For those who are not familiar with this book I would suggest reading it. You will either embrace its truths or put it away. Briefly to summarize:
Dr. Becker perceived that fundamental to human ontology was a “fear/ terror” of death. Each of us has repressed the actuality of our finitude to the remote edges of our consciousness. We develop clever “immortality vehicles” that create meaning for our lives and propel us into “heroic” myths. These myths are existent both individually and corporately. When our immortality vehicles are threatened we retaliate in often irrational ways. For us our immortality vehicles are the desperate edifices that we cling to to overcome our fear of death. Any assault on these edifices become actual life and death struggles because to admit any errors would be to bring us closer to our conscious perception of our finitude.
Both collectively and individually the fear of death ontology is at the heart of human evil. We kill and destroy those who would attempt to destroy the edifices we have created to repress the terror of our non existence. The dynamics of this repression has enormous consequences in societies. An awareness of this movement in our collectively repressed ontologies will serve to promote greater tolerance and consciousness.
Furthermore knowledge of this aspect of our being will be a prolegomena to greater spiritual richness and growth in our lives.
BELOW IS A REVIEW OF THIS BOOK BY HENRY CALHOUN-A PRIZE WINNING REVIEWER AT AMAZON BOOKS:
This tour de force is Becker’s immortality project, his fitting gift to all mankind. In it, he tackles the preeminent problem of mankind. What he refers to as “the vital lie”: man’s refusal to accept his own lack of immortality. The author brilliantly, passionately, honestly and convincingly analyzes man’s failure to confront his own finititude.
Man’s denial of the inevitability of death is an attempt to escape the terror of the ultimate fear, to escape the ultimate human psychological debilitation, to evade the ultimate human dilemma. It is the fear of death that drives him into an existential and ontological black hole, all escapes from which are either temporary or existentially incomplete or dishonest.
Since he cannot transcend his mortality, man can only maintain denial at tremendous cost to himself: his mind. He is forced to live a life of either meaninglessness or a lie, psychological delusion. In either case his only choice is the brand of neurosis he will choose.
Man, ever the narcissistic being, can assign value and meaning to his life only by making himself a hero in his own symbolically created world, the most important of which is society itself. In this self-defined, self-created self-contained drama (society’s cultural system), man proceeds to create a script for his heroism in his own life project.
From the start, this project is doomed to an ignominious existential failure for man has no respectable escapes other than that of facing the truth of his condition and then having to endure the abject terror that implies; or remaining in denial by choosing an appropriate role as hero in his own symbolically created drama.
Whether that drama is religious or not is somewhat beside the point since the escape is through the same delusional door. In either case, achieving heroism in his own self-defined fantasized world, leaves man with the false feeling that he has somehow transcended mortality. It is a monumental lie.
In the process of unfolding this drama of man’s confrontation with the fear of death, Becker explains a great deal about what we currently understand about the basic human condition.
Few books possess the power and clarity of this one. Six stars!!!!!!
Since we actually had at least one President who could and did read, please allow me to share with you the following:
Bill Clinton’s Review of The Denial of Death
(From page 235 of his “My Life:”)
“I read one book in Acapulco, Ernest Becker’s “The Denial of Death – heavy reading for a honeymoon, but I was also a year older than my father when he died, and I had taken a big step. It seemed like a good time to keep exploring the meaning of life.
According to Becker, as we grow up, at some point we become aware of death, then the fact that people we know and love die, then the fact that someday we, too, will die. Most of us do what we can to avoid it. Meanwhile, in ways we understand only dimly if at all, we embrace identities and the illusion of self-sufficiency. We pursue activities, both positive and negative, that we hope will lift us above the chains of ordinary existence and perhaps endure after we are gone. All this we do in a desperate push against the certainty that death is our ultimate destiny. Some of us seek power and wealth, others romantic love, sex, or some other indulgence. Some want to be great, others to do good and be good. Whether we succeed or fail, we are still going to die. The only solace, of course is to believe that since we were created, there must be a Creator, one to whom we matter and will in some way return.
Where does Becker’s analysis leave us? He concludes: “Who knows what form the forward momentum of life will take in the time ahead … The most that any one of us can seem to do is to fashion something – an object or ourselves – and drop it into the confusion, make an offering of it, so to speak, to the life force.” Ernest Becker died shortly before the Denial of Death was published, but seemed to have met Immanuel Kant’s test of life: “How to occupy properly that place in creation that is assigned to man, and how to learn from it what one must be in order to be a man. I’ve spent a lifetime trying to do that. Becker’s book helped convince me it was an effort worth making.
From the Site Manager
I guess each of us needs our 15 minutes in the spotlight as someone once said. This is one reason I have developed this website. But I also hope that the works of Dr. Becker do not get side railed or forgotten. His works are very important to the modern mind. He is a bridge back to faith and hope. I have benefited greatly over the years from the writings and thoughts of others—Tillich, Kierkegaard, Becker, Bishop Sheen, Barth, St. Paul, Blake, King David through the psalms, Shakespeare, Kafka, Tolstoy, and on and on. I also like to help other persons in their spiritual journeys in life. Dr. Becker is among my favorites. I know how important the literary compatriots have been to me over the years and some individuals may find encouragement at this website to continue—even if it means going upstream.
While Dr. Becker does not stand alone in his penetration to the one of the ontic essences of our existential situation, he has provided us a most insightful synthesis of this knowledge. He provides our estranged scientific minds a form of a renewed apologetic. A renewed introduction in a language some of us can understand about our human nature. He has provided us a synthesis that modern man needs. While his works stand as a unique penetrating synthesis in the 20th century he brings us nothing new—only in language that can communicate with some of our technopile minds.
For those of you that have discovered Becker—i.e. the truth of the pathology of human reason and the etiology of corporate cultural evil, don’t expect anyone to belly up to the bar. Also don’t be hanging out on rooftops propagating your new found truths. You have discovered a spiritual truth that is veiled (repressed) for most of us humans. On the other hand—don’t despair. Reconstruction is possible and you will be in good company. Maybe I can help provide some shortcuts back to the Reconstruction Highway.
I expect to publish this website in March 2001. I hope to add a discussion area where members can post their thoughts, ideas, events, etc. This site is not for everyone and while I appreciate about any type of dialogue, this site is developed from a Christian/depth psychological/spiritual basis. While I may personally enjoy any deprecating/disorderly comments in order to litmus test the spiritual demographics of our cultural mentality, I pay the fees for publication and reserve the right to censor you if you are infested with too many aberrant immortality vehicles.
John C. Moore