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Atheism and discussion of death - Comments

MilitantNonStampCollector's Avatar Comment 1 by MilitantNonStampCollector

Is silence really the right thing to do?

I used to think like that but now I know that too much is at stake. Magical wish thinking is false, end of story. I think it's time for more blunt honesty and less polite appeasing.

Mon, 09 May 2011 18:33:25 UTC | #625019

spotlamp's Avatar Comment 2 by spotlamp

You have to consider your motives for wanting to share your position with others. You could argue that inappropriately attempting to explain your position in a time of grief is the very same exploitation that religious people are guilty of, using the grief as an opportunity. If nobody has asked you for your opinion then there is no need to give it, you have no duty to try and save their soul like religious people claim to have.

I would argue that the main purpose of trying to convince religious people that they are misguided is to make the world a better place, undermining the beliefs that a terminally ill person has that is a comfort to them is going to achieve little I think. If someone asks you for your opinion by all means give it otherwise let them get on with it as you are doing. I feel it would be much more productive to have such discussions at more appropriate times, Don't expect people to think rationally at a time of grief, that is exactly why the religious people use it as a way to convince people.

Mon, 09 May 2011 18:34:33 UTC | #625020

paulmcuk's Avatar Comment 3 by paulmcuk

Yes, silence is best when it comes to discussing what comes after. In my experience people prefer to share memories of the person who has died rather than receive "They've gone to a better place" platitudes. Talk about the person, or listen as the bereaved talks, and you'll be doing ok.

Mon, 09 May 2011 18:38:59 UTC | #625025

Cosmo_7's Avatar Comment 4 by Cosmo_7

I think you've done the right thing. One shouldn't start an argument about religion in those situations, obviously because it would only cause someone to get hurt. I alway believe one should consider the outcomes of ones actions and weigh the pros and cons against each other. You don't have to say: yes, I believe she/he will go to heaven, or wherever the other person thinks they're going. If you get the question, rather say you don't know. If they don't ask, then just do as you've already done. Especially in the case of the elder, you wouldn't want to rob them of their belief, after all, it may have a great impact on their life satisfaction and mental health. What would come of it? Nothing good right, so, leave it.

There's a time and place for everything :-)

Mon, 09 May 2011 19:22:42 UTC | #625049

Stevehill's Avatar Comment 5 by Stevehill

There are two issues you are asking us to consider, which are quite different: professional life and personal life.

As a nurse (if you're in the UK) you will - quite rightly - be fired it you start telling patients their belief systems are a load of bollocks and your opinion is superior. That's not your job, nor is it exactly comforting to them if they are nearing death and happen to believe in an afterlife.

There is no moral argument, anywhere, which would defend you doing this. Leave your beliefs at the door of the workplace and do what you're paid to do.

As regards your partner's "humanist" family, I don't understand your definitions. I don't know any humanists who believe in an afterlife of any sort - and I know a lot of humanists.

You seem to be describing something else. Deists, maybe.

Does you partner particularly want you openly trampling on his/her family's beliefs (whatever they are)? Does it not make sense to talk to your partner and respect his/her wishes?

My b response when pushed on these questions is to say I don't believe in any god or afterlife, but I respect their right to do so. If it helps, I say I quite envy them that certainty because it must give them some comfort, which I certainly do not begrudge them. But I remain unconvinced in the absence of evidence.

Mon, 09 May 2011 19:56:09 UTC | #625062

Pom's Avatar Comment 6 by Pom

IMHO you have left it too late, and now you are reaping the consequences of being silent when you should have been outspoken.

If you had had the courage of your convictions, you would have made it clear, years ago, that you were an atheist. Then the current problem would not have arisen.

I am sorry to write so negatively, but it is surely time that we atheists came OUT.

Mon, 09 May 2011 20:09:54 UTC | #625065

Alan4discussion's Avatar Comment 7 by Alan4discussion

Comment 5 by Stevehill

There are two issues you are asking us to consider, which are quite different: professional life and personal life.

I agree with Stevehill as far as nursing is concerned.

