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ETpro's avatar

Do you think religious faith makes death easier to bear?

Asked by ETpro (34208 points ) March 30th, 2012

I wondered this while reading the responses to a question @whitecarnations asked, How does one feel when they know they are about to die…

Johnny Cash tells us what he’s feeling like in this final interview just a month before he died. Also, there is this video in which former daredevil, Mickey Robinson, gives his testimony about his own near death experience.

As an agnostic, their prespectives got me thinking about the value of beliefs. How do you think Agnostics and Atheists face death. If there is an afterlife, do you think it is open to all, or only to a select few who picked the right Sky Daddy or Daddies to worship and uttered just the right incantations to please tho power/s that control eternity?

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49 Answers

ragingloli's avatar

Sure. But so do other drugs.

JLeslie's avatar

For some. I know religious people who firmly believe they will go to a better place after death. They seem genuinely ok with the idea of death.

I also have a very close friend whose grandfather died from lung cancer. In his final months he never came to acceptance and was terrified to die. Terrified. He had been a sort of crappy parent, he was a war hero, pilot in WWII, and came back a little damaged and an alcoholic. Anyway, at a point during his horrific end he could have been dosed with morphine to try to end it sooner, but when it was offered he would not even consider it, not out of longing to live, but total outright fear that he was going to hell for his sins in life. His children as adults understood why he was tormented, what the war had done to him, but he never forgave himself for being human. My girlfriend, his granddaughter, said it was horrible to see him so fightenened, to know he had went in such a difficult way emotionally.

As for atheists, I find a sort of calm just accepting we don’t know what happens after death, everyone dies, I think it is most likely there is nothing when we do die, but if there is an afterlife it is just another stage, no punishment or judgment.

Akua's avatar

Yes I believe that religious/spiritual faith makes accepting death easier. People fear the unknown and faith gives them the hope they need to transition to the next stage.

SpatzieLover's avatar

Yes. I don’t believe in death.

Blackberry's avatar

There’s multiple ways to interpret each belief so it’s hard to generalize.

You can have a religious person who is comforted because they think they really are going somewhere. Then, you can have a religious that is afraid to die because they don’t want their family behind or something.

You can have an atheist that isn’t afraid of death because they already feel it’s life and it happens. Or an atheist whose afraid to die because it seemed like their wonderful chance at existence wasn’t long enough.

Not that these examples only belong to atheists and religious people. You also have to factor in random life experience and occurences like dying a slow death or the person in @JLeslie example.

tom_g's avatar

I get the impression that true believers are more accepting because they know where they will be when they die.

As an atheist, I have a complex reaction to death. When I was younger, I was very comfortable with the idea of death. But since I have had kids, the concept has really been eating at me. I have been working on understanding what I am really uncomfortable with, and have realized that I have a very difficult time with change and impermanence overall.

Note: I also have atheist friends who have expressed that they are very comfortable with death, and religious family who are very uncomfortable with death. I’m sure it varies.

Sunny2's avatar

Yes. That’s one of the benefits and why religion has survived. I never wished I was a believer so much as when I went to the funeral of a 6 year old.

Bill1939's avatar

Even some of those “of faith” become afraid as they realize that their death is imminent. How one regards the significance of their life may influence how calm they feel about dying. The mother of my best friend, who was a political activist, avid reader and lifelong atheist, was totally at peace at the end of her ninety-five years. Her “church” was the Unitarian Fellowship in the nearby college town. They celebrated her life with her at the fellowship just weeks before she passed. She died at home with her children with her, and was cogent until her last breath.

I fear losing my mental faculties more that death itself. I have no idea if there is life after death. If there is, I doubt that the self I know myself to be will continue even if my Spirit goes on to manifest life again or joins with the Creator’s Spirit.

Dutchess_III's avatar

Ya. I wish I could believe in reincarnation with all of my heart.

thorninmud's avatar

I have a hard time believing that anyone who isn’t under immediate threat of death can accurately know what their frame of mind will be when the time comes. The idea of death is one thing; it’s easy enough for most people to imagine being sanguine about dying. But the part of your brain that conducts little thought experiments like that is not going to be the part that’s in charge during those last moments.

But I do think that what we consider frightening is culturally conditioned. Someone who is steeped in a culture that sees death predominantly as a tragedy will surely meet it differently than someone brought up to see death as a ticket to a richer life. Even in religious cultures, though, people hear about death as a gateway to good things, but what they actually see of death when it happens around them is profoundly negative. Those left behind don’t rejoice, they wail. The dominant feature of death is loss, when seen from the survivors’ perspective. That will condition how someone meets death just as powerfully, I think, as their beliefs about what comes next.

