Thursday, November 01, 2007

Death

Matt Dilahunty and Martin Wagner (of the Atheist Community of Austin) hosted an episode of the Atheist Experience, two weeks ago, in which they briefly touched on the subject of death. It was a well done discussion of the messages Christians use to scare people into accepting a belief in God/Christ by appealing to the natural, human fear of death. They also made the point that I'm fond of making, in that the fear isn't really a fear of dying, but a fear of the unknown. Martin astutely pointed out that humans like patterns and they like to have answers, even if the answer to a problem might be incorrect. They'll take an incorrect answer over an "I don't know.", because, by giving ANY answer, you're setting some parameters for the experience and taking some anxiety out of the unknown.
Anyway... I thought it was an interesting episode and it's something I've been thinking of lately. As most of you know, I have SLE and it's not treating me very well. Every day is an exercise in pain and frustration. But, I want to discuss why *I* think that atheism is a better approach to death than buying into the Christian concept of heaven (or the afterlife).
1. Accepting reality. I'm a big fan of it. What has ever been gained from lying to a person about what they face in the future? Seriously, aside from temporary comfort, what benefit is genuinely gained by either believing there's an afterlife or convincing someone else that there's an afterlife? And, how comforting can it indeed be? Whether you believe in heaven or you accept the reality... you're still going to die. If I believed in the token of a heavenly afterlife, would it change the fact that I'm going to die? No. If, however, I accept the fact the reality (that death is the end of the game), then I can benefit from that approbation because I can choose to make each day count. This leads to point number two...
2. Action. I think the cognitive dissonance involved in believing in an afterlife while you are dying is counter productive? What do you think a dying person is more likely to realize before death? "I'm so glad I'm dying because I'm going to heaven!" or, simply, "I have lived my life." I would think that most people would realize, at the end of their life, that all they have is what they've lived. Accepting a flawed belief that there's another life after this one doesn't really encourage people to get out and live the life they have to its fullest. If you believe you're going to see your dead relatives in the afterlife, then what's your impetus to work hard at maintaining a relationship with your dying relative/friend? I think people believe in the afterlife partly because they are lazy and want to assuage their guilt over "being busy" and not devoting time to their loved one as the loved one was moribund. It's easier to self-soothe your guilt over not giving a crap if you can pretend that you'll be able to make amends and see the deceased again someday. Also, if you think there's this wonderful "great beyond", then what's the point of fighting your disease to hang around a few more days?
3. Duplicity. If there's some extraordinary hereafter, then why is euthanasia (and suicide, to a degree) a sin? If there's truly some wondrous and enviable heaven, then you'd think theists would be enthusiastic about a dying person wanting to get to that place sooner. Any motivation for keeping a dying person alive becomes a selfish act and/or philosophy. After all, who are we to keep Aunt Myrtle from heaven? Theists become hypocrites when faced with the process of death. In the Christian philosophy, heaven is a fringe benefit of suffering through life on earth. However, most Christians are firmly against any procedure or ontology that approves of speeding the process of death along.
4. Honesty. If I walked up to you and said, "Dude. If you do "a", I will give you "b"...but, I don't have any proof that "b" exists, then I am lying to you. Heaven is an illusory promise! No one can prove that heaven, or any afterlife, exists. So, why are so many people completely willing to believe that heaven exists? And, why would you promote something that you can't deliver or prove?

