Lord Marchmain and a Secular Death

A scene from Brideshead features prominently in a post on the Oxford University Press weblog. This is by Wayne Glausser, Professor of English at De Pauw University. He was reminded of what he calls secular death by the recent passing of Stephen Hawking:

When Stephen Hawking died recently, a report echoed around the internet that he had rejected atheism in his last hours and turned to God. The story was utterly false; Hawking experienced no such deathbed conversion. Similar spurious accounts circulated after the deaths of other notoriously secular figures, including Christopher Hitchens and, back in the day, Charles Darwin. … The topic of secular dying has been on my mind for a while now. In the middle of 2016, I learned that an incurable cancer had taken lodging inside me. … As I tried to sort things out, I thought of … scenes from the verge of secular death. One was fictional: Lord Marchmain, the bitter apostate from Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited, made a sign of the cross as he received last rites, shortly before he died… My challenge: find equanimity and some sense of cosmic resolution…but without Lord Marchmain’s sacramental revival of faith.

Profesor Glausser goes on to consider his options, rejecting LSD but looking for some form of more acceptable “do-it-yourself psychedelic therapy” that might be the answer. This would be combined with some work he is doing on his perception of time. He concludes: “for now, anyway, I don’t find myself … tempted to replace secular with sacramental dying.”

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