought: the Greek idea of the divine mind (Nous) which informs all created things; the Jewish conception of the preexistent Wisdom that contains the archetype of the Law; and the Near Eastern idea of a preexistent heavenly man who represents the embodiment of all human perfection. In its Christian form, the Logos was taken to be the preexistent mind or reason, the second "hypostasis [see Article #3, 45, 46, 67; Addition 34, 1559]" (which Latin theologians translated as "person") of the incomprehensible divine source (Monas) from which it issues. This Logos was then said to be the perfect expression or mirror of the source


(the Father). The Logos is the image, the Son, the Word—all these metaphors were used—and it is the means by which the truth has been revealed to human creatures from Moses to Plato. This eternal Logos is, of course, believed by Christians to have been incarnate in the man Jesus of Nazareth [see Article #20, 405], the Word made flesh.

          Because the Logos [see 2730] is, in principle, derived from the divine Source—the Source (Father) cannot be said to be derived from the Logos—furious debates raged within the Early Church over whether the Logos was in some sense inferior to the Source (Father) or was coequal to it, a debate that had, in turn, enormous consequences for the issue whether Jesus [see Article #3, 85, 200. (logos)] was fully divine or an intermediate and inferior being. These debates persisted over decades, even centuries, but were finally resolved with the orthodox formula that the Second Person of the Trinity, the Logos, as not only "like" the Father (homoiousia), as the Arians proposed, but was of the same essential nature (homoousia) with the Father, as Athanasius argued. Although these debates now seem to be artificial and hair-splitting, they were extremely important theologically because, as Feuerbach perceptively noted, nothing less was at stake than the status of the image of the Second Person as both divine and fully human.' [80]. [the hocus-pocus of the making of an "IMMORTALITY SYSTEM" (see 3019-3021)].

'Feuerbach [1804 - 1872] explained the difference between polytheism and monotheism as a result of the imagination being fascinated by the multiplicity of beings, in the former case, and in the latter, by the coherence and unity of the world that "man, by his thought and imagination, has shaped into a unified whole."62' [184].

          "THE BELIEF IN MIRACLES IS CLOSELY RELATED TO THE FEAR OF DEATH AND THE DESIRE FOR IMMORTALITY, as can be seen by their close association in many religions, including Christianity. And, as we have seen,



          'Perhaps the similarity of Becker's to Feuerbach's viewpoint is not so surprising when we consider that Becker's views were hammered out in dialogue with three important thinkers, two of whom were directly influenced by Feuerbach, Marx and Freud, and a third, Kierkegaard, who came out of the same post-Hegelian milieu as


Feuerbach did. Although the perspectives of these three thinkers may seem irreconcilable, especially those of Freud and Kierkegaard, Becker himself believed that they were intimately related at many points and reinforced one another. As regards Freud and Kierkegaard, for example, he [Becker] argued that "it was not until the epoch of the scientific atheist Freud that we could see the scientific stature of the theologian Kierkegaard's work."39 It was Kierkegaard who taught us to see that human character is formed in the process of moving through the anxiety given with human freedom, on the one hand, and the awareness of limitation and death, on the other.

Kierkegaard's [Søren Kierkegaard 1813 - 1855] view, Becker claimed, now enables us to see that Freud's preoccupation with sexuality was really a screen for his deeper preoccupation with the body and death. Psychoanalysis, in short, is really a doctrine about creatureliness, not sexuality. It is the human body that is the "curse of fate," and it is culture that is built upon the repression not of sexuality but of death; "not because man was a seeker only of sexuality, of pleasure, of life and expansiveness, as Freud thought, but because man was also primarily an avoider of death.


          The conception of human nature that Kierkegaard proposed and which Becker has adopted and modified is very familiar to any reader of the Christian theology that flourished in the period immediately after the Second World War: the theology of Rudolf Bultmann, Fritz Buri, Emil Brunner, the Niebuhr brothers, Paul Tillich, and Karl Rahner, to mention only the most prominent. But what makes Becker's appropriation of this anthropology both unique and yet similar to Feuerbach's view is that Becker does not simply emphasize the existential dilemma of consciousness and embodiedness but, like Freud, stresses the importance of Eros ["sexual drive", etc.] and desire.' [295].


[309] [end of text]. [See: Addition 47, 2664-2665 (Haydon)].

[See: "IMMORTALITY SYSTEMS", 3019-3021].