Recently I have been doing some training on grief, death and dying. I have listened to some wonderful experts in the field but the most moving people I heard were those still working though a loss. Some were recent, others long ago, some unexpected deaths and some after long illness or old age. Each of these people had different faiths and religious expectations for what comes after death.
In listening to those dealing with grief, I can appreciate how their beliefs give them comfort as they deal with the loss. I wonder, if at times, unfounded belief may be more beneficial than the rational view. It is hard enough to deal with the personal loss, believing that they are sitting on a cloud watching us, rather than non-existence. We have all heard “They are in a better place.” This can be a comforting thought. I will note that as I listened to people share about their grieving, the religious beliefs had no impact on the depth of grief.
When I contemplate my eventual death, I would like to look down and see how my children, grand-children and future generations fair. I would like to think that they could talk to me whenever they need and I could answer with a gust of wind in their hair. This makes me want to believe in this picture of an afterlife. The only problem is that there is no reason to believe other than my own desire.
Every now and then I will hear about a famous atheist who on his deathbed suddenly finds faith. Stories such as the fake tale of Charles Darwin’s deathbed conversion cloud the truth. For the full story from a Christian source see Christian Answers. Skip to the last paragraph for the deathbed story. You can find other sources by Googling “Darwin’s deathbed”
Even if the story of Darwin wasn’t a pious lie, what would that mean? It would be a understandable statement made by a man who was frightened. Fear is a powerful motivator to make irrational decisions. That is why statements made while under duress are not typically admissible in court.
So where does this leave me. I am OK with people who have chosen a life of faith as it gives them comfort. If it takes a little bit if the sting away from the wound that is life, so be it. Just recognize it for what it is. If people would do this, we just might be able to find a little peace.
As for me, I will take the harsh truth rather than the comforting lie. I will live my life to the fullest because it is my only one. I don’t have eternity. I make an effort every day to love people here and now because we will not have the opportunity to chat on clouds. I would challenge my readers to choose not to dwell on the harshness of life or the limitations of time but instead to live their lives in a way that there is nothing left unsaid or undone.
I would encourage my readers to listen to the speech made by my friend Hal Bidlack, “Being a skeptic of faith.” This is available for free download from Skepticality episode 57.
It is far better to grasp the universe as it really is than to persist in delusion, however satisfying and reassuring. Carl Sagan