The mod Christ in Jesus Christ Superstar sings the plaintive query, “Why must I die?” Although the rock-opera Jesus is not seriously cast as the divine Son of God, he does seem to be cast as the son of man, a kind of man for all men. It is as though he is seeking a universal answer to humanity’s common question.

Lewis Mumford in his best-seller The Myth of the Machine: The Pentagon of Power says that our culture is death-oriented. Taken alone, his view may seem unduly negative. But when the entire contemporary scene is considered, Mumford’s point is well taken. Let’s consider an instance or two.

The two principal characters in Evelyn Waugh’s The Loved Ones are named Miss Thanatogenos (death-kind) and Mr. Joyboy (a cosmetic talent in the world of funeral-directing). The story is a saccharine and ghoulish satire on the “American way of death.” Yet despite its morbid subject matter, only a few years ago it reigned over the best-sellers for an amazing period of time.

A current painting shows the skyline of Manhattan presiding over a graveyard; the lines and forms of the distant skyscrapers are duplicated in the gravestones. Beneath a print of the painting are the words “Megalopolis to Necropolis?”

The somber sardonicism of artistic products like these, coupled with a strange, new, cultural affair with violence, leads us to affirm Lewis Mumford’s view. The Romans and other ancients were obsessed with gladiators, public executions, and other forms of death spectacle. But in a different way, we too live with a death orientation, so much so that it scarcely seems morbid to speak about it. Nearly every day we hear war casualty reports, holiday traffic statistics, starvation figures from the world’s hunger spots, and other grim tallies ...

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