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  • Writer's pictureJeffrey Starbuck

the OPPOSITE of DEATH is BIRTH (not LIFE) - a linguistic examination and then some...............

There is an unexamined assumption in our use of language that is illogical and contributes to significant misunderstanding and unnecessary suffering.

*(And, incidentally, the timing of this blog post has nothing directly to do with a currently looming Supreme Court decision in the United States in May of the year 2022, nor is it meant to provide comment on when life begins. Kindly put those thoughts and feelings out of your head while reading and considering the following facts.)

To illustrate the point being made, I will take a central aspect of Christianity (Catholic and Protestant) as an example of this illogic.

Christianity (and other systems also) speaks of Heaven and Hell, which are places or states that happen after the death of a person, an embodied human being. The person, or their soul, is spoken of as still existing, albeit in the dimension called Heaven (or Hell). This Heaven is posited as being eternal, which is generally understood as meaning forever, for the rest of time. Given this notion, Heaven and Hell are forever growing in population, since more and more people are dying all the time.

But, at the other end, there is no consideration of what is occurring before birth. Accordingly, babies are created, being created. They begin out of nothing, but then they go on without ending.

So this is a system that isn’t a logical system. There’s a beginning but there’s no ending. Nothing at all happens before birth. Everything happens forever after death. This is not rational. Something begins but then, once begun, never ends.

We are told by science that energy is matter and matter is energy and that both energy and matter can neither be created nor destroyed. But, then we turn around to postulate that something can be created but then never destroyed.

Everything in nature is cyclical. Everything everywhere is cyclical. Everything in the Universe is cyclical. But then we represent that we human beings are not cyclical.

This misunderstanding is supported by linguistic habits, by certain ways of speaking.

“It’s a matter of life and death.”

“A life and death struggle.”

Consider the following:

“It’s a matter of life and birth.”

“A life and birth struggle.

I think you can see and feel how habitual and deeply rooted the phrase "life and death" is, particularly when it is juxtaposed with the phrase "birth and death". The latter is actually more logical than the former. But many otherwise very logical and rational people, who are reading these words will dismiss this notion with a wave of the hand and will quickly move onto whatever is next in their busy day. They will not actually ponder what is being said and will not challenge themselves into a serious consideration of this matter.

If we’re going to emphasize death, we should also emphasize birth. Let’s not discriminate here. Birth should be given equal airtime to Death. Come on people!

Any single embodiment of life does have an ending, a death, just as it also had a beginning, a birth. No problem here. But, that’s a particular expression of life. An individual life. An individual life does end, just as it began.

For our purposes here, Life doesn’t have an opposite. Or, if it does, that opposite isn’t death. I’m suggesting we need to clean up the way we use our language. But, doing so, requires that we clean up some of the ways that we habitually think and go through the world.

Thus, death is not the opposite of life. The opposite of death is birth, and the opposite of birth is death. Life encompasses both death and birth, birth and death.

Life is everything; it is eternal, in the way I'm talking about it here. Life doesn't have an opposite.

Birth and Death go together. You can't have one without the other. Life includes both. It's Birth vs Death, never Life vs Death or Life vs Birth.

Birth is the Entry Door; Death is the Exit Door.

A typical way that most people understand the English words death and dead, is that they refer to an enduring state. We say that Allen Ginsberg is dead. My great-grandmother is dead. Ralph Waldo Emerson is dead.

When we use language in that way, we make it sound as if death is ongoing, as if it is an enduring state. It is as if Allen Ginsberg continues to be dead, as if there is an entity, ie. Allen Ginsberg, who has the status of being dead. Allen continues being Allen Ginsberg, and it happens that his current status is that he is dead.

When we say that our neighbor is traveling, we're indicating that their current status is that they are traveling. If my cousin is gardening, that is my cousin's current status. When your spouse is reading, that describes their current situation or status. These are all indications of current status or situation.

Saying that Walt Whitman is dead makes it sound like a statement of his current status. But, people do not continue to be dead anymore than they continue to be traveling once they've returned home, reading once they've set the book down or gardening once they've come inside to eat dinner.

I’m pointing out a flaw in the way we tend to use the English language here, which really does contribute to misunderstanding and confusion, hence suffering. Using language, particularly certain phrases, in certain ways can definitely mislead us into thinking incorrectly and illogically.

Most people, without consciously realizing it, really do think that people continue to be dead. But, it's simply not so. People do not continue to be dead; rather, they died. Or, if they continue to be dead, they must also continue to be unborn.

Death is an event, not a continuing state. Something that happens once in a given lifetime, not something that continues to happen.

Birth is also an event, and not something that continues to happen. We do not say that our child continues being born. Our child was born.

Each of these refer to something that happened. But once death has happened, it does not continue to be happening, just as once birth has happened, it doesn't continue to be occurring.

If we are going to insist that people are dead, then we really are obligated to say that there are so many people who are unborn, that is, who have yet to be born. If we discuss all the people who died in the Vietnam War, then we should also feel obligated to think about all those who were as yet unborn, during the span of the Vietnam War.

Think about this. In the next 500 years, there are going to be many, many people who will be born. Well, all of those people are currently unborn. We don’t say that; we don’t speak of them as if they already exist and that their current status is that of being unborn.

If we truly wish to be logical and not be using our language in a way that contributes to confusion, we should speak this way.

We speak of all the people who are now dead due to this disease or that disease, this war or that war. Well, there are also millions and billions of people who are as yet unborn.

If all the people who died in the 14th century are dead, then all the people who will be born in the 22nd century are unborn. In other words, all those from the 14th century exist now, with the status of being dead, and all those from the 22nd century exist now, with the status of being unborn.

If all the people who perished since Christopher Columbus first landed in the New World are now dead, then all those who would come into the world in the 19th century were at the time unborn.

Now, from the moment that you are reading this sentence, stretching back exactly ten years, there are many, many, many people who have died on this planet Earth. And, from the moment you are reading this sentence, stretching forward exactly ten years, there are many, many, many people who will be born. In the ten year period looking backward, many people are dead. In the ten year period looking forward, many people are unborn.

If you're going to do it one way, please be consistent and do it the other way.

What has not been addressed here is what a human being is. What is the definition of the thing, the entity that is either unborn or dead? More on this will be covered in blog coming up. We're not promising a precise definition in English, which is a language, so much as saying we'll provide further food for thought. Stay tuned!

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