by James Park
Outline for Chapter 9:
Existential Understanding of Death:
A Phenomenology of Ontological Anxiety
I. REPRESSING OUR FEAR OF CEASING-TO-BE
A. Death is a Completion, a Fulfillment, a Culmination.
B. Death is a Sleep.
C. Death Happens to the 'They'.
A Kierkegaardian Appendix:II. REPRESSING OUR ONTOLOGICAL ANXIETY
The Uncertainty of Death—The Fear of Ceasing-to-Be
A. Death is a Transformation—Religious Illusions about Death.
4. How these Religious Illusions
Obscure Ontological Anxiety.
B. Death is a Natural Process, the Ending of Life.
C. Death is Termination, Disappearance, Finishing.
D. Death is an Impending Event—But Not Just Yet.
E. Death is Certain.III. DISTINGUISHING THE TWO DEEPER DIMENSIONS OF DEATH
A. The Relationship between Existential and Ontological Anxiety.
B. Five Critical Differences between
the Fear of Ceasing-to-Be and Ontological Anxiety.
IV. FEELING THE 'FEAR OF DEATH'1. Ceasing-to-Be Threatens Specific Values.
2. The Fear of Ceasing-to-Be Always Has a Cause.
3. The Fear of Ceasing-to-Be is Temporary.
4. The Fear of Ceasing-to-Be is Limited and Isolatable.
5. The Fear of Ceasing-to-Be Can be Confronted.
A. When Someone Dies.
B. When Thinking Deeply about Death.
C. When Evasions Collapse.
D. After Almost Dying.
E. Quirky Means of Disclosure.V. MORE THREATENING THAN DEATH
A. Our Ownmost Threat.
1. Challenges My Very Selfhood.
2. More Mine than My Death.
3. Not Added Like a Sudden New Disease.
4. Not Incidental but Essential.
5. Not Transferable.
6. Cannot Be Disowned.
B. The Non-Relational Threat.
C. The Most Powerful and Pervasive Threat.
D. The Utterly Constant Threat.VI. ONTOLOGICAL ANXIETY AS THE IMPETUS FOR AUTHENTICITY
A. Conformity, Inauthenticity, Lostness.
B. Who Am I?
C. How Do We Become More Authentic?
1. Ontological Anxiety Becomes Our New Center.
2. Ontological Anxiety Becomes Our New Handle.
3. Ontological Anxiety Enables Us to Own Ourselves.
D. Being Empowered to Choose Authentically.
E. Examples of Authentic Projects-of-Being.
F. The Joy of Living Authentically.VII. FREEDOM FROM ONTOLOGICAL ANXIETY
A. What Does this Freedom Feel Like?
B. How Do We Receive Liberation?VIII. DECIDING WHERE TO GET OFF
APPENDIX: ONTOLOGICAL ANXIETY IN CHRISTIAN MYTHOLOGY?
A. Jesus' Eschatological Mythology:
Deciding for the Kingdom of God.
B. Paul's Mythology: Coming into New Life.
C. John's Mythology: Passing from Death to Life.
D. The Resurrection Mythology as Existential Freedom.POSTSCRIPT: DOES ANYTHING HAPPEN AFTER DEATH?
Being-towards-death is essentially anxiety.
—Martin Heidegger, Being & Time, p. 310
The first assertion about the nature of anxiety is this:
anxiety is the state in which
a being is aware of its possible nonbeing.
The same statement, in a shorter form, would read:
anxiety is the existential awareness of nonbeing.
"Existential" in this sentence means that
it is not the abstract knowledge of nonbeing which produces anxiety
but the awareness that nonbeing is a part of one's own being.
It is not the realization of universal transitoriness,
not even the experience of the death of others,
but the impression of these events on the always latent awareness
of our own having to die that produces anxiety.
Anxiety is finitude, experienced as one's own finitude.
This is the natural anxiety of man as man,
and in some way of all living beings.
It is the anxiety of nonbeing,
the awareness of one's finitude as finitude.
—Paul Tillich The Courage to Be p. 35-36The 'fear of death' is a composite experience encompassing:
(New Haven, CT: Yale UP, 1952)
Whenever "death" is mentioned,
we think first of biological death,
but this tendency to focus exclusively on the objective, terminal fact of dying
may well be a trick of thought designed to protect us
from noticing our fear of ceasing-to-be or our even deeper ontological anxiety.
We have other protective
techniques as well:
religious illusions, philosophical desensitization, and diversionary small-talk.
Most of these distracting ploys amount to seeing death exclusively
as an objective event, which befalls all plants, animals, and people eventually.
All such attempts to picture and talk about death as a fact
are (at least in part) attempts to evade the two deeper dimensions of death
by interpreting death only from the point of view of a spectator.
Even our scholarly symposia about death
are often designed to provide an objective understanding of death.
Such approaches keep death outside of ourselves
—a phenomenon we know about only as observers, never as participants.
EXISTENTIAL UNDERSTANDING OF DEATH: ONTOLOGICAL ANXIETY by JAMES PARK
Here, however, we
will push in the opposite direction:
First, we will attempt to get beyond the objective fact of death
to our deeper, subjective response to finitude—our fear of ceasing-to-be.
And, not being satisfied with that,
we will seek to probe even deeper behind our fear of ceasing-to-be
to uncover our repressed ontological anxiety
—the threatening inner state-of-being that possesses us continuously
from the time we become aware of ourselves
but which has very little connection with the fact of death.
It will be relatively
easy to move beyond
the objective, public, external, spectator's vision of death
as a once-in-a-life-time event—in fact, the end-event of life—
to feeling subjectively our deep fear of ceasing-to-be.
But it will be more
difficult to separate the deeper dimensions of death:
our terrifying fear of ceasing-to-be and our underlying ontological anxiety.
If we probe even below our personal fear of ceasing-to-be-in-the-world,
we may discover the cause of much of our evasive talk and deceptive posturing;
we may pull the covers off our trembling, naked ontological anxiety.
If we find ways to look deeply into ourselves,
exposing even our most clever tricks of thought,
then not only will we begin truly to fear our own deaths,
but we may even confront our underlying ontological anxiety.
anxiety is obscurely felt by all of us
as a subjective awareness drifting up from our inner depths,
a pervasive haunting of our whole being,
which we are reluctant to confront because we have no easy way to handle it.
This continuous inner state-of-being is not the result of the fact of dying;
it is not worry arising from the inevitability of actual death.
Rather, our ontological anxiety is the deepest truth of our existence,
obviously deeper than the external, objective, empirical fact of biological death,
but even deeper than our inward, subjective, personal fear of ceasing-to-be.
Our ontological anxiety does not arise from the fact of death,
but much of our concern about death arises from our ontological anxiety!
(This paradoxical statement should become clear in the next 70 pages.)
If our ontological
anxiety truly grips us,
we can go either of two possible ways:
(1) We can organize our lives around this all-pervasive 'threat',
courageously embracing our ontological anxiety,
moving ourselves toward "Authentic Existence".
Or (2) we can be freed from our ontological anxiety
after having fully acknowledged it (and attained some Authenticity),
thereby coming into the new inner state-of-being "Existential Freedom".
OUR EXISTENTIAL PREDICAMENT: LONELINESS, DEPRESSION, ANXIETY, & DEATH
I. REPRESSING THE FEAR OF CEASING-TO-BE
If this analysis of the
deeper dimensions of death
might seem to have some possibilities
for your own self-understanding,
the full chapter—72 pages in all— is available in
Our Existential Predicament.
Existential Understanding of Death:
A Phenomenology of Ontological Anxiety
is also available as a separate book.
Click that title for more information.
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