Death and the question of people vs. principles….


I hates it.

It’s not that I’m afraid of it or that I don’t accept it… I know that I’m an animated meat puppet built out of matter and the natural laws (including entropy) and which will eventually lead to my end–both in terms of my consciousness, but also my flesh…

That’s not the problem.  Rather, it’s that I don’t appreciate not being able to talk to people ever again.  That this consciousness is gone, forever.

However, that is life, and because I try never to slip into the vice of denial, I accept that death is part of the deal we cut with the universe for this existence.  We exist for a while–but then we must pay back this time with our death.

So ist das Leben…Such is life…

Today, I went to a funeral.  It was a funeral for someone who has never done anything but show me love.  This person, a close relative, is gone.  She was my Aunt.

This is life.

But what is also life is the rituals that go along with such existential events.  A Catholic funeral Mass is what mostly occurs with my relatives, since almost all of us are Catholics–or at least were born so–and I was faced with a kind of quandary that I refer to as the “people vs. principles” problem.

This situation came out of book by Lois McMaster-Bujold–wherein one of the main characters points out that rather than always relying upon their principles to always determine their sense of right and wrong actions–that they tended to trust their connections to people more.

Extending this thought, I’ve tended to value things like tolerance, forgiveness, diversity, and accepting the uncertainties that accompany human beings.  Relatedly, I tend to be wary of people who are more comfortable with the certainty of their principles, who tout the rightness of their ideals, and who believe the cause is greater than anything else, including the feelings or lives of those who may hinder the cause.

Idealism leave me cold.

But back to the story… back to the funeral.

Although I’m not religious anymore (I’m not spiritual either…), I understand the need for ritual and I pay attention to the points in any ritual that are under the control of the participants or leaders.  In such a Catholic mass, there are prayers and readings, but more important than that is the homily…and it was in this homily that I got really, really ticked off

The reason I got mad was that the priest told us what this mass was really about.  He told us that he had just gone to a Lutheran funeral mass, where the whole ceremony seemed to him just to be a big celebration and ceremony about the person who had died.

What a strange thing, he thought.  In Catholic funeral masses, he informed us, the mass was really about coming home to Jesus and about how the resurrection of Christ–which means eternal life for everyone in heaven–was the real story.

As he explained this to me, the only thing that went through my head was, “I really want to walk up there and deck that motherfucker right now.”

But I didn’t.  I didn’t because of a person.   I didn’t for her.

What angered me so much was that he had turned this ritual into an excuse to talk about some cherished principle of his–to use this unique instance, when a group of people had gathered to say their final goodbyes to a loved one–not to celebrate her or to help her loved ones come to deal with her departure–but to indulge his desire to espouse his ideals…

I’m sorry–I cannot believe that he really cared about my aunt who had died–but instead I think it is clear that he cared more about his principles than this person.

Now.. I am not stating this to claim that all Catholic Funeral Masses are like this.. not at all. I’ve been to many, many funerals and at almost all of them, the conversation has been about those we have lost–and that is exactly how it should be.  For example, any priest who tried to tell my more Irish relatives that a funeral wasn’t about telling stories about the person had left us, they would have gotten the ever-living-crap kicked out of them… In addition, at my grandfather’s funeral, my father gave the most heartfelt and honest eulogy that I’ve ever heard about a person.

It was beautiful–and that’s what this should have been.

It wasn’t, and that’s life, but at least the beauty of all of my memories of my Aunt will always be there.

She was a person, and that will always be more important than some abstract principle to me.

About Prof. Woland

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3 Responses to Death and the question of people vs. principles….

  1. befuddled2 says:

    I assume that you are talking about Lois McMaster-Bujold series about Miles Vorkosigan. It is a good series and actually has some interesting ideas embedded within a good story. This idea of connections above principles is one of them.

    Principles are important. Ideally they should help provide guidelines in how to live your life and how to treat and relate to others around you. However when they get in the way of actually relating to those people; when they take the place of relationships they cause more harm than good.


    • tricstmr says:


      Yes.. that is what I was trying to get at… It’s not that principles in themselves are bad things–we all need to have values to guide us and which we strive to maintain… but when the concrete relationships with people become are replaced with idealistic statements–then it gets dangerous in my experience…

  2. Pingback: Death, people, principles–a Contrasting example… | The Philosophy of NOM

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