July 2012 Print

Death in a Technological Age

Professor Matteo D’Amico

It is the destiny of every spiritually impoverished age to be no longer able to understand death; to let it drop off the cultural horizon; to lose the words, notions, and values that alone render it comprehensible and that make it possible to die like a human being; to think about it when we think about life in all its depth. At the same time, the obscuring of a right understanding of death and its banalization—which is just another way to forget about it—are the best ways to lead a civilization into barbarism. And at the risk of exaggeration or over-simplification, one might even say that barbarism consists precisely and essentially in the abolition of the idea of death.

Anthropologists teach that civilization is founded on two elements: marriage ceremonies and funeral rites. Where these two institutions are lacking, civilization cannot be said to exist; it is not perchance that these two customs occur or disappear together. Today, indeed, the deteriorating condition of marriage (escalating divorce rates, increased cohabitation, childless unions, and marriage deferred) is accompanied by a serious attack on the idea of death that characterized two millennia of Christian civilization.

Marriage has always regulated the union of man and woman, even in the most ancient pre-Christian civilizations, and was accompanied by severe penalties for adultery or sexual relations without marriage. And every age in which the institution of marriage was in crisis, as in the late Roman Empire, has also been an era of political and social decadence. The sexual side of man’s being is the most obvious manifestation of his belonging to the natural world; it represents a dimension of man’s life which, were it to be exempted from a moral code and social recognition, in other words if it should escape the rule of reason, it would approximate man to the beasts and nearly make him one. The fact that sexual relations are impermissible outside marriage is a natural law, and that is why even the most backward pagans have always held in high esteem the rite instituting a new marital union. This rite also always had a religious, and not only civic or social, signification: it was an act made before God, and not only before men.

It cannot be by chance if, beside marriage, burial itself and the particular honors paid to the deceased and their tombs are a fundamental aspect of an authentically human society. The tomb, the place in which a body is buried, sometimes only a simple pile of stones, is the original sacred space. It is a place that has always been held as intimately religious, a bridge of contact and of passage between the terrestrial realm and the transcendent sphere of the spiritual and divine, the underworld. Religious respect for the dead, characteristic of prehistoric societies, should not be considered superstitious or elementary or infantile: on the contrary, the most ancient peoples, who have left no written record of themselves, who were backward as regards technical development and the exterior signs of civilization, were nonetheless closer to the original revelation transmitted by Adam to his direct descendants, and they were thus capable of rendering to God worship much deeper and purer than that of the peoples who succeeded them and who quickly slid into idolatry and polytheism.

What is the deepest, most hidden connection between these two dimensions—marriage and respect for the dead? Marriage, whence new life comes, as an institution the existence of which excludes the licitness of sexual acts outside it, reminds us that man is a spiritual subject, that he is not simply an element of nature because he is able to resist his urges. A society in which marriage is honored and respected in hearts and defended by law is a society more inherently spiritual than one not founded upon profound respect for marriage. The same reasoning applies to burial of the dead: it bears continuous witness to belief in the spiritual nature of man and thus points to the notion of the survival of the soul after death.

It is not by chance that the idea of death has been attacked culturally by all the materialist schools of thought, from the atomism of Antiquity with Epicurus’s denial of any ontological density to the human soul and therefore his attempt to prove the folly of the fear of death in one of the key passages of his Tetrapharmakon, to the materialism of Enlightenment thinkers and the materialist tradition of the 19th and 20th centuries, with Sartre’s rehashing in his Being and Nothing the classic arguments of the earlier materialist tradition. The materialist negation of the essential importance of death is always reduced to the famous Epicurean maxim: “When we are, death is not come, and when death is come, we are not,” a fallacious argument because it forgets that what cannot but anguish even a materialist thinking upon his own death is not the moment of bodily death but the idea of irrevocably ceasing to exist, the idea of ending in nothingness.

