And Death Shall Have Its Dominion

Dalrymple’s December contribution to the New English Review is undoubtedly one of his most personal pieces. Opening with an explanation of his declining health and an increasing awareness of the brevity of his life, it soon ventures into what must be the deepest questions humans are capable of addressing:

…the notion of oblivion is a difficult one. Some philosophers have argued that there should be nothing difficult about it because future oblivion will only be the same as that before we were born (or had some semblance of continuous memory), and with that we have no problem. But I do not think this is quite right. The fact that we have existed and do still exist alters everything for us. The only oblivion of which we have actual experience is that of sleep, and we have experience of it only because we wake afterwards: in other words, all our oblivions hitherto have been temporary and capable of being experienced.

When I try to think of my future non-existence, I am nevertheless aware, Descartes-like, that I am thinking about it: therefore I have not imagined my non-existence. I know that to be non-existent is not like being anything, but so long as I imagine oblivion, I am, I exist.

Read the full piece here

2 thoughts on “And Death Shall Have Its Dominion

  1. Rebekah

    I was just having this conversation with a friend – that of death and nonexistence being supposedly just like before we were born. It sat very well with her, but not me. Dalrymple explains why perfectly.

    Of course, I am a Christian, so my view of death is quite different. Dalrymple is not entirely correct, though, to say that Christians shouldn’t mourn death. Yes, when a believer dies, they are with Christ, which “is better by far.” Yet, they are not with us. C.S.Lewis said “the death of a beloved is an amputation.”

    Also, he is wrong about heaven, in my opinion. I think it’s a good thing that we can’t imagine what heaven would be like (or are told much about it – at least for us Christians). If we could and we had details, we’d probably have a hard time focusing on making this world better.

    At least, that’s my clever way of resolving it. Which one of us can say with absolute certainty, 100% of the time? Very few people, I think, when it’s considered it deeply. For me, the Gospels and other evidences point very strongly one way – but there is a doubting Thomas lurking about in my mind, too. Perhaps, that’s my own fault, too.

  2. Rebekah

    I was re-reading Chesterton’s Orthodoxy (apart from The Wind in the Willows, one of my favorite books) and I came upon this which, I think, touches on something Dalrymple speaks of – the need for conflict. Perhaps, we need conflict, because we are too narrow and shallow in our minds for real, expansive “awe and wonder.” We are too hopelessly human and selfish for the forgetfulness that such awe and wonder require.

    In heaven (or, the new heavens and earth, to be exact), perhaps, the conflict will be replaced by this very awe and wonder – and it will never end. We will never exhaust the knowledge and riches (and strangeness) of our inexhaustibly creative Creator:

    “ …nearly all people I have ever met in this western society in which I live would agree to the general proposition that we need this life of practical romance; the combination of something that is strange with something that is secure. We need so to view the world as to combine an idea of wonder and an idea of welcome. We need to be happy in this wonderland without once being merely comfortable”


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