How, as an Atheist, I Deal with Death? To Be Honest, I Don’t.

A bit of warning: this post contains some frank discussions about fear of death, and also some detailed description of violence. If you feel you might be disturbed, please don’t read.

One of the claims that theists make, that is not rational at all is that religion helps people cope with death. Which means that atheists must have a difficult time coping death. This argument is not rational, because that doesn’t put any forward any evidence that religion is true. It might provide evidence that religion is good, but I don’t think it does that as well, as I don’t think a culture that relies on duping people with wish-fulfillment and values comfort over truth and facing the truth no matter how bitter is good. I think deception is unethical, whether you deceive others or yourself is immaterial. However, that is not what I’m talking about. I’m talking about dealing with death, accepting it, living with its shadow looming over waking moments. And I can’t do that, and I am not OK or comfortable with the fact that I’m going to die, and I’m far less comfortable with the fact that others are going to die.

When I was a child, I jumped into a pool with no logical reason whatsoever. Later, when my parents were away and had trusted me to care into people who clearly weren’t deserving of the trust, I jumped into the pool again. I was a morbidly curious child, and I wanted to experiment with danger, to see what drowning feels like. I remember my feelings at the time and I am perplexed at my own lack of self-preservation. I didn’t know what death was, I was attracted to it because I’m attracted to what I don’t know. I’m still like that.

But now I know what death is. Death is not unknown, because there is nothing to know or not to know. Death is nothingness. To know nothing. To feel nothing. To see nothing. To hear nothing. To think nothing.

You see, I’m not afraid of death. I just hate it. I hate the fact that it has to happen. I’m afraid of grief. I’m afraid of loss. Because now I know what loss is, too intimately.

About years ago, the father of one of my closest friends died. I loved the man himself. I was close to him. His death made me mourn, seeing my friend mourn his father made me mourn him even more. Then, one of my closest and most intimate friends, whom I knew since high school, died. They said he died in a car accident but I think he committed suicide. A week later his father also died. Then, my aunt died. I loved my aunt. Then, another close friend committed suicide. And all this in a span of less than three months.

Death to me is the death of the others. Death is the creepy equilibrium you feel when you’re not consciously aware of the loss, yet you know that the normalcy in the world about you is fake, there’s something missing. Death is the fact that you realize that there is phantom limb, the fact that you think of telling something to a friend and then suddenly realize they’re not there to hear it, and the emotional limb you didn’t realize you had until it was amputated. Death is watching the finale of Breaking Bad knowing you will never discuss it with your friend, death is doing something you do every year and then feeling the absence that is so omnipresence. There is always someone who is not there.

And no, time doesn’t heal the wounds. Let your guard down and scratch the wound distractedly and then be unpleasantly surprised that it bleeds again.

And then, I also dreamed of the violent deaths I have seen. When I was 12 or 13, I saw a motorist crash straight into the back of a bus, I saw his casket crushed backwards into his face because of the impact, I saw the splash of blood on the back of the car. At the very same spot I saw a classmate of mine falling down the stairs of a footbridge and dying. In high school, I saw the video of two Taliban soldiers beheading a man, out of pure curiosity again. And recently, in 2009, I was crossing Vanak Square in Tehran during the post-election protests, I saw a man get shot in the throat, bleeding into his death as people tried to save him and the police beat them and dispersed them with batons.

Now my dreams are either flashbacks to these violent deaths or flashforwards to the death of my parents, my friends, my loved ones. I try not to sleep, so that I don’t dream of death. (On the flip side, I’ve got much writing done in the meantime). I am weary of making new friends. I look at beautiful people thinking they will die. I have almost shielded myself from the opposite sex thinking what if I fall in love with her and then she dies.

I don’t mean to say that my life is paralyzed or something. 99% of people who know me in person would be shocked to read this, especially since I have never even cried for these people. I sometimes cry after very bad dreams. But most of my friends think I don’t give a flying fuck to death at all, because of my apathetic way of arguing about it or dealing with it outwardly. I’m fine, I will survive. Until I die. Then I won’t survive.

I don’t want to die. I want to read all the novels. I want to watch all the movies. I want to listen to all albums. I want to see if Iran will become democratic in 200 years or not. I want to see if my predictions are correct or not. I want to live. I want to write. I so much fucking want to live.

But I don’t want to live with a lie. The thought of afterlife might have consoled me through all this, even the pathetic secular ones such as “you will live through your works” or “you will live through the memory of your loved ones”. Truth is, switching from religion to atheism must be unpleasant for many people, for many reasons. The prospect of death is unpleasant. If you are an atheist who has reconciled with the idea of death, good for you. But it’s still unpleasant, it’s still a sad and tragic truth.

I do not advertise my atheism by pretending that everything about it is pleasant and happy. But it is more worthy to live with some suffering and yet not be lowered into the disgrace of self-deception. That’s how I advertise my atheism. And as long as I have life, I will live it.

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About Kaveh Mousavi

Kaveh Mousavi is the pseudonym of an atheist ex-Muslim living in Iran, subject to one of the world’s remaining theocracies. He is a student of English Literature, an aspiring novelist, and part-time English teacher. He is passionate about politics, video games, heavy metal music, and cinema. He was born at the tenth anniversary of the Islamic Revolution of Iran. He has ditched the Islamic part, but has kept some of the revolutionary spirit.


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