As an atheist, I react to the above points with the following;
1. Acceptance. I know that the one constant truth in this world is that every living thing eventually dies. Some organisms sooner than others, but death is indubitable. We will die. The only unknowns, for most, are "when?" and "how?". By accepting that you are going to die, and that there's no afterlife, you stand a better chance of appreciating life for what it is. If you accept the 100% certainty of death, you can better view each day alive as a treasure. A heavenly afterlife is out of the cards, but you can accept that each day should be your heaven on earth. People should strive to make every day their best day. If you can accept this, you're bound to face death with a healthier perspective. And, a healthier mental outlook is often responsible, for whatever reason, in extending life and boosting physical health.
2. Action. When you know and accept the above, you can then set about living for each day. Rather than living life and hoping that you'll get some sort of deific prize, you can become extremely proactive about making the here-and-now rewarding, alluring, and extraordinary! I know that I am dying (probably sooner than most people my age). I have accepted it. Accepting it, with the atheistic perspective that "this is it", I've become focused on appreciating what I have now and taking every opportunity to make memories for my children/husband/family/friends. The MEMORIES are what persist and soothe us in grief and recovery. I find the idea of spending hours in church every week to be an enormous waste of the numbered hours we have to live. Does anyone ever stand-up in a funeral (or memorial service) and talk about how wonderful spending time in church with a loved one was? Or, do they remember, and talk about, the times spent; having fun, building relationships, DOING meaningful things, spending time with, and/or experiencing life with the deceased? And, let's get real for a moment - why do we care about what the dead would want? They're dead!! You know what I "want" when I die? I wish for my children to be surrounded by love and laughter. I want people to pay as little attention as possible to my dead-ass body decaying in the coffin (awaiting cremation). Focus on my children!! Share with them every memory that we share and every hope that I've ever spoke of for them. When we die, as atheists, we're pretty sure that OUR lives are finished, so why not focus on the life still to come in those we love? Why not delight in the shared memories and experiences, rather than say prayers for the dead person to be at peace or in heaven? It's a waste of time!
3. Duplicity. Atheism requires no hypocrisy about death. When you're dead, you're dead. Do not pass go. Do not collect $200. If someone is suffering from cancer and is exhausted from the pain, atheism presents no ethical or moral antimony. If peace is what the goal is, you can give someone the most peaceful death possible without worrying about some eternal or divine punishment for acting in a humane fashion. With atheism, there's no impending, illimitable accounting of a person's sins or good deeds. Rather, our sins and good deeds have, presumably, already impacted our lives and the lives of those who will go on living. Therefore, there's no worrying about someone ending up in heaven or hell. Death isn't a punishment or reward. It's just death. It's natural.
4. Honesty. Atheism doesn't use death as some sadistic, guilt inducing tool. I keep thinking of the child whose father died in the Sago mine disaster. This little boy was told to pray to God and ask for his father's life to be spared. So, he prayed. Then, the false report of the miners being alive was announced and this kid's grandma said, on national television, "See... your prayers mattered and you saved your daddy. God saved daddy because of your prayers." Of course, when the news filtered down that the child's father was dead,... well, no one brought up this boy's prayers. How fucking dishonest, shrewd, and reproachful was it for adults to insinuate that this child was, in ANY way, in a position to effect the outcome of the disaster? No survivor should feel that sort of guilt or responsibility for the death of someone for whom they had NO capacity to affect the outcome! And, how can anyone, in good conscience, tell a child (or any one) that there's a heaven wherein their loved one will be waiting for them? And,...to go further...how can any religious person spend uncalled for amounts of time lecturing people about hell (or worrying about hell), when almost no one in a position of religious authority would stand-up during a funeral and say, "Yep. He/She is in hell! Let's go have some funeral potatoes!" It's a lie- either way. You shouldn't make claims about things that can't possibly be proven...especially when vulnerable people are involved.

*end rant*

25 comments:

John R said...

More liberal atheist garbage talk.
I would like to invite you to debate me on my turf. Remember that you told me it was okay to share your pictures because you were proud of your children so if it offends you I will take them down but I will be fair and only do as you have done to the Duggar family.

Maggie Rosethorn said...

Pmomma--once again, I am agreeing with you 100%. I don't believe in a heaven/hell/purgatory (although, being a Dante fan, I think his ring for the atheists is kinda cool so I wouldn't mind ending up there anyway...)

I live my life, love my family and friends, and enjoy the wonders of the world.

After I die, cremate me and have a party NOT a funeral. Celebrate my life. Remember all the good times, goofy things and me. Forget the "meet in Heaven" crap and don't have the event in a church. Have it in a funeral home or some other building if the weather is lousy, otherwise, have it outside in a park.
Let the kids swing on the swings, slide down the slide, yell, laugh and play. Let the adults sit and laugh, talk, cry if they have to. But celebrate my life.

John - we have BEEN on your turf. Most of us have been religious (or very religious) in our lives, and have grown up to realize reality is better than fantasy to live in. You can't prove god to me. From all the things I've read about him (from his own 'holy book') he's someone that if he WAS alive I wouldn't want to meet. Debates need to be based on facts, and the bible has very few facts.

John B said...

First, an excellent post, and I agree with everything. I find the Christian illusions around death and heaven particularily annoying, especially when none of it is provable so they can ignore any burden of proof on their part.

