A culture of death
I took a peek to see if it was really six feet deep. True enough, it was a deep hole in the ground. A fresh mound of earth sat alongside it, and the arid smell of a summer morning heavily draped the air. I was at the funeral of a friend’s father. My friend, whom I have known for a decade now, had to fly back to the country in a snap. This prompted a reunion of sorts and a soliloquy of grand proportions.
It has been a summer punctuated by killings, some perpetuated by humanity against humanity, in the most inconspicuous places and the most ordinary of times. As the numbers of victims and the faces of mourning flash on our TV screens from wherever in the world, you can’t help but think that the media are marketing bloodbath because it’s the most saleable story there is. Or is it just our human impulse to find a pattern even when there is none? Even Manila Archbishop Luis Antonio Cardinal Tagle’s “oratio imperata” (or mandatory prayer) opposing the culture of death seemed like an appropriate detail in this bizarre story.
This culture of death, once a topic for interesting discourse in Catholic circles, is getting attention even in secular conversations, particularly our conversations. It was a phrase once loosely used in reference to secular society’s supposed disregard for life, but now even non-Catholics sense it creeping into the recesses of our sentimentality, our subconscious, and even in popular culture.
Frequently mentioned in Pope John Paul II’s “Evangelism Vitae,” the culture of death pertains to evil behavior that degrades the value of human life, such as abortion, euthanasia, or contraception. The Catholic Church may have a different view on when life begins, or whose life it is trying to protect. But these days, the culture of death has forged sympathy where there used to be none, and it gives meaning to body counts when it used to be just names and figures.
Take, for instance, the deaths of five people at a rave party in Pasay City as summer was drawing to a close. It seemed like a scene straight out of a 1990s slasher film, when one wakes up the next day to news that people died during the night one had enjoyed tremendously. But worse still was the blatant attacks on the victims and the other partygoers themselves, as well as the nature of such rave parties, branding this subculture and that generation as reckless and starved of attention.
Then consider the death of 22-year-old singer-songwriter Christina Grimmie, which shook her family, friends and fans. Grimmie was shot four times following her performance in Orlando, Florida, last June 10 by Kevin Loibl, who was immensely infatuated with her. Loibl shot her as she signed autographs at The Plaza Live, then backed out of the crowd and turned the gun on himself. Imagine that Grimmie’s killing transpired before the eyes of her adoring fans of all ages. How traumatic it must have been for them to witness, exponentially more painful than hearing it over the news.
Two days later, also in Orlando, 50 people died at the hands of another gunman. The shooting at Pulse nightclub is now the deadliest mass shooting in US history, surpassing the death toll (32) at the Virginia Tech shootings in 2007. Which leaves us, a bewildered public on the other side of the world, to puzzle over why Americans cling covetously to their Second Amendment—which brooks no infringement on the right of the people to keep and bear arms—when it appears like they can no longer trust it.
But it isn’t just wasted human life that has gained traction. When Harambe, a 450-pound gorilla in Cincinnati Zoo, had to be shot to prevent him from hurting a three-year-old boy that fell into his enclosure, there was an outcry over this injustice. It seemed like a waste of harmless life due to a parent’s avoidable mistake.
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In popular culture, the movie adaptation of Jojo Moyes’ “Me Before You” hit the cinemas shortly before the month ended, bringing to life the story of Louisa Clark and Will Traynor. In the hugely popular book, the quadriplegic Will ended his life in spite of the love between him and Lou. His depression over the loss of his physical faculties pushed him to end a life he no longer wanted to live.
In our country, the turnout of killings among drug suspects took a sharp turn in seeming anticipation of the new administration. But while killings in drug operations do sometimes occur, recently the news have been filled with ambushes by unknown men or deaths due to mere suspicion.
A culture of death becomes sinister when killing becomes embedded in the national psyche. A culture of death goes beyond our shallow fear of it, or even our deepest musings on mortality. It is a reflection of the dominant culture, and how it is cultivated. How death is viewed correlates to how life is viewed: When one life is deemed less worthy than another, when an innocent life gets snuffed out in the course of, say, anticrime efforts, when capital punishment becomes national policy, the culture of death becomes truly insidious.
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