October 26, 2017

Defiling Graves and Vengeful Spirits

Grave of Edward Sang (1805-1890) in Newington cemetery, Edinburgh.jpg
By Roegel - Newington cemetery, Edinburgh, CC BY-SA 3.0, Link
Let's pretend for a moment that you are a Christian. You believe everything Christians say you are supposed to believe. Perhaps you are even "saved" and so on. Not only that, but you are also a decent person. That is, you treat others well (even those those horrible atheists who are always trying to prevent your government from promoting your Christian beliefs).

You lived a good life, but you have just died. You were given the solemn Christian burial you requested, and your family was in mourning for some time. It was tough to see their pain, but they are moving on. The good news is that it turns out that everything your fellow Christians taught you about heaven was correct. You are now in heaven alongside your god, previously deceased family members, and assorted Christians from history. It is everything you hoped it could be and more.

On Earth, life goes on without you. Aside from your close friends and family members, you are quickly forgotten. But on one otherwise ordinary Saturday night in October, something really awful happens. Some teenagers are hanging out at the cemetery where you are buried. After drinking way too much, a couple of them defile your grave. The details of what they did aren't important, so we'll just say that they kicked over your headstone and peed on the ground covering you.

Remember, you are in heaven looking down on all of this. So here's my question: do you give a shit? I don't think you do. Whatever remains in that grave isn't you. It was you at one time, but it isn't you now. Are you going to descend from heaven and haunt these stupid kids? Of course not! That would not be the sort of thing a good Christian would do. And besides, you are enjoying a state of eternal bliss. Why you would be even mildly concerned by what you have witnessed is beyond me. I'd think the same could probably be said of your god.

Our collective obsession with the "sacred," with "sacrilege," and with concepts like desecration or defilement of graves or other places or things we consider "holy" is for the living. Dead bodies can spread disease, and so it makes good evolutionary sense that we'd be concerned with what happens to them. How bodies are disposed of is important. Even those of us who believe that nothing survives death are likely to be somewhat invested in what happens to dead bodies. On the other hand, the dead (assuming the Christians are right about the afterlife) have little reason to care. The notion that a disembodied soul would be upset by a grave being desecrated makes little sense.

Every October, we are regularly treated to tales of hauntings in which disembodied souls wreak vengeance on the living for various offenses, many of which involve disturbing their "final resting place." Countless horror films have used this as a premise. Some of them are quite entertaining as long as one doesn't stop to think about how little sense the whole vengeful spirit thing makes.

Perhaps it could make a bit more sense if there was no heaven or hell or if restless entities regularly left heaven or hell to return to Earth to antagonize us. But it seems quite arrogant to think that any of them would want to do so. Are they really that bored? And if evil spirits or demons are truly evil, why would they need any provocation to come after us? They'd be after us regardless of whether we messed with their "final resting place." If spirits exist at all, doesn't it seem far more likely that they would have moved on? Perhaps our fears around this stuff suggest that we are the ones having difficulty moving on.