Are Atheists Better at Dying Than the Religious?

Ryan T. Cragun is an Assistant Professor of Sociology at the University of Tampa, and he’s written a new book in which he takes a personal and scientific look at whether religion is actually helpful or harmful to you.

It’s called What You Don’t Know about Religion (but Should):

In the exclusive excerpt below, Cragun asks the question: “Who’s better at dying?”

People die. I’m going to die.

I’m really not that old, but I’m old enough to have experienced the deaths of loved ones. All of my grandparents are dead (as are my wife’s, though they died before I met her). Two of my uncles have died, one by suicide at around fifty and another from cancer at around sixty. One of my wife’s brothers died in 2005; he was forty-two. The person to whom I was closest who has died was my brother Mark. He was the closest of my siblings to me in age, just two years older than I am. He died in 2010 at thirty-six after a long decline in health due to a variety of problems. Mark and I were typical siblings — we fought a lot, largely because of our competitive natures — but we also did a lot together, and I have many fond memories of time spent with my brother.

Losing those close to us forces us to deal with a serious aspect of the human condition — death. Intriguingly, I’ve been both religious and nonreligious when people close to me have died. I was a devout Mormon when my uncle Dave committed suicide in the early 1990s. Dave had been a very successful businessman for a long time; he had created a fortune, but had lost most of his money. He took the loss very hard and was suffering from clinical depression. I worked with Dave the day he committed suicide. He was more quiet than usual, but I didn’t suspect what he was contemplating. It was a traumatic experience for me, though I’m sure it was much worse for his wife and children. I remember not only feeling the loss associated with his death, but also wondering whether he was going to be punished by god for taking his own life. Dave was my father’s only brother and they had been quite close. I remember listening to my father’s talk at his funeral and watching as my father wrestled with this very issue. My father concluded that Dave was not going to be punished for committing suicide because he was mentally ill. My father did not believe god would hold Dave responsible for his actions. My father’s words helped me cope with the loss of my uncle by leading me to believe that he was in a “better place” (i.e., heaven) and that I would see him again.

When my brother died in 2010, I was the only member of my family who was not religious. In planning the funeral it was decided that all of the siblings and my parents would speak. All of my siblings reminisced about Mark’s life, but they also talked about where they believed he was; they found solace in the idea that Mark was still alive, in a noncorporeal form, and that they would be reunited with him in the future. Their tool for coping with death was their belief in an afterlife. As I don’t believe in an afterlife, I couldn’t draw upon that to cope with Mark’s death.

How, then, did I cope with my brother’s death? There are several ways. First, I accepted then and I accept now that people die. Whether or not I like death doesn’t change that it is a requisite part of life. Second, in Mark’s case, I was relieved that he was no longer suffering. He had been sick and his health had been declining for a very long time. In death, there is no suffering. There is nothing. I would rather have nothingness than suffering. Third, I did my best to celebrate and remember Mark. That is all that remains of him now — the memories of those who knew him. I spent a fair amount of time writing down memories of my brother to keep him with me. Fourth, I have come to realize that the reason why the loss of loved ones to death is so hard on us is because we are social animals and we incorporate our loved ones into our selves. Knowing that I would never have another chance to interact with my brother helped brace me for the realization that the part of me that was Mark was likely going to slowly disappear over time. I would never again need to rehearse conversations with my mental representation of Mark or consider how he might respond to what I said or did. Mark was gone, and a little bit of me died with him.

I don’t know that I had an easier time coping with the death of my brother than did the rest of my family. Maybe I didn’t. But there was one thing I did not have to consider: his eternal fate. Adding questions of eternal fate to death seems to make coping harder, not easier.

A growing body of evidence seems to support the idea that the nonreligious have an easier time coping with death than do the religious, at least with their own mortality. Religious people appear to be more afraid of death than are nonreligious people. Nonreligious people are less likely to use aggressive means to extend their lives and exhibit less anxiety about dying than do religious people. That seems remarkably counterintuitive since the nonreligious are much less likely to believe in an afterlife, which is supposed to help people cope with death. But factor in that religious people are contemplating their eternal fate and it begins to make more sense. Even if they have done everything their religion says they are supposed to do, there is always a bit of uncertainty about where they might end up. As a result, religious people appear to have a greater fear of dying than do nonreligious people. This is reflected in figure 26.1, which shows that religious people think about death more than do nonreligious people.

This raises an interesting question which, unfortunately, I cannot answer with the data at hand. Does being religious lead to an increased fear of death or does substantial fear of death lead people to be religious? We don’t know the answer to that question yet, but I tend to think that it is the latter, and there are a number of social scientists who agree with me, arguing that the fear of death is the primary motivation for people to seek religion. There may, in fact, be innate differences in fear of death, which increases the appeal of religion for those who fear it more. But that is an empirical question for which we do not have an answer.

