The other day I was having a discussion about "beliefs" and such with a long time friend and co-worker. He has always listened to me ramble on about what I believe and has never, until now, said anything in response. He said that he had a challenge for me. I was shocked because he never really "participated" in any of my "ramblings" so I was curious as to what it might be. This man has been my friend for over 15 years and is someone who taught me a thing or two about electrical work ( I am an electrician). He has children and is a Christian. His challenge was this: You're in Afghanistan, you're being overrun by the enemy and you know this is the end. You know you will never see your wife or family ever again. If you have no faith, what will you cling to in that moment? Will I be able to remain an atheist, or will I revert back to what I was before? A christian. I had to stop for a moment and think about this. Humans will do and say crazy and things when faced with injury or death. I remember shortly after my "conversion" to atheism, this same friend was in a serious electrical accident that burned his face and hands. After he was taken to the hospital, myself and another electrician had to restore the power to the building. During this time, as I was "suiting up" in my arc flash gear, I remember thinking, "Please let him be okay and please don't let me or anyone else get hurt when we re-energize the power". After things calmed down, I thought to myself, "Who were you talking to?". Was I praying? I think I was! I was upset with myself because I never want to be hypocritical with what I believe. I have thought long and hard about who I am. I did not become an atheist overnight. It took many years. From Christian to agnosticism to atheism. I told myself that some habits are hard to break. I used to "pray" all the time. This is something I needed to work through.
So, my answer to the challenge? I truly hope that I will remain true to myself if ever faced with another situation like that or the situation he described. Hopefully I'll never have to find out the answer! Let me know what you think.
I would think that in that moment you would cling in desperation to the impossible chance that you would see your family again - that you would go down screaming out their names. On the other hand you could call out to Yahweh to deliver you. If you are for sure going to die - what's the difference? Even if you call out "Oh, Lord Baby Jesus Sweet Mother of Mary forgive me for all I've done and deliver me from mine enemy," it won't actually make Christian mythology 'real'.
I would cling on to positive thoughts, or just fight for my life and hope for the best.
When your friend was hurt and you were thinking "please let him be OK" ... you were just expressing your hopes - it doesn't mean you believe in god. Imagine playing baseball, you're at the plate and the game is tied. You hit the ball, and you watch it sail, thinking, "come on baby, over the fence!" - is that praying? You know your thoughts aren't going to make it go any farther, but you still think your hopeful thought. Doesn't mean for a second that you believe in a supernatural power.
Your friend was using a version of the classic "there are no atheists in foxholes" argument. It's bogus. There most assuredly are atheists in foxholes. (see http://www.militaryatheists.org/expaif.html/, and http://ffrf.org/outreach/atheists-in-foxholes/)
You say you were a christian for a long time. In times of stress or high emotions, it's natural to revert to the language of your youth. For example, if you know someone who's second language is english, and you've ever seen them get angry, most likely, they revert to their native language. Our language and our emotions are deeply connected. In fact, swear words aren't even stored in the language part of our brain - they're in the emotion part (which helps explain why people with Turrets blurt swear words).
So don't sweat it. Your friend is trying to get you to admit you still believe in god by trumping up an unlikely hypothetical, emotionally charged situation, and then to base your belief on what you may or may not say at a time when your reasoning faculties are seriously inhibited. You should always be cautious about making any major life decision at times of great stress - so it doesn't matter what you might say in the foxhole.
Good answer, Karen - you just won a lifetime supply of twizzlers! Would you believe week-end supply? A twizzler?
Why do I get the feeling the twizzler might arrive half-eaten?
Even if you reverted in a moment of weakness, if you could no longer accept Christianity because too many things didn't make sense, you would not be accepting the religion through an honest means. You would be accepting it out of dishonest desperation. It really doesn't matter what you do when you are dying, because you aren't responsible to anyone at that point. But if the Christian god was real, it would be wrong to come to him on account of irrational or dishonest thinking, because God is depicted as a god of order.
Doing something crazy or irrational as an act of desperation is not uncommon in human behavior. It really isn't a measure of suppressed feelings or beliefs. It doesn't mean you really believe in the Christian religion deep down. It just means humans do crazy stuff when desperate. They kill people, they eat each other, they do all sorts of things.