DominicX's avatar

I imagine it does for many people, for the reasons others have stated. But I also have met plenty of people who agonized over things like the possibility of going to hell for things such as their sexuality, etc. In that case, I don’t think their religious beliefs helped all that much in making death “bearable”.

Rock2's avatar

That is why it was invented.

cookieman's avatar

I’d say so.

I know people who had such a difficult life, they actually welcomed death. There were looking forward to arriving in heaven and finally being with their long-dead loved ones again. They firmly believed they would literally go to god’s kingdom, feel no more pain, and live happily ever after with their family and friends.

All because of their religion.

As an agnostic, I sometimes hope they were right.

Akua's avatar

This is a good question and it got me thinking maybe that’s the reason why so many people turn to religion/God when as they get older or when they find out they are sick. For instance, my mother was an agnostic and never as a child do I remember her even mention a higher power let alone pray. But as soon as she was diagnosed with cancer she became concerned with God. She started going to St. Raymond’s church, she began reading the bible too. I know she was afraid and maybe acknowledging God helped her not be so afraid, like if she made peace with him he would forgive all her sins and take care of her.

Trillian's avatar

@ETpro There has been quite a bit of scientific study done in the field of near death experiences in the past few years. People of all walks of life and varying religions report the same things happening to them. I know that many argue that the release of DMT into the brain is the reason why so many have the experience; a hallucinogenic trip, so to speak. But I’m more inclined to look at DMT as an altering of perception which allows us to see/perceive things which our physical limitations do not otherwise allow us to perceive.
If the super-string theory is proven to be correct and there are other dimensions all around us that we cannot perceive, I find it no great stretch to believe that a chemical secreted by our own brains, at times, allows us to perceive, dimly and imperfectly, a glimpse into those other dimensions.
We know that energy is not destroyed, only changed in form. Who is to say that energy carries on in an altered state of consciousness in another of these dimensions which science tells us do exist?

ragingloli's avatar

and here on the right side, religion misappropriating and twisting science in order to have faux justification for their beliefs

ro_in_motion's avatar

I think religion actually impedes the acceptance of death. There’s the whole ‘was he in faith with God’ question that leads to that horrid binary of Heaven and Hell. Some religions (Mormonism for one) tries to baptise the dead into their religion* regardless of what faith a person was in life.

I have a major problem in seeing how a special incantation or weird ritual can soothe people. This might be because I try hard to eliminate magical thinking from my life.

Death is just what happens at the end of your life if you’re a humanist. There’s no afterlife to worry about. I have absolutely no trouble accepting that someone has died. Frankly, when I go, I want there to be a party and people saying what a total pain I was in life. ;)

*No, really

flutherother's avatar

Those who have ‘believed’ all their lives might become afraid as they draw close to death while others who have never believed might be quite happy to go.

janbb's avatar

I think it does make the thought of death easier and yet I can’t believe. (Although for me, it is the anticipated pain of the dying process rather than the idea of not being here that is the most difficult.)

JLeslie's avatar

@janbb The process bothers me most also. I wonder if that is easier to contemplate for those who accept pain and discomfort as some sort of nobel thing? Like how Jesus suffered on the cross?

janbb's avatar

I think pain is pain for most people unless you are truly a martyr.

CaptainHarley's avatar

After the better part of a lifetime of all sorts of pain, from time to time, I don’t fear it. Neither do I fear death. Death for a Christian is simply a one-way ticket home. Read this little book, if you dare: http://www.amazon.com/Heaven-Real-Little-Astounding-Story/dp/0849946158/ref=sr_1_2?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1333146182&sr=1-2

Reminds me of the white, gay guy working for the DC Government who had the sheer audacity to use the word “niggardly” in a speech and was almost crucified for doing so. A bit of vocabulary improvement would be a good idea for those folks, as well as for those posting idiocy like this, and perhaps a few on Fluther as well.

CaptainHarley's avatar

Whoops! That second paragraph somehow made it into this answer from another question! : (

janbb's avatar

@CaptainHarley That did seem very strange. :-)

cookieman's avatar

@CaptainHarley: I kinda like it that way. Very stream-of-consciousness.

filmfann's avatar

If death were truly the end, then I wouldn’t have any fear of it.
As it is, I am religious, and look forward to death, though I am sure I will get such a yelling…

tranquilsea's avatar

This agnostic is going to try to go out with a joke and a smile.