A related line of research has begun to examine religion’s role in helping people deal with trauma, like the loss of a loved one. This function of religion is often referred to as “coping” and there is some data suggesting that religion can help people cope with trauma. The basic idea is that religion offers explanations, justifications, or rationalizations for why people die and can offer hope of reunions with those who have died. Thus, religion can turn a traumatic, life-altering event into one filled with reassurances and hope of better things to come. Justifications like this can include ideas like it was god’s will that someone died, that there was a higher purpose in the death, or that death is simply part of a cycle of rebirths.

However, religion does not guarantee positive coping outcomes. There are good and bad types of religious coping. Some people blame god. They become angry and wonder why they are being punished. For these people, religion ends up making the bereavement process much more difficult. Religion can also complicate things when the fate of the deceased is uncertain, as was the case with my uncle. Thus, while religion can help people cope with trauma and loss, it can also hinder coping and make things worse.

What’s the take-home message here? Even in an area where religion is widely viewed to be a major help to people, it can be problematic. Religion can help people deal with the death of loved ones, but it can also hinder healthy adjustment to the loss of a loved one. What’s more, some data suggest that nonreligious people are not as afraid of death as are religious people and that they are able to cope with death — at least their own deaths — quite well. Religion is not required for coping with thoughts of death and, in fact, it may be the case that thoughts of death are what drive people to religion. Nonreligious people do appear to be better at dying than religious people.

The paperback and Kindle versions of What You Don’t Know about Religion (but Should) are now available. Check the book out and ask your local library to stock it!

For those who have blogs or podcasts, review copies of the book (as well as the author himself) are available to you! Just contact Pitchstone Publishing to set something up.

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the editor of Friendly Atheist, appears on the Atheist Voice channel on YouTube, and co-hosts the uniquely-named Friendly Atheist Podcast. You can read much more about him here.

  • Reginald Selkirk

    In the exclusive excerpt below, Cragun asks the question: “Who’s better at dying?”

    Huh? Both theists and atheists are 100% successful at dying.

    • Sweetredtele

      Not me. I’m gonna live forever. There can be only one.

      • randomfactor

        “…or die trying.”

      • Geoff Boulton

        Me too. So far, so good!

      • Greg G.

        I’ve invented an eternal life elixir but the FDA testing is going to take forever.

      • allein
    • Bob Becker

      Yup. Poor headline. What he meant was “Are Atheists or Believers Better at Dealing With The Deaths of Loved Ones”. But that’s not what he said.

    • C Peterson

      The question has a particularly Klingon quality to it.

    • Monika Jankun-Kelly

      Indeed, this is one area where we are all exactly the same! The title is silly. Was “Are atheists better at coping with death?” considered too boring? ;p

    • Will

      I think no one, in the entire history of humankind, ever failed at dying.

      • http://absurdlypointless.blogspot.com/ Tanner B James

        Having died twice, one overdose and one heart attack, I can say that yes it is possible to fail at dying maybe the third time will be the charm.

      • Hat Stealer

        Rasputin gave it a pretty good shot. Still, he managed in the end.

  • Matt

    “Does being religious lead to an increased fear of death or does
    substantial fear of death lead people to be religious? We don’t know the
    answer to that question yet, but I tend to think that it is the latter,”

    After arguing with plenty of Christians, I can safely say that fear of death is THE reason they’re religious. They may come up with other stuff that sounds good, but argue with them long enough and it always comes back to their fear of death.

    • Emmet

      Sure.
      This Catholic’s not scared of death. I’d be interested to talk to your Christians – what’s there to be scared of i wonder?

    • newavocation

      One of my favorite Ingersoll quotes I think answers this question. “Love was the first to dream of immortality, — not Religion, not
      Revelation. We love, therefore we wish to live. The hope of
      immortality is the great oak ’round which have climbed the poisonous
      vines of superstition. The vines have not supported the oak, the oak
      has supported the vines. As long as men live and love and die, this
      hope will blossom in the human heart.”

    • Pete Walk

      haha ohhh ok Matt we’ll take your word for it. I am sure as hell not and neither is any religious person i know, infact it can often be argued some are too keen to get to heaven. But hey you will receive what you look for and I have no doubt that is the answer you were expecting going into it. I know how you’re arriving there , Atheists are often confused at a Christians belief in justice. It is like when we discuss justice and how it would be awful if people were not punished for sins. Suddenly its ohh little Christians are scared of the world. lol.

  • Gordon Duffy

    I was far more scared of death when I was religious.

    • Keyra

      Worked the opposite in my case

    • Emmet

      I’m a Christian and I’m not scared of death.

  • Beth

    When we lose a loved one it hurts. It hurts to talk about them, to think about them, to know that they are no longer in the world. When the religious talk about nothing but Jesus at a funeral, they are trying to shield themselves from the pain of talking about the person who is gone.
    Just my observation.

