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Hypocrisy_Central's avatar

Why would an atheist fear a very risky surgery?

Asked by Hypocrisy_Central (26798points) September 23rd, 2010

You have the choice of a very risky surgery that could kill you on the table or a illness that will take you down slow and painful. As an atheist why would you fear going for the surgery and possibly dying on the table? According to what an atheist believes you won’t know you died or were dead. The last thing you’d remember is greeting ready to be prepped for the surgery, one you are ”put under” there is no further memory, so if one dies as atheist would have it you would just be no more. Would not avoiding the surgery and a painful death __even if you won’t remember that exact moment,__ be worse that maybe going without any memory?

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43 Answers

TexasDude's avatar

Even if you don’t or won’t know you are dying or dead, the idea of dying and not being able to do stuff anymore is enough to freak anyone out. You know… that whole inborn fear of death that transcends all relgions (and lack thereofs?)

Likeradar's avatar

There would still be a fear of not being able to live your life and, more importantly, leaving behind your loved ones. Knowing if you’re dead or not has nothing to do with the fear of dying, imho.

judochop's avatar

He’s afraid of death. Just because he is an atheist does not mean that he dislikes living.

shilolo's avatar

Because atheists know deep down that they are going to hell .~

Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

Because an atheist cares more for life than the afterlife.

AstroChuck's avatar

I don’t know about you but I have a survival instinct and the thought that I might be going to my death would frighten me. Most who say otherwise, religious or not, are lying.
I don’t see how being an atheist is any different. We’re all human and as a result naturally hang on to life.

YARNLADY's avatar

@shilolo Not
I like living, and I don’t like the alternative, but that has nothing to do with my absence of faith.

lillycoyote's avatar

For the same reason anyone would fear very risky surgery. Because it’s very risky! Just because someone is an atheist doesn’t mean that they think “Life? Really? I could take it or leave it!” LIfe is precious, whether you believe that it is precious because it was bestowed on you by a god or because you believe it was bestowed on you by chance. It’s all any of us have in the here and now. Edit: And what makes you think an atheist wouldn’t care whether or not he or she accomplished the things they wanted to? Enjoyed the life they have? Saw his or her children grow up and succeed and get married and have children and everything else that makes life worth living? If you believe in god are you only living for your afterlife? Does life itself not matter to you?

shilolo's avatar

@YARNLADY Guess they didn’t teach sarcasm in