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Dutchess_III's avatar

If you have a friend who is dying, and you know they are religious but you're not, and they ask you if you believe in God and Heaven, how would you answer?

Asked by Dutchess_III (40374points) May 30th, 2017

Assume this is an old friend from school who you reconnected with on Facebook a few years ago, and you get together. You’ve never discussed religion with her. You’re sitting outside, basking in one of those beautiful spring days, both knowing it will be the last spring she’ll ever see, holding hands, and she talks about the people she’ll see again in heaven. You can tell that comforts her, but then suddenly she asks you what you believe, and you’re an atheist, would you tell her? Or would you lie?

I would lie my ass off. I’d tell her exactly what she wanted to hear. Why not? What’s going to happen? Is God going to punish me for lying? Is she going to be mad at me after she dies for lying to her?

What would you do?

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56 Answers

stanleybmanly's avatar

I would simply tell her the truth “I don’t know. But you shouldn’t worry about it, because if the place exists you will surely go there. And when you do, be certain to pray for me or to bribe whomever is required on my behalf.”

WhaleSong's avatar

If she’s such an old friend then chances are she already knows what my beliefs are.

MrGrimm888's avatar

I would lie…

My grandmother thinks I’m a Christian. It would break her heart, to know otherwise. Although I am an atheist…

One time, she asked me to pray for something. I did. Well, I talked to/addressed “god” in the best way I knew how. I told her that I would pray for what she asked, so I prayed. At least I didn’t lie about that part….

I don’t see the harm in comforting someone who just wouldn’t understand my position….

Dutchess_III's avatar

@WhaleSong Read the details. It’s an old friend simply because you were friends in school a thousand years ago. That makes her an “old” friend. You recently connected on Facebook just a couple of years ago. That means we don’t know that much about each other today. Didn’t think I’d need to put that much information in my details.

@MrGrimm888, I agree. If my Mom was alive she would be devastated too. I don’t see a problem with lying at all to someone in that position.

flutherother's avatar

I would be diplomatic and say I didn’t know which is a kind of true. An outright lie could be detected and might spoil the moment.

JLeslie's avatar

I’m not sure. I think I’d probably say I hope it’s true. I hope we get to see all the people who have gone before us whom we miss. I would stay as close to the truth as possible, but I would likely refrain from saying I don’t really believe in life after death.

In the end, it doesn’t natter what I believe, or anyone else for that matter, it just matters what she believes, and what gives her a sense of peace.

kritiper's avatar

Honesty is always the best policy, and to your own self be true. I would have to say no.

filmfann's avatar

I recently went through the exact opposite of this.
One of my close friends was dying of cancer, and I went to visit her. She was a lifelong atheist. When we spoke about the approaching end, I told her I believed in God, and the was very light about it, quoting a Bible verse that always makes me laugh. I didn’t want to make her uncomfortable.
A few weeks later, she died, and I was haunted that I booted a chance to help her find The Lord.
At the internment of her ashes, I was surprised to hear that in her last days, she had been saved. The service played Amazing Grace, and a prayer was offered. I wept during the prayer.

NomoreY_A's avatar

I’d probably just lie, and do my best to comfort her. What the hell harm would that do? Let people believe what they want to, particularly a person whom you know is not long for the world. I don’t believe that a person with a terminal disease needs a philosophical / religious lecture. So sue me.

zenvelo's avatar

I would be honest, the way @stanleybmanly would be. People, even those on their deathbed, can tell when somone lies.

And what a way to devalue the friendship at its most precious moment by not being honest.

JLeslie's avatar

I’m thinking about this more after seeing the answers, and I think that a long time friend probably knows I’m an atheist, and maybe they ask what I believe, because they are sincerely curious about how I think about death. They don’t want the answer that agrees with their beliefs, but maybe they want the answer that might help them think through the possibilities.

The most religious person I know, I’m sure she wouldn’t ask me what I thought happens after death, because I know she’s sure about God and Heaven. I don’t think she would ask anyone, not even people who are religious. She might talk about it with friends if she was terminal, but I don’t think she would ask.

ragingloli's avatar

Just for that attempted guilt trip, I would tell him that Gre’thor will be paved with his ashes, the fate shared by all honourless p’tak.

cookieman's avatar

I’ve been in a similar situation multiple times. When my grandmother died, when my father died, and more recently, as a friend of mine is dying.

I always say, “I don’t really know what comes next, but I hope what you believe is true.”

imrainmaker's avatar

I would lie if he / she feels better because of it and no harm is being done because of the lie.

ucme's avatar

This is quite amusing, it has nothing to do with causing harm or not because this friend’s belief is not going to be shaken by my non belief.
It strikes me as pathetic that anyone would patronise a dying person by pussying around with the truth which is completely unnecessary, just tell the truth & stop trying too hard.