    • Steve Willy

      That’s a pretty neck bearded observation, and the fact that 11 basement dwellers gave it the ‘thumbs up’ is sad testament to what passes for ‘reason’ on the Internet. Have you ever really tried to understand what is being said at such services?

      • Obazervazi

        Willy, why are you afraid of beards?

        • http://gamesgirlsgods.blogspot.com/ Feminerd

          Funny how he seems to think all of us, male and female, have neckbeards. I couldn’t grow a neckbeard if I tried …

          • http://absurdlypointless.blogspot.com/ Tanner B James

            He’s a robot. He just repeats everything he writes over and over and word for word with very little elaboration.

        • Reginald Selkirk

          He thinks neck beards are pretty.

        • islandbrewer

          And what does that even mean? Not having one, or knowing anyone with a neck beard, I’m stymied. Is this some sort of Amish reference, because I’m reasonably certain there aren’t a lot of basement dwelling Amish on the internet.

      • http://gamesgirlsgods.blogspot.com/ Feminerd

        Ugh, wrong person to reply to. Sorry.

      • http://absurdlypointless.blogspot.com/ Tanner B James

        Hey I pay rent for my basement!!

      • Beth

        Sir,
        A) I was a believer (Methodist) for almost 30 years I know what is being said. My family is all very religious so I have been to several denominations for funerals: Its never about the life the person led, its about a mythical demi-god.
        B) I have lots of Mennonite blood so I have a mustache not a neck beard.

    • Emmet

      Beth – you may have the chance to get along to a Catholic wake some time. Like, into-it Catholics, practising ones – Irish ones if possible. Plenty of talking about the person who’s gone, plenty of tears and laughter, and then at the Requiem Mass, there’s talk about Christ – the point of it all.
      Not a lot of shielding going on.

      • Beth

        I have been to a catholic mass for a girl who committed suicide when I was in high school. They only talked about saints and Jesus. Maybe I was going to the ‘wrong’ type of mass.

        • islandbrewer

          They must have been No True Scotsman Catholics.

          • Emmet

            Sure.

        • Emmet

          No, that’s Mass. That’s what I said above. The wake is for talking about the person, the Requiem Mass for talking about salvation, Christ, the hope of heaven – you know, the usual churchy stuff.

  • Georgina

    These sort of questions always make me think of Pascal’s wager.
    Personally, if it turns out there is actually a god, I shall expect brownie points for not having worshipped any other god.

    • The Other Weirdo

      +1 point for not worshiping any other god(1*~20000). -15,000,000 for failing to worship the one random god who happens to be real. Still lose.

      • Emmet

        Nope. Because Pascal’s Wager – and this is what the majority of commentators miss – is about the Christian God, and only the Christian God. The argument “what about a god who punishes you for believing in Jesus”? and similar don’t wash because in the context of Pascal’s thing they’re nonsense – he just wasn’t interested. It’s not an argument for the existence of God, much less a technical proof of God; instead it’s an argument/challenge along the lines of, “Have a go, chuck your hat in the ring, climb aboard the Catholic train.”

        • The Other Weirdo

          That’s true. However, I don’t see why we need to limit ourselves by his disturbing lack of faith in Odin and Zeus.

  • CultOfReason

    If you think about it, on their deathbed, a religious person must deal with the unknowns surrounding death and the afterlife they’ve been taught to believe in. They must worry whether the life they lived actually lived up to the expectations of their god, and whether they’ll be sent directly to heaven, to purgatory, or to hell.

    The atheist, on the other hand, knows that as the silence of death consumes him, he won’t be bothered by death any more than he was bothered by his non-existence prior to his birth.

    • Space Cadet

      For myself, I wonder about doubt creeping in if/when I’m ever faced with my own death. I can’t say for certain that no gods exist, I just don’t think there’s enough evidence to support a belief in any of them. Because of that, I wonder how that doubt will manifest as I’m on my death bed. I think some atheists could struggle with the same things that the theists do.

      • allein

        I can see that. I think that’s part of the reason I don’t want to know it’s coming. Also, I don’t like pain, and when I get panic attacks one of my biggest symptoms is feeling like I can’t breathe. The thought of actually being unable to breathe and knowing I’m about to die as a result is one of the most terrifying prospects about the whole idea.

        Bill Bryson’s A Short History of Nearly Everything has a chapter that describes what would happen if a comet were to hit earth. It basically says that everything in its direct path would be incinerated before anyone even knew it was there. I want to be in the path of the comet.

        • Space Cadet

          I’m with you on not wanting to suffer. If it doesn’t happen quick and relatively pain-free, then I at least want the ability to control my own fate and die with dignity.

          • Monika Jankun-Kelly

            Just so. Like everyone else, we’re afraid of *dying*. Unlike others, we don’t fear *death*.

