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Death

Our pets age and die. So do we, a species apart. Children wonder why. Adults have their theories, some better than others.

Hinduism sees death as a release from the miseries of materiality. For the Hindu, the soul comes before life in the material word and with death the soul lives on, the soul shedding a worn-out body like the living shed an old worn-out garment. Death in Hinduism is about cycles. The Bhagavad Gita speaks of death as certain for the one born and birth as certain for the one who dies.

In ancient India, a story from the Rigveda told of the sky god Dyaus Pitar. He created the goddess Death – not a goddess who ruled over death, but death itself. This was a creation of mortality for humankind, and this pleased the lesser gods, for human mortality left these lesser gods immortal and of higher rank than humans. Dyaus Pitar proclaimed that he did not create the goddess Death from anger. And the goddess Death was at first reluctant to carry out the task assigned her. But she finally did so, while weeping. Her tears were diseases that brought death at an appropriate time. To create more death, the goddess Death created desire and anger in people – emotions that led to people killing each other.

Christians have a different explanation for death. The Christian tradition holds that the god Jehovah created man, Adam, and his mate Eve from Adam's rib, and that Jehovah left Adam free to choose so long as his choice agreed with his laws. But Adam chose poorly, influenced by his woman companion, and rather than be understanding with Adam, Jehovah ended his immortality and the immortality of his descendants (an end of human immortality similar to that done by Dyaus Pitar). Like Hindus, Christians believe in an immortal soul. An individual dies but the soul lives on. Death isn't death at all, just passing to a new form and place. Like Hindus, worshippers of Jehovah embrace an everlasting pleasantness, a sort of eternal American Dream without economic competitiveness.

Today we have those who have strayed from the old stories. They might explain death as something that is a part of evolution: a time-span of cycles passing along with seed production and distribution from generation to generation, with death making room for the newly born and death making more life possible, with plant life as well as animal life – new flowers rising where old flowers once grew and where environmental conditions remain right. With this view there is no concept of justice or injustice and growing old and dying doesn't need to be explained in terms of a benevolent, rational or irrational gods: death just happens and time marches on.

Both Hinduism and Christianity have their creationists – people who see their god as the creator of life and death. According to surveys conducted by Pew Forum, 80 percent of Hindus agree that biological evolution is the best explanation for the origin of life on earth and, taking the population of the US whatever the faith, 60 percent say that "humans and other living things have evolved over time." This puts Hinduism closer to Darwinism than fundamentalist Christians. Hinduism holds to a blend between humans and other species, and it has long held to a view of the world as billions of years old.

Copyright © 2016 by Frank E. Smitha. All rights reserved.