Be Very Afraid: The Cultural Responses to Terror, Pandemics, Environmental Devastation, Nuclear Annihilation, and Other Threats

A funeral is a curious phenomenon. In the face of the death of a loved one, friends and relatives gather for a carefully choreographed dance of ritualistic acts. Condolences are given. Music is played. Words are spoken. Food is shared. Often the participants have not seen the deceased for years, but going to the funeral nonetheless is seen as the right thing to do. It is important to pay one’s last respects.

The significance of these acts, of course, is for the living, not the dead. From a scientific perspective, a funeral is a singularly impractical act: no dead person has ever been brought back to life by a well-written eulogy or a fittingly chosen hymn. The objective world is unchanged by the ritual. The deceased remains dead. The widow or widower remains alone.


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