            • Pete Walk

              You have no idea Monika what goes on in someones head on their deathbed, ZERO. I have seen religious people die and it was nothing but loving and peaceful, can I say that means no Christian does? Of course not that would be self serving and arrogant. Oh wait,

              How you state you understand how two groups are on there deathbed as a fact is truly egotistical. How can you say what you or anyone else thinks as there dying? What abilities do you possess?

              Don’t agree with someones religion, mock it;’s Bible but when you start going on and professing to know there fear of death you are simply revealed as a nasty bigot. You are no longer seeking to disagree with their religious beliefs but belittle the person. Why is this such a nasty bitter battle for you? Even though your quite wrong you have basically dropped to the the level of “hahaah your going to die”

              • Monika Jankun-Kelly

                I simply said everyone fears dying, that is not an insult of any kind. It is perfectly natural, normal, and not shameful in any way at all. No animal with higher brain function wants to die. Animals have a self preservation instinct. I’ll certainly grant that to be perfectly accurate, I should have said “most people” rather than everyone.

                There are many atheists who die peacefully, by the way. People can make peace with what they fear, accept the inevitable, and even enjoy their final moments, without any religion. I’m well aware some of the religious find comfort in their beliefs about heaven as they’re dying. Doesn’t mean most of them don’t fear dying, just that religion helps them cope. I wasn’t deriding anyone for that.

                The religious are concerned with the afterlife, what happens after death, while atheists are not. We think non-existence follows death, and there’s nothing worrying about that, unlike the very scary Christian concept of hell. That was my point about the difference between fear of dying and fear of death.

                Belittling? Mocking? Nasty bigot??? How you got to “ha ha you’re going to die” from what I wrote, I have no idea. Probably by assuming most atheists are nasty, cruel people out to mock you. Granted, there are such people. I certainly didn’t behave like them in any way. You, however, reacted with vitriol to a perfectly innocent comment, and read a whole lot into it that wasn’t there at all. Please reflect on what that says about your view of atheists, and your assumptions about what we’re thinking.

    • Pete Walk

      haha what an uneducated, self serving answer. How many religious people have you seen die? How many Atheists have you seen die?

      You are professing to know how two groups die as an unproved theory. This is your assumption of what happens, it’s utterly infantile. You have no idea what feelings will grip you or anybody else in there final moments.

      You also have zero knowledge about religious deaths or religious people. Seeing as they BELIEVE it means they BELIEVE they can be forgiven for their sins by confessing for their wrongdoing. If they are on their deathbed I can guarantee you they have been to the church and gone through what they believe they must go through. I am not even being religious there it’s your theory, remember you think these crazies believe there crazy book. right? So wouldn’t they then believe they can confess their sins and God will let them enter Heaver???

      I have seen religious people die and it has been incredibly peaceful. I don’t talk shit for applause so I won’t profess and create theories to explain how an atheists thinks or acts at death. But you see for me it’s not about beating a group like it is for you. The comment simply revealed a bitter man/women who dislikes that Christians believe there is an afterlife.

  • C Peterson

    I’m pretty comfortable with the idea of death… my own and others. That’s because I have no doubt about what it is. Simple nothingness, simple lack of existence. My lack of doubt is a big comfort.

    I don’t think many religious people are doubt free. How can they be? It is contrary to much of our nature to accept things on faith and nothing else. Most religious people wonder if what they have been taught is correct. They wonder if they’ve broken some rule that will result in eternal punishment. They wonder if they’ve picked the right religion. Just look at how much of the literature of religion is focused on the subject of doubt. Doubt and faith are always at odds.

    I know exactly where I’m going when I die. Religious people do a lot of hoping, but they worry about being wrong. It doesn’t seem paradoxical at all that atheists tend to deal with death better than religionists.

    • The Other Weirdo

      And the ones who don’t fall into the “most” category are the really scary ones. They’re the ones who fly airplanes into other people’s skyscrapers and attempt to touch off a race war across the U.S. in an effort to bring about Armageddon.

      • Steve Willy

        The obligatory ‘fly planes into buildings’ quote. How creative. Do you neckbearded douches just regurgitate the same 3-5 comments over and over again?

        • TCC

          Damnit, there goes another irony meter.

        • http://absurdlypointless.blogspot.com/ Tanner B James

          Not as frequently as you try make appeals to emotion.

        • RobMcCune

          You’re thinking of a guy called Steve Willy, he only knows 2 insults ‘neckbeard’ and ‘douce’, and doesn’t have the capacity to think of creative ways to use them.

        • The Other Weirdo

          Do you mean to say that absolute, unquestioning and unquestionable religious certainty didn’t do this? Or try to touch off Armageddon by starting a race war in U.S.? Or push girls into burning buildings? Or shove them into burlap sacks? Or let women die rather than perform a life-saving operation?

        • C Peterson

          People willing to kill and die for their religious beliefs have been the source of great evil throughout history, and little or no good. The cliche is simply a shorthand expression for that fact.