As regards family, Jollyroger @6 makes a good point. Funerals are not a good time for controversy. Preparations should be made in good time.

When my mother died at the age of 93, we had a Humanist funeral in accordance with her wishes, - conducted by a Humanist celebrant at the crematorium. This celebrated her achievements in life and was accompanied by music of her choice. It was respectfully attended by family members, friends and acquaintances - atheists, Christians and Muslims.

Mon, 09 May 2011 20:50:39 UTC | #625079

pauk182's Avatar Comment 8 by pauk182

I'd say be truthful whilst remaining tactful with regard to the family issues. When my brother died, my parents started slipping toward the church with the hope of seeing him again etc... i maintained my staunch position in regarding their wish thinking as non-beneficial in the long term. I wasn't obnoxious or aggressive: just honest... Ultimately, we both remember/honour him in different ways. There's no right or wrong, but keeping silent eats away at you inside, the longer you do it... As for the work situation... fingers in ears, nod head, la la la...

Mon, 09 May 2011 21:00:45 UTC | #625086

Eric Blair's Avatar Comment 9 by Eric Blair

I am a bit sad, and puzzled, that you would turn to strangers on the internet to seek advice on something so intimate as relations with your partner (your professional life is different, and others have responded appropriately).

Your relationship is unique and none of us should judge you for how you deal with these sensitive issues. How you balance your values and beliefs and your partner's is obviously critical to your future. Honesty is always a good policy but when, where and how you broach the subject is equally important, and probably only you alone can judge this.

And remember that your loyalty should primarily be to your partner and your relationship, not the atheist "cause," and that listening to your partner should never be seen as "polite appeasement."

Not much help, I know but ...

Good luck!

EB

Mon, 09 May 2011 21:42:43 UTC | #625102

rrh1306's Avatar Comment 10 by rrh1306

I think it's ok to have that talk eventually.. But I think it would be silly to even think about having that talk during the actual grieving process. If he asks you point blank I don't think you have to lie about what you think. If you want to be truthful but not push the issue that much maybe a simple " No I don't believe but who knows what happens when you die" answer is best for now and than later in the future have a more measured conversation about the subject of the after life. My two cents atleast. Good luck with your dilemma.

Mon, 09 May 2011 22:32:12 UTC | #625124

Schrodinger's Cat's Avatar Comment 11 by Schrodinger's Cat

Another similiar dilemma faced is that I am a nurse for elderly persons and clients frequently tell me their religious ideas and their hopes of entering heaven to see their late partners or family members, and again I stay silent and comfort them, not wanting to offend.

Martin Luther's 'truth at all costs' may be a brilliant ideal, but few ( including Luther himself ) are really able or even willing to live by it.

A better ideal is to establish truth among those who are actually after it.....and subject all else to 'what really matters...at all costs'.

If an incorrect belief of someone was going to profoundly affect the world in some adverse manner, then is the time to speak out. Or if someone has plainly asked for and is seeking 'the truth'.....or is loudly proclaiming a falsity......then one should speak out.

Otherwise it really is incumbent upon one to just shut up.....because ultimately the universe is not keeping a score card of who was right and who was wrong.

Mon, 09 May 2011 23:56:42 UTC | #625154

raytoman's Avatar Comment 12 by raytoman

In a way people live on in the memories of those who knew them and are still alive.

You could argue that if the person wrote a notable book, built a great bridge (or other construction), started a world war, invented or discovered something important, they can live on in history.

Death however is it. If you don't enjoy it this time round, tough! There is no second chance.

The person who was buried twice was buried alive the first time. The patient who had a heart transplant never died, their brain was still alive. It is only relatively recently that our species knew that "we" existed in our brain and not our heart.

If a disbodied brain can live outside the body by provision of all necessary nutrients, I doubt if this could be called life. Even if it could, brains die.

Fear of death probably encouraged the invention of religion, building on the "cures" and "prescience" of Shamen. Death cults then caused it's spread and prevented our species from becoming intelligent.

We need to kill off the parasite that is religion (in it's thousands of forms) and the idiocy of Gods (hundreds of thousands of forms). Even if we free ourselves from superstition, we have wasted so many tens of thousands of years on crap that is is probably too late to ever recover and progress beyond sentience.