Espiritus_Corvus's avatar

I’ve nursed a lot of dying people when I worked for hospice, some of them religious. Not one ever asked me that question. I would probably answer truthfully, then redirect back to the patient. The last thing they are concerned with at the end is other people/s souls and beliefs.

I would never argue with a dying patient about religion. They need what they need and to tell them, as an authority figure, that what they are holding onto is bulshit would be the height of cruelty, sadism and egoism. Religious people do this all the time and I just want to slap the shit out of them. I caught a hospice nurse trying to convert a dying patient to Christianity one night. I had her ass fired and she lost her chance at a pretty good pension.

Fuck her. The guy’s name was Schwartz, athiest Jew from Brooklyn. Later he thanked me for getting her away from his bedside. He said he was too weak to protest and just had to quietly listen to her bullshit and hope someone would arrive to get her off of him. Someone arrived and that nurse not only was fired, but had to defend her license later with the state. It’s called puting a patient in emotional jeopardy. They let her keep her license, but she had to jump through an awful lot of hoops to keep it. People like that do not belong in medicine. Get thee to a nunnery, bitch.

There are pastoral services for that upon request.

And besides, nobody knows what is going to happen next. What they believe is their business and I go with it when they are on their deathbed.

jca's avatar

I can tell you that when my mother was near death, she was not having big conversations about philosophy and religion. She was barely talking, and eating and drinking took a lot of her energy. I agree with @Espiritus_Corvus. People at that stage are not interested in your beliefs.

JLeslie's avatar

Except, in this case the Q is about the terminal patient actually asking. It’s not about a nurse or friend taking it upon themselves to preach the gospel. Mr. Schwartz never asked that nurse anything.

Edit: In the case of a nurse, even if the patient had asked they need to handle it differently obviously. You still can’t be converting people, that’s horrible.

Espiritus_Corvus's avatar

**You’re right. I didn’t properly answer the question.

I’ve lost a few friends and a sister to cancer and they all were well aware of my beliefs. The conversations never went there. We talked about old times, our many relationships with other friends and family, the experiences we had together and sports. In the very end it was all about love, support and affection. Quiet hand holding and caresses.

JLeslie's avatar

^^Maybe the very religious contemplate the afterlife more? I don’t know. My sister works in hospice, but I’ve never asked her about it.

janbb's avatar

I’m thinking this is a hypothetical question. It would seem very odd for a fairly tangential friend to be at one’s death bed discussing heaven.

JLeslie's avatar

Oh, I didn’t assume deathbed. I thought this is someone with some months or a year left. I must have missed something.

Dutchess_III's avatar

OK, here is what prompted the question. I had a friend in Jr. High. I’ll call her “Deb.” We lost track of each other after graduation. Then we reconnected on FB just a few years ago. We don’t know that much about each other. However, after I accepted her friend request we started talking. She is very, very forthright, very direct. That’s probably why we were friends. She’s things that I’m not.
Almost immediately she sent me a link to her cancer page. It’s a page where she is detailing her cancer and her treatments for the world to see. She told me early on that she was probably terminal. I, personally, would not start such a page if I was sick. I don’t think I’d post anything about it at all, but it is obviously something she wanted to do and if it makes her feel better, so be it.
At our 40th reunion we hung out for a bit, and I still really like her.
Recently another classmate of ours, I’ll call him “John,” sent her a friend request. She called me and asked what he was like today, and should she accept his friend request ”...or is he just going to be another ringside spectator to my dying,” she said. I thought that was odd, since she updates her cancer page everyday.
I said, “Oh, John is really sweet. He’s really religious. Really harmless. He’ll just make comments like, ‘God’s loving grace will guide you and comfort you.’ ” I know I had a bit of “SMH” tone in my voice, but I think she missed it, thank goodness.
Then she told me they told her she wouldn’t see another Christmas. What does one say at that point? I just got quiet.
Then she started talking about heaven, and all the people she would see there. That’s when it hit me she is religious and believes all of that.
I instantly changed gears in my head, and just listened. She said, among other things, “I think Lisa (another old classmate that I never really knew, who died) is sitting up there saying, “Come on Deb! Hurry up and get up here! We have some partying to do!”
She didn’t come out and ask what my personal beliefs were….I’m sure she just took it for granted that I was a Christian too, because everyone from our generation is.
But as my mind turned I wondered what I would have done if she had flat out asked. I think would have lied.
I was immersed in Christianity most of my life, believed (with reservations) all of my life. It would have been easy enough to rekindle all of that and have a believable, make-believe conversation.

