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.
..hmmm. let me say, before I even begin, that I'm NOT buddhist because I don't want to believe there is no reason for us here.. and that death is the end.. but we're spiritual beings.. its part of who we are.. whether we admit it or not.. or maybe I shouldn't speak for others.. but its my belief.. I'm buddhist because it makes sense.. because it doesn't challenge the truth of scientific fact.. because it doesn't require blind faith.. and because it's largely anti-theist.. and very much open to interpretation. It basically requires only one thing: JUST BE GOOD. I cannot imagine being atheist in such a situation, to be honest. I'm a member of this site because I deeply relate to the central focus of pious idiocy. But i do find it difficult to understand the emptiness of the whole atheist paradigm. Were I an atheist, in that situation, I don't think I'd revert to a faith I'd already dismissed.. nor do I think you would.. furthermore, your discussion with yourself after said incident wasn't 'prayer'.. it was simply a moment of reflection.. a plea to the cosmos.
Re: "i do find it difficult to understand the emptiness of the whole atheist paradigm."
Read Reg's lovely comments.
And there's this bit that I transcribed from some Sam Harris vid: "It's often thought that non-believers like myself are closed to some remarkable experiences that religious people have. That's not true. That's not true. There's nothing that prevents an atheist from experiencing self-transcending love and extacy and rapture and awe. There's nothing that prevents an atheist from going into a cave for a year like a proper mystic and doing nothing but meditate on compassion, say. What atheists don't tend to do is make unjustifiable and unjustified claims about the nature of the cosmos or about the divine origin of certain books based on those experiences."
And then there's Tim Minchin: http://youtu.be/V0W7Jbc_Vhw (watch the whole thing - but the part that's pertinent to this conversation starts at about 7:27)
I understand the appeal of buddhism, but when I hear you say the atheist paradigm is empty, I flash back to the bazillion times I heard that if you're not a christian, you have a god-shaped hole in your heart. Nonsense.
RE: "what will you cling to in that moment?"
My rifle, and I would send send as many of those guys to their virgin meet-and-greet as I could.
Best reply so far. If you tend not to panic then a reaction like this is likely.
Exactly. If you've still got rounds left, then you've still got a chance (and if not then get something heavy or sharp!). The fight stops when you stop.
I've had many people ask me a question of that nature and I tell them what I've always told them, "My plans to get out of it?" There was a time, post my conversion to atheism, where I nearly drowned. I vividly recall the thoughts that I thought were my last, which weren't thoughts so much as flashes of images and words that could best be translated as, "Really should have taken that swimming class last summer." and "If I could just get to the top of the water again and flail, that guy in the jacuzzi might see me this time."
Turns out he had seen me several splashes ago and I woke up in a hospital room with the nurse asking me if I remembered my name. My point is, had I died my last thought wouldn't have been of God, it would have been of the last person who I recall being able to aid my plight.
When I was 19 a classmate decided it would be funny to throw some medication in my drink, he knew I was allergic to it, but he (apparently) didn't know I could get an anaphylactic shock. So, not long afterwards when I felt something was terribly wrong I did have the feeling that I was dying. My throat closed and I started convulsing, the only thing that came to my mind was panic, nowhere did I think about praying, god(s) or anything of that sort.
I hope you did something about this classmate.
It was the party for the end of the year, we all got our diploma the next day. His was taken back, he got kicked from school and had to do his year over at another school. If it would've been up to me I would've probably done something to him that I would've regretted later.
I can tell you that it was the single worst experience of my life. I still remember that I could hear the ambulance in the distance and I remember my best friend being hysterical. After that I only have very fragmented memories, in the ambulance they strapped me in and gave me a shot of adrenaline (I think) that made me contract so violently that I broke 2 ribs and bruised the rest.
The only thing that I thought was "I don't want to die" and that over and over again. Oddly enough I have since become much more accepting of my own mortality, and although I'm pretty sure that if such a moment would arise again I'd panic pretty much in the same manner, i don't think that I'm (currently) afraid of death, if that makes any sense.
Your classmate's behavior was its own punishment.
Ah well, people dropped him quicker than he could blink. I think my entire year was present when it happened and quite a few people were freaking out very badly. So, it was a bit of a traumatic event for a lot of people I guess. I do hope that he is happy and more secure about himself nowadays, I really wish him the best, but I won't have a drink with him.