Just think where we could have been if Science had been thought of before religion and we had had 100-150 thousand years of science, instead of just 4-500 years.

It's like everyone just pretends , thinking they are helping. Or, most people do believe this crap.

If they allow themselves to be counted as among the religious, enabling religions to claim over 6 billion members and F**K our planet and species up with impunity, then they might as well be signed up fundamentalists.

According to the book of world religions, there are about 75 million athiests. WE need more.

Tue, 10 May 2011 01:19:12 UTC | #625170

lyamjones's Avatar Comment 13 by lyamjones

It is indeed a subject that can be very distressing for certain people and I'm certain I wouldn't get into a arguement with someone on their deathbed about the existence/non-existence of god or gods! I'd be more of the mind to bite my tongue.

On the other hand you have many Atheists that are laying on their deathbeds who are approached by the religious and offered one last chance to dine with the creator! if this happened to me, I would not be offended but I'd certainly be willing to jump into arguement to defend my position of being an Atheist.

Often the hardest part about being an Atheist is that you only have the truth to offer and sometimes the truth is not what people want to hear. I can completely understand someone on their deathbed wishing that there was a heaven to go to but the reality is, it's just wishful thinking.

Tue, 10 May 2011 04:38:19 UTC | #625205

Martin_C's Avatar Comment 14 by Martin_C

If you were directly asked about your thoughts on the afterlife or the 'reason' why a relative died, I don't see anything offensive in stating the truth which is that you don't really know what happens after people die. That seems enough to say without causing offence and without being dishonest in these situations, you're just not mentioning your strong suspicions that nothing happens after death and there's no 'reason'.

Tue, 10 May 2011 07:35:53 UTC | #625233

C.Wood's Avatar Comment 15 by C.Wood

I suggest saying things that are demonstrably true, like "they will live on in your memories", "Honor them", and such things. At least for me, these are admirable and true things to say. To not forget someone is the greatest honor you can give them, I would think.

Tue, 10 May 2011 09:01:35 UTC | #625246

SaganTheCat's Avatar Comment 16 by SaganTheCat

I'm glad that I've come out. I can just say "you know my thoughts" and remain respectfully silent about the thoughts of others when they're grieving

unfortunately there will always be times when you're expected to help someone grip their security blanket. usually relating to the fact theat they will mysteriously see that person or smell their tobacco and "how can you possibly explain that!!??" (OK i've been blunt and said "you imagined it") but where possible try to make it clear you simply don't view the world their way. To get into a discussion means you can either lie to them to make them happy (personally i think it's more ethical to administer morphine and say this'll make you feel better but it'll wear off) or you can find yourself in philisophical debate with an overly emotional person.

I try to explain that my view is not a negative one and I believe people do live on in our thoughts but not in their own which is no worse than having them live on a cloud somewhere

Tue, 10 May 2011 11:46:06 UTC | #625274

Graxan's Avatar Comment 17 by Graxan

My mum is currently lying in a hospital bed unconscious and imminently expecting to leave us. She has been fighting without complaint since only last March having had the specter of grade 4 brain cancer rear itself. Although she is still breathing, I know she is gone and there is no evidence to show that she is going to say hello to me again and give me a cheeky motherly wink. Through my personal devastation, I have found there is, in one way, a fascinating war playing itself out in my head between the desperate forces of need and loss and those of logic, both of the former aching to reveal some truth that she is not gone and this even promises to forge a new reality of her existence in my mind. - An existance that means I will be able to see her again somehow in the future through visions, communion with a higher power or when death takes me. This isn't true, and I know - I cannot help but know, that my resolve to understand the nature of the world, the universe, through evidence and science and rationality is the only reliable reality and I therefore deny myself these fantasies. I’ve always been an atheist as far as I can tell but I have to admit that this is one particularly hard point in my life that I was not expecting for some time yet, so falling on our instinctual and cultural teachings is tempting.

