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How Do Atheists
Deal With Death?
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From: “Positive Atheism”
To: “Positive Atheism List”
Subject: Question: How do atheists deal with death?
Date: Sunday, October 03, 1999

A student wants to know:

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Any comments or pointers from the List would be appreciated; I will forward all responses and post the best.

Cliff Walker
“Positive Atheism” Magazine

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From: “Positive Atheism”
To: “Positive Atheism List”
Subject: Question: How do atheists deal with death?
Date: Sunday, October 03, 1999

ALGERNON CHARLES SWINBURNE (1837-1909)
THE GARDEN OF PROSERPINE

01     Here, where the world is quiet;
02          Here, where all trouble seems
03     Dead winds’ and spent waves’ riot
04          In doubtful dreams of dreams;
05     I watch the green field growing
06     For reaping folk and sowing,
07     For harvest-time and mowing,
08          A sleepy world of streams.

09     I am tired of tears and laughter,
10          And men that laugh and weep;
11     Of what may come hereafter
12          For men that sow to reap:
13     I am weary of days and hours,
14     Blown buds of barren flowers,
15     Desires and dreams and powers
16          And everything but sleep.

17     Here life has death for neighbour
18          And far from eye or ear
19     Wan waves and wet winds labour,
20          Weak ships and spirits steer;
21     They drive adrift, and whither
22     They wot not who make thither;
23     But no such winds blow hither,
24          And no such things grow here.

25     No growth of moor or coppice,
26          No heather-flower or vine,
27     But bloomless buds of poppies,
28          Green grapes of Proserpine,
29     Pale beds of blowing rushes
30     Where no leaf blooms or blushes
31     Save this whereout she crushes
32          For dead men deadly wine.

33     Pale, without name or number,
34          In fruitless fields of corn,
35     They bow themselves and slumber
36          All night till light is born;
37     And like a soul belated,
38     In hell and heaven unmated,
39     By cloud and mist abated
40          Comes out of darkness morn.

41     Though one were strong as seven,
42          He too with death shall dwell,
43     Nor wake with wings in heaven,
44          Nor weep for pains in hell;
45     Though one were fair as roses,
46     His beauty clouds and closes;
47     And well though love reposes,
48          In the end it is not well.

49     Pale, beyond porch and portal,
50          Crowned with calm leaves, she stands
51     Who gathers all things mortal
52          With cold immortal hands;
53     Her languid lips are sweeter
54     Than love’s who fears to greet her
55     To men that mix and meet her
56          From many times and lands.

57     She waits for each and other,
58          She waits for all men born;
59     Forgets the earth her mother,
60          The life of fruits and corn;
61     And spring and seed and swallow
62     Take wing for her and follow
63     Where summer song rings hollow
64          And flowers are put to scorn.

65     There go the loves that wither,
66          The old loves with wearier wings;
67     And all dead years draw thither,
68          And all disastrous things;
69     Dead dreams of days forsaken,
70     Blind buds that snows have shaken,
71     Wild leaves that winds have taken,
72          Red strays of ruined springs.

73     We are not sure of sorrow,
74          And joy was never sure;
75     To-day will die to-morrow;
76          Time stoops to no man’s lure;
77     And love, grown faint and fretful,
78     With lips but half regretful
79     Sighs, and with eyes forgetful
80          Weeps that no loves endure.

81     From too much love of living,
82          From hope and fear set free,
83     We thank with brief thanksgiving
84          Whatever gods may be
85     That no life lives for ever;
86     That dead men rise up never;
87     That even the weariest river
88          Winds somewhere safe to sea.

89     Then star nor sun shall waken,
90          Nor any change of light:
91     Nor sound of waters shaken,
92          Nor any sound or sight:
93     Nor wintry leaves nor vernal,
94     Nor days nor things diurnal;
95     Only the sleep eternal
96          In an eternal night.

Cliff Walker
Positive Atheism Magazine

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From:
To: “Positive Atheism”
Subject: Question: How do atheists deal with death?
Date: Sunday, October 03, 1999

I see death as the ultimate end. Like the sleep before REM, when you’re unaware of any time passing or any surroundings or anything. only more so. When you die, your mind shuts off like a switch and you never experience anything. It’s almost impossible to imagine, which is why religions seek to explain something better. People are scared of oblivion, so they created Heaven.