Naturally, Antiquity also bequeathed us the Pythagorico-Platonic tradition, which educated the Greeks and Romans to think of death as liberation from the body and the passions, and as the beginning of a superior life of union with the divine. It is in the wake of the traditional image of the philosopher as positive about death, that is to say, as someone who is up to the task of demonstrating (the first to do so was Socrates as protagonist of Plato’s Socratic Apology) that death is a destiny preferable to life, given the blessed life of pure contemplation and of intellectual knowledge that awaits those who have led an upright, just life devoted to the quest for knowledge and the warfare against the passions that agitate the soul.

Death and the Masonic Strategy

During the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, Freemasonry, which behind a mask of deism open to every religious sensibility manifested itself on the practical level and in morals as impudent hedonism, fought against the Christian vision of death, first of all with the French Revolution and Napoleon, by attacking traditional cemeteries and by ordering their relocation at a distance from residential areas, then by promoting the practice of the cremation of the deceased in open contempt of the Christian dogma of the resurrection of the body. It is not useless, in this regard, to recall that the Church until Vatican Council II strictly forbade cremation, going so far as to excommunicate Catholics who practiced it in contempt of the decisions of the supreme teaching authority and of Catholic dogma.

In any event it should not be forgotten that the propagation of cremation coupled with the movement for the abolition of the death penalty, still constitutes today one of the war horses of Freemasonry, which sometimes hides its activity behind front groups.

Death in Christianitas

Death and its cultural representation were fashioned in the Occident by the Christian faith, and until the nineteenth century it may be said that, with some slight variations, there was a constant and homogeneous reading of this phenomenon: it marks the dies natalis of the saints, the beginning of true life, the fateful and decisive moment of the meeting with God and the particular judgment, the last chance for conversion and repentance. The circumstances in which agony and death are normally undergone, the place and the persons involved in particular, reveal a precise hierarchy of values. First of all, a person most often died at home, surrounded by his family and dear ones. The approach of death was not hidden, as if it involved something shameful, but was part of a family rite, so to speak, that provided for meetings and visits with friends and neighbors, last recommendations, prayers in common—recitation of the rosary especially—in general a vital participation in a sad event. The most awaited and important figure was not the doctor but the priest, sometimes the old curate who had baptized the dying person and administered the sacraments to him his whole life. The last meeting with the priest is the decisive event, the moment of receiving extreme unction and for the last time, after confession, Holy Communion, veritable viaticum for a good death. “To die fortified with the sacraments” is the most important thing, the one decisive thing for the simple but solid wisdom of the people. At this moment, truly, great and small, nobles and peasants, rich and poor are completely equal. Every distinction disappears and loses its meaning, as shown in the famous “Triumph of Death” tableaux of the Middle Ages and the Renaissance on which great influence was exerted by, among other things, the tragedy of the great plague of the fourteenth century. When anyone received news of another’s death, the first question that came spontaneously was to learn if the person had died “with the sacraments,” that is to say, having repented and been reconciled with God. Notes by the young Giacomo Leopardi have come down to us in which he recalls that his mother, a woman of a profound, stern religious disposition had a habit of asking this question as soon as she received news of anyone’s death. The possibility of receiving the sacraments is also implicit in the invocation “A morte improvisa, libera nos, Domine,” which demonstrates that what was considered as the greatest danger was to find one’s self in the impossibility of approaching the sacraments before going before the Lord.

In every historical phase of Christianitas, the presence of a physician at the side of the dying is foreseen, when economic and social circumstances allow, but his role is never the decisive one, and his personage is never the most important. Quite often the doctor’s most important duty, rather than treating a patient in the sense of “applying remedies or giving medications” (medieval medicine was of a traditional nature and was based on the use of bleeding or purgatives, therapeutic practices that have no place at the approach of death) was to observe and record the different phases of agony and to signal the arrival of the fateful moment at which it could be said with certitude that only a few hours or minutes remained of life, that is, that death was certainly imminent.

