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Atheists handle death better than believers. Why?


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#1 Ken Gilmore

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Posted 05 May 2011 - 03:17 AM

Via Bad Astronomy, I discovered the blog of Derek Miller, a Canadian technical writer, sceptic and musician who recently died, after living with metastatic colorectal cancer since 2007, at the age of 41. I've encountered a number of similar stories over the years of atheists being cut down by cancer too many years before their three score years and ten who - to be honest - face death with far more grace, good humour and dignity than many religious believers. Of course, this does not hold true for all - many believers likewise face death with calm assurance. What his blog - which I've spent the last hour perusing - has done is once more shown that the unthinking Christian assertion that without God there is no meaning to life is one which we should put aside, if only to avoid looking ignorant and frankly offensive. This post is representative of how those without God manage to divine meaning from life and face death without the assurance of eternal life.

Certainly, we should not apologise for the hope which motivates us. In telling people about it though, we should not see this as a zero sum game. Proclaiming the Good News does not mean disparaging unbelievers. Verily, they do have their reward.
“I do not feel obliged to believe that the same God who has endowed us with sense, reason, and intellect has intended us to forgo their use.” - Galileo Galilei

#2 Rebel

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Posted 05 May 2011 - 04:30 AM

the unthinking Christian assertion that without God there is no meaning to life is one which we should put aside, if only to avoid looking ignorant and frankly offensive. This post is representative of how those without God manage to divine meaning from life and face death without the assurance of eternal life.[/url]

Certainly, we should not apologise for the hope which motivates us. In telling people about it though, we should not see this as a zero sum game. Proclaiming the Good News does not mean disparaging unbelievers. Verily, they do have their reward.

I think God 'uses' people in His plan, and they have their meaning of life, but isn't it in a way a wasted life if person didn't turn to God?

#3 Russell

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Posted 05 May 2011 - 04:33 AM

I have seen no scientific study of comparisons of attitudes to death for atheists compared to theists. However there are anecdotes. The funeral director who has done some of the funerals at our ecclesia has observed that at funerals religious people are much less distraught.

I suppose atheists have no hope of life beyond the grave and so can accept death knowing that it is inevitable. However a person who believes in God who has not lived up to what he/she knew was right would exhibit strong regret. On the other hand a close relative in our family faced death very positively; I'm sure there are other similar examples.

#4 Ken Gilmore

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Posted 05 May 2011 - 04:45 AM

I have seen no scientific study of comparisons of attitudes to death for atheists compared to theists. However there are anecdotes. The funeral director who has done some of the funerals at our ecclesia has observed that at funerals religious people are much less distraught.

I suppose atheists have no hope of life beyond the grave and so can accept death knowing that it is inevitable. However a person who believes in God who has not lived up to what he/she knew was right would exhibit strong regret. On the other hand a close relative in our family faced death very positively; I'm sure there are other similar examples.

The evidence is largely anecdotal, which is why I couched my remarks in the usual qualifications. My perspective - and that of a number of other hospital staff - is that serious unbelievers, the ones who are fairly certain in their lack of belief, approach death with less fear than the average believer. The former don't necessarily enjoy the prospect of non-existence, but they don't fear death since they realise (correctly) that after death there is simple non-existence. For ex-Christians who were tortured with the thought of eternal torture in hell, this is actually quite liberating. The latter, if they adhere to a punitive form of Christianity, may well end up fearing death, because they fear they're not good enough for God. Some of these (anecdotal evidence again) even lose their faith in God, and spend their remaining days in a sense of hopeless despair.

Again, my experience (and that of others I've read) is anecdotal, and should not be considered as representative. What it does suggest however is that religion for not a few people is not the solace they think it is, and conversely, a number of unbelievers live full, meaningful lives even in the face of early death. I find it strangely touching.
“I do not feel obliged to believe that the same God who has endowed us with sense, reason, and intellect has intended us to forgo their use.” - Galileo Galilei

#5 Fortigurn

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Posted 05 May 2011 - 09:52 AM

Well here's an atheist comment for you.

In my past experiences with death and Christianity I have never seen such intellectual honesty as yours.






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