Death Isn’t a Person
Thursday, December 17, 2020
We all anthropomorphize. I talk to my cat, Holmes, about things he can’t possibly understand. He seems to talk back, although that just means he and I are united in incomprehension. Also affection, I think.
A better example is idol worship – golden calves and the like – although, often as not, the idol is simply a stand-in for what the worshippers believe is a living, though disembodied, spirit.
Anyway, I was surprised recently to read this headline in a news story:
Pope Francis: ‘Even death trembles when a Christian prays’
Do Catholics believe death is a person?
Only a living thing – the devil, for instance – can tremble. Sometimes when he is asleep and dreaming, Holmes’ paws move and he whimpers. He trembles.
But death can’t tremble, because death isn’t a sentient being – not a being at all.
Death has often been personified as an ominous, shrouded figure carrying a scythe with which to cut the cord of life. But that’s fantasy.
It is tempting, though, to imagine death as a person: the Grim Reaper. A dozen years ago, I wrote here about my favorite film, Death Takes a Holiday, which uses that conceit: the shrouded figure comes to the home of a 1930s aristocrat, Duke Lambert, and strikes a deal to delay taking the man’s life in exchange for a weekend in Lambert’s villa during which he’ll inhabit the body of one Prince Sirki, recently deceased. It’s a wonderful story. While Sirki is there, no one dies. No one. Anywhere.