It is of this kind of domestic death, experienced collectively by the extended family, that countless artistic, pictorial, and literary accounts have come down to us. It is almost a “topos” to read the last words of famous persons uttered on their deathbed, words that could be gathered precisely because one did not die alone, abandoned on an austere hospital bed, but rather passed away in the midst of one’s dear ones and supported by their ministrations.

Even when, in particular during the 18th century, the system of public health began to be institutionalized, with large hospitals located in the larger cities (France counted about 2,000 before the Revolution), the personnel essentially consisted of members of religious orders that came into being over the years for the purpose of caring for the sick and dying, and the climate in which one approached death was profoundly religious.

But there is a still more important notion: sickness and the suffering connected with it, long periods of confinement to bed, the treatments and operations, often very painful (let us not forget that anesthesia was introduced relatively recently, during the 19th century), and finally the anguish of agony and death were all lived within a profoundly religious horizon so deeply rooted that hospitalization did not result in the dehumanization of sickness and the sick.

The Christian Ethos and the Problem of Death

The Christian ethos, fundamentally like that of every great civilization, even if it is at an infinitely deeper and loftier level, is an ethos of death: a civilization is a relationship with death, a response, the highest possible, to the existential scandal of death. We could define religion—every religion, fundamentally—as a way to be able to advance toward death without despair.

But no response reaches the height of the Christian answer, in which death itself may become a sacrifice offered to God, a very pure act of love, an occasion of entire surrender to His will. Death then is not something passively submitted to, an obscure reality that hovers threateningly, against which superstitious refuges are sought, but the occasion for an elevation of will and heart in a total gift of self. Death, which on a human level signifies the most serious and most irremediable abandonment and powerlessness, becomes for the Christian a supremely active moment in which is possible the deepest and most sublime deed of love possible: that of a self-offering in the midst of the torments of agony, nailed by unspeakable pain, broken in the most intimate region of our existence, which ends. Only the religion of God made man, of the Word incarnate; only the religion that adores Christ crucified can found a spirituality of death so lofty and luminous.

An exemplary passage written by a 17th-century Jesuit, Jean-Baptiste Saint-Jure, can help us comprehend what may be the consideration of death from the perspective of a radically lived Christianity:

“We ought to carry our conformity to God’s will to the point of accepting our death. That we shall die is a decree against which there is no appeal. We shall die on the day and at the hour and in the manner that God decides, and it is this particular death we should accept, because it is the one most becoming His glory. One day when St. Gertrude was climbing a hill she slipped and fell down to the bottom. She was unhurt and began to climb up again saying: ‘What great happiness it would have been for me, O Lord, if this fall had been the means of bringing me sooner to thee!’ Her companions asked her if she was not afraid of dying without receiving the last sacraments. ‘I would certainly wish with all my heart to receive them in my last moments,’ she answered, ‘but I much prefer the will of God, for I am sure the best disposition for a good death is submission to His will. So I desire only the death by which He wishes me to come to Him, and I am confident that in whatever way I die, His mercy will not fail me.’ Even more, it is the teaching of great masters of the spiritual life that a person who, at the point of death, makes an act of perfect conformity to the will of God will be delivered not only from hell but also from purgatory, even if he has committed all the sins in the world. ‘The reason,’ says St. Alphonsus, ‘is that he who accepts death with perfect resignation acquires similar merit to that of a martyr who has voluntarily given his life for Christ, and even amid the greatest sufferings he will die happily and joyfully.’”1

