Atheism and the Problem of Death
|January 11, 2011||Posted by Anthony under apologetics, atheism, Blog, Creationism, evolution, General, Malthusians, morality, philosophy, pro-life|
This weekend at church my pastor was sharing his experiences counseling people who were on their death bed. I thought of all the pastors and spiritual counselors throughout the country, and world, throughout time, who have been face to face with death, the dying, and those left behind. Then I thought about some of the recent posts (and comments) on my blog. In one place, an atheist dismissed apologetics organizations because they only serve to advance ‘their narrow, self-interested, point of view.’ However, this came after I pointed out that it has become increasingly clear just how important addressing the spiritual side of a patient is in facilitating healing. The presence of chaplains in the military and at hospitals and of course pastors in general indicates that where the tire meets the road- that is, where people are actually in distress and often come face to face with death and dying- it is understood that we are spiritual people, and to dispense with that understanding is to invite peril.
The atheist I mentioned didn’t dispute that, presumably because he knows it to be an absolute truth. His beef with apologetics orgs, I guess, is that they actually believe all this stuff! Your local pastor presumably doesn’t. Apparently, the leadership in religion doesn’t actually believe that Christianity is true, they’re just scamming people. I am referring of course to what atheist David Silverman told Bill O’Reilly on Fox News recently. People who actually believe Christianity is true… well, they are nutjobs or power mongers.
Of course, given the atheistic position, those sorts of explanations are required. They have to find explanations for why otherwise sane people devote themselves to patent nonsense. As I was reflecting on the matter, though, what I found interesting was that this still leaves the huge mass of humanity… are they just idiots, as Silverman clearly believes? They’ve just been ‘lured’ in, you see. Or is there something else going on?
I think that ‘something’ is that the mass of humanity understands that death is a horrific reality that each of us will have to deal with and that this reality represents something unnatural.
By atheism and the problem of death, I mean: if we are only the result of naturalistic evolutionary processes which have actually used death to create us, why are we so offended by it? I mean, all of humanity is offended by it. Even atheists. We all grieve at the loss of loved ones and we all do our best to resist death for ourselves. None of us (except perhaps for a handful of truly insane and depraved people) reason: ‘Why, death is just a perfectly natural and normal thing, like defecating. I shouldn’t let it bother me.’ Nor do we reason, ‘My death will help improve the race.’ (Although, some truly insane and depraved people have reasoned that the death of others will improve the race.)
Now, most of the human race rejects atheism, and I believe it is because most of the human race understand that it doesn’t account for a huge number of aspects of human experience and I note that all of the world’s religions take the problem of death particularly seriously. That is, collectively speaking, we are offended by death. We, collectively, devote huge time, resources, and thought on avoiding it. Buddhists, Hindus, Muslims, Christians, New Agers… pretty much everyone gets that there is a problem (death) to be resolved and pretty much everyone realizes that the ‘solutions’ of philosophical materialism are insufficient and not up to the task. Indeed, we religionists tend to observe that in the main, atheists themselves do not tend to carry out the implications of their own views. (I can’t help but think of Peter Singer calling for the extinction of the human race and then backpedaling at the end).
So what gives? Are we really going to resolve this problem by saying that there are just three categories of humans- the enlightened atheists (1% of the world’s population), the idiots in the middle (98% of the world’s population), and the scamming religious leaders (1% of the world’s population)?
It seems to me that this option isn’t open to the atheist, even on the atheist’s own terms. As I said, it is well documented, and becomes increasingly more documented, that spiritual wellness is instrumental to physical wellness. Apparently blind, cosmic chance created purely physical organisms that do not heal as well if they only view themselves as purely physical organisms! Wild! Recently, a study was published that showed that poor mental health could be correlated with anger at God- and atheists (who, I may remind you, ostensibly don’t even believe in God)- are often angry at God just like the rest of us! What a funny thing for evolution to do! It created people who are not as mentally healthy unless they have generally good feelings about God, even in the face of pain, suffering, and death. Indeed (as the studies show), healing itself tends to come easier and better if one comes to terms with God. I mean, it’s almost like we were created by God to be in relationship with him, or something. But what do I know!
As I argued above, all the religions and most of the world’s people deal honestly and seriously with the problem of death, but I should like to point out something truly unique about Christianity: it believes that at a specific place at a particular time in our history, God himself- knowing perfectly well what an offense death was- dealt death itself a death blow. He came to earth in a real place at a real time and interacted with real people that we can know from real history and really died and really rose from the dead and really promised to share that victory with anyone who will really accept the medicine he really offers.
In my view, since death is the common denominator for all of us and the one thing that stands in our way of ultimate and meaningful happiness, it is a proper subject of intensive human scrutiny. If there were hope, real hope, that there is an ultimate answer to death, then it is worth doing everything in your power to find out, and if one finds that hope to be more than plausible, but actual, seize upon it.
And, incidentally, if you think you’ve found such such an answer, it is a perfectly rational thing to devote your life to communicating to others, and about as far from ‘narrow self-interest’ as one can get.