Not many weeks ago, the Israeli novelist Amos Oz was on Charlie Rose. He’s one of those people who says things we’ve heard before, but says them in a way that makes us think it’s the first time.
However, on this particular night he said something I hadn’t thought of – that Protestantism has changed our perceptions of death in the Western world. We no longer feel close to the dead. There is no continuity between the living and the dead. Shakespeare, for example, had no difficulty writing about ghosts. Oz theorizes that the end of purgatory also meant an end to spirits and their kind.
In Chinese and Mexican cultures, the dead are honored, even celebrated, every year. Death isn’t at all as final as it is where Protestantism and, today, science hold sway. Death is understood to be a definitive ending: My grandmother died. She went to heaven or hell, became one with the universe—or simply turned to dust. Whatever, it’s unlikely she’ll speak to me from beyond the grave.
This hasn’t always been true. Just read Splatter, a blog from Lady Marilyn Kay Dennis, filled with tales of a not-very-long-ago time when commerce with the dead was not nearly as uncommon.
P.S. I wonder if the vogue for vampires doesn’t have something to do with a need to make contact with the unliving