Dead as a doornail.

June 1, 2008

I want to share with you faithful readers a quote that I read this morning (I regretfully don’t know the author at the time of this writing):

“Religion is our human response to the dual reality of being alive and having to die.”

It is, of course, an inevitability that each one of us humans will die. True to form, religion has always sought to fill in the void that is left behind by the passing of someone close to us, with its hollow benedictions and quick, ready-to-use answers for everything revolving around what most regard as the mystery that is death.

Personally, I don’t find much mystery about it – I agree with Mark Twain, who believed that when he died, he would go back to being the way he was for millions of years before he was born, which, as he put it, didn’t cause him the least bit of inconvenience.

But I can certainly understand why people are so uncomfortable with death. Believe me – I’m not exactly gleeful about the idea of my life, as I know it, coming to an end. I have lost people who are very close to me, and I still miss them very much, and wish that they were still here among the living. And although I have heard many convincing tales of visitations from beyond the grave, I tend to think that it’s a very convoluted and misguided form of wishful thinking that accounts for these types of “testimonials”. I don’t rule it out entirely as a metaphysical possibility – but to my mind (flawed as it might be) it seems highly unlikely.

Religion focuses so much on death and the afterlife, about how glorious and wonderful it will be when we are all in heaven with our god. So, if that’s the case, then shouldn’t all these religious zombies be happy when they hear that one of their own is ill and close to death? Why bother comforting that person, or even praying for their recovery? After all, shouldn’t they be jumping for joy, and even sending along well-wishes to be delivered to other long-departed souls? Isn’t that what the struggle is all about in the religious world view – the long-awaited reward of the afterlife?

The author of the quote that inspired this post must realize this fundamental truth – that religion is merely a product of the human mind, created to fill in the blanks where we are wont to shrug our shoulders and give up any further amount of scientific inquiry and logic into those matters that we don’t fully comprehend or understand.

Religious people think that atheists have no regard for human life; they think, how could we, since we don’t believe in the Almighty? I think it’s rather the opposite – since, as an atheist, I believe there is no after-life – no plush rooms filled with olives and virgins and angels strumming harps all day long – then the atheist world view is much more reverent towards life and realizes how truly rare and precious and fragile it is. In other words, we’ve got one shot, people – make the best of it.


9 Responses to “Dead as a doornail.”

  1. Missy Says:

    You err in categorizing all Christians as seeing religion as a sort of science.

    Certainly some do. They were and are a minority. However, they’ve made many inroads into popular culture and have created this misconception in the US.

    Cogito ergo Catholic.

    I don’t think rituals are empty. They embody our emotions and allow us to formalize our good-byes at death, and really, to formalize our emotional response at all important occasions from womb to tomb; birth, puberty, marriage, illness.

    And it’s worth pointing out that prior to the advent of Christianity there were no religions concerned with the afterlife.

    And yet there were still religions.

  2. mindserased Says:

    Hi Missy – I’m afraid I either misrepresented my view, or you misunderstood it. My aim was (and is) to point out how religion and science are dissimilar – belief (faith) vs. understanding (knowledge).

    I’m not sure where your basis is for the statement that Christians are the folks who brought the idea of the afterlife to the world. What about the ancient Egyptians, or the Zoroastrians, or the ancient Greeks? Christianity may have made the idea of the afterlife popular, but it certainly didn’t originate there.

  3. Missy Says:

    Well, I don’t think you could really categorize Hades as an afterlife. It is like the ancient Jewish idea of Sheol–a shadow of an existence. Sort of a zombie-like existence. And perhaps my understanding is incomplete, but I thought the Egyptian idea of immortality wasn’t equated with an afterlife as much as–well, immortality.

    Um, okay, I guess I was putting the emphasis on “concerned.” 😀

    And I would absolutely agree with you on the point of religion and science being dissimilar. IMHO they are not even looking at the same questions. Science should be asking how did we get here–and how does “here” work?Religion should be asking why are we here–and how should we behave?