Jared

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From: “Mary Mangum”
To: “Positive Atheism”
Subject: Question: How do atheists deal with death?
Date: Sunday, October 03, 1999

What strikes me about your questions is that you refer to ‘most cultures...’ Keep in mind that Atheism is not a culture. As the word implies, Atheism is a lack of belief in a god...nothing more. People tend to make the mistake of thinking of Atheism as just another form of religion, where we might have some common rituals to follow, or at least a clubhouse somewhere. I suppose this might be because most theists are used to thinking in those terms, that there must be rituals to follow, dogmas to believe. That seems to be the hardest part for theists to wrap their minds around regarding Atheism...the complete absence of belief. We do not believe. Period.

In other words, there isn’t any one thing that we, as atheists, do in common to ‘process death’ or to grieve. We are all individuals and handle death in our own ways.

On a personal note, I will be cremated and I request that, if law still allows, my ashes be put back into the earth where they belong. The way I see it preserving the body with chemicals and a coffin stems from the Christian belief in the eventual resurrection of the body at the second coming of Christ. Not to mention that the ‘Business of Death’ is a huge way to make money at the expense of a grieving survivor. I am not willing to participate in that tradition.

I will also request that there not be any religious ceremony at my funeral I must make this stipulation because I come from a very Catholic family and left to their own devices, they would have a funeral mass for me with holy water and incense, etc.) Beyond that, I would hope that my family get together and remember the good times and try not to grieve too hard for me.

Good luck with the presentation.
Mary

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From:
To: “Positive Atheism”
Subject: Question: How do atheists deal with death?
Date: Sunday, October 03, 1999

I would relate this question to what I do when I get ready for a major race or tennis, football, whatever game. While many people pray, I pace around thinking, setting goals in my head, planning my strategy, preparing as hard as I can, and at the end, I clear my head and let things come as they will. I think I would do something similar in the face of death. In dealing with it, I just think materialistically. Life doesn’t matter, mind is nothing more than electromagnetic impulses, and death is a release from a life of suffering. I don’t fear my death for these reasons. (I guess its kind of ironic considering that most Christians I talk to fear death more than anything.) I guess my in my final moments I would basically drift myself into a sea of stoicism.

If I knew about my death a few weeks beforehand I would spend my last days meditating, trying to psychosomatically get my body to fight harder. The ultimate goal of any atheist is to live long enough to enjoy what little life you have, so I’m sure most of us would do the same thing. Screw those prayer studies; Buddhists, Taoists, and Jainists have the same results and they are largely atheistic.

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From: “Stephen A. Lonsdale”
Subject: Question: How do atheists deal with death?
Date: Sunday, October 03, 1999

I can only speak for myself (although my wife also share these views) as I am sure you know that the only thing atheists have in common is that they do not believe in god(s). I accept the fact that death is inescapable and that it is also final. I have no illusions as to an afterlife. I understand that when I die that will be that, end of story. This does not bother me in the least. What I am concerned about is lying on my death bed thinking that my life was wasted. I would rather have it said of me that I was good for something. For instance, I am a martial artist and so I would wish that on my death bed I could say “well, I did the best that I could, I learned a lot and passed what I have learned to my students. Now that I am gone, what I taught will still continue to have merit.” (However if that is not to be than I am okay with knowing that I did try my best at least in this one area of my life. It is what describes me the best.)

I try therefore to squeeze as much as I can from the time I think I have left (as life is full of randomness and comes with no guarantees, none of us can be sure how long we have). Of course I like to have fun as well. I suppose what I am trying to say is that I would like to think I have lived a full life. There have been mistakes to be sure but I think that they even out once the successes are counted in. I would not want to think that I wallowed in misery or self pity especially considering I live in North America which to many many people in the world must seem like a paradise.

As to preparing for death, I have filled out a card donating all my organs and I have also donated what is left of my body after that to science. So there will be no need for a burial but perhaps some use can be made of my carcass. I would hope a wake would be held with a favourite photo of me practising martial arts prominently displayed. I would wish all of my friends and students to have a few drinks or so and remember all the things I have done even the boneheaded stunts and mistakes. I know that we cherish the memory of my instructor who died in a freak accident and one of our black belts who died at an early age from cancer. These thoughts are all I need to feel comfortable with my death.

Cheers,
Stephen A. Lonsdale

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From: “ART HAYKIN”
To: “Positive Atheism”
Subject: Question: How do atheists deal with death?
Date: Sunday, October 03, 1999

On death.

