Are you afraid of your own death?

Religious people have belief in an afterlife that helps them deal with the knowledge that they will die. How does an atheist think about their own death?

Posted: June 4th 2007

SmartLX www

I don’t like the idea that I will not exist forever, not at all. Neither do I find it so abhorrent that I must pretend I will.

Many people find it difficult to grasp the concept of not existing. If they try to imagine death without an afterlife, they merely imagine an afterlife without the scenery; their own consciousness alone in a void, sensing nothing, going mad. It’s a nightmare scenario more frightening even than Hell. (Refer to the excellent “dead in a box” monologue in the play Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead.) No wonder people invent a heaven to hope for.

It’s pointless to ask things like, “What will death be like?” because when I die, there will not be a me to experience it. I will lose consciousness for the last time, as if I had gone to sleep, fainted or been knocked out or anaesthetised. Then I will be gone and it won’t matter what it’s like.

Death is the end, just as birth was the beginning. Live in the middle while you’re there. Excuse me while I go and make the most of my existence.

Posted: November 21st 2007

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George Locke

You bet!

I’m not afraid of hell; I don’t believe in the afterlife. I’m quite sure that when I die, there will be no more “me” except in the remembrances of others. This is frightening!

In some ways I view death as the ultimate failure. I have projects that I wish to complete, and whenever I die, my projects will be doomed.

Like most people, I possess the impulse to self-preservation, and so I avoid things that might kill me. Death is to be avoided. And yet I will die. I hope one day to learn to accept the inevitability of death and integrate the finiteness of my life into my way of being, but that day has not yet come.

Posted: June 20th 2007

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Russell Blackford www

Yes, though more frustrated at the limited time I have to do all the things I still want to do.

I’d certainly be afraid if I were placed in a life-threatening situation, or if I were diagnosed with a terminal disease. The fear of death is a natural and healthy instinct, though it’s unhealthy if it’s “tuned up” too high and spoils our enjoyment of life.

The other thing that’s not really healthy, even if it’s understandable, is making up stories about how death is not real, after all. The inevitability of our eventual deaths is something we should be mature enough to face.

A further thought: What I actually find more frightening and frustrating than death is the certainty of age-related decline in my capacities in later middle age, and especially in old age if I’m fortunate enough to make it that far. Then there’s the possibility of even worse, such as Alzheimer’s disease. I believe we should try for the longest, healthiest lives we can, and we should support medical research that has prospects of helping us do so. However, we should also accept that the race against death is one that none of us will ultimately win, not even if we were to drastically increase the current span of healthy human life.

Posted: June 18th 2007

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vjack www

Some level of fear of the unknown is to be expected. Without our earliest ancestors fearing the unknown, it is hard to imagine that religious beliefs could have survived more than briefly.

Because I enjoy life, death is not something I eagerly await. Death represents an ending – not a transition of some kind, but an end to one’s existence. And yet, I do not feel any need to be helped in dealing with this realization. In fact, the inevitably of death and the passage of time inspire one to live life to the fullest.

Frankly, this atheist does not spend a great deal of time thinking about death. I’d rather spend my time living.

Posted: June 10th 2007

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bitbutter www

I’m afraid of the pain of dying and the sadness of leaving loved ones but I’m not afraid of being dead.

In the words of the the philosopher Epicurus:
bq. Death is nothing to us, since when we are, death has not come, and when death has come, we are not.

And Mark Twain:
bq. I do not fear death, in view of the fact that I had been dead for billions and billions of years before I was born, and had not suffered the slightest inconvenience from it.

Posted: June 5th 2007

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If the Abrahamic religions were actually true, then the believers should all be afraid, as the afterlife offers the prospect of an eternity of being tortured.

How do you know, if you’re a believer, that you’re following the right God, in the right denomination, and jumping through all the right hoops, so you can get into Heaven? There could be some fine print that got mistranslated or misinterpreted, some sin that you didn’t seek forgiveness for, some stray thought, some female skin or hair that was accidentally showing, that causes you to fail and go to hell.

So who should be afraid?

For atheists, death is like the time that existed before you were born – you’re not there to suffer pain, or regret things done, or lament what could have been.

One day in the distant future, advanced genetics-based sciences such as molecular biology might offer a way of efficient DNA repair which extends life indefinitely. If humans are really so concerned with death, why don’t they devote all their resources into investigating this, rather than war, money-making, stuff accumulating, status reinforcement, etc? We did it for the Manhattan Project and the Apollo Program.

Then there would be lots of time to devote to fun and frivolous activities, to learning, to child-rearing, to stuff accumulating, etc.

Posted: June 5th 2007

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