Monday, June 15, 2009

Nothing at All

death, christian, theism, atheism, atheist, fear,

It's the main difference between atheists and theists of any stripe, I think. Tell a Christian, for example, that you think death is the end, that there is nothing more, that people just cease to be at that point, and you're likely to end up getting a frothing-at-the-mouth lecture on heaven and hell. In fact, I suspect that there are a certain percentage of theists that don't really believe in supreme beings at all, but they're terrified at the idea of there being nothing after this.

It's almost impossible to express to someone that attached to the idea of an afterlife how not frightening atheists find the end to be. (Christians, btw, demand more heroic measures, and spend far more, in the last month of life than other groups*. I suspect this does not mean they don't believe in heaven, but rather that their belief in heaven is a symptom of their fear of death. I also don't think that atheists fear death less, but rather that people who fear death less are more likely to become atheists.)

Let me put it this way: Once you die, you're done. It's over. There's no more thinking, no more feeling, nothing. I know it's almost impossible to imagine nothing, but do you suppose a rock misses its family? Does your chair bemoan its fate as it gets moved about the room? Once you die, you're meat. Brisket doesn't complain.

I think people conflate the grief they feel at losing someone with what that someone might be feeling. Death is easy for the dead, it's hard on the living. Funerals aren't for dead people, dead people couldn't care less. Funerals are for the living, to help in their grieving. I am mystified at people that plan their own funerals, or demand this location or that song. I've always told my family to do whatever makes them feel better. I'll be dead, I won't be capable of caring. If they want to play country music, dress me up like a 70s disco queen and read the entire bible at the funeral, more power to 'em. I won't be there.

*wish I could find that link.


  1. I don't particularly believe that there is no continuation of the psyche after death, but that's based on possibilities in quantum theory, not belief in a specific deity.

  2. "If they want to play country music, dress me up like a 70s disco queen and read the entire bible at the funeral, more power to 'em. I won't be there."

    If that happens, I want to be there.

  3. I think that is generally accurate, theists become theists because they fear death, atheists become atheists because they don't fear death as much. I'll be honest though, I have a great fear of the annihilation of death. Though it has diminished the further removed I am from Christianity. Maybe it can be a balance of the need one has for rational thought with the need one has for an anesthetic for the fear of death.

  4. On an emotional level, I do fear death. Or, to put it more accurately, I fear the loss of my "self" that comes with death even though when I'm actually dead I won't care much about it either way.

    On an intellectual level, I also cannot believe in things like god, heaven, hell, reincarnation, and all that other stuff humans create to make the loss of self less scary.

    I guess my approach is to acknowledge that I'm somewhat fearful of death and to face that head-on without trying to trick myself into believing in some sort of utopian (or otherwise) afterlife.

  5. I have been following your blog for a while now and you make some interesting points. I only thought to comment now because I have the link you were looking for. However it won't let me paste the link here so go to search for "religious dying patients" and there you will find it.

  6. Thank you muches, FriskyVisions. I shall edit my post now.

  7. More and more religion strikes me as cowardice; these people are afraid of change in general. They view the world as basically hostile, so any change is likely to be for the worse, and they're scared --> religious, conservative.
    Atheists seem to see life as basically pretty good, and change as likely to be for the better, so not scary. --> secular, progressive

  8. I don't know, since death is the end it might be fun to plan my funeral as a way to comfort those I leave behind. Remind them of the things we have done that mattered most to me. Have some stories told that will make people laugh and have fond memories. Have songs playing that will bring back memories for my wife. Display some paintings and other artwork that I cherish from my children.

    I would like to plan my funeral not as a tribute to me as I won't care anymore, but as a gift to those I leave behind.

  9. Yeah, but my family's fairly religious, so my request to be cremated and have my ashes scattered on the ocean while Symphony in E minor (From the New World) by Antonin Dvorak plays instead of a funeral would really upset them.

  10. i would actually hazard a guess that the reason Christians seem to put more effort into "heroic lifesaving measure" (ugh! i have a living will, thank you very much!) is because they are afraid that they are GOING TO HELL.

    just a thought...


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