Personally I also share your 4 points. I accept that when I am dead I will disintegrate back into a bunch of raw materials, which can then be reused by other living things on this planet. This is true for every living thing, and we are no exception. Why are we supposed to be exempt when there is actually very little physical difference between us and all the other animals on this planet?

As a result I accept that I have only one life, and take responsibility for what I do in it. The funeral speech is something that sometimes bothers me. No one ever says "He always turned up at the office on time." We only get one go at life, and it is our life after all, and not someone else's.

I just wanted to add a couple of things.

I particularily despise the Christian hypocrisy that lets them all commit sins up to their moment of death, and then suddenly repent it all and be allowed into heaven. And this is shown up time and time again by the various Christian leaders who get caught out 'sinning', and then try and weedle out of it all by 'repenting'. It doesn't wash with me.

Also I find the whole 'heaven' concept to be upside down. I mean, why would we be allowed into the Kingdom of God? God exists in another type of dimension to us, because he created all of the universe in which we live. Right? So God never intended us to be with him in his world. He deiberately made this world for us.

In fact, what could be a better definition of 'heaven' than a world made by the hand of God and filled with everything that Man could ever need, before God himself let Man live in that place. And that place is the Earth!

Earth is heaven for humans! And look at what we are doing to it! We have managed to eliminate many of the species that God created, and are now draining the Earth of all of the natural resources that God placed there for us. I'm sure that God is sitting there in his dimension looking down on us and thinking: "Don't they get it? I created this world to be perfectly suited to Man, and to have everything in it Man would ever need. Why would I keep anything from Man? I put everything he might ever need there on Earth with him. And Man has got it wrong, and is systematically destroying the work of God. The only heaven is the one I made for you."

Except of course, there is no God to think this. And no heaven. And so on, and so on.

John B (UK)

Sean the Blogonaut F.C.D. said...

PMomma,

Nice rant. Agree with you 100%


John R,

You quite frankly are an arsehole, a despicable human being, a coward.

You hide behind the bible and bend "gods rules" to your own petty thinking.

I sincerely wish you would fuck off and die. That you will most likely outlive PMomma is a tragedy. That you will spread your filth is a travesty.

I will never acknowledge you again you gutless, poor excuse for a human being.

I would salute you in the field.

Betsy said...

PMomma - would you mind if I reposted this on my blog, giving credit to your site, of course? I think it explains the atheist view of death extremely well.

HappyNat said...

Great post. When my mother died (way too young) from brain cancer last year, so many people told some variation of, "She's in a better place." That doesn't help me at all. What helped was when people shared memories of my mom which conveyed what a wonderful strong person she was in life. That how I think of my mother, not that she is up in heaven playing shuffleboard waiting for my dad to die an join her.

trust n truth said...

Awwww. John R has a cute little bashing blog! In'it cute? <3

To bad all of the posts are nothing but the same old tripe and littered with insults and whining. Your butthurt is showing, John.

Oh hey! I have an idea! Why don't you answer all of our unanswered questions in your next post?

Paul said...

Hmm... anyone else find John R's thinly-veiled P-Momma hate blog exceedingly creepy? Feels like an episode of Criminal Minds unfolding.

That someone is compelled to focus so much hate and effort on a complete stranger and her children is just plain scary. It worries me, not only P-Momma and clan, but for John's family, too.

AlisonM said...

Very nice, Pmomma. I've tried explaining to people about how not believing in an afterlife does not lead to a sad and hopeless attitude for many of these very reasons. Why is it that people think "My life sucks, but I don't need to do anything but worship and believe, and then when I die, life will be so much better." I just got email from someone telling me "If I didn't believe in hell, I'd kill myself." However, the combination of untreated depression and fear have paralyzed her. (I don't know if her church is one of the ones that also discourages medications and therapy for mental illness, but when I suggested a number of possibilities and tried to be upbeat and encouraging, the emails suddenly stopped.) When belief in an afterlife makes you devalue the life you have, it's definitely a horrible lie.

You also made the point about prolonging life when death is imminent and pain is unbearable. As a lifelong pet owner, I've nursed many animals through illness and age, and always thought that when it's clear that the pet I love will die in pain, it's a mercy to euthanize before the animal is in agony. We have more options with people, since people can understand that a treatment will be temporarily painful but result in better health and comfort. People can also ask for pain medication and communicate when it's not enough. Yes, people will want to hang on as long as they can, but they should also be given the same mercy as pets - when there's nothing that will help, the end is coming, and the pain is all they feel, people should be allowed to ask and receive a merciful end. Sometimes it's possible for this to happen, given the right circumstances, but it's kept secret and lied about, and that shouldn't be.

