Sunday, September 25, 2022

Blessed are those who mourn

From an essay by Roger Scruton, "The Work of Mourning":
.... We lose many things in our lives. But some losses are existential losses. They take away some part of what we are. After such a loss we are in a new and unfamiliar world, wherein the support on which we had—perhaps unknowingly—depended is no longer available. The loss of a parent, especially during one’s early years, is a world-changing experience, and orphans are marked for life by this. The loss of a spouse is equally traumatic, as is the loss of children, who take with them into the void all the most tender feelings of their parents.

Nevertheless, however grievous the blow, mourning is a therapy that points toward survival. Through mourning we bury the dead. But we also raise them from the dead, not as living beings, but as purified images, washed clean of their faults and transfigured by our mutual forgiveness. ....

.... We are far more likely to be interested in what the deceased person ­owes to us by way of a legacy than what we owe to him or her in the way of mourning. Of course, we still offer funerals to our dead, though we expect them to budget for this while still alive. And we grieve for them as we must. But it is increasingly rare to raise a monument, or even to lay our dead to rest in a grave that we might subsequently visit. The habit of cremating the dead and then scattering their ashes reflects our post-religious conception of what they become by dying, namely nothing. We briefly snatch at their nothingness and then watch them fade from our empty hands. .... Since the obligation is unreal, its fulfillment becomes a kind of ritualized pretense, an opportunity for displays of kitsch emotion. ....

The Western response to loss is not to remove yourself from the world. It is to bear it as a loss, to mourn it, and to strive to overcome it by seeing it as a form of consecrated suffering. Religion lies at the root of that attitude. Religion enables us to bear our losses not, primarily, because it promises to offset them with some compensating gain, but because it sees them from a transcendental perspective. Judged from that perspective they appear not as meaningless afflictions but as sacrifices. Loss, conceived as sacrifice, becomes consecrated to something higher than itself....

.... The loss of religion makes real loss difficult to bear; hence people begin to flee from loss, to make light of it with Disneyfying ornaments, or to expel from themselves the feelings that make it inevitable. .... This is why, in a society without religion, we see emerging a kind of contagious hardness of heart, an assumption on every side that there is no tragedy, no grief, no mourning, for there is nothing to mourn. There is neither love nor happiness—only fun. The loss of religion, one might suggest, is the loss of loss. .... (more)
Roger Scruton, "The Work of Mourning," First Things, Oct., 1022.

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