No Foxhole Fear Here

Editor’s Note: While preparing the blog post The Acid Test of Final Farewells, by Roger Elsinger, I contacted Carter Warden about sharing the video and song he created about Roger shortly before he died. Carter’s immediate response was to offer to write about his memories of Roger’s last days. Here they are, along with direct quotes from Roger’s writings and  links to Carter’s video and song.   /Linda LaScola

By Carter Warden

After nearly 25 years in ministry, I happily discovered that I was not alone as a clergy member who had abandoned belief in God. I realized that science and reason are the best tools for people to discover truth, freedom, happiness and purpose for this life. I learned that goodness, morality, happiness, compassion, love, selfless sacrifice, and the desire to make this world a better place do not come from a deity or a sacred text. All these things are found within each of us as we accept our role as one of the most evolved and privileged species on earth.

I saw this firsthand in March of 2013 when Roger Elsinger,

Roger Elsinger

a former Roman Catholic priest who was a member of The Clergy Project shared on our private forum that he had just been diagnosed with inoperable liver cancer and had four to eight weeks to live. He posted “The Acid Test of Final Farewells” which was just reposted on Rational Doubt. Roger’s amazing positive attitude and willingness to share his pain and resolve with complete strangers was a very powerful testimony that there truly are atheists in foxholes, and that death without the hope of something beyond is not only fathomable, but can be viewed as a welcome experience in this journey of life. Outside of the forum, Roger and I exchanged emails and spoke on the phone as he awaited his imminent death.

So impressed by his attitude, I asked Roger if he would like to do an interview. I wrote,

“I would like to share your truly inspirational story with others so they can see one does not need a god or gods to find peace even in the most difficult situations. This is real ‘good news’ that everyone needs to hear.”

Roger replied,

“I’m happy to do all that I can coherently do, as this has truly been a lifetime search. However, I daily feel the energy slipping and wonder if I have more than a week of coherence left. I can offer no guarantees regarding my quality of presence in the days ahead.  My type of liver cancer reportedly hums along with a slow tipping of the bucket and at some point it goes over center and all seems to slide for the door at once.”

I quickly learned that Roger never gave a short answer and that he always amazed me with the thoughtfulness and the eloquence of his words. In another email exchange he wrote,

“Emergence on every level of this cosmic reality is for me very alive and I think valuable as a picture for people who wonder, people who fear.  Reality presents a more dignified picture than that of the mythical scolding daddy that so many of us settled for in the first decade of our formative lives.”

I had the privilege of interviewing Roger for over one hour on Skype. At the end of our discussion, Roger gave me permission to edit and to share the interview [click here to view], even though he knew he would likely not live to see it. Roger wanted to help others be free from the fear caused by religious dogma when contemplating death.

While interviewing Roger, he casually mentioned how inspiring the work of Richard Dawkins and Dan Dennett had been to him over the years.

Dan Dennett

Wanting to do something special for Roger, I sent a message to Dan Dennett and shared Roger’s story and phone number. One day later Roger wrote me saying,

“Adam, if you did anything to facilitate the call [from Dan Dennett], I thank you from the depths of my heart. It was a very heartwarming surprise and damn near midnight his time. I had often watched him as one of the four Horsemen: one of the purer essences of the goodness of this universe.”

I was thrilled for Roger and so appreciative that Dan Dennett was able to take time from his busy schedule to show care and compassion toward a complete stranger.

Truly admiring and wanting to get to know Roger better, I downloaded and read his memoir. Roger was a deep thinker and I discovered that he truly loved contemplating cosmology, natural science, space science, evolution, psychology and philosophy. I learned quickly that Roger just loved everything about the journey of life.

Still wanting to do more for Roger in his last days I wrote and recorded a song for Roger entitled “Beautiful Journey” [click here to listen] Roger wrote,

“I express gratitude for your continued concern. I genuinely hold the awareness of complete readiness to as fully embrace the workings of evolutionary emergence by my physical death as truly as any medieval devotee awaiting the embrace of Jesus.  I’ve been in love with the intricate workings of a vibrant topsoil since early youth and totally trust the micro- and macro-dynamics of this awesome universe – so much grander than the vagaries of fear-driven projections.”

In one of the last emails I received from Roger, he wrote,

“This project has helped me immensely in the effort to ground (plant?) myself in this surprisingly meaningful foxhole.”

Roger died peacefully at his home a few weeks after the interview. He did not live to see the final video of his interview, but he was excited to know that his thoughts about life and death would enlighten and encourage others. I only knew Roger from a distance for a few days, but I am truly grateful for the experience. Peace, compassion and purpose were all exhibited in the life and death of a fearless non-believer. There was truly no foxhole fear here.