As I grew out of my belief in an afterlife, the effect was only positive. It was a lie that kept me from doing something about things that bothered me, enjoying things that didn't have a "purpose" and even erased the fear of death. Once I didn't have to wonder which version of an afterlife was waiting, which rules I had broken, and which deities I'd pissed off, I was able to invest all that energy in living my life. I know this is repetitive and that a lot of other visitors here have the same feelings, but I don't think it can ever be stated enough, so there it is.

Maggie Rosethorn said...

Paul - I just looked at John's blog, and yes, it IS creepy. Did you notice the webname of the blog? "Possumwatch"....y'know, this just creeps me out. If I comment over there, I'm going to use another name/email, because I just don't trust him not to use the email address to harass me.

TOTALLY OT...funny thing at work today...I found another atheist! She is the manager of a dept near me, and I have always liked her. I warned her that those of us who were falling behind on the Atheist Manifesto (you know, robbery, murder, rape, pederasty, etc) are going to be in trouble because of the low numbers. Unfortunately, I'm behind because I'm too busy raising my kids, loving my neighbor, giving food to the local food kitchen, and so on. Guess I need more hours in a day. ;)

Poodles said...

This is such a perfect post. Thank you for it.

Maggie, I am with you, have me cremated then have a party, no funeral crap.

Poodles said...

Ok I was just dumb enough to head over to Johns blog. Holy Crap! This dude seriously needs to get laid or something (ok maybe not quite that we don't more of his spawn than there already are.)

trust n truth said...

Oh wow. I didn't even notice the name of the blog. That is creepy. I take back my earlier sarcasm. I believe John has upgraded himself from delusional nut to obsessive whackjob.

Atheist in a mini van. said...

PMomma - would you mind if I reposted this on my blog, giving credit to your site, of course? I think it explains the atheist view of death extremely well.

Link away :) Thanks.

John B...I particularily despise the Christian hypocrisy that lets them all commit sins up to their moment of death, and then suddenly repent it all and be allowed into heaven.
Me, too. It's a Get Out Of Jail Free card.

Hmm... anyone else find John R's thinly-veiled P-Momma hate blog exceedingly creepy? Feels like an episode of Criminal Minds unfolding
I find it exceedingly creepy and am asking John to remove the pics. He's being kind of a schmuck about it.

Poodles...This is such a perfect post. Thank you for it.

Thanks!!


I believe John has upgraded himself from delusional nut to obsessive whackjob.

The intriguing thing is that he's been e-mailing me all morning reminding me that I once said, in jest, that he could "link to my pictures all (he) wanted, it woudln't matter." Of course, I was responding to a threat of his to put pics of the kids side by side with pics of his kids.

TonyInBatavia said...

Coupla, things, P-Momma...

First, you said he could *link* to your pictures, which implies that he'd provide a link to your website; you did *not* give him permission to post your pictures to his own site.

Second, these are your work. Posting them to his site without clear permission and due payment to you is a clear copyright violation. I think it's time to put a call in to your lawyer.

Saurian200 said...

John,

If your site is called Danger of Secular Families, then why is EVERY post on your site about P-Momma and her family only?

I am extremely disturbed by this. I've said it before, but you are becoming a stalker. Your site strongly supports that. It's just a Possummomma hate site.

I say this because I am concerned about you, with your blog you've crossed a line. I strongly suggest that it's time for you to walk away. You need to find something else to occupy your time.

Poodles said...

PM,
It is good to see that John has taken the pictures from his blog. What a creepy fella.

Atheist in a mini van. said...

PM,
It is good to see that John has taken the pictures from his blog. What a creepy fella.


OH!! He has, hasn't he?
Good!
It *is* creepy. I e-mailed him several times this morning and he finally admitted that he was being dishonest. I had originally told him that I didn't mind him linking to my BLOG POSTS with pictures in them. He interpreted that as my "blessing" to repost the pictures. It took me two hours to get him to recognize the difference. Jerk.

Jeff R. (no relation) said...

To john r, from one JR to another:

John, are you walking in love?

Jeff R.

Jeff R. (no relation) said...

Hi folks.

P.M., you are (aren't you) deliberately avoiding the obvious theist objection to suicide and/or euthanasia. Imagine... the afterlife is so much better than earthly existence. If suicide were permissible, then all Christians would top themselves as soon as possible. Loving mothers would slaughter their children to send them to that miraculous, loving place.

