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Religion & Culture | Do the religious have a death wish?

Published:Sunday | November 12, 2017 | 12:00 AMDr Glenville Ashby
The Apocalypse depicted in biblical Revelation.

"The goal of life is death"

- Sigmund Freud

Man's capacity for evil is boundless. The destructive seed turned outward manifests in the forms of murder and wars. When turned inward man engages in risky, suicidal acts.

The antithesis of these behaviours is the will to live. These two forces that constitute man's libido - in psychological terms - are called Thanatos (the will to die), and Eros (the drive for survival and life), terms adopted from Greek mythology.

Stories abound of man's innate instinct to survive. The will to live encompasses the sex drive and the need for food, clothing, shelter, and self-realisation.




But wars throughout history and, in particular, the mass destruction wrought by World War II gave new meaning to man's propensity for evil and implosion, and spurred many theories on man's death wish.

Psychoanalysts speak of man's unconscious drive to return to the inanimate state. On a conscious level, the drive towards death is imbued with religiosity.

The drive to die for one's religious belief was evident in the crusades that pitted Christianity against Islam. This death drive in defence of faith is still present.

A detailed study of major religions reveals an intriguing correlation between death and salvation. Christian eschatology is rooted in a heavenly abode awaiting the righteous. Note that this celestial state is free of the tortuous trials that plague the living. The deceased is said to be in state of perpetual peace. Arguably, the death wish is the ultimate panacea.

Islam teachings echo Christian thought on this subject. Judgement is dispensed for the righteous in the form of a heavenly home. Evildoers are duly rewarded with death-live suffering.


Buddhist afterlife


Buddhism's cosmology and rendition of the afterlife are not unlike Judeo-Christian and Islamic teachings.

On one level of the Buddhist Bardo (afterlife) the soul experiences visual and auditory phenomena, the nature of which is determined by one's spiritual attainment on earth.

In Taoism the return of the soul to Wu-Wei -the primordial state of existence (God) is again consistent with other great religions.

This death wish - liberation from life's travails - is promoted by countless faiths. Such a thesis becomes even more compelling when we explore other Christian and Islamic teachings and cultural behaviours.

Martyrdom, defined as "the suffering of death on account of adherence to a cause and especially to one's religious", is the seed upon which religion, as a whole, was built.

The crucifixion of Jesus is said to be the greatest act of martyrdom. The death of his apostles added to the importance of martyrdom in the growth of Christianity. Likewise the martyrdom of Husayn Ibn Ali (680 AD), the grandson of Prophet Muhammad, is foundational to Shia Islam.

Society, for the most part, refrains from decrying the death wish when it's turned inward. For example, many saints peacefully refused to denounce their beliefs only to meet a violent end.

However, when the death wish is turned outward in the form of religious wars and persecution it is almost indefensible.

Let us take the death wish one step further.

Apocalypticism within Christianity, Islam, and even Japanese religions is focused on the last days and the dissolution of a sinful world by God's wrath. God's vengeance will take the form of wars and natural disasters.

Advocates or the self-proclaimed 'righteous' are spared this tribulation. To state that they wish death and destruction to disbelievers is not far-fetched given that their Messiah's return is precipitated by an untenable existence on Earth.

They cite a forthcoming biblical event - the Rapture (Thessalonians 1:7, Peter 1:13, Revelation 1:7) - said to be a fortuitous time for believers who are removed from this existence

That the return of the Messiah can also be quickened through prayers is not alien to Christian thought. According to Adrian Rogers, "We are causing the day to come more quickly today when we fulfil the conditions without which the day of the Lord will not come."

In other words, man's prayer, or in this case, inadvertent death wish, will create the turmoil - the right conditions for Jesus' return.

While Christians may not advocate direct violence to bring about the conditions for the Messiah's return, some Islamic sects have adopted a belligerent proactive approach to facilitate peace and everlasting life.




The article, 'End of the World: Muhammad Mahdi is Coming' by Dr Majid Rafizadeh is worth reading. He writes, "Apocalyptic Muslims have long believed that the appearance of the Mahdi would coincide with civil wars ... (that) non-Muslims will be vulnerable to Muslims and Islamic rulers and that (Muslims) should prepare the world for the coming of the Mahdi, who would establish Islamic rule around the world and clean up the planet from [disbelievers]."

And the growing Japanese religious movement, Church of World Messianity, preach of a paradise on earth but only after tens of millions perish in the coming cataclysm.

Undoubtedly, man's drive to live is also driven by destructive impulses - a death wish that manifests in the form of martyrdom, naked aggression (against disbelievers), and delusional beliefs.

- Dr Glenville Ashby is the author of the Mystical Qigong Handbook for Good Health available on Amazon. Send feedback to or follow him on Twitter@glenvilleashby.