Rowan Williams: Fear of death leads to ludicrous forms of escapism

From the Archbishop of Canterbury's Easter Sermon, delivered at Canterbury Cathedral

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The longing for everlasting life takes strange forms. There are people who obsessively investigate the evidence for spiritualist phenomena, people who have their bodies cryogenically frozen in the hope of resuscitation, people who claim that their diet and lifestyle is slowing down the ageing process. And it isn't simply certain kinds of religion that produce unhealthy attitudes to ageing or limitation or death. Quite a lot of our contemporary culture is shot through with a resentment of limits and the passage of time, anger at what we can't do, fear or even disgust at growing old.

The longing for everlasting life takes strange forms. There are people who obsessively investigate the evidence for spiritualist phenomena, people who have their bodies cryogenically frozen in the hope of resuscitation, people who claim that their diet and lifestyle is slowing down the ageing process. And it isn't simply certain kinds of religion that produce unhealthy attitudes to ageing or limitation or death. Quite a lot of our contemporary culture is shot through with a resentment of limits and the passage of time, anger at what we can't do, fear or even disgust at growing old.

A healthy human environment is one in which we try to make sense of our limits, of the accidents that can always befall us and the passage of time which inexorably changes us. An unhealthy environment is one in which we always look for someone to blame and someone to compensate us, and struggle to maintain fictions of our invulnerability to time and change.

Societies as well as individuals fall victim to these diseases. We react so often with panic and hostility to the presence of persons and cultures who are different and blame them for our own dysfunctions. We maintain a ludicrous confidence in technology to solve the environmental problems it has itself intensified because we can't believe that our capacity to generate wealth and comfort for ourselves is anything other than infinite. We fantasise about a state of security so complete that nothing and no one will ever threaten us.

We are called on to challenge the denial of death that locks us into folly and fear; the pride and arrogance, the desperation and brittleness of our hopes. Easter proclaims to individuals and governments alike that we shall not find life by refusing to let go of our precious, protected selves.

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