To begin, death is as natural as any other aspect of life and is essential for the process of rebirth and renewal to maintain it. Everything living dies. Metaphorically, even large geographic entities “die”....mountains erode away, rivers dry up, vast stretches of fertile land become barren deserts, huge lakes disappear. This globe is in a constant state of flux, and the only thing that never changes is change itself. Even the Bible says, resignedly, “For dust thou art and unto dust thou shalt return.”

People deal with death and dying differently, and atheists are no exception. Atheists are not a monolithic, homogeneous group with a prescribed set of rules to follow; this is one of the very qualities that distinguishes them from the herd. Among atheists, there are as many ways of dealing with death as there are ashiests.

There’s an old saying “Man is the only animal that knows he’s going to die.” But many animals seem to recognize death when they see it. Death may not be grasped in quite the same way by them as our intellectual ability of abstract thought allows us, but the predator/prey syndrome has been around since the beginning and death is deeply imbedded in the process.

Surely, no sane, normal human WANTS to die. And surely, death is a fearsome prospect, especially to the young adult. In fact, one of the most famous and loved poems on death “Thanatopsis” was written by the then 19 year old William Cullen Bryant (1794—1878), an American poet editor and reformer. It caused a flap in the literary world because little poetry of note had been published in America up to that time. One wag wrote, “It is impossible that anyone this side of the Atlantic could have composed this masterpiece, much less a 19 year old boy!” The last nine lines were required for memorization when I was in grammar school. Here it is in full:

THANATOPSIS
William Cullen Bryant

To him who, in the love of Nature, holds
Communion with her visible forms, she speaks
A various language: for his gayer hours
She has a voice of gladness, and a smile
And eloquence of beauty; and she glides
Into his darker musings, with a mild
And healing sympathy, that steals away
Their sharpness, ere he is aware. When thoughts
Of the last bitter hour come like a blight
Over thy spirit, and sad images
Of the stern agony, and shroud, and pall,
And breathless darkness, and the narrow house
Make thee to shudder, and grow sick at heart, —
Go forth under the open sky, and list
To Nature’s teachings, while from all around —
Earth and her waters, and the depths of air —
Comes a still voice:— Yet a few days, and thee
The all-beholding sun shall see no more
In all his course; nor yet in the cold ground,
Where thy pale form was laid, with many tears,
Nor in the embrace of ocean, shall exist
Thy image. Earth, that nourished thee, shall claim
Thy growth, to be resolved to earth again;
And, lost each human trace, surrendering up
Thine individual being, shalt thou go
To mix forever with the elements;
To be a brother to the insensible rock,
And to the sluggish clod, which the rude swain
Turns with his share, and treads upon. The oak
Shall send his roots abroad, and pierce thy mold.
Yet not to thine eternal resting place
Shalt thou retire alone — nor couldst thou wish
Couch more magnificent. Thou shalt lie down
With patriarchs of the infant world-with kings,
The powerful of the earth — the wise, the good,
Fair forms, and hoary seers of ages past,
All in one mighty sepulcher. The hills,
Rock-ribbed, and ancient as the sun; the vales
Stretching in pensive quietness between;
The venerable woods; rivers that move
In majesty, and the complaining brooks,
That make the meadows green; and, poured round all Old ocean’s gray and
melancholy waste — Are but the solemn decorations all
Of the great tomb of man! The golden sun,
The planets, all the infinite host of heaven,
Are shining on the sad abodes of death,
Through the still lapse of ages. All that tread
The globe are but a handful to the tribes
That slumber in its bosom. Take the wings
Of morning, pierce the Barcan wilderness,
Or lose thyself in the continuous woods
Where rolls the Oregon and hears no sound
Save his own dashings — yet the dead are there;
And millions in those solitudes, since first
The flight of years began, have laid them down
In their last sleep-the dead reign there alone!
So shalt thou rest, and what if thou withdraw
In silence from the living; and no friend
Take note of thy departure? All that breathe
Will share thy destiny. The gay will laugh
When thou art gone, the solemn brood of care
Plod on, and each one as before shall chase
His favorite phantom; yet all these shall leave
Their mirth and their employments, and shall come
And make their bed with thee. As the long train
Of ages glides away, the sons of men —
The youth in life’s green spring, and he who goes
In the full strength of years, matron and maid,
And the sweet babe, and the gray-headed man —
Shall one by one be gathered to thy side,
By those, who in their turn shall follow them.