Death and Finitude

But in order to understand how death in the ages before the twentieth century and the era of secularization depended intimately on the conditions of life in general and not only on faith as such, a few considerations bordering on the domain of philosophical anthropology are in order. Death in our life is an element and the supreme sign of necessity; it manifests as does no other dimension our finitude. Consequently it will be more welcomed as a part of life, more accepted in its painful reality, as life itself will have been lived in its totality and in each of its parts or each of its ages sunk in the element of necessity. An 18th-century peasant, for example, was habituated from earliest childhood to help his father with work in the fields, subject to severe domestic discipline, brought up accustomed to unremitting fatigue and hard, work, conscious from his earliest memories that food must be wrested from the earth and that it is uncertain and precarious; aware that drought or frost can destroy a harvest any minute, and therefore was accustomed to see in his daily bread the greatest of benefits and in the smell of a loaf of bread a foretaste of paradise. Such a man is long accustomed by the gravity which poverty alone imparts to a man. This gravity is expressed by a deep, primordial silence that also mysteriously underlies his speech, song, laughter, and mirth; a silence that is the unique horizon from which beauty can emerge or be contemplated.

The adage that whoever has really contemplated beauty is vowed to death can also and perhaps ought to be reversed: Only someone who is absolute for death can contemplate beauty. What other explanation is there for the Gothic cathedrals, Giotto, Bellini, Tintoretto, Carpaccio, Caravaggio?

The gravity of men in the age of Christianitas which we have tried to evoke in its principle traits, comes finally from the fact that he has always been besieged by the concrete possibility of dying. The average existence in every past age (even in non-Christianized societies) was marked by limit and by necessity: life was not perceived nor envisioned by anyone as a kaleidoscopic jumble of possibilities and rights, but of pressing duties, obligations, and existential difficulties escape from which was not even imaginable. But it is precisely life’s hard grip on the individual, the weight that presses down on him like an almost palpable and physically threatening reality, that liberated him and inserted him into an order transparently limpid, rendering even the least important gestures and acts grave, consistent, and full of a savor that only indigence and the primacy of duty and limit can bring forth.

In these lives, already so luminously marked by limit and necessity, death had its place almost naturally. There was no need to hide it or veil it; no one was ashamed of it. It appeared and it was understood only as the greatest of limits, the most implacable of necessities. And in fact, all the other limits and sufferings exist because death exists: even the least pain, the slightest fever hints of the possibility of our death.

The contrast between the omnipresent ease and comfort, the lack of weight and gravity in the lives of men today and the limitations on the lives of the men of every other age was understood and described in an exemplary fashion by the Spanish philosopher Ortega y Gasset in his great work, The Revolt of the Masses:

“What appearance did life present to that multitudinous man who in ever-increasing abundance the XIXth Century kept producing? To start with, an appearance of universal material ease. Never had the average man been able to solve his economic problem with greater facility….That is to say, in all its primary and decisive aspects, life presented itself to the new man as exempt from restrictions. The realisation of this fact and of its importance becomes immediate when we remember that such a freedom of existence was entirely lacking to the common men of the past. On the contrary, for them life was a burdensome destiny, economically and physically. From birth, existence meant to them an accumulation of impediments which they were obliged to suffer, without possible solution other than to adapt themselves to them, to settle down in the narrow space they left available….Previously even for the rich and powerful, the world was a place of poverty, difficulty and danger. The world which surrounds the new man from his birth does not compel him to limit himself in any fashion, it sets up no veto in opposition to him; on the contrary, it incites his appetite, which in principle can increase indefinitely.”2

The man of Christian tradition does not live life and death with the same gravity because he is more profoundly tied to Christian faith, but he is on the contrary capable of a more authentic and intense religious fervor because he originally had a deeper and truer connection with life and death. So while it is true that religious faith also fashions over the centuries a new way of conceiving death and its meaning, the reverse of this statement should be borne in mind too: it is the connection with life and death that produces a type of human being apt to receive and understand the gospel tidings. That is why sometimes the lowliest, poorest, and even illiterate people of the Third World readily grasp the message adventurously brought by a missionary, while in the evolved West, streaming with well-being, the catechists have a hard time conveying even the simplest doctrinal truths or maintaining religious practice after Confirmation.