  4. mindserased Says:

    I think religion and science are indeed looking at the same ‘how’ questions – the origins of life, etc. It’s just that I find that religious folks have neat little answers at the ready for everything – even when those answers haven’t been properly vetted or investigated (i.e. “when you count all the ‘begats’, then the earth HAS to be 6,000 years old!”, etc.).

    But the question of ‘why’ we are here is not something that either religion or science can ever properly answer – because it is purely unique to the individual. Certainly, the disciplines of science and religion, different as they are, each offer a construct through which we can each determine that answer for ourselves – but to my mind, religion is for those humans who can’t really think for themselves, who take greater comfort in conformity; as for those of us who aren’t comfortable with being “among the fold”, then critical thought and logic and reason and, ultimately, dissent, lead one to conclude that the ‘why’ of life is simply what we each make of it.

    That’s what I’m taking my chances on, anyway.

  5. Mardé Says:

    Minds Erased, I can’t see how the question ‘why’ is unique to the individual. Well, at least my question ‘why’ isn’t, even though I of course feel it. I’m referring to the “big philosophical question”, WHY?, a favorite of mine because I feel it: why is there something rather than nothing? Many philosophers have wrestled with this question, including so-called existentialists and many others, as I’m sure you know. So, they all feel it. All humans feel it to some degree, I think. Science cannot answer this and doesn’t try to… OK, the Big Bang. But that still doesn’t answer the basic philosophical question ‘why’. And besides, what came before the Big Bang? That’s yet another impossible question to answer.

    Also, you keep talking about the ‘religious folk’. But many ‘religious folk’ do not believe the world started 6000 years ago. I’m sure you know this, right? Are you doing the same thing Dawkins does? Only going after the fundamentalists?

  6. mindserased Says:

    OK, let me rephrase. The QUESTION of why is not what is unique to the individual – it’s the ANSWER that is. There are countless theories in regards to purpose, to “why we are here”, but the correct answer is: whichever one you choose to subscribe to. In matters of philosophy and emotions, the soul, if you will, the answers are unique to each one who asks. The reason I pick on religion so much is because I believe that religious faith is just one answer to the question of life’s purpose that is RELATIVELY true, not ABSOLUTELY true. It is the assertion by many religious people (fundamentalists and moderates alike) who declare that their faith is “true” in the absolute empirical sense, simply because “the bible tells me so” or some other such uninvestigated conclusion. But simply because you “believe” that something is true to your own mind and sensibilities doesn’t mean it’s true in the global sense, as in true for everyone. Big Brother will never convince me that 2 + 2 = 5.

  7. Mardé Says:

    But are our answers really that unique? In fact, in a sense all our answers are ‘religious’. I’m thinking of common emotional responses to tragedies, inspiring music, inspiring thoughts, sharing of sympathies, etc. etc. Also, in the case of Missy, I think she might say her response to the liturgy, prayer, etc., is not how the “bible told her to respond” but how she feels. Maybe it’s an illusion but still it’s unique to her I would imagine. OK, I’m probably not making sense here. But I don’t think ‘religious faith’ is just one thing, a thing that has been defined by others for them. It’s a personal feeling. OK, unique. Well, I don’t know where I’m going with this. I better stop while I’m behind! 🙂

  8. mindserased Says:

    Yes, Marde, our answers and our feelings and emotions may resemble others’ but they are uniquely experienced. As a lover of music and literature, I am deeply moved by songs and words and poetry. Why? Um, I don’t know, ‘cuz I like ’em. I can enjoy Lewis Carroll’s Jabberwocky without believing that the creature described therein is real. I’m sure that Missy’s and others’ response to liturgy and prayer are sincere – I guess my whole point is that it is of the utmost importance to be able to discern fact – what is indisputably “true” – from fiction.

  9. Mardé Says:

    I almost think it comes down to the definition of words. For example, Kate Braestrup’s youtube video in which Kate said the compassion she feels and gives to the people who lose loved ones in the Maine woods is what she can call God. God is in the compassion not the physical death, she says. Missy supported this idea in a comment. So, is it compassion or God? Who cares? It’s just a word. But it is a real thing.

    Does this make any sense? Maybe not. Anyway, I think it’s interesting.

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