As he began his remarks, Brent L. Top, department chair and professor of Church history and doctrine at BYU, acknowledged his subject matter might seem strange in an Education Week setting.
“Death is both fascinating and somewhat frightening,” he said. “It can be frightening in that there is a normal degree of apprehension about it.”
In spite of that apprehension, Top justified his topic by focusing on the need for all mankind to prepare for death’s inevitable appearance. While some look forward to the reunion with those on the other side, Top also described those who seek a fountain of youth to bypass death, as well as those who simply ignore or feel uncomfortable with discussing it.
“But ignoring it doesn’t eliminate it,” Top said. “In fact, death is a vital gateway to immortality — an important milestone along the road of our eternal progress. For this reason, we should learn as much as we can about this subject.”
Titling his remarks, “What is this thing that men call death?” taken from a poem written by President Gordon B. Hinckley, Top sought to present a wide array of restored knowledge concerning the spirit world, the capabilities of the spirit body and how this understanding affects us in mortality.
Using a 1909 statement by the First Presidency along with a quote by President Boyd K. Packer, Top began by affirming the physical body is merely clothing or a shell for the immortal spirit. This understanding, he added, is heightened when people see the body of a loved one who has passed.