    • Renee

      It amazes me how often you have lumped religious people into one big pot to cook them. I wonder none of those things. I know that my eternity in heaven is secure because of what Jesus has done and it has nothing to do with me. My faith is in Him and Him alone.

  • RBH

    It’s also available for the Nook.. Not all of us have been swallowed by the Amazon borg.

    RBH

    • allein

      Yes! :)
      I just got the sample for my nook so I can check it out when I have more time.

  • allein

    I don’t fear death. I fear dying. I want it to be quick, or at least be unconscious before it happens; I don’t want to know it’s coming. But being dead doesn’t scare me.

    • The Other Weirdo

      If it happens quickly, how would you be able to crawl forward on burnt hands, reach painfully upward and activate the Genesis Device, all the while giving the entire Universe a melodramatic stinkeye?

      • http://absurdlypointless.blogspot.com/ Tanner B James

        Khan! KHAN!!!

    • Obazervazi

      And I’m the opposite here. I’m actually very interested in learning what dying feels like, but I find it to be extremely disturbing that I can’t record that data or talk about it afterwards. And there’d be so much left unfinished…

  • http://wateringgoodseeds.tumblr.com/ Shira Coffee

    What’s annoying is that in this excerpt (and perhaps the book itself, to judge it by its cover) “religious” seems to mean “Christian”. Most religions are far less focused on “where they might end up” than Christianity. Sheesh!

    • allein

      Well, I can tell you that Barnes & Noble has it categorized under Christian History/Theology. So it does seem to be geared toward Christianity (from the title I would have assumed they’d put it in Comparative Religion). I downloaded the ebook sample through the website for my nook but I can’t access the wifi here at work to actually be able to see it; I was hoping to look at the table of contents and see if it gives a better idea. Will have to look later.

    • allein

      Just looked at the table of contents; the first chapter is about Buddhism, some of the chapter titles reference Jesus or other terminology that may imply Christianity, and the rest seem to be more generic “religion.” I haven’t decided if I’m going to buy the book yet (leaning toward “probably”).

      • http://wateringgoodseeds.tumblr.com/ Shira Coffee

        Actually, first chapter appears to be simply a definition of religion (one I don’t agree with.) It’s not specifically about Buddhism. In fact, in the portions included in the “look inside” on Amazon, I saw nothing new about his arguments. He does explain (apologize?) in the intro that the book is basically concerned “Christian and Western” religions. I’m thumbs-down on buying it.

        • allein

          hmm..OK..I just looked at the chapter titles. I haven’t had time to actually read the sample (not sure how much B&N includes, either; they like to cut samples off in the middle of a sentence). I guess we’ll see.

  • Geoff Boulton

    As Hitch said, we all start the process of dying the second we are born. If you include all the fun things that the religious don’t do and the time they waste paying homage to their invisible friends, then I’d say atheists definitely handle the ‘dying’ process better. Perhaps the reason we face death better is that so many of us have lived our lives so fully instead of empty lives of subjection and obedience, wishful thinking and empty promises.

  • Tobias2772

    Epicurus

  • fullofdoubt

    Had the pleasure of hosting Ryan for a presentation on his new book last weekend here in Maine. Very good talk and can’t wait to get into the book.

  • SirReal

    The only thing I’m afraid of when it comes to death is that I hope for an instant death with no pain or lingering illness. What’s on the other side is of no importance to me whatsoever.

    My father died 2005 and while I was destroyed when he died, I know that we spent much quality time together in his final few months (he died instantly of a heart attack) and that gives me peace. I recently found that an old friend of mine with whom I was very close in my 20s and 30s died last year and it hit me very hard only because it was a friendship I had tried to save and was not successful.

    I think everyone handles death (their own in the future and that of loved ones) very differently, so trying to compare them based on religious beliefs seems silly to me. Then I think of my Very Religious Mother ™ and how she is aggrieved that she won’t see me in the afterlife and it bothers me tremendously that she wastes brain cycles and emotions on that issue. But I can’t change how she believes any more than she can change me.

  • Darric

    I have to say that the stance most atheists take on this issue confuses me. I understand that I wont exist and I understand that I didnt exist for a long time before I was born. But the thought of death, being dead as well as dying, scares the hell out of me.
    I dont think about it often (what would be the point). But if asked if I am afraid of death and I will answer an emphatic yes. I wont be afraid when I am dead of course, but I’m not dead now and I like being so.
    I like being alive, I like stories, I like sleeping in on the weekend, I like playing video games and arguing politics or discussing the absurdity of religion. I cant do these things when I dont exist. So I dont want to not exist and I fear that inevitability.

    • Keulan

      I’m not afraid of death, but I don’t like the fact that I’ll eventually cease to exist. I like being alive, and I want to continue existing. I’m hoping that scientists can discover ways to extend the human lifespan. If I can’t live forever, I’d like to have a couple hundred extra years to live, at least.