I was in a car wreck the week before last. I didn't know how bad it would be at the onset of the accident, but I knew I would be hurt. There really wasn't time for clinging to anything. There wasn't any way to control my destiny. Once it became clear that I would impact, I simply let go, closed my eyes, and waited. Less than a second later the car was stopped.
Luckily, I had no serious injuries. But this experience makes me wonder if we need to have something to cling to at all. There is something to be said for simply accepting your reality and living it, be it through the mundane or more harrowing moments.
I think you would remain true to yourself. Wishful thinking, call it prayer if you like, is not an admission of faith.
I was once a passenger in a car accident. At the time I “knew” I was going to die. I had no doubt that my time was up. It was the classic sensation of watching everything in slow motion. I remember thinking of my family as my main concern. I also – and this is not with the benefit of hindsight – remember laughing to myself because I heard myself thinking the words “It’s true I will not want god at the time of my death.” I was delighted with my reaction. I walked away unscratched. That was over 25 years ago. BTW I seldom tell that story.
There is a deeper understanding of life (and death) that those of us that “think Atheist” have. The philosophical outlook developed without the dependence on a god allows a greater appreciation of life and with that a removal of the fear of death. Death will only take a second. I know we use the line that death will be like remembering the time before we were born but it is true.
As Atheists we are compelled to look at the finite nature of life and what that means. We have one life and when it over it’s over. I live my life with that certainty. Religion cheats people of realising the true essence of living a life without the fear of death. It makes a promise that is so ridiculous when you think about it. Theists refuse to think it through. Believe in this invisible creator that exists outside the confines of time and space and you can live forever (more than 1000 billion years!!) Man infinity is very long especially towards the end!!! (Woody Allen)
In my time I have seen a few people die or been there towards the end. I have never seen an Atheist panic. They have always been at peace. My friend who works in a Hospice helps people die every day. She is an Atheist and says that only the religious are scared because deep down they are scared that the false promise of religion might actually be just that – False. It is only on their death beds that they start to challenge their doubts and by then it is too late to live your life free from them. Another crime of religion!!
As long as we're telling car accident anecdotes, some years ago, I was moving across the state and had packed everything in a U-Haul trailer to be pulled behind my car - I had never done this before, so when I'd finished, I found I still had some room, and I had ten or twelve concrete blocks that I had been using to create bookshelves (I was in college - we did that then), so rather than leave them behind, I decided to toss them in the back.
One of the rules I've since learned about loading a trailer, is that the heaviest weight needs to go between the trailer wheels and the car - I had loaded the greatest weight at the rear.
About an hour into the trip, the trailer started fishtailing, swaying from side to side. I slowed to 45, and it seemed to stop. Once I again had control, I sped up slightly, and the fishtailing began again, just as a car was coming down a hill on the other side of the highway. Concerned that the swaying trailer might sideswipe the oncoming car, I pulled as far to the right as I could. At this point, the swaying trailer actually went off the concrete, and having done so, began flipping, taking the entire car with it.
I had never rolled a car before, had no idea what to expect, and as Reg said above, the slow motion effect kicked in. For all I knew, I was facing death (we ignored seatbelts in those days), and as the car began it's slow-motion roll, I recall my exact thoughts: "This is SO cool!"
When Steve Jobs died, he was quoted by a number of reliable sources as to his last words: "Oh, wow! Oh, wow!"
That is awesome. I have always been fascinated by that slow-motion effect. It happened to my brother as a passenger on the freeway a number of years ago and he thought it was God. I had a rollover accident due to swerving to avoid rear ending someone while I had bad brakes. I rolled up a steep bank and after stopping, the car was at enough of an angle to just roll over. But it was so slow, so I didn't get that slow-down matrix effect.
Great story! Reminds me of my (far less dramatic) spin out. Driving my first car - a 1969 beetle - down a steep Seattle hill and hit a patch of black ice. I was definitely was not in fear for my life, but the slo-mo thing was going on. I knew I wasn't going to be able to control the car until I was off the ice, so just let it go and remember clearly thinking what a fantastic 360 degree view I was getting. There's nothing like Mount Rainier across Lake Washington on a crystal clear day!