=====================

Carter head onlyBio: Carter Warden is a former conservative pastor of 25 years, now openly atheist. Using the pseudonym “Adam Mann,” he was a founder of The Clergy Project, its first member and one of its first forum moderators. “Adam” was one of the original five interviewees in the 2010 Dennett-LaScola article, “Preachers who are not Believers.” While still in ministry, he was interviewed undercover by ABC World News Tonight and the Canadian Broadcasting Company. Carter made his change of beliefs public at the Freedom From Religion Foundation National Convention on October 7, 2016. He hopes that his story will bring encouragement to clergy trapped because of changing beliefs as well as all people who fear openly identifying themselves as non-religious.

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What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • Kevin K

    Great post.

  • Michael Neville

    Goodbye, Roger. I’d never heard of you until after your death but I will remember your words for a long time, hopefully until my death. So you still live on.

  • carolyntclark

    What a wonderful continuation of Roger’s inspiring message. There’s lots of big things to think about in this segment.
    Thank you Carter, for sharing those intimate moments, and your lovely musical tribute. Please check P.M. on TCP

  • mason

    Well done Carter! Thanks for your reaching out to Roger during his last days and immortalizing him in this way he so deserves. The beauty, simplicity, and clarity of your recording of “Beautiful Journey” is such a perfect expression of Roger’s essence, candor, eloquence, curiosity about all things, loving nature, and courage. Nice to learn that Dan Dennett “fellowshiped” with him during the final days and how much that act of kindness meant to Roger. https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/7df3fd069e929a56ccb422a9c7c2dd2f170de4a2d9f4b4082f9704d384386f93.jpg

  • Tony D’Arcy

    There are no Christians in plugholes. Plugholes perform a useful service.

    • mason

      Oh my goodness! … that’s so brutally harsh yet entertaining 🙂 … but then Christians, of the Evangelical fundamentalist ilk, say far harsher things about anyone who doesn’t believe that their irrational beliefs are anything more than ancient irrational beliefs.

    • Matthew Hullinger

      Oh my this is funny!

  • Carter Warden – aka Adam Mann

    My favorite ideas from Roger covered in the video are:
    1. He respects the once noble impulse of religion to help mankind explain where we are, what we are and what we are going to do about it. But this impulse turned into fear which ultimately drives religion.
    2. The best cure for religion is to read the bible(s). The “slaughter, mayhem, bigotry and superstition” will make you “cover your face in shame”.
    3. Trust yourself and your natural ability to reason. Question all belief systems.
    4. Original sin is the name given to the messiness of the evolutionary process.
    5. Live in the moment!

    • carolyntclark

      …and all that wisdom brought calmness and clarity in the face of death.I can only hope for that final attitude.

    • ElizabetB.

      Thank you so much for bringing Roger’s thoughts and spirit to all who will love his words and your song. Even the “jacket” of Beautiful Journey is beautiful!! and it’s a beautiful thing for you to have affirmed his legacy in so many ways… Can only imagine how deeply he must have meant “This project has helped me immensely….”

      I appreciate Roger’s granting a “once noble impulse” to religion — before it ran off the rails. Seems like some, since the 1800s, are trying “to get back on track.” Just reading about Schleiermacher, and I like his saying “Belief in God is not necessrily a part of religion; one can conceive of a religion without God, and it would be pure contemplation of the universe.” The summary says, “The theistic image of God had to go. It was too small, too human, too personal, and too objective. ‘God’ remains as a symbol, should we choose to use it, that both refers to all that transcends us and points to the unity of the *uni*verse we live in.” [Geering, Reimagining God 112-3]

      Thank you for the beautiful words

      • Carter Warden – aka Adam Mann

        When in the ministry I remember challenging people to think about the legacy they would leave behind. Of course at that time my goal was to encourage them to make sure their faith was passed on to the next generation, that they would be remembered as a godly person, a loving parent and friend, etc. The idea of a legacy is still appropriate for those without faith or a belief in some afterlife. Maybe it is even more important for those of us who live only in the here and now. Rewards in heaven or punishment in hell should not a respected motivation. Doing good for the sake of humanity alone with no hope for some heavenly reward is far more laudable than any contrived service. I think I have an idea for a new song!

        • ElizabetB.

          Thank you in advance for the song!!! Yes, in classes on Death and Dying, hospice training, and Aging in general, “legacy” is understood as a huge concern — for humans of all persuasions. It says so much that you intuitively tuned in to that — and did something so meaningful! And yes, I think that for a transition figure like Roger, it’s maybe extra significant in the development of thought. Gratitude

  • mason

    The Vimeo video of Roger, click on the highlighted “share” in the beginning of the article, is well worth the watching.

  • Matthew Hullinger

    Amazing post, I really enjoyed this.