So live that when thy summons comes to join
The innumerable caravan that moves
To that mysterious realm, where each shall take
His chamber in the silent halls of death,
Thou go not, like the quarry slave at night,
Scourged to his dungeon, but, sustained and Soothed by an unfaltering
trust, approach thy grave Like one who wraps the drapery of his couch
About him, and lies down to pleasant dreams

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The “unfaltering trust” he speaks of may be taken to mean that in which you believe. For the believer, it is God. For me, it is “the love of nature” mentioned in the first line. And I “hold communion with her visible forms” every day.

Not to sound unkind, but the notion of an “afterlife” is something of both an ego trip and denial. The trick is to make the most of the life you have been given, then be willing to step aside for others to follow. A famous humorist said “You only live once, but if you work it right...once is enough.”

And if you remember nothing else, remember this: Death is not the worst thing that happens to you, it’s merely the last.

Meanwhile, celebrate life!

Art Haykin
Bend, Oregon

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From: “GuitarPro” To: “Positive Atheism”
Subject: PA-via_Positive_Atheism_Index
Date: Sunday, October 03, 1999

I can only speak for myself and not atheists as a whole because we all have our individual perspectives on this and other subjects. I myself, like most people, don’t like the reality that I and all those I love and care about are going to die. This inevitability though doesn’t allow me to fool myself into thinking that there is some kind of afterlife based on teachings of those who worship a god that they don’t have one iota of proof exists or ever existed. I view people who believe in god without any proof, which is everybody who believes in god, are like children who want to hold onto their belief in Santa Claus.

So my response to you is that I believe the best way to live your life is to live it in it’s observable reality as opposed to making yourself believe in something unprovable just because you wish it were true. In other words I believe death is final for us all and there is absolutely nothing we can do to change this reality. Why would any reasoning person choose to live their one and only chance at life in denial of reality. That’s insane! I wish you well.

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From: “Steve Moore”
To: “Positive Atheism”
Subject: Question: How do atheists deal with death?
Date: Monday, October 04, 1999

Dear Student,

The first point to remember is that atheists and humanists are free-thinkers, individuals with a wide variety of opinions on various subjects. Rituals developed among small communities, the members of which supposedly believed the same thing. It’s not easy for a free-thinker to enter into the corporate mind set needed for a ritual or ceremony.

Christian rituals, at least in the 20th century, focused on “hope”—the belief that the deceased has “gone before” or is waiting for us “on the other side”. This is quite a comforting change from the focus on judgment that traditional Christian funeral rituals focused on, singing the “Dies irae” and all.

Atheists, however, do not assert that a person somehow “lives on” after death. The fact is, that we do not know what happens after death. Some atheists choose to believe that there is some kind of immortality, others don’t. My particular take on this has two parts:

1. I believe that we live on after death in the influence that we have had on the world around us, no matter how small the world we touched. As long as one person remembers us, we live on.

2. In a more mystical vein, I believe in immortality. The matter that makes up my body, and the energy that enervates it and courses though my brain, has passed through an almost infinite number of forms before me. Part of me may have been a comet or a dinosaur. And when I die, the things that make me “me” will be dissolved and will join in the ongoing cosmic dance of life.

As for rituals, a memorial service is still appropriate for family and friends to gather and share their grief. Personally, I feel bad that my death will cause anyone pain, because I do not want to do that to anyone. If I could speak at my memorial, I would try to comfort my spouse and friends. Still, I realize that grief is normal, and where better to express it than at a memorial service? So, feel free to cry while others take part in reading messages about the cosmic dance, and others recall their memories. I like the idea of a wake, with lots of food and drink. In the moments of my deepest grief, I like to stuff myself with pizza.

Atheists have different beliefs about the disposition of the body. I personally prefer cremation, because it dissolves my body quickly to its native elements.

Thank you for your question.
Steve

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From:
To: “Positive Atheism”
Subject: Question: How do atheists deal with death?
Date: Monday, October 04, 1999

You just do. You just deal with it, like anything else in your life. I’m not saying it doesn’t hurt, because that would be an obvious lie; but you’ve got to work your way through your feelings, and continue on. Is that what the person who died would want anyway, for you to continue on with your life?

Now, I am not saying FORGET that person; far from it. But just keep on truckin’.

