January 26, 2015

Why religious people fear death

I always wondered about this. Over the years, I've seen many friends and relatives die. One thing I've noticed is that religious people become terribly fearful as death approaches. This always seemed odd to me. If they expect to die and go to heaven, shouldn't they look forward to dying?

On the other hand, dying atheists that I've known, though they weren't thrilled to be dying, accepted death. It wasn't the scariest thing ever for them. It was just death, which they always knew was coming. They wanted their lives to continue but they didn't fear death itself.

But why were the religious people so frightened? I wondered endlessly about this and ended up attributing their fear to the idiotic melodrama they think will take place after they die. The approach of death meant they were going to be judged. And this terrified them...or so I thought.

Recently I began reading Greta Christina's book, "Comforting thoughts about death that have nothing to do with god". In it, she offers another explanation for the fear that religious people experience when death is nigh.

It's because they thought they'd live forever. Immortality, heaven, it was all theirs -- or so their priests told them. Christina's idea is that religion hides death behind a curtain. "Don't think about that. Here, watch this shiny thing: I'm going to transform wine into blood, right before your eyes! Abracadabra. Poof!" Essentially, they've been taught that since they're religious, they don't have to think about death. It's all just an illusion, you see. Religious people are special. Death can't harm them because Jeebus wants them to have eternal life. And so a life passes without reflecting on the inevitability of death.

But the real-life effect of this insidious belief system is that religious people never confront their fears about death. Why would they? They're going to live forever.

So when death comes calling, they freak out. They don't understand the basics, like the fact that people couldn't exist without death. Evolution produced us, and it is a mechanism for change that works through successive generations. The very concept of "generations" requires death. If nothing died, there would be no new generation for evolution to work through. And without that, we wouldn't be here.

It's nice to finally have a satisfying explanation for the rabid fear of death seen among religious people -- and here I'm referring to Christians, as I don't really know people who believe in other faiths. Obviously Muslims seem to think of death as a joy. But note that in neither case are the actual lives of believers helped by their religious concept of death.

Forget the fairytales. We live, we die, and it's okay. Read Greta Christina's book (it's only $2.99 for the Kindle version) if you want to get lots of other helpful tips about death, with an atheist slant.

Death, it's just natural. No boogeymen are involved.

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