Atheists In Foxholes
John Tupper

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From: "Positive Atheism" <editor@positiveatheism.org>
To: "Jon Tupper"
Subject: Re: Atheists in fox-holes.
Date: March 06, 2004 5:41 AM

Your letter describes an experience very much like the one I had two years ago, when left alone by friends and family to face the music of a mortal diagnosis. I wrote about this in what is, for now, my penultimate Editorial Column, "I Can Think of Life, and Nothing Else." Although it's dated for the January, 2002, issue, that magazine did not go out until May 9, 2002.

Of course we all know how that story ended: extensive radiological work showed the diagnosis to be false. It was, of course, made by a substitute physician, a doctor with bedside manners directly from the pits of Hell, a doctor whose stern, self-confident insistence and dogmatic tone lent an air of credibility to his opinions, a doctor who perhaps ought to consider a different vocation. (Yeah, right! Guess why there are so many incompetent physicians out there!) But for three harrowing weeks, everybody on and off the medical team believed him. And my friends and family, unable to face the prospects of suffering through yet another death in their respective circles, bolted out of my life and left me to face this prospect alone.

And yet I remained an atheist throughout.

Interestingly, the only person willing to even say "Boo!" to me the whole time was a Baptist minister, who patiently helped me put the pieces back together, both emotionally and in matters of daily living.

The fact that the object of the theist's claims is fictional was not what crossed my mind at the time. I didn't even mourn the nonexistence of an afterlife (although I do on occasion feel like this, when my state of mind is healthy, when life looks as if it will go on for a while)! Instead, what happened to me was an intense focus on life -- this life, as most theists would say. My mind didn't even ponder the sheer illogic, the utter unlikelihood, the flat-out impossibility of the afterlife-claim.

The only thing I know is life -- this life. Thus, the only things that crossed my mind for those three weeks had to do with who and what I would be leaving behind, fretting about the (apparent) fact that I probably wouldn't have time to even "put my house in order," as they say -- my literal house, that is. I wondered about whether I'd find, among those who had deserted me (rather, in spite of each and every one of them), homes for my cats, a repository for my work, worthy recipients for my material possessions.

And this whole time, the prospect of "being dead," the experience of dying -- none of this ever once crossed my mind. As I titled that essay, "I can think of life, and nothing else." I am wholly incapable of thinking about anything besides this life because those things (those ideas) are simply is not part of my experience! The here and now is my experience and the here and now is what my mind is able to ponder! I might as well wonder what it might have been like to have been a snake or a gopher (or a gopher being swallowed alive by a snake, for that matter).

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But fortunately this ended up being just a bad dream -- horrible nightmare -- because all the talk about a hospice and tissue degeneration and swelling and bloating and drowning in my fluids and such was just that: talk.

I am fine, today, all things considered, and will remain in acceptable health as long as I do what I'm told by my doctors. What remains is to rebuild what has been damaged and focus on trying to remain as healthy as my body will allow.

Cliff Walker
Positive Atheism Magazine
Eight-and-one-half years of service to
          people with no reason to believe

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