The stereotype of an existentialist is that of a nerdy, 98-pound weakling who contemplates his navel or broods endlessly about death. However, existentialists see ourselves as intellectual free spirits, untethered to many burdensome conventions. The death cult characterization is unfair and stems from our casual attitude toward death. After all, how can death be important to me, if I’m not even here? There is a certain nostalgia to NOT living, but there is no nostalgia after death.
Since travelling to Iceland, I’ve developed an interest in Vikings. In an excellent new book entitled Laughing Shall I Die by Tom Shippey, I learned the Vikings were not any particular ethnic group. They were marauding seafarers from several different countries. He attributes their success to their fatalistic perspective and were also unfairly considered a death cult. The concept of heaven or hell was alien to them (except for a final feast with the god Odin in the afterlife). Either you were alive, or you weren’t. However, they did care a great deal about the manner of death, which is different from existentialists. Men wanted to die with a sword in their hand and women wanted to die in childbirth. Existentialists seldom care about that. If I’m not here, what difference does it make?
By the way, during my thirty years as a financial planner, I have noticed it is more difficult to work with existentialists on their estate plans. You have to appeal to their love of family to get their attention. Once their lawyer blesses the documents, they lose interest quickly. That’s why a financial planner has to keep extra pressure on existential clients. They should pay more than normal clients??