And I can tell you, that just because I’ve known someone my whole life does not mean they know of my religious beliefs. My sisters do not know, my family does not know. The people I stayed close with after high school do not know. My kids, who I raised in the church, have started figuring it out, but that’s cool because they came to the same conclusion themselves. Pretty sure they were afraid to tell me! I’m sure they thought the same as I did, that it would really hurt me. So it’s come out gradually to the people I’m closest to. My husband for one. But it’s been a gradual awareness for him too.

There are a ton of people who don’t know. My hairdresser, for example, who talks about God every time I get my hair done (and I don’t care. We talk about other things too.) I have NO need to discuss my beliefs with anyone, or to dismiss anyone elses beliefs. I feel no need to “convert.” No need whatsoever.
So, since I’m an atheist I have no moral compass, of course, so I have no problem lying my ass off if it makes someone feel better! I suppose if I had a moral compass I would tell the truth, no matter what, no matter how it might shatter someone. I would argue with a dying person for the sake of not lying.

zenvelo's avatar

@Dutchess_III She didn’t ask you, so you have no reason, no obligation, and really, no business telling her what your beliefs are. And no reason to lie to her.

Your only proper role in this situation was to listen, with one or two “I am so sorry to hear that.”

Dutchess_III's avatar

No she hasn’t but it’s possible. If she caught whiff of my “SMH” tone when discussing “John,” she may well confront me on it. As I said, she is very forthright and she enjoys arguing to a certain extent.
So, yes, my actual question was fiction, but the events leading up to the possibility are not. I don’t think the scenario, while hypothetical in this case, is out of the realm of possibility.

Ergo, I did not ask what my “proper role” was in this situation. I asked what others would do if faced with such a situation. I’m sure it’s happened in real life to others. I already know what I’d do.

JLeslie's avatar

Oh, yeah, she didn’t ask, so then offer nothing regarding your own beliefs. I would do the same as you, smile, I’d even go as far to nod in agreement and chuckle as she made light of seeing friends up there in Heaven. I’d just be there for her to talk to.

Dutchess_III's avatar

The question was hypothetical. What would you do if something like that happened?

We’ve all heard horror stories of Christians trying to convert the dying, and I’ve heard horror stories of atheists trying to get the dying to understand how stupid their beliefs are. Both are examples of just horrible examples of fucked up “morality,” IMO.

Unofficial_Member's avatar

I live in a multi-cultural country with many religions. I wouldn’t imagine that people would ask such a thing as it would have crossed their mind that other people might believe in different god. If I were in your position I would say “Not exactly”, well, it’s better than lies. Isn’t her religion value honesty? You wouldn’t want her to know you were telling her lies when she ended in heaven (a good excuse for you to be honest with her).

JLeslie's avatar

It’s so hard for me to believe atheists try to convert the dying. Why would any atheist do that?

kritiper's avatar

@JLeslie We would want them to know the absolute truth before the lights go out permanently!

MrGrimm888's avatar

Trying to convert someone’s religious beliefs is nobody’s right. A person’s beliefs are deeply personal, and should be respected.

This is a very cruel world. I envy those who think they are moving on to some place better, and reuniting with their loved ones. It would be especially cruel, to pull the rug out from under them right as they are dying….

JLeslie's avatar

@kritiper I’m assuming you’re being sarcastic. It makes no sense! Why would an atheist give a damn about whether a person believed in God or not on their death bed? I can only see it as abuse. Truly. Someone who is God fearing, or God loving, pick your word, is tortured by an atheist trying to convince them their soul goes nowhere. It really is a horrible picture in my head. It’s shameful and mean spirited.

Dutchess_III's avatar

I wasn’t thinking of conversion on my part or hers. Her speaking about friends in heaven surprised me. I don’t know if she’s always been religious or is leaning on it more at this point in her life.

@ucme let’s put the shoe on the other foot. Would you try to convert an atheist who was dying?

kritiper's avatar

@JLeslie No sarcasm expressed or implied.
It makes no sense to you because you see it as “abuse” and “torture.”
And, in case you’re wondering, Atheists don’t believe in the “soul.”

JLeslie's avatar

^^The religious person believes in a soul.

I’m a born and raised atheist.

