DEATHLY AFRAID….Now that Terri Schiavo has died, I’d like to raise a question–not a political question, but a moral one. I’ve been bothered by the way religious leaders discussed her situation and the way that the Pope himself has framed his own slow, painful journey toward the end of life. In both cases, the loudest voices have seemed to promote a position that is not pro-life so much as very, very anti-death.
A cradle Baptist, I was taught in the church that while we were not to hasten death, neither were we to postpone or fear it. The ending of a life was sad for those who remained, but a joyous event for the one who died. As one of my friends put it this week, If all of these folks believe Terri Schiavo was a Christian, shouldn’t they want her to slip from this life to be embraced by the arms of God? I understand that this is a particular kind of religious belief, not shared by all, but it is a belief to which most of the leaders you’ve seen on tv over the past few weeks subscribe. And yet the implication of their fight has been that death is something to be held at bay using all available means, that any quality of life is better than what may come next.
Just last week, the liturgy reminded Christians that while Jesus suffered–and probably had the option of postponing death–he ultimately chose to let God’s will be done. I don’t know what God’s will was for Terry Schiavo, and neither does anyone else. But that question was lost in the political and media cacophony that provided the unfortunate score to the end of her life. I wonder how these religious leaders, who cling so fiercely to the idea of life, can prepare people of faith for the inevitable reality of death.
UPDATE: Apparently there’s some sort of A. Sullivan convergence on this issue. A reader just pointed me to a very similar post Andrew Sullivan wrote last month about the Pope’s illness:
Isn’t the fundamental point about Christianity that our life on earth is but a blink in the eye of our real existence, which begins at death and lasts for eternity in God’s loving presence? Why is the Pope sending a signal that we should cling to life at all costs – and that this clinging represents some kind of moral achievement? Isn’t there a moment at which the proper Christian approach to death is to let it come and be glad? Or put it another way: if the Pope is this desperate to stay alive, what hope is there for the rest of us?