SavoirFaire's avatar

Not all faiths include belief in an afterlife. Those that do perhaps make it easier to bear the process of dying, but at the cost of preventing people from truly accepting their death. Tales of an afterlife are actually ways of denying that one really dies when one’s body gives out, after all, treating the end of life as just one more painful disease to go through. This is only a criticism, though, if one already has prior reason to think there is no afterlife.

Should one have such reason, however, Epicureanism does teach actual acceptance of death. Moreover, this element of Epicurus’ thought is detachable from the rest of his ethics should one find the other parts of the system distasteful. The basic argument is simple: if there is no afterlife, then one ceases to exist at the moment of death; one must exist to be harmed; therefore, one cannot be harmed after the moment of death (if there is no afterlife). This is just the bare outline. It is an argument worth looking into for anyone who does not believe in an afterlife.

Dutchess_III's avatar

I ♥ @CaptainHarley! His post worked for me because…I’m there too! :) Let’s just mix it up and have a REAL party!! Hey…someone could start a thread of random posts…has to be posts that have really been posted, see if we can make them fit!

CaptainHarley's avatar

LMAO! @Dutchess_III

I have a few I could contribute… obviously. : ))

Linda_Owl's avatar

No, I do not think that religious faith makes death any easier to contemplate. The thought of death means that the world will go on without you, like a rock tossed in a stream – when the water closes over the stone, no one will even know that the stone is gone. It is this yearning to leave something behind so that people will remember you & miss you that is the driving force for artists & writers to create things that will live on after they are gone, so their name will be remembered at least. Personally, I believe in reincarnation. Some say that it is a “cop-out” device, where-by you get endless chances to get things right….. but the idea of having to be reborn as a new person & having to grow up all over again, with no memories of the mistakes you have made, & no choice of the circumstances you may be born into – to me this is intimidating and considering the mess we are currently making of our world, the thought of being reincarnated is scary. However, it is less scary than the thought of a vindictive ‘God’ punishing those He considers to be Sinners by sending them to Hell & ever lasting torment.

CaptainHarley's avatar

@ragingloli

Let me ask you something. If I were Muslim and I posted something on here about my faith, what would your reaction be? If I were gay and posted something on here about my sexual preferences, what would your reaction be? If I were African American and posted something on here about my race, what would your reaction be?

DO at least try to be honest. : )

ragingloli's avatar

That depends entirely on what exactly you write.
Oh, you wanted some generalisations? Forget it.

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Pandora's avatar

I believe in God, but that does not automatically mean I believe I will go to heaven. I will know when I drop dead. I hold no real ideas in my head as to what to expect. But I’m as ready as I ever will be for when death comes. Not so much because of my faith but rather because I’ve done most of the important things I wanted to do and because I know I cannot cheat death. When my time is up, than it will be up. I’ve come close to death several times in my life and it was simply not my time to go. I realized then, that it wasn’t dieing that I feared. It was not being able to see my love ones again and knowing I wouldn’t be around to comfort them or be their for them if they needed me. But I really wasn’t afraid for myself.
But now that I think of it. I guess I got some comfort from knowing that God would see them through their times of hardship and comfort them better than I ever could.

AshLeigh's avatar

I think it makes knowing I am going to die easier.
However, it doesn’t make the death of people I love any easier at all..

ETpro's avatar

@ragingloli Great answer. Up to the point of true brain death, it does appear to be all about chemistry. Fater brain death, we don’t know.

@JLeslie Excellent point. As an agnostic, I figure the worst case is I simply cease to exist at brain death. If I get that expectation, I’ll never know it. If I get better, wonderful. As a parent, I cannot conceive of a loving God being intent on little else than building a list of ways I have wronged this unwrongable being. Why would s/he express love by plotting to torture almost all her/his children?

@Akua Don’t you think that many who buy the ancient stories fear they fall short, and will not make the cut. There are 7 billion alive right now. Over all the eons, there must have been 2 or 3 times that many. If just 50,000 make it, then your odds of winning tonight’s Mega-Millions jackpot, abysmal though they are, are better than the odds of getting into Heaven.

@SpatzieLover But is the salient question whether death believes in you? :-)

Harold's avatar

Without a doubt. Death is always tragic, but to think you would be eternally separated from a loved one would be too hard to bear. PS that is not why I believe, but Is a benefit of it, for sure.