I know many people will in no way be able to deny themselves this, maybe due to their religion or simply due to their not having gotten involved in the big discussion. So, I would, given the current understanding given to me by my compromised state of mind, recommend leaving people their hopes and wishes. Comfort at this time is very important and, without going too deeply into the technicalities of mental health requirements, I suspect it is important for people to remain well adjusted and believe their family member or friend is safe from pain and harm and possibly watching over them.

After some time has passed however, I would suspect that the conversation can be had and more likely SHOULD be had because of all of the associated negative effects wish-thinking can bring. Ultimately I think you are right and these irrationalities should be 'fought'.

From a more pragmatic perspective, being right about something doesn't neccessarily give absolute license to voice it and one should be wary of doing so in situations where emotional reactions may occur. So I guess my answer would be that there is a time and a place for such things. Allow wounds to heal and then discuss it.

Regards.

Tue, 10 May 2011 12:43:11 UTC | #625296

rrh1306's Avatar Comment 18 by rrh1306

Sorry to hear about your mom. Best wishes to you and your family going forward.

Comment 17 by Graxan :

My mum is currently lying in a hospital bed unconscious and imminently expecting to leave us. She has been fighting without complaint since only last March having had the specter of grade 4 brain cancer rear itself. Although she is still breathing, I know she is gone and there is no evidence to show that she is going to say hello to me again and give me a cheeky motherly wink. Through my personal devastation, I have found there is, in one way, a fascinating war playing itself out in my head between the desperate forces of need and loss and those of logic, both of the former aching to reveal some truth that she is not gone and this even promises to forge a new reality of her existence in my mind. - An existance that means I will be able to see her again somehow in the future through visions, communion with a higher power or when death takes me. This isn't true, and I know - I cannot help but know, that my resolve to understand the nature of the world, the universe, through evidence and science and rationality is the only reliable reality and I therefore deny myself these fantasies. I’ve always been an atheist as far as I can tell but I have to admit that this is one particularly hard point in my life that I was not expecting for some time yet, so falling on our instinctual and cultural teachings is tempting.

I know many people will in no way be able to deny themselves this, maybe due to their religion or simply due to their not having gotten involved in the big discussion. So, I would, given the current understanding given to me by my compromised state of mind, recommend leaving people their hopes and wishes. Comfort at this time is very important and, without going too deeply into the technicalities of mental health requirements, I suspect it is important for people to remain well adjusted and believe their family member or friend is safe from pain and harm and possibly watching over them.

After some time has passed however, I would suspect that the conversation can be had and more likely SHOULD be had because of all of the associated negative effects wish-thinking can bring. Ultimately I think you are right and these irrationalities should be 'fought'.

From a more pragmatic perspective, being right about something doesn't neccessarily give absolute license to voice it and one should be wary of doing so in situations where emotional reactions may occur. So I guess my answer would be that there is a time and a place for such things. Allow wounds to heal and then discuss it.

Regards.

Tue, 10 May 2011 12:57:41 UTC | #625304

sciencehead78's Avatar Comment 19 by sciencehead78

In my opinion those are definitely not the times for trying to convince others of your position. If I knew the people well e.g. family members or close friends, I might convey that I think we are all in the same boat ultimately, that we all wonder about the same things ultimately, and that I have never seen any reason to think there was anything more than this life nor any reason to not be pleased that those atoms that briefly contributed to my mind and body will cycle through more life-forms and ultimately return to the universe from where they were born. But even then I would do it in a spirit of everybody throwing in their own take on life and death. But as a healthcare provider I would not deny a dying person the comfort, real or imagined, that they have already arrived at.

Comment 11 by Schrodinger's Cat :

Otherwise it really is incumbent upon one to just shut up.....because ultimately the universe is not keeping a score card of who was right and who was wrong.

I agree with SC that there is no scorecard at the end of the day, no one to clap ya on the back and say "well done, your views on the world given the data you had were extraordinarily insightful, have a gold star".

Tue, 10 May 2011 13:05:54 UTC | #625308

sandman67's Avatar Comment 20 by sandman67

I like Stevehills response, but will make it even simpler for you:

Are you an empathic human being? Do you have any heart?