  • Steve Willy

    So if atheists are so good at dying, why don’t they do a whole lot more of it? No atheistic position can be taken seriously until two threshold questions can coherently be answered. 1. Why is the atheist even engaging in the debate. On atheism, there is no objective basis for even ascertaining truth; there is no immaterial aspect to consciousness and all mental states are material. Therefore, everyone who ever lived and ever will live could be wrong about a thing. By what standard would that ever be ascertained on atheism? Also if atheism is true, there is no objective meaning to existence and no objective standard by which the ‘rational’ world view of atheism is more desirable, morally or otherwise, to the ‘irrational’ beliefs of religion. Ridding the world of the scourge of religion, so that humanity can ‘progress’ or outgrow it, is not a legitimate response to this because on atheism, there is no reason to expect humanity to progress or grow. We are a historical accident that should fully expect to be destroyed by the next asteriod, pandemic, or fascist atheist with a nuke. In short, if atheism is correct, there is no benefit, either on an individual or societal level, to knowing this or to spreading such ‘knowledge.’
    > 2. Related to this, why is the atheist debater even alive to participate. If there is no heaven, no hell, no afterlife at all, only an incredibly window of blind pitiless indifference, then the agony of struggling to exist, seeing loved ones die, and then dying yourself can never be outweighed by any benefit to existing. As rude as it way sound the atheist should have a coherent explanation for why they chose to continue existing. Failure to adequately address these threshold questions should result in summary rejection of the neckbeard’s position.

    • allein

      The simplest answer? We want to live because we, like all animals, have an instinctual drive to survive. On a more personal level, I think this world is pretty cool; I’d like to experience some of it before I go. And honestly, I have my moments when I wonder why, too, though that’s more a (dis)function of my slightly messed up brain. But I’m pretty sure there are people who would miss me, and there are good things going on and good things to come, so even in those moments, I know I want to stay. (No, I’ve never actually been suicidal.)

      If this life is just a trial to be endured while looking forward to the afterlife, why should the believer want to live?

      • Emmet

        “If this life is just a trial to be endured while looking forward to the afterlife, why should the believer want to live?”

        A couple of points:
        1. Life is not just a trial to be endured – a Christian who says otherwise is missing an important part of the Christian life: see Francis’ recent comments on joy.

        2. Our aim is to live lives of virtue and thus equip ourselves to enjoy heaven to the fullest. Think of it this way: a person who spends their life loving, giving, sharing, laughing, sacrificing, putting others first is going to enlarge their heart. Love becomes a deeply engrained habit. They are capable of experiencing – giving and receiving – “more love”. In heaven, they are capable of experiencing more fully the life of God, who is Love. Not more, just more fully.
        The person who, for one reason or another, couldn’t quite manage the same heart-felt acts and habits of love and giving, but still tried to live for others and for Christ, still experiences God to the fullest extent they can in heaven, but in a “less full” way than the first.
        A glass of water, full to the brim, can take no more water and knows fullness and no emptiness, but a tub of water is also full, knows fullness, but yet contains more water – both people know the fullness of God but the one, because they have lived more fully the life of grace, knows it “more fully” than the other. Don’t know if that makes sense, but it’s my attempt at an answer to your (oft-asked, and reasonable) question.

        See also: Pope Francis’ recent comments about atheists and heaven – see how they fit in here?

        • http://absurdlypointless.blogspot.com/ Tanner B James

          The person who, for one reason or another, couldn’t quite manage the same heart-felt acts and habits of love and giving, but still tried to live for others and for Christ, still experiences God to the fullest extent they can in heaven, but in a “less full” way than the first.

          Sounds like a load of horse manure to me. Just where in the bible does it talk about souls entering heaven are subject to specific conditions or levels of eternal worship?

          State your sources please. At least for science.

        • The Other Weirdo

          Nobody cares what Pope Francis has to say on atheists and heaven. He was contradicted by the Vatican not a day after making his statement.

          The Bible routinely talks about how nothing in this life matters, you aren’t even supposed to make provisions for tomorrow or love your family. You are supposed to live and give up your life for Christ, not live “to the fullest”. Where, I wonder, is the biblical justification for that position?

    • TCC

      TL;DRYICP.*

      *Too Long; Didn’t Read Your Inane Copy-Pasta.

    • RowanVT

      Wow. You are incredibly… something. I’m not sure I can even find the right word to express my distaste.

      Blind pitiless indifference? I’m assuming you are talking about the actual universe for that part, because there is no pitiless indifference in my life. And struggling to exist isn’t an agony for me. Having my loved ones makes existence more than worth it. I get to know my father and my mother, both wonderful and loving people. I get to know my brother, who is one of my best friends. I get to snuggle my dog, and raise 2 day old kittens until they are fat, sassy 8 week old kittens ready to be loved by more people than just me. I get to stare into my incubator and wonder if the snake eggs are going to hatch today. I get to go hiking in the redwoods and stare at trees hundreds upon hundreds of years old and be in awe of them, and how very small I am. I get to experience!

