When I first accepted atheism as my own personal philosophy, I could feel the excitement of rebellion as well as a comforting relief "knowing" that God wasn't real, and neither was Hell. I've found some wonderful people with very diverse views and comprehensive, intelligent understanding of the universe and our place in it. It's been a grand, exciting time for me.
And yet I can't shake that one unending, horrifying sensation that's been at the back of my mind the whole time: abject terror of death.
I suppose it's one thing to say that spiritually that our bodies pass on and some part of us lingers to do something else. Maybe have grand adventures within the greatness of our galaxy or develop into something grander than just entities in hollow human shells. But as an atheist, I cannot accept this. I'm forced, by virtue of scientific progress and personal comprehension, that once I kick the bucket, I'm gone. All I'll be is wormfood and happy memories to a mournful group of friends and family.
I have a very dear friend who is losing someone very close and dear to him to cancer. He's told me (and I'm sharing his feelings) that the biggest reason he can't accept atheism is because he doesn't want to imagine his sister as wormfood. He wants to imagine that he can see his sister again happily on the "other side". And in grief, he's demanded that I keep myself open for that possibility, and I've agreed. How could I not, when I feel the same fear he's going through?
In all the beauty, grandeur, and glory of the natural universe and the fantastic amazement one can have for its processes, there's one undying fact that won't be ignored: we are all tiny and meaningless to this universe in which we live. We exist for not even the tiniest fraction of existence and pass on without a single thought. Now, instead of saying, "What's the point of doing anything now when there's something in the afterlife?" I'm saying, "What's the point of doing anything now when there's no point except to get up, live, then die?"
I've heard the argument that it's a cold, frustrated, bitter imagination that refuses to accept this world for what it is and demand that something must be behind it or must have created it. But it feels even more inhumane to say that we are tiny, insignificant dots in the grandeur of the universe.
And some atheists wonder why the religious hold onto their "bullshit dogma". Sometimes it seems like there's greater peace in ignorance than coming to terms with your own meaninglessness.
I can't help feeling this terror of death is something that has been conditioned into us by the nature of Western civilisation.
Not true. Fear of death is present in other cultures too, cultures which are as old, if not older than western civilization(if you count the ancient Greeks as the start of western civilization). Even animals have a fear of death. Its natural.
But is it really fear of death, or just fear?
Define just fear. According to wikipedia -
Fear from the Greek: φόβος,phóbos, meaning "fear" or "morbid fear", is a distressing negative sensation induced by a perceived threat.
Here, the perceived threat would be death. So yeah, fear of death. Its primal
but again, it isn't a reality that we can experience.
Depends on your definition of death. In clinical terms, death is defined as cessation of blood circulation and breathing. People have been brought back from clinical death. A few comments below Judith describes her experiences with this. So there are people who are alive & have experienced death.
What about the experience of the death of someone you knew & the effect it has on the people s/he knew? Maybe there was some unfinished business with someone, unfulfilled wishes. Such an experience would certainly color our view of death and make us form a list of things or conditions which we'd want taken care of before dying. Though it might turn out to be a never ending list(like good shows on TV on a good day), but certainly there would be some things more important than others & if you could knock off all the important ones, or even most of them, you would probably die happy or content.
How do you know animals have a fear of death? Have you asked them?
Sense of self preservation - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Self-preservation
And from the Psychology wiki -
Self preservation is part of an organisms's instinct that demands that the organism survives. Pain and fear are parts of this mechanism. Pain causes discomfort so that the organism is inclined to stop the pain. Fear causes the organism to seek safety and may cause a release of adrenaline which has the effect of increased strength and heightened senses such as hearing, smell, and sight.
See, fear is a part of it.
I can assure you that it is 'true' that I can't help feeling what I said.
Oh. Wikipedia. How novel.
Would you prefer research papers Professor Czechen? *snark*
I suppose I shouldn't be too ungrateful, after all your links support precisely the point that I am making: that neither human beings nor animals have any experience of being dead, therefore any fear of death is a wholly artificial construct, one that we can't be sure animals share with us.
Haven't you ever heard of anyone being resuscitated from being clinically dead?
but that does not mean animals understand what death is
Seriously, is rambling on this website all you can do? Internet search, ever heard of it or research even.
And there if many more articles out there, you just have to look for them!
But no, you just like to state your views & then dismiss any evidence or reasoning that says otherwise.
Also, I think that its stupid to say that animals have no concept of death. However primitive it may be, they must have some understand death, otherwise how would they explain the dead members of their pack.
If apes can have enough self awareness to recognize their reflection in water or a mirror, then its not a huge stretch for animals to be aware of death.
I personally don't fear death - I find the idea of eternal life truly terrifying though. Even living in heaven and bathing in bliss and godly love would become intolerable after a few million years. There would come a point when I would gladly leap naked into the burning sulphurous pit that sears but does not consume the flesh and endure all the torments of hell just for a change.
Truly awful - I enjoy the comfort of my atheism, which removes such terrible possibilties from my world view. I think our death is the one experience that we never have; the ultimate non event. We don't die - we only live. We occupy a time between two dates. That period of time and everything in it permanently exists - but once it is in our past we just can't see it anymore because of the way our brains our wired.
I think Einstein puts it well "...for us physicists believe the separation between past, present, and future is only an illusion, although a convincing one."