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From: “Mary Cancilla”
To: “Positive Atheism”
Subject: Question: How do atheists deal with death?
Date: Monday, October 04, 1999

I deal with the thought of death (which is kind of a freaky thought — suddenly no longer existing...) by knowing that, when I die, I will be aware of nothing. Even if I die by falling thousands of miles in an airplane...I may have a pretty bad experience, plummeting to the earth and screaming and panicking like that...but when I hit, I will never have to look back on that horrifying memory again — my mind and memories will be gone.

As far as my funeral and my family are concerned, I want them to do whatever will comfort them when I die. If they want a big funeral in a Baptist Church, although it wouldn’t be fitting for me, let them do what would comfort them. However, I always did think it would be cool to have a gravestone that said, “Here lies an atheist — all dressed up and nowhere to go.” But then, I wouldn’t be around to enjoy it! Anyway, it doesn’t matter to ME what happens to my body after I die — the happiness and comfort of my family is what’s important.

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From: “Joe See”
To: “Positive Atheism”
Subject: Question: How do atheists deal with death?
Date: Monday, October 04, 1999

How atheists deal with death? With sadness, of course, like anyone. We atheists, you see, are not a bloc, and hold no prescribed rituals of the sort held on to by superstitious (religious) people. But more to your point, which probably is how we cope with death, or the prospect of death, without the illusion of a new life following this one. I guess we don’t believe in magic. Or fairies. Or angels, or saviors, or big fathers in the sky, or the other fanciful figments of pretending too much, right on into adulthood. Gods are no more “real” (when you think about it) than tooth fairies and easter bunnies. And so perhaps we atheists confront death, the end of life, a little more directly than others do. We think something like ...Well, it’s over. Life does end. It’s as natural as can be, after all, when we observe around us. Death can be terribly sad, but each of us takes his or her turn on stage and then gets off. One’s life is completed. And since atheists expect no fanciful return engagements (the stock in trade of the religions, after all), we’re probably less prone, as life fades, to deal-making, pathetic wishing, and clawing for just one more ride around, just one more chance. I’m not sure that atheists die more happily, but I think we die a lot less desperately.

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From: “Steve Locks”
To: “Positive Atheism”
Subject: Question: How do atheists deal with death?
Date: Monday, October 04, 1999

Try “Infidel death beds” at
http://www.infidels.org/library/historical/george_foote/infidel_deathbeds.html

Also “a humanist memorial service” at
http://www.humanist-society.org/celebrants/memorial.html

Could also try “Gentle Godlessness” parts
http://www.infidels.org/library/modern/paul_obrien/gentle/atheism13.html
and
http://www.infidels.org/library/modern/paul_obrien/gentle/atheism14.html

There is some material scattered through my site too if the student has time for all this!

I hope that’s helpful.

Steve
———————————-
Leaving Christianity (hundreds of deconversion stories):
www.users.globalnet.co.uk/~slocks/decon.html

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From: “MURRAY, Paul”
To: “’Positive Atheism’”
Subject: Question: How do atheists deal with death?
Date: Monday, October 04, 1999

You certainly have hit the nail on the head in noting that much of the motivation behind religious feeling is fear of death, of ourselves and our loved ones. Naturally, an atheist may very well have a different view. You are aware of the Stages of dealing with grief? Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, Acceptance. To an atheist, the religious viewpoint of death seems to be a combination of denial or bargaining. No he’s not really dead - he’s alive in heaven. If we pray to Mary, maybe he’ll get out of purgatory sooner.

A religious person gets hung up at this stage, and cannot get to “acceptance” cleanly. This is made worse by the fact that in Christianity, one can never really, really be certain that another person is saved. You just don’t know. Hanging over the Christain world view is the threat of hell, a threat that never entirely goes away.

There are a number of varieties of atheism. I am a materialist, so I’ll talk about that. However, note that some atheists _do_ believe in a “spirit” or “soul”.

To me, when a person dies, their story is over. Like a book when you reach “the end”. Their self ceases to exist like a candle flame does when it is snuffed. To me, death is an ending, not a transformation into something better or worse. My aunt Nancy simply is no more. She is not burning in hell for being an atheist, she is not wandering the earth as a ghost or spirit. She has not departed in the sense of going elsewhere.

I was not really very close to aunt Nancy. I don’t know how I would react should someone I deeply care about die. Emotionally I suppose it can be difficult to deal with. I suppose there is an almose instinctive reaction to believe that they still live somehow. But it’s still wrong, no matter how strongly one might feel it.

