Thursday, November 22, 2012

Non-Relational Society

The number of people in Japan who are dying alone, cremated without funeral rites, is so staggering, according to a recent article in View from the Ark in the Catholic Times, that it was a topic of one of their TV programs. And businesses have formed to take the place of family at death. Other enterprises will dispose of personal belongings when directed to do so by the dying person, who gives the  details in a notebook the company provides. 

What is happening in Japanese society, says the columnist, is a blueprint for what will happen in Korean society. We are well on our way toward making a relation-free society, the columnist says. A society in which our next-door neighbor can die and no one knows. A society in which one meets another on the road without any sign of recognition.

Relationship is a word that no longer seems to have the importance it once did. Two brief examples were given in the article. The columnist tells us how memories of the past, left in a box, were discarded without a thought by a man whose mother left behind a picture of her son as a baby on the back of his mother. In another case piles of newspapers were outside the front door of a house and nobody seemed to give the sight a second look. When  someone did enter the house, the TV was on, bread was in the toaster, and in the air the smell of death.

Koreans, about 30-40 years ago, at the  beginning of the economic boom, left the relational society of the country for the anonymity of big city life. They left the extended family for the nuclear family, leaving the elders behind. The result was that  people lived alone, died alone and lonely, the natural results of the change in the mores of society. The internet, of course, has made the solitary life easier. But the increase of  irregular workers and the increase of the young opting for the single life will mean we will have more people dying alone and in loneliness.
The individualism from the West has inundated our society; the digital culture has taken over and the young people who have not experienced  the relational society of the past will very quickly forget what community life is all about. Young people have forgotten the traditional customs concerning marriage and look upon whether to marry or not as a purely personal choice.

The columnist asks what kind of society do we want? Many answer that they want to have intimate relationships with others and to enjoy freedom, but this is not easy to achieve. In the  non-relational society, you are lonely but have freedom. In a relational society, you have intimacy but sacrifice is necessary. What is a fact is that we are moving from a relational society into a non-relational society. This is not something we need fear even though it is becoming our reality. The last moment of death, after all, is something we all have to undergo alone--it is a personal encounter.

All religions, seeing death as an important stage in life and by its nature private, give us positive teachings on how to deal with our last days. For a Christian, death is not the end, but a going on to God  and the resurrection. Effort is made to do away with the fear that can accompany death. Dying alone does not fit well with  the teachings of the Church.

For a Christian, it is our duty to decrease, as much as possible, the numbers of those  who are dying alone. After death, paradise is important but Jesus told us that we are in his kingdom while here on earth. Reciting prayers for the dead is a wonderful gesture. But more important is spending time with those living alone and being with them in their last hours.

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