Death in the Secular Age

In comparison with the previous scenario of pre-industrial Western civilization, which lasted in rural areas until the end of the nineteenth century and sometimes till the beginning of the twentieth, significant fractures in the socio-economic and cultural edifice appeared which had tremendous impact on the representation of the meaning of death. The mass civilization of the 20th century, especially of the second half, was characterized by the phenomenon of advancing secularization, that is, the disappearance of traditional religious values, and in the Catholic countries especially after the Second Vatican Council, by a crisis of religious practice. Many of the pious practices that shaped the life of Catholic people died out or were hollowed out: the sacraments fell into disuse, religious vocations collapsed in proportion to regular attendance at Sunday Mass. The traditional family also experienced a crisis, from the onslaught of pornography, contraception, divorce, and abortion; the number of children in families fell to one or at most two in the nuclear family. From the 1960s, mass culture was increasingly marked by a spirit of consumption, which gradually eroded and undermined traditional moral and spiritual values and identities to the point of rendering them “incorrect” and subject to an implacable cultural condemnation.

Into this scenario of advanced decadence, the anarcho-libertarian and communist revolution of 1968, coupled with the irruption of unbridled vulgarity brought by television and popular music, defined the frontiers of a veritable anthropological subversion, at the center of which was the manipulation of the feminine ideal. The change agents brought about gradually the passage from a culture of duty and sacrifice to a culture of rights and pleasure in which the primacy is given to the individual’s quest for “happiness” in a context totally disconnected from any ethical or spiritual normative dimension.

Among the major causes of this violent process of secularization, a veritable silent apostasy of Christianity, is to be found the arrival of what has been called “the Age of Technology.” The characteristic signs of this age are the increasing bureaucratization of relations between government and citizen, the anonymity and impersonalism of professional and social relationships, the industrialization of everything, including cultural products and amusements, the disappearance of the idea that a man has a destiny to keep and a fundamental duty to carry out: “The comic exists wherever life has no basis of inevitableness on which a stand is taken without reserves. The mass-man will not plant his foot on the immovably firm ground of his destiny, he prefers a fictitious existence suspended in air. Hence, never as now have we had these lives without substance or root—déracinés3 from their own destiny—which let themselves float on the lightest current.…”4

The Age of Technology is also the age of a Weberian disenchantment of the world, an age which, thanks to the dizzying progress of science, results in a rationalization of both economic and social life, in which the quest for meaning is abandoned in order to concentrate on means. In this instrumentalist vision of life, the ultimate questions no longer concern the finality of things, but the best means to reach them. Naturally, this disenchantment of the world restricts the religious representation of existence to the ghetto of the irrational, of the private, of the sphere of subjective sentiment, and prevents, or at least makes it more difficult for the individual to believe fully, by the detachment of his own religious representation of the meaning of life from the dominant collective ethos—skeptical, materialistic, hedonistic, and in fact radically opposed to any idea of transcendence. The average believer, apart from the heroism of which the individual is always capable, is forced into the position of someone who “believes that he believes”: faith ceases to be the true inspiration of life and the last word on the most decisive questions.

Medicalization and Death

The world’s disenchantment, or its secularization, the process of suppressing the religious meaning at the heart of life and of the transformation of the faith into something ever more tenuous and marginal in everyday existence, also finds its origin in the advancing process of the medicalization of life which the Western world has known throughout the 20th century. Indeed, it was during the 20th century that governmental control of functions once exercised most often by the Church—education and health, principally—reached its apex. Medicalization (masterfully studied in the 1960s by Ivan Illich in his famous Medical Nemesis) confiscates every moment of life, renders it pathological (as, for instance, pregnancy and childbirth), subjects it to ever more intensive, invasive, and continual check-ups and testing, nourishing an illusion of the omnipotence of medical practice over suffering, sickness, and finally death.

