All too often, in the various atheist groups I belong to… the subject of death rears its grimacing skull. It seems that the general consensus is that we should not fear death. After all, you won’t know when you’re dead, because you’ll be dead. But I fear it all the same.
Perhaps the reason is that I accepted the idea of an afterlife for so long? I don’t know, but it seems to me the one thing common to most religions is the idea that death is not the end. They don’t all believe in a heaven or hell, but a soul and some kind of afterlife is the norm. I suppose it’s an oversimplification, but the fear of death must be a large part of what drives people not to question their beliefs. It didn’t work like that for me – seeing that so many religions had a similar concept, I did not find it logical to conclude that there must be some truth to that concept; but rather that there must be something about us that leaves us wanting to believe.
I look at some of the female movie stars I adored so much 20 (or so – I’m not counting) years ago… Women like Neve Campbell, Fairiza Balk, Denise Richards… the list goes on. Look at them now. Don’t get me wrong… I’m not saying that more mature women are less attractive – it’s just that I prefer looking at the women. (You know!) Us men age just as badly. What I am saying is that age is a sign of our bodies wearing down as the cells no longer repair themselves properly, a sign of impending death and decomposition. And that, the inevitability of death, gets to me.
I do find the lengths that we go to, to “confirm” our beliefs in the supernatural, to be highly amusing. Some might say that the common belief in ghosts is evidence that life goes on after physical death. It isn’t. Take a movie like The Conjuring… In it, Ed and Lorraine Warren’s faithful assistants, even the pseudo-skeptical one, run around capturing the ghosts and demons on film. (I’m remembering the second movie, I think.) Then that can be used as evidence by the church to determine whether or not the case is genuine… Meanwhile, in reality, no such evidence of the supernatural exists. Instead, we have people who impose supernatural significance of their existing beliefs on natural phenomena (or people like the real life Warrens who exploit the gullible for profit), and then those stories, the ones where the subject of belief is accepted as true despite no supporting evidence, are the ones that get written down. And then, those stories are further embellished for movies. They may be horror movies, but in them is a little gem of hope, “confirmation” for the faithful that they will live on after physical death.
And on the subject of horror, I find that the stories without a supernatural element to be more frightening – those that don’t promise us life after death but instead feature a human antagonist and gruesome death. I wonder though… Is my fear of death, despite being an atheist, common? Or is it unusual? I doubt it… I mean, one of the reasons to hang on to irrational beliefs may well be fear of death, but just because I realize the reality of the situation does not mean that fear goes away. If anything, the fear is more threatening to me since I don’t have the false comfort of belief in an afterlife.