No, suicide must be against the rules, or the basic subscription numbers will plummet.

Chris said...

Johnny, remember when I advised you not to use yourself as an example of what kind of person somebody could become by following the word of god? I think I used the words hateful, hypocritical and completely handicapped with regards to reality to describe yourself. If I didn't use those words exactly, they still hold true. Not exactly the type of person you should be telling people to strive for, now is it?

With this new blog of yours you've only further proven this. You're hateful, spiteful and absolutely disturbing in how quickly you're turning into a stalker.

In one of your blog comments, you justify this by saying that PM has used a QF family as an example of QF (I think the Duggars?), so you're a-ok with using PM and her family as an example of atheists. There's a difference here you're not catching onto. PM isn't focusing on QF or the Duggars. I only remember her commenting on them a couple times, actually (that I can remember). Now, if there were more QF families out there in the public eye, then I'm sure she'd be use them as examples as well. You, on the other hand, are focusing on this one family in every post in that blog, despite what you say about it being about secular families in general. On top of that, you're sounding rather hate and spite filled in your posts.

You need to do yourself a favor and look at yourself before you go judging others, there's a ton of glaring problems that need to be addressed before you have the right to pass judgement.

Sorry PM, looks like Johnny Boy there partially hijacked another post, and I've helped by calling him on it :( Regarding the original topic of this post, though...I agree 100%. I lost my dad and step mom a couple years ago, and the only things that helped was the memories I had together with them. It also seemed that those who had a more religious outlook on life had the hardest time coping with it, which was a bit surprising at the time. I would have thought that being so sure that he's "in a better place" ,and they would see him when they too pass on, would be a comfort. Instead, it seemed like all it did was increase the mystery and fear surrounding death. They "know" what happens, so they don't deal with it or think about it, so they aren't prepared and don't know how to handle it when it does show up.

When my step-mom passed away, we had a service at a local church. Of course, there was some god-speak going on, but not a whole lot. It was a celebration of her life and the memories we all had of her, not some thinly hidden attempt to preach. My dad actually got a mime to come in and so some touching act. It wasn't corny at all, actually, and even though it was a surprise to most people, they all seemed to enjoy it. When we had the second service at the church she grew up at back in the midwest...well, I've never seen a more disgusting funeral service before (all of us who attended and didn't grow up in the midwest agreed). My dad had to *fight* with the pastor to include some personal touches to the funeral. Outside of what he managed to get the pastor to say, it was 100% ritual. Literally. The whole church opened a book and, in unison, repeated what was listed in page XX, paragraph XX, saying her name instead of "Insert name here".

We again had to deal with a preacher taking some control a few months later when my dad passed away, though to a much lesser extent. Me and some other family were in charge of the slideshow, showing photos from his life. We were to choose what songs to play while the slideshow was going on, ones that represented him. The pastor refused to play "The Purple People Eater". Noooo, it had to be somber, low key. Ugh.

Bwian said...

And he's already telling lies in his comment section. Sad, sad little stalker. I think he posted here to up his blog hits; it must be tough to find people to talk to, when your wife and children are beneath your dignity.

And sorry to continue the thread hijack, but he doesn't allow anonymous comments on his turf. I am curious when the inevitable deletion of comments will begin.

AlisonM said...

I thought he was supposed to put up pictures of HIS family. Hmmmm.

The Duggar family went on national television to tell their stories. When you decide to become a public figure, you take the risk of criticism knowingly. Had they not signed up for a TV show, they would not have become an example of/spokesfamily for the QF movement. That is completely different from your average person who has internet access like most of the country, and blogs on a site that offers free bloghosting to anyone who signs up. PM was commenting on something that was readily available public information. john r is on a personal crusade.

As a result, john r is clearly establishing his role as a stalker, a one-trick pony, a person who wants to impose his belief system by force. As such, he is demonstrating in favor of the point of Possummomma's post. He's doing all this because he wants a reward in the afterlife. Rather than using this one as an opportunity to be a positive force in the human community, rather than expanding the pool of knowledge, friendship, and joy, he wants to compress the entire world into a very small cage with strict rules and infinite restrictions. "Be like me, or else!" No, that way leads nowhere.

Joe said...

PM, I'm linking to your post as well with positive comment.

Atheist in a mini van. said...

Thanks, Joe!