Culturally? I don’t know. My family is christian, so I don’t know what an athiest culture might do to process death.

But I do know that such a culture would not support a class of people who live off death. Who make their way in the world raising false fears of hell and soothing them with equally false promises of heaven. Who make money off the uncertainies of greiving widows and children, whether they admit it or not. The church deals in fear, that’s why it has always hated universalism.

An atheist, without these parasitic memes, is freer to process death cleanly. An atheist may face their own death with regret, but without fear.

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From: “Monica A. Harris”
To: “Positive Atheism”
Subject: Question: How do atheists deal with death?
Date: Tuesday, October 05, 1999

Cliff,

You may not be able to use this, since it is zen & not atheistic, but amongst my other zen Buddhists, who also do not have a monotheistic belief system or vision of an “afterlife,” the most poignant expression of the process of death comes from the subject of my novel & my original “guru,” Captain Finbar.

He describes our beings as drops in the ocean: when we manifest in our lives, we are like waves rising up out of the sea...when we die, we fall back into the vast ocean. The whole concept is more one of eternity by natural process. Our egos, which cling to this life manifestation have a hard time in being humble enough to accept that we do not have a defined “soul” which endures.

zen 101: “Freedom from attachment leads to inner peace.”

Letting go of our egoistic clinging to life as we attempt to demand that it be, and loving life AS IT IS in the here-and-now, is the essential discipline attained through meditation. Nowhere is it more critical than in dealing with death, which we seem compelled to resist. zen instills “big picture” thinking, in which the natural processes are endorsed above our personal demands on how life should be.

blue

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From: “James Call”
To: “Positive Atheism”
Subject: Question: How do atheists deal with death?
Date: Tuesday, October 05, 1999

Procrastinate.

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From: Christi To: “Positive Atheism”
Subject: Question: How do atheists deal with death?
Date: Tuesday, October 05, 1999

I feel that death is a generic thing... that is whatever happens to one happens to all.. either we’ll have some sort of awareness or we won’t. If we have no awareness, there’s nothing to worry about... if we do, then we all do and we can assume that we will be together again (we’re together here, right?). In any case you don’t need to worry. When someone close dies we honor the life of that person and learn to go on without them physically being here. Remembering that we’re the ones suffering, not them, helps. Helping others come to grips with the loss also helps. It takes time.

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From: “Shirley Braverman”
To: “Positive Atheism”
Subject: Question: How do atheists deal with death?
Date: Tuesday, October 05, 1999

Having just lost my one and only younger brother on the 13th of September, I feel I am qualified to answer this question. Atheists react to death as they react to everything, with logic (reason) and validity (reality). I know that he is gone forever, but that he lives on in my memories and in the memories of those who loved him. The good deeds that he preformed throughout his life will live on in that chain of events of other’s lives that he touched.

No one escapes death, ten out of ten of us will die, so I know that my sorrow is for myself. I grieve that his physical presence that lit up my life with his wit and laughter is denied me forever. I will never forget him and certain things will remind me of him as long as I live. I grieve now as I understand I must. But I also realize that some day, if I live long enough, my grieving will be over and I will remember him with comfort and satisfaction, and ,yes, even pleasure.

Shirley Braverman

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From:
To:
Subject: Question: How do atheists deal with death?
Date: Tuesday, October 05, 1999

The one and only Isaac Asimov, after being diagnosed with incurable cancer, had this to say about his approaching death:

“Although the time of death is approaching me, I am not afraid of dying and going to Hell or (what would be considerably worse) going to the popularized version of Heaven. I expect death to be nothingness and, for removing me from all possible fears of death, I am thankful to atheism.”

(This appeared in Free Inquiry, in an article entitled “On Religiosity,” but I’m sorry to say that I have lost the information as to issue number and date.)

Bob Winslow

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From: “Nicole”
To: “Positive Atheism”
Subject: Question: How do atheists deal with death?
Date: Thursday, October 07, 1999

Dear student:

I am an atheist, born in France, and although cemeteries are nice and quiet, I would rather have my body cremated. My survivors could enjoy (or not) my photographs, souvenirs, ashes, etc. If they want view my dead body, they can go to the morgue, and reflect on the reality of death. Please no caskets, flowers or prayers! If I am lucky enough to have many friends, let’s have a party-gathering and celebrate the fact that they are still alive, and will continue to live their lives without me.

