1.2 Death and the meaning of life
1.2.1 Death and Tolstoy
Inevitably, the way in which people deal with death, whether by denial or by the construction of a complex system of beliefs and myths, leads to questions about the meaning of life. For Julia Neuberger this is the lesson of death. ‘It is nothing to fear of itself, but it concentrates the mind powerfully in examining what it is we mean by life’ (Neuberger and White, 1991, p. 13).
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Read the article by Leo Tolstoy, ‘Death and the meaning of life’. What effect did the knowledge of death have on Tolstoy?
For Tolstoy his understanding of death took away all meaning, all pleasure and all purpose from life. It is a very bleak picture and raises the question, ‘Is life always preferable to death?’ Tolstoy was certainly not sure and was clearly afraid that he would be tempted to take his own life. You will recall that he hid his hunting gun and other means by which he might kill himself. Others without a religious framework may be much more affirmative about life and find very positive meanings and purposes.