The Denial of Death

The Denial of Death



The Pequod Review:

Ernest Becker's The Denial of Death argues that: (i) the essential fact of human existence is our mortality; and (ii) this fact is so traumatic that it causes us to go to furious lengths of activity and distraction in order to avoid confronting it. “The idea of death, the fear of it, haunts the human animal like nothing else: it is a mainspring of human activity — activity designed largely to avoid the fatality of death, to overcome it by denying in some way that it is the final destiny for man.”

The first point is perhaps obvious, and the second may be exaggerated, but Becker’s presentation is so intelligent and well-informed — he references a wide range of works across psychology and theology — that it is full of profound insights. Becker also persuasively winds up in place sympathetic to the religious impulse: “Religion takes one’s very creatureliness, one’s insignificance, and makes it a condition of hope…As an ideal, Christianity, on all the things we have listed, stands high, perhaps even highest in some vital ways, as people like Kierkegaard, Chesterton, the Niebuhrs, and so many others have compellingly argued.”