As for who it is open too, I will leave that up to God to decide. It is not my place to judge who is “good enough”, and who isn’t. For all I know, I might not be good enough! I think that anyone who is sincerely seeking after truth is acceptable in God’s sight, whether that search leads them to Him or not.

mattbrowne's avatar

Not necessarily. It depends on the person and the circumstances.

Akua's avatar

@ETpro Good point.

JLeslie's avatar

@ETpro You may have seen me write before that if there is an afterlife I hope my grandmother is with her father who died when she was 5. I think she missed him her entire life, and she lived until the age of 89.

I also really like the idea of reincarnation, specifically that the souls we love stay near. That my husband might have been my brother, and that my closest dearest girlfriends could have been an aunt.

I think people who really believe things like that must find some happiness in the idea. My overwhelming thoughts about death is leaving the people I love, not being able to continue to enjoy life. But, if life was very painful for me, death would actually be appealing.

When I was young all I was taught by my family about death was when someone died young it was especially sad, because they had not had a chance at life. No one in my family would say a, God forbid, 19 year old killed in an accident was in a better place. No one would think it. We would actually be mostly focused on those who had lost, the parents, siblings, etc., going through the hardest of mourning, For older people who were sick or in pain, we accepted fairly easily death was better than suffering. We would never beg somekne in pain, terminal pain, to hang on if they felt ready to go.

ETpro's avatar

@JLeslie A most reasonable approach.

Paradox25's avatar

I’ve researched the issue of life after death for the past ten years at a virtual full time level. As a result I’ve become reasonably convinced that our minds survive ‘death’. I don’t believe in any monotheistic god or religious beliefs. I do believe that there is a divine order to the universe, as well as our existence but that this all came about through trial, error, eventual order to chaos and natural law rather than through some supreme entity. Sometimes I wonder if I’m more of an atheist than a theist myself, and there are other atheists who agree with my contention here.

I actually feel alot more at ease with myself about death since I’ve left my old Christian religion and their teachings (which seem to vary) about death behind me. There is a secular case for life after death and this is the side that I’m on. Personally I wish more religious people would attempt to investigate the evidence for survival for themselves rather than just blindly believe what their books, churches, bibles and faith tells them about life and death.

There is a strange twist in my case here, as I feel more at ease dealing with death since I left religion behind me. It was while reading about critical thinkers and their case for supporting survival of the mind after ‘death’ that put me much more at ease. I also have much more faith in natural law/s being in control and doing the right thing than I do in some god/s. I also highly doubt that an omnipotent god would have depended upon billions of years of evolution to accomplish anything.

ETpro's avatar

@Paradox25 Very interesting answer. You and I have come to similar places from very divergent directions. Does that prove anything? Probably not, but it is fascinating, nonetheless.

Paradox25's avatar

@ETpro I’ve found it to be quite paradoxal that it has been religious organizations who have been some of Michael Roll’s biggest opponents in regards to the secular scientific case for the afterlife. Note: Michael Roll is an atheist advocate for the case of survival of our minds after our physical lives end. Roll has faced vivid opposition in his home country of England from religionists on this very issue.

I believe that even if (or when) evidence for survival does become mainstream in the scientific community that it will be religionists who will be the most likely opponents of this, along with the most cynical ‘sceptics’ of course. Most people who debate me on this issue did not actually research it, and I don’t count a quick google search linking to skeptoid articles as research.

There is a reason why I’m so intrigued by the issue of survival of physical death. The secular case for survival (not the new age jungle) says that it is our actions while alive that determines where we go once we reach the etheric plane, not our faith in the right religion, a savior or a god/s. If you were wealthy while alive but treated others poorly or lived selfishly as a result you will harvest what you’ve sowed, for the next life. The future existence of such a mind will be inverted so that they will live in poverty, at least until they are willing to better themselves spiritually and accept the help that is offered to them. This is all of the result of natural laws and our subconcious mind, not a vengeful god.

Imagine if survival of our minds upon physical death became an accepted natural phenomena among the mainstream scientific community. People would actually realize that our actions while alive would be followed by consequences via natural laws regardless of religious beliefs or lack of. Crime would be almost nonexistent, along with other negative actions even if they’re considered legal. Unfortunately the scientific survival research has been reduced to religious and theological arguments which regard the topic as transcendental, not an actual part of science. If survival was accepted as a part of science instead of something ‘outside’ of it, the implications of how people respond to others would be much more drastic.

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