Right. Now you can probably empathise your way through this.

Pushing YOUR beliefs on people in times of impending death or mourning is just as disgusting a practice as the deathbed faith pushers.

Keep your opinions to yourself, and especially at work. If asked gently explain you dont believe in what they do and leave it at that.

See further the great Hitch in recent talks on the disgusting practices of deathbed evangelists.

Tue, 10 May 2011 13:10:49 UTC | #625313

Stevehill's Avatar Comment 21 by Stevehill

@Graxan

I can't prescribe a model response for the crap you are going through. But I can empathise, having been there watching my wife of 27 years die of terminal cancer over a three month period in hospital.

We both resisted the (small) temptation to pray, to rationalise (not) that there was a "better place" round the corner. We chose honesty.

But even though I have remarried and have toddler kids, I sometimes "talk" to her, at least in my head: how do you think I'm doing, what do you think of these kids, I wish you were here to enjoy them too, your home-made lasagne is better than this one I just made.

I know this is completely meaningless.

But I also think that everything I am today is conditioned by that relationship, and in that sense when I talk to my (second) wife, or kids, or anybody really, some of what I say is going through the prism of the person who perhaps more than anybody (even my parents) made me what I am.

And that's OK.

Tue, 10 May 2011 18:07:26 UTC | #625457

Paul the Pretentious's Avatar Comment 22 by Paul the Pretentious

Comment 20 by sandman67 :

Keep your opinions to yourself, and especially at work. If asked gently explain you dont believe in what they do and leave it at that.

Reality is not a matter of opinion. These dying people do not believe they are going to heaven as a matter of opinion--they believe it as a matter of fact. If there were any atheist, humanist or rationalist who pointed out to a dying man, "There is no evidence to suggest that your beliefs are true", they would not be incorrect for doing so.

They would, however, be incredible assholes.

We let dying people have morphine to ease their ending; a spiritual or religious belief that death is not the end is like morphine for the soul, and if it helps somebody die easier, without pain, without misery, in the face of oblivion--let them have it.

That doesn't change reality, though. People weep for their loved ones when they have died--why? If this loved one really is in heaven, and really is living forever, why shed any tears?

Because heaven was only ever an opinion. It doesn't matter how sincerely the believer asserts their beliefs, or how sincerely they actually believe them at the end. Deep down, people know that death is the end. That's why we weep so easily.

See further the great Hitch in recent talks on the disgusting practices of deathbed evangelists.

I've seen these people up close and personal. One of them tried to capitalize on my grandmother's death by pointing out that she had been a devout Christian her whole life. Basically, he was pimping his church to the mourners there. Profiteering off someone's death is horrible enough--but to persuade people into believing a cheapening delusion like the afterlife...that's despicable.

If possible, I'm making a video recording of myself to play at my funeral. I don't want some bible-banger coming along making a profit off of me.

Tue, 10 May 2011 18:21:38 UTC | #625468

Nordic11's Avatar Comment 23 by Nordic11

@Alan4discussion

When my mother died at the age of 93, we had a Humanist funeral. . . It was respectfully attended by family members, friends and acquaintances - atheists, Christians and Muslims.

This is the right thing to do after a death, and I applaud your mother's wishes. Let's come together in respect and leave our arguments at the door for a day.

@TARIQLEWIS

I think you did the right and respectful thing. My mother has been a Baptist her whole life, and the last thing she needed to hear when my dad passed from leukemia is someone's else's views about the afterlife. Again, there are times for all of us to remain silent and just respect each other.

Tue, 10 May 2011 18:45:14 UTC | #625480

raytoman's Avatar Comment 24 by raytoman

Religion has us all by the balls.

Many just drift along, ignoring it, but allowing themselves to be counted amongst the believers. The World Book of Religions lists religions with numbers of followers and only identifies 75 million athiests (out of the 7 billion).

Many, if not most countries, give religions charitable and/or tax free status. They hold a special place in government and effectively control some countries. Heck, the Vatican is a country which enables paedophilia by it's priests all over the world!