      It’s totally worth dying someday, because I got to *live*.

      • Steve Willy

        First of all, is there a basement dwelling troll left in the multiverse who hasn’t yet dragged themselves out of the primordial oze to comment on this and to announce our collective atheism towards Thor, that gardens can be beautiful without fairies (a power rebuttal to fairy apologetics, by the way, but it leaves a lot unanswered about the Gardener), and that we cling to Bronze Age skymen due to our fear of the dark?

        Second, lets look at reality: Kalaam Cosmological Argument, the Argument from Reason, Fine Tuning of Universal Constants, irreducible biological complexity, the argument from morality…. Your entire world view lies shattered at your feet. If you truly honor the gods of reason and critical thinking half as much as you claim, you would plant your face firmly into your hand, step away from the device, find a quiet place, and rethink your life. The fact that you collectively have instead chose to post these Dawkins-Hitchens parroting megadouche replies demonstrates that there is no critical thinking involved in your neckbeardism. Yours is a petty, trivial, localized, earth bound philosophy, unworthy of the universe.

        And what again was your justification for continuing to exist? Oh that’s right, in all your neck bearded mega douchey wisdom, none of you could not articulate one.

    • http://absurdlypointless.blogspot.com/ Tanner B James

      So who are you? Are you formally “Free” or “The inconsistent Atheist” or “CT” or “r.holmgren?” In your other 50 or so comments you are using words and phrases that match many of the other Troll aliases, so I am wondering are you just one of them with a few new bait words? And yes I do keep an archive of every troll I encounter here so that I can refer back to previous comments and fallacious errors.

      • allein

        The phrase “on atheism” tipped me off. But I responded anyway.

        • http://absurdlypointless.blogspot.com/ Tanner B James

          the atheist should have a coherent explanation for why they chose to continue existing

          I’ve found a nearly exact reading of this sentence on this blog in a very recent comment. I know this sounds pretty excessive but I save all of the posts I’m involved with to my blog and then run a document comparison program to see if there are similar phrases. It’s a little habit I picked up while working for the NSA. (National Scholarship Program) For identifying plagiarized school papers and essays.

          • allein

            Heh, I’m not that dedicated. I don’t recall that particular phrase but I have definitely seen “on atheism” in posts with very similar tone in the past few months.

            • http://absurdlypointless.blogspot.com/ Tanner B James

              I sometimes wonder how many Atheist’s actively troll Xian blogs. At /r/atheism I was instructed that doing so is pretty much a big no-no. I’m sure there are a few of us that do it but IMO I pretty much don’t care to read boringly endless theistic babble. I’m pretty solid with my “assertions” so I am not to worried about hearing or reading something persuasive but that robotic aping of religious speak is worse than listening to a flock of parrots.

              • allein

                I don’t much see the point of trolling. Obviously some people get off on it. I rarely read Christian blogs (if I do it’s generally because I was linked from here) and unless I have an honest question or comment I wouldn’t bother saying anything. I don’t usually get very far into the comments when they’re mostly religious people spouting religion. When I read comments on, say, a Blaze article, I usually don’t get past the first page or two at the most. They get so repetitive and it just makes me tired.

          • Steve Willy

            Wow, I guess you proved….

    • http://absurdlypointless.blogspot.com/ Tanner B James

      Why is the atheist even engaging in the debate.

      Honestly there is no real need for us to debate, theists.

      On atheism, there is no objective basis for even ascertaining truth; there is no immaterial aspect to consciousness and all mental states are
      material.

      Truth speaks for itself. Many of us reject the idea that an immaterial aspect to consciousness is a requirement to live a fulfilling life.

      Therefore,
      everyone who ever lived and ever will live could be wrong about a
      thing. By what standard would that ever be ascertained on atheism?

      Since 99.9% of all Atheists assert there are no gods, for us to be wrong
      about that assertion, a god will have to make itself known to all of us,
      at the exact same moment, everywhere on this planet.

      Also
      if atheism is true, there is no objective meaning to existence and no
      objective standard by which the ‘rational’ world view of atheism is more
      desirable, morally or otherwise, to the ‘irrational’ beliefs of
      religion.

      Everything the theist enjoys about life, we equally enjoy sans the gods.

      Ridding
      the world of the scourge of religion, so that humanity can ‘progress’
      or outgrow it, is not a legitimate response to this because on atheism,
      there is no reason to expect humanity to progress or grow.

      You are right there is no explicit expectation that humanity will progress
      thousands, millions or billions of years into the future. You are
      confused by our intent. We do not intend to rid the world of religion,
      It is not the goal of Atheists to wipe religion off this planet, anti-theist’s might want that, but most of us wish only to coexist in a world that people can be free.