Au revoir mes amis!

Graphic Rule

From: “Michael Morrison”
To: “Positive Atheism”
Subject: Question: How do atheists deal with death?
Date: Sunday, October 10, 1999

Dear Cliff

Well, heck, we just lie there and decay ... like everybody else.

Oh, well, our families and loved ones, if any, may be performing some kind of ritual, perhaps despite our stated wishes.

And I suppose even some atheists may have some kind of memorial, wherein mourners may have a final moment of commiseration.

But since were are not a hierarchical bunch, what is done by way of funeral is bound to vary.

Hope you are feeling well, Cliff, and I thank you again for all you do.

Yours,
Michael

Graphic Rule

From: “Pawel Pieczul”
To: “Positive Atheism”
Subject: Reply: Question: How do atheists deal with death?
Date: Monday, October 11, 1999

Imagine a man, that has bought a lottery ticket. The ticket gives the chance to win an enormous amount of money, but with an incredibly small probability. That does not discourage him — he certainly knows the fact, but still is trying to keep it off his conscious. Such an attitude gives him the conviction he is going to gain a lot of money soon, and therefore he begins to change the way he lives his life (talking to friends about the money, convincing them to take part in the lottery, feeling sure about the future). The man feels better inside and seems probably to be living a happier and composed life. You might say: that man has a faith! But isn’t he a loony? Any man valuing a logic and reason as a base of life and decisions taking, would not exchange the hard truth about reality for the comfortable vision of warm and calm life, while the price of such exchange is to forget about the facts and fall into delusional believes.

Thus, an atheist, or rather a skeptic (both got much in common) thinks of a death as a fact, but any hopes that might go along with death (like afterlife, eden, hell or whatever) are highly improbable. He is facing the cold, tough truth about death - the most probable thing is that death is the end. Perhaps believing otherwise provides the relief to the fear of death, but I suppose the matter of honour is not to get into such illusions, as the most valuable thing (according to me) should be discovering the truth about our lives and not placing them comfortably in a pool of sweet lies. One more thing — realising about death’s irreversibility may be a reason for making a better use of our present lives — there certainly is a thing to be wasted or put to good account. For more sophisticated, but similar ideas, please refer to the book by Steven Weinberg (a Nobel prize-laureate physicist) “A Dream Of A Final Theory” (the title my be somewhat different, I don’t remember it well).

Paul

Graphic Rule

From: “Janet Voska”
To: “Positive Atheism”
Subject: FORUM Atheists Dealing With Death 9666
Date: Wednesday, July 19, 2000

I’m an atheist because I have yet to comprehend a “god” belief I can accept with intelligence and uplifting emotion. Any belief based on fear is abhorrent to me.

I have held the dying and have seen the brutal ugliness of death. It rips the sane person to the depths of his or her being. In being an atheist, there is no “god” to run to for comfort because there is no comfort -- unless it is in knowing that death shortened intractable suffering.

But there is this: grief passes if one doesn’t fight it’s process and one is able to take life on it’s terms and enjoy the good which life so often brings.

Is there more — a hereafter? I don’t know. I have met people who have had near death experiences and they are very believable. What is it? I don’t know — there are many theories. But really, should that influence my life today? I don’t think so. Why worry about what may or may not be. There’s enough to do right here and now to keep one busy till the end.

Questions to atheists lead me to believe that somehow we’re supposed to be heartless creatures, so utterly devoid of human decency, so incapable of love, charity, compassion, and joy that it's almost as if we don’t even bleed! How strange.

For myself, I love celebrations. To celebrate a friend’s or loved one’s life upon his or her death is very important. Of ourse, it's not as important as being involved in someone's life, but it's important just the same.

I know the fragility of life and do my best to never harm another being, human or non-human. If this is it, if this life is all we get (and it very well may be), then harm to another ranks among the worst crimes a person can commit.

Graphic Rule

From: “kathy”
To: “Positive Atheism”
Subject: How Do Atheists Deal With Death 9666
Date: August 17, 2001

How do atheists deal with death?

From my experience as a registered nurse over the course of twenty five years, I have found that atheists deal with death very well, especially when Christians don’t try to convert them while they lie patiently on their death beds surrounded by their families trying to live out their lasts moments with as much dignity as possible.

Yes, I would say that atheists deal with death very well.

Graphic Rule

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