I can’t fathom it. I can’t fathom telling someone who is dying, that their beliefs about death are garbage. It’s just cruel. It’s pointless. Atheists have no reason to care about what a person believes when they are close their last breath. We don’t worry about their soul, remember, we don’t believe in a soul.

kritiper's avatar

@JLeslie “A religious person believes in a soul.” No shit. Having been raised Catholic, I knew that.
I think the trick is to not overly dwell on the specifics of one’s Atheist beliefs when confronting a dying individual. Doing so would indeed be cruel. But it shouldn’t be assumed that an Atheist would automatically resort to such extreme ends.

Dutchess_III's avatar

@kritiper You were being sarcastic when you said ”We would want them to know the absolute truth before the lights go out permanently!” right?

JLeslie's avatar

@kritiper You’re not making sense.

NomoreY_A's avatar

@JLeslie Good point. I’d like to add one thing, that when we engage in vitriol and mud slinging at people of faith, we are being every bit as annoying and dogmatic as the worst of the Fundy Christian Right. We don’t like having a Bible thumped in our face, we shouldn’t try to force our views on others. In other words, to put it crudely, we need to $hit or get off the pot.

kritiper's avatar

@Dutchess_III No. I was being perfectly honest. Read on…
@JLeslie I guess I’m not making any sense but, possibly, only to you. If a person about to die asked me if I was a believer in heaven or “God” or whatever, I would simply answer “No.” I would not get into specific details about why I believed that way unless asked by the dying individual. Does that make sense??

Dutchess_III's avatar

Why should they know your truth before they die? For what reason?

kritiper's avatar

Because they would know me and my beliefs, and know I was telling lies.

JLeslie's avatar

@kritiper Yes, that makes sense. You were talking about the truth regarding what you believe for yourself. I interpreted “the absolute truth” as being the truth that they should believe also. The word absolute threw me off.

Dutchess_III's avatar

Well if they already know why would they even ask?

What if they didn’t know as is the case with both me and my old classmate. I didn’t know she was particularly religious, and I don’t discuss my beliefs in public. Or in private for that matter, unless they ask. No way for her to know.

JLeslie's avatar

^^I think if she asked directly I would tell the truth about what I believed. Unless, I really thought it would destroy our relationship maybe?? That’s the worry I might have depending on the person.

Dutchess_III's avatar

What if they asked in such a way that you could tell they assumed you believed in God and she wanted to share hopeful, comforting thoughts about the afterlife? Like not “Do you believe in heaven” but “What do you think heaven is like?”

NomoreY_A's avatar

Sometimes a “white lie” trumps the truth. You can always use diplomacy to worm around the question, think outside the box. Respond with something like, I’m just to wigged out right now to discuss these things – can I get you some coffee? Ice water, anything? (After all, I hardly think that some Early Bronze Age donkey herder Sky Daddy is really up there waiting for a chance to zap me for lying. Give me a break). I’m trying to do the right thing, if I’m wrong I get an E for effort, at any rate.

Dutchess_III's avatar

I think I would just bring up my evolving thoughts on it over the years aid was a Christian. IDK. We maintain some sort of consciousness while becoming one with the universe. (That would be the New Age influence from the 80s)

JLeslie's avatar

@Dutchess_III My typical line is similar to my first answer, that I hope we get to see all the people we love who dyed before us. That I like the idea that souls stay near each other whether it’s heaven or reincarnation. I might try to make it lighthearted, depending on how the conversation goes, and say I tell my husband in our next life I’ll be his sister.

If they are afraid I would emphatically say I don’t believe there is a bad place after death. I don’t. That’s true. If there is maybe a heaven fine, but I don’t believe in hell.

I would probably ask them what do they imagine it’s like.

Stating what I think heaven is like is different than stating I don’t believe in it. It’s like a what if heaven exits to me. Asking if I believe in heaven is different than what I think heaven is like.

Dutchess_III's avatar

Oh good thoughts! Ask what they think!

I really miss my belief in an afterlife. It was going to be so cool to give my kids shit from beyond, and to watch my grandkids grow up have kids of their own and even get to watch all my future generations grow up, into infinity. “LOOK! MY GREAT GREAT GREAT GREAT GREAT GREAT GREAT GRAND DAUGHTER LOOKS JUST LIKE ME!”

JLeslie's avatar

I tell my husband I will haunt him if I die first. Lol.

MollyMcGuire's avatar

Tell the truth.

Dutchess_III's avatar

But why @MollyMcGuire? If it might distress them, what is the point of telling them the truth?

chyna's avatar

@Dutchess_III It seems you have made up your mind to lie to this fictitious situation, so why ask?

Dutchess_III's avatar

Oh, I would absolutely lie, if that’s what they wanted to hear. I said I would in the details. It would be easy to do, too and it would be the kindest thing to do.

I’m just curious why some insist that telling the truth is better, even if it would hurt the person.

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