Modern medicine, in its approach to pain and suffering, develops a kind of implicit anti-catechism: the medical conditions afflicting men, bad health are no longer integrated into the traditional framework of values like mortification, resignation, offering up to the Lord, surrender to divine Providence. The paradox is, then, that it is the technological and therapeutic power deployed by modern authorities of a “totalitarian” public health system that prevents the acceptance of the maladies that befall mortal men, and render their progression or incurability absurd, leaving people feeling betrayed and ultimately prey to a secret despair.

The doctors, formerly the honest observers of disease’s progress, are now perceived as wizards endowed with secret, arcane knowledge and are practically elevated in people’s lives to the rank of hieratic, priestly personages whose function far exceeds that of mere technicians who assure the evaluation of specific physiological and pathological phenomena.

The extraordinary and unprecedented importance of the medical corps in developed Western societies finds its explanation in such considerations. If the horizon of the hope of a “happy life” is limited to terrestrial life; if the Christian eschaton, that is to say, salvation, is thought to be immanent, as accessible in time, in history, and not beyond the here and now; as accessible thanks to our continual engagement in completely secular, self-redemptive practices, then medical science will inevitably enjoy the role of the central axis of this new mass ideology. We find ourselves before a doubly reductive process: life is reduced to terrestrial life (to the point that the adjective terrestrial itself loses its meaning, which only exists in the full sense when placed in parallel with the notion of an “ultra-terrestrial” life, the object of Christian faith and hope), and terrestrial life is reduced, in the last analysis, to the possession of a healthy young body, capable of being the receptor of the greatest quantity possible of pleasures and experiences. In this anthropocentric and somatolatrous perspective, the traditional Christian distinction between sin and virtue is replaced by the distinction between health and sickness. The dramatic tension between salvation and damnation is replaced by that between life and death understood biologically. “Salvation” coincides with being alive and in good health: it is salvation already achieved and already haunted by despair, which lasts as long as life: it is a finite salvation.

In this degraded, neopagan moral and spiritual context, old age becomes unthinkable and unimaginable: the fact of aging is secretly perceived by all as a fault, as something that should be hidden or disguised as long as possible, as a subject of irony, and however that may be as an unacceptable fact. The old person is no longer honored and respected, and becomes scarcely tolerated.

The key dimension is the present, an instantaneous present, disconnected, incapable of bearing within it the weight of history.

If this life is all there is (and this is the secret article of faith even of those who “believe they believe”) and is not the expectation of any redemption lying beyond the horizon of a fluid and punctiform temporality, death becomes absurd; it becomes an event deprived of any meaning or intelligibility: a mute horror, an opaque, gelatinous specter that awaits us with its apocalyptic meaninglessness.

Denial of Death

But if death has no meaning, strategies must be found to deny it, to conceal its horror. Behold the totality of practices established to this end, and which become more and more streamlined: on one hand, the medicalization of sickness and death, a process that implies relentless therapeutics (which is the inevitable result of medicalization). In this context, death is attacked by replacing the representation of its possibility with the representation of incessant medical interventions that can push back, even if only a little, the threshold of death itself. The possible prolongation of life is substituted for possible death: death is lived at the end, even when it is very near, as improbable, as if, in any case, it should be regarded when it does come as a farce of destiny and not as a fact as natural as it is certain and inevitable. In other words, the most normal outlook, realist and natural, on the end of life (think of the wisdom of traditional medicine which culminated in the ability to foresee exactly how much time was left to live) has been reversed into an altered and unrealistic outlook, bearing in itself the seeds of a lucid folly, a look that seeks the opposite of what used to be asked of the doctor: to not hear that the person is dying, that there is no more hope, that only a few hours are left.

The phenomenon of death is thus transfigured into a totally medical phenomenon, without any existential importance, to the point of being sublimated and dissolved in absurd therapies on bodies on the brink of agony. But agony itself, when the possibility of death has been denied, has also in its turn disappeared as such, completely absorbed in the pharmacological sedation of the patient, in intensive care, in pain therapy. In practice, since it is impossible to die, entrance into agony has also been made impossible: this last phase of life, this manly struggle, this last proof of courage, this face-to-face with death and with oneself which the great writers described with unparalleled finesse (think of Tolstoy’s description of the death of Prince Andrei in War and Peace) is rendered literally impossible by medicalization.