      We
      are a historical accident that should fully expect to be destroyed by
      the next asteroid, pandemic, or fascist atheist with a nuke. In short,
      if atheism is correct, there is no benefit, either on an individual or
      societal level, to knowing this or to spreading such ‘knowledge.’

      There is nothing wrong with knowing the nature of existence. Nor is there
      anything wrong with calculating the many possible scenarios of our
      extinction. There is something seriously wrong with making false
      predictions, based upon religious beliefs, as to when humanity will become extinct. Christianities world view that “The End Times are here”
      distorts people’s perception of what they should cherish and find
      important in the here and now.

      Related to this, why is the atheist debater even alive to participate.

      Because we are. Get over it already.

      If there is no heaven, no hell, no afterlife at all, only an incredibly window of blind pitiless indifference, then the agony of struggling to exist, seeing loved ones die, and then dying yourself can never be outweighed by any benefit to existing.

      Except that is not the entirety of human existence. We love, hate, sing, cry, debate, argue, make art, make war, find peace and tranquility, etc. etc. Because people die and we suffer for it does not mean we should also give up on living. There is a universe of exploration just waiting for our curiosity to be piqued.

      As rude as it may sound the atheist should have a coherent explanation for why they chose to continue existing.

      We do. Open your eyes and mind, ask some questions instead of making
      hurtful blanket statements and you might find we are very much like
      everyone else, sans the god aspect.

      Failure to adequately address these threshold questions should result in summary rejection of the neckbeard’s position.

      Since you have already formed in your mind what an adequate answer is, I doubt mine will suffice. Fortunately if I have failed to provide you with said adequate answers, well that is the nature of being an Atheist, and I am fully happy with being wrong. It is the nature of theists to believe in
      absolutes, only white or black answers.

      Atheists love 16 million colors of gray.

      I like my neck beard by the way and I live in a basement apartment.

    • http://nomadwarriormonk.blogspot.com/ Cyrus Palmer

      If you need to justify your existence here so badly that you believe complete fairy tales written by people thousands of years ago and you cannot even fathom living without that illusion, then I just pity you. Go ahead and regurgitate your same rants over and over again and live in you shell of delusion, I’m going to go enjoy my life.

  • James

    Atheists are better at dying?

    So…we’re Cybermen?

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vu6_IxkAHsI

  • David Mock

    Death was actually the way I realized I was an atheist. It took me about two months to go from devout Christian to pure atheist. I remember the first moment I considered myself an atheist. I was lying in bed trying to go to sleep when I started to think about how death can happen at any time, how I could die tomorrow. I had these thoughts quite often but for the first time in my life I was scared of not existing rather than ending up in hell. And yes, I was Christian mostly because of a fear of hell.

    • Steve Willy

      This has to be one of the stupidest explanations for becoming an atheist in the history of the multiverse. I have a hard time believing its even sincere. I thought your shit was all based on reason and logic? And the fact that three mindless neckbeards upvoted it speaks volumes.

  • Reginald Selkirk

    Does a child die of hunger every 10 seconds?
    .

    Every 15 seconds a child dies of hunger, says a campaign by charities
    urging G8 leaders to pledge more aid for the world’s poorest families –
    or every 10 seconds, according to the latest version of the slogan.

    Wow, those two children seem to be very good at dying.

  • Johnny

    Who really cares. Worthless topic. Sounds like the author just wants to say that he is better than religious people. Self promotion.

  • CdnJim

    Religion feeds itself with your fears.. People who are afraid of the ambiguity of death require hope of an afterlife, but religion also poses fear about the outcome in the afterlife, and the only solution is more religion. A religious fear feeding upon itself paralyzes the religious from tending to the here and now. I’m a former minister now an atheist. I am happier, not concerned about the future, living every day peacefully. Ryan Cragun has nailed it. Adding this book to my summer reading list.

  • Frank

    Atheists are the best at spiritual death. So yes atheist are better at dying.

  • Karen

    A lot of atheists panic on their deathbed because they can feel that there is a heaven and a hell. The only way to heaven is through JESUS. Accept JESUS CHRIST as your Lord and savior and you will be saved.

    • C.L. Honeycutt

      A lot of theists panic on their deathbed because they can feel the existential fear of a lack of an afterlife, a fear that they’ve never matured enough to embrace and seek to keep at bay with magic spells. Accept that, though dying is instinctively scary because of evolutionary hardwiring, being dead is nothing whatsoever to be concerned about, and your one trek through existence will be saved.

  • Guest

    “Does being religious lead to an increased fear of death or does substantial fear of death lead people to be religious?”

    This is a false dichotomy. One can think about dying often without necessarily fearing it. For instance, a person who believes that he will go to heaven when he dies might actually think with a type of joy, because he desires to see his Savior. Of course fear might also be the case; however, this cannot be directly inferred from the provided data.


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