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Thanatopian Psychology

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Thanatopian psychology is a name that has been coined to describe a movement in depth psychology that is heavily based on the works of Dr. Ernest Becker particularly from his Pulitzer Prize winning book called The Denial of Death. The fundamental premise in this system is that it is the fear of death which is the prime mover of human ontology. This ontological fear of death is the basis for much of human activity from the personal to the cultural level. While Dr. Becker has provided the most recent synthesis of this understanding of human social anthropology many current and past theologians, psychologists and philosophers have also forwarded this as one of their central hypothesis.

The term was first used by John C. Moore B.A., M.T.S. in his website http://www.e-imprimatur.com. He first began his studies of Dr. Becker's work while a student at Trinity Lutheran Seminary. Most recently he works as the Director of Information Technology at the Pontifical College Josephinum where he continues to work in the development of this psychological system.

To a great extent human evil can be attributed to this psychology. Human beings in their flight from their finitude develop immortality vehicles both individually and culturally that assist them in the avoidance of thanatopsis and suppress their true existential situation. When these artificial immortality vehicles/worldviews are confronted the antagonism can lead to individual and corporate evil.

Dr. Glen Harvey gives us a very concise and thourough summary of this theory below.

“ First on the personal level, by ignoring our mortality and vulnerability we build up an unreal sense of self, and we act out of a false sense of who and what we are. Second, as members of society, we tend to identify with one or another “immortality” system (as Becker call it). That is we identify with a religious group, or a political group, or engage in some kind of cultural activity, or adopt a certain culturally sanctioned viewpoint, that we invest with ultimate meaning, and to which we ascribe absolute and permanent truth. This inflates us with a sense of invulnerable righteousness. And then, we have to protect ourselves against exposure of our absolute truth being just one more mortality-denying system among others, which we can only do by insisting that all other absolute truths are false. So we attach and degrade—preferably kill—the adherents of different mortality denying absolute-truth systems. So the Protestants kill the Catholic; the Muslims vilify the Christians and vice-versa; upholders of the America way of life denounce Communists; the Khmer Rouge slaughters all intellectuals in Cambodia; the Spanish Inquisition tortures heretics; and all good students of the Enlightenment demonize religion as the source of all evil.”

A quote from the Thanatopian Institute's website:

In the full brim and vigor of life we seldom stop to ponder this enormous thing we call death. But its shadow is ever present in our terror and solitude. To actually believe that this mystery called life will end to a cause we know not, is an empty dreg at best and should drive many more to madness if we had not the faculty to deceive ourselves through eloquent diminishments of consciousness.

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