Against these considerations, the clever ones will propose that if we could do away with death, we would do away with the need for posterity. But that is a self-serving and shallow answer, one that thinks of life and aging solely in terms of the state of the body. It ignores the psychological effects simply of the passage of time – of experiencing and learning about the way things are. After a while, no matter how healthy we are, no matter how respected and well placed we are socially, most of us cease to look upon the world with fresh eyes. Little surprises us, nothing shocks us, righteous indignation at injustice dies out. We have seen it all already, seen it all. We have often been deceived, we have made many mistakes of our own. Many of us become small-souled, having been humbled not by bodily decline or the loss of loved ones but by life itself. So our ambition also begins to flag, or at least our noblest ambitions. As we grow older, Aristotle already noted, we “aspire to nothing great and exalted and crave the mere necessities and comfort of existence.” At some point, most of us turn and say to our intimates, Is this all there is? We settle, we accept our situation – if we are lucky enough to be able to accept it. In many ways, perhaps in the most profound ways, most of us go to sleep long before our deaths – and we might even do so earlier in life if death no longer spurred us to make something of ourselves.
In contrast, it is in the young where aspiration, hope, freshness, boldness and openness spring anew – even when they take the form of overrunning our monuments. Immortality for oneself through children may be a delusion, but participating in the natural and eternal renewal of human possibility through children is not – not even in today’s world.
Leon R. Kass – Life, Liberty, and the Defense of Dignity: The Challenge for Bioethics p.272
Why do so many teach the promise of life after death, of something eternal, of something imperishable? This takes us to the heart of the matter.
What is the meaning of this concern with immortality? Why do we human being seek immortality? Why do we want to live longer or forever? Is it really first and most because we do not want to die, because we do not want to leave this embodied life on earth or give up our earthly pastimes, because we want to see more and do more? I do not think so. This may be what we say, but it is not what we finally mean, Morality as such is not our defect, nor bodily immortality our goal, Rather, mortality is at most a pointer, a derivative manifestation, or an accompaniment of some deeper deficiency. The promise of immortality and eternity answers rather to a deep truth about the human soul: the human soul yearns for, longs for, aspires to some condition, some state, some goal toward which our earthly activities are directed but which cannot be attained in earthly life. Our soul’s reach exceeds our grasp; it seeks more than continuance; it reaches for something beyond us, something that for the most part eludes us. Our distress with mortality is derivative manifestation of the conflict between the transcendent longings of the soul and the all-too-finite powers and fleshly concerns of the body.
What is it that we lack and long for, but cannot reach?
Leon R. Kass – Life, Liberty, and the Defense of Dignity: The Challenge for Bioethics p.269
Proponents of euthanasia do not understand human dignity, which, at best, they confuse with humaneness. One of their favorite arguments proves this point: why, they say, do we put animal out of their misery but insist on compelling fellow human being to suffer to the bitter end? Why, if it is not a contradiction for the veterinarian, does the medical ethic absolutely rule our mercy killing? Is this not simply inhumane?
Perhaps inhumane, but not thereby inhuman. On the contrary, it is precisely because animals are not human that we must treat them (merely) humanely. We put dumb animals to sleep because they do not know that they are dying, because they can make nothing of their misery or mortality, and because, therefore, they cannot live deliberately – that is, humanly – in the face of their own suffering or dying. They cannot live out a fitting end. Compassion for their weakness and dumbness is our only appropriate emotion, and given our responsibility for their care and well-being, we do the only humane thing we can. But when a conscious human being asks us for death, by that very action he displays the presence of something that precludes our regarding him as a dumb animal. Humanity is owed humanity, not humaneness. Humanity is owed the bolstering of the human, even or especially in its dying moments, in resistance to the temptation to ignore its presence in the sight of suffering.
What humanity needs most in the face of evils is courage, the ability to stand against fear and pain and thoughts of nothingness. The deaths we most admire are those of people who, knowing that they are dying, face the fact frontally and act accordingly: they set their affairs in order, they arrange what could be final meetings with their loved ones, and yet, with strength of soul and a small reservoir of hope, they continue to live and work and love as much as they can for as long as they can. Because such conclusions of life require courage, they call for our encouragement – and for the many small speeches and deeds that shore up the human spirit against despair and defeat.
Leon R. Kass – Life, Liberty, and the Defense of Dignity: The Challenge for Bioethics p.252
The last chapter of Genesis begins with the burial of Jacob at Machpelah and ends with the mummification of Joseph in Egypt. The contrast between burial and embalming/mummification reveals a crucial difference between Israel and Egypt: the difference between the acceptance and the denial or defiance of death. Embalming the body is an attempt at human control after death. The putative beneficiary of the treatment is the deceased: embalming resists time and change, prevents decay, beautifies the body, and prepares for reanimation and continued life – not to say immortality. Burial accepts that we are “dust to dust.” It manifests a different attitude toward the body and its fragile beauty, toward time and finitude and memory, and toward the source of life and the (im)possibility of apotheosis. Burial, the Israelite way, lies between the extremes of revering the body and worshipping the dead, on the one hand, and condemning the body and ignoring the mortal remains, on the other. The way of Israel is the way of memory, keeping alive not the bodies of the dead but their ever-living legacy in relation to the ever-living God, who in the beginning created heaven and earth and made man alone in His own image, and who later summoned Father Abraham and his descendants to “walk before me and be wholehearted.”
Leon R. Kass – The Beginning of Wisdom p.658
How exactly men took this discovery of their own impending deaths we shall consider in a moment. But we note first the special place of Noah. Noah, born in 1056, is the first man born into the world after Adam dies. Noah is therefore the first man who could have no direct contact with the first man and, therefore, with a living memory of the Garden of Eden and its prospect of immortal life. More important, Noah is the first man who enters a world in which death is already present, the first man who grows up knowing about death, know that he must die. For Noah unlike for his predecessors, mortality is a received part of the human condition: thus, Noah (not Adam or Cain) is the prototype of self-consciously mortal man. Fittingly, the name that Noah carries, received from his father, Lamech, means both “comfort” and “lament,” a perfect name for new life seen in the light of inevitable death. These facts may explain, in part, why Noah would, uniquely, later find grace in the eyes of the Lord.
Leon Kass – The Beginning of Wisdom p.154