If agony and death are henceforth existentially impossible, this is in large part because of hospitalization. We are so habituated to think that medicine and hospitals go together that we no longer think of the difference that exists between these two dimensions, which is enormous. The idea that the treatment of illnesses and death should occur in hospitals is of rather recent origin. In the Christian era, hospitals came about as a place in which to take care of persons without any other arrangements or without hearth or home, without anyone to take care of them: it was more a hospice than a hospital in the modern sense of the word.

Historically, people died most often at home, encircled by one’s own, enriched especially by religious consolations, and maybe even with rosary in hand. In these conditions, it was possible to have an agony, to give an example, to die nobly, to teach without wishing to the children and young people and one’s own children, what it means to be a man. But today an almost absolute proscription weighs on the very idea that one should wish to die at home.

Thus death comes at the hospital where the dying lie in rooms where other patients are laughing or blaspheming or watching television, in the midst of the daily barbarity of the indifference of doctors and nurses (exceptions apart), in rooms where the dying are subjected to examinations and visits, check-ups, encounters with strangers, the sounds of unfamiliar voices of people passing by in the corridors at all hours, in white, cold, anonymous rooms stuck with so many tubes like a guinea pig, attached to flasks of medicines hung on phantasmagorical metal trees. The hospital room—the place that should lend itself to recollection and silence—appears as a place the essence of which seems to be to impede any spiritual life, even the faintest glimmer thereof. The more death is assisted, the more it appears to be arid and desolating. The more powerful technology becomes and the greater blind trust in our oppressive medical technocracy grows, less and less room is left for what is authentically human.

Finally one dies far from those who are nearest, our own, absurdly choosing—or better, constrained to choose—to die among strangers, with no friendly ear to collect our last words, without even being able to say “I thirst” or “Give me your hand” to those who loved us our whole life.

Euthanasia as Destiny

The modern medicalized way of death creates a context in which death is an absurdity, and the dying are bereft of any moral or spiritual criteria by which to comprehend it; in this context euthanasia, the real subject behind the fable of the living will, is already emerging and will certainly become more prevalent. Euthanasia is the last act of the Masonic program that dominates our way of understanding public health (it should not be forgotten that one of the most heavily represented professions in the lodges is that of the doctor). In effect, since the current way of dying, so barbarous that no one notices it anymore, especially its victims, is completely obscene and yet is an even more obscene reminder that man must in any case die (the unbearable given in the final analysis for the godless); since it is still too strong a reminder that man is finite and that he is not all-powerful, death has to be replaced by something artificial, unnatural, by preventing it from striking without its formal subjection to the medical technology of deified man. To give oneself death, which wherever euthanasia is introduced quickly becomes death administered by doctors to patients or to “lives unworthy of being lived,” is not a medical act, however unworthy it may be, but an atheistic exorcism: an attempt of the desperate, agonizing West, drugged by its liberal culture and by the dream of a right to happiness, to be liberated even from the memory of man’s mortality by the illusion of reducing it to a purely technical, and therefore controllable, phenomenon.

Knowledge without charity topples into the Cainite reign of pure violence, that is to say, a violence that is ignorant of its own direction and its own goal, a smugly blind violence that no longer suffers from its own inanity, its own absolute emptiness, and its deafening nothingness.

Matteo D’Amico is a professor of History and Philosophy. Translated from Quaderni di San Raffaele, No. 7, 2011.

1 Jean-Baptiste Saint-Jure, Trustful Surrender to Divine Providence.

2 José Ortega y Gasset, The Revolt of the Masses (New York: W. W. Norton & Co.), pp. 55-56, 57-58.

3 In French in the original.

4 Ortega y Gasset, Revolt, p. 105.