To stop the insanity, we need to take on religion, especially it's worst instances and aspects. Taxing all of them would be a good start. After all, athiests support religion with their taxes - grossly unfair.

I agree that some occasions are very emotional and perhaps not the most appropriate. Things can be said (he may be dead now but he will live on in my thoughts as long as I live).

Wed, 11 May 2011 00:59:57 UTC | #625626

Nordic11's Avatar Comment 25 by Nordic11

@Stevehill

I am so sorry for your loss. My wife will eventually face the same tragedy with me, and it is heart wrenching to think about.

I mean no offense to your nonbelief when I say my most fervent prayers go with you.

Wed, 11 May 2011 01:01:16 UTC | #625627

InYourFaceNewYorker's Avatar Comment 26 by InYourFaceNewYorker

Even Richard himself has said that if he had a religious friend on their deathbed getting comfort from religion and the idea of an afterlife he wouldn't tell them they're wrong. However, what you can do is offer comfort in ways that have nothing to do with God. Recently I found out that a friend from a group tour died and what comforted me was reminding myself of the quote "We are going to die and that makes us the lucky ones" etc. I went to her memorial page on Facebook and posted that quote. Same thing when I emailed her parents my condolences. I didn't say what I believed about an afterlife but I did offer comfort in a way that I think many people, no matter what they believe, would be receptive to.

Julie

Wed, 11 May 2011 18:08:37 UTC | #625930

natcow's Avatar Comment 27 by natcow

It seems I am a rarity. Hardcore atheist - no agnosticism for me - female, working class (though eventually educated with a masters degree) and, most importantly, I have lost a child. To murder. He was 16 years old. He would be 19 on the 30th December this year. The groups I have attended to help with dealing with my son's death have been helpful for the most part. But what they have in common is most of them believe their children are in 'a better place'. I even had one parent say to me "everyone comes around to it (spirituality, religion, heaven etc...) eventually".

I feel so alone. The consolations of philosophy have helped. People, generally, don't. One thing I have realised is that the only thing that feels real is when I am alone with my grief for my son. Everything else is 'getting by', 'playing the game'. Death is truth. It hurts and it sucks but it's the only truth. A much maligned man named Louis-Ferdinand Celine said something similar (he may have been a curmudgeon; he may also have been an anti-semite. As with Nietzsche, it does not much matter to me as long as he speaks something that resonates). (And the anti-semitism is not proven with either man)

I did make a truce with life, even though I tended towards nihilism, or at the least, existentialism. But now my son has been killed, and so brutally and so young, I'm finding it hard to live the good life. To look forward to the little things, keeping in mind the big things that effect humanity. A coffee and good conversation used to do it for me. Now, no-one really wants to have coffee with me because it's awkward and they don't know what to say. I've become a misanthrope, really. My own fault.

Someone please answer me. Authentically. That's all I am seeking in this forum. Natalie

Mon, 26 Dec 2011 08:30:23 UTC | #902734

natcow's Avatar Comment 28 by natcow

Oh and please, god botherers, I have sought this site as a refuge from you all. You don't know what it's like to have my mind and to have lived my life and to have lost a beautiful, intelligent, QUESTIONING child. Of course you infiltrate these sites too. But I do not invite your comments. I have respected and left alone your beliefs on many occasion. Leave mine alone in this instance. Thank you.

Mon, 26 Dec 2011 08:38:30 UTC | #902735

Quine's Avatar Comment 29 by Quine

Natalie, you are now among friends. No bullshit. No promises that can't be fulfilled. You can tell us exactly what you want to say, but don't need to say anything. There is a reason you are hurting, now. It is not magic, it is our nature. It will get better.

Mon, 26 Dec 2011 08:45:51 UTC | #902736

susanlatimer's Avatar Comment 30 by susanlatimer

Comment 27 by natcow

I feel so alone.

You must. I'm so sorry that that's the case. It's a terrible time to be alone.

Now, no-one really wants to have coffee with me because it's awkward and they don't know what to say.

This is a good place to have a coffee. Welcome.

Mon, 26 Dec 2011 09:03:15 UTC | #902737