Acceptance of mortality

First off, I am absolutely an atheist, no doubts or second-guessing, and I have been for many years. However, I did grow up in a fairly religious atmosphere, and even now I struggle with accepting mortality.

To clarify, I don’t think there is an afterlife – I just mean I have had some trouble coming to terms with mortality on an emotional/psychological level, likely due to the false beliefs with which I was indoctrinated as a child. I also certainly don’t think this is helped by several personal tragedies I’ve experienced (deaths of close friends while in college), since most people I know close to my age (20-30) don’t really give much thought to their own mortality.

In light of all that, I’m curious to hear anyone’s stories or advice about how they came to accept mortality and not fear it if they, like me, were once religious and only later in life became a non-believer. Also, I suppose I’m hoping to hear from someone a bit older, with more life experience, since I am still relatively young.

Posted: August 22nd 2011

flagellant www

I am 70. A few weeks ago, I suffered ventricular fibrillation – a serious heart disorder which is quickly fatal without swift medical attention. I was out of things for many days. To all intents and purposes, I was dead because I had no consciousness and no perception of my surroundings, just the way I am when I go to sleep – except that I was out of it for a much longer period. Because of the insistence of my partner and prompt skilled medical help, I came through. I think that’s the closest I could get to death without actually dying.

Of course, I’m glad that I’m still alive: I have an awful lot more living to do. But my views on the afterlife, God and all his/her/its alleged manifestations are unchanged: they’re all bunkum.

As you imply, just because something is appealing and comforting has no relevance to its truth value. This atheist has been as close to death as it’s possible to get, without actually dying. Yet, I am still resigned to my mortality: there is no afterlife to look forward to.

I hope that my experience will help you to resolve your difficulty.

Posted: August 30th 2011

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My father (a minister) died about 5 years ago of Alzheimers, and my mother (also very religious) died this spring. Neither of them died well; my father knew he was losing his mind, and my mother lost everything that was important to her and in the end was praying to die.

If I was religious, I don’t know how I could deal with those; it makes no sense that a god would let them suffer that way.

As an atheist, I realize that none of us are going to get out of this life alive, and that people that you care dearly about are going to die. That’s just the way it is.

All we can do is try to live well during the time that we get.

Posted: August 30th 2011

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Dave Hitt www

In addition to the Twain quote, I’d also offer Kurt Vonnegut’s observation that you are a piece of mud that got to get up and look around. Isn’t that amazing? Of all the trillions of tons of mud, you got to get up and look around. You don’t get to look around for very long, but the sheer wonder and incredibleness of it happening dwarfs the fact that it’s not forever.

Posted: August 29th 2011

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Galen Rose www

Perhaps I may qualify as that “someone a bit older” as I am 68. Here are my thoughts on death.

What exactly is death? Well, functionally, all the evidence suggests the death of a human is merely the end of awareness for that human; he is no longer conscious. This doesn’t frighten me in the least because it happens to me every night when I go to sleep. And while I’m asleep, I don’t miss my family or friends or any of the other things I love since I’m not aware that they (or I) exist. There is no pain, no longing, and no sadness.

But aren’t I sad that I will never again get to see my loved ones, even in heaven? Sure, I’m a bit sad while I’m alive that I can no longer see those loved ones who have died, or talk with them, or be with them, but after I’m dead that will never occur to me. The pain of missing them will be over.

I will never be able to witness my own death because I will have no awareness at the moment I die. And because I will have no awareness, I will not miss life in the least. We cannot miss something we are not aware of, and from that moment, I will not be aware of ever having lived. Oddly enough, for oneself, once awareness is gone, even death does not exist.

Now don’t get me wrong, I love life. Although I am of the gray haired set, I still enjoy life greatly, and there are still things I hope to accomplish in this life. But at the same time, I see no point in fearing death. I won’t even know it has happened.

As Mark Twain noted, I was dead for billions of years before I was born, but I don’t recall it being of the slightest inconvenience. Similarly, I am utterly convinced that I will never experience my death as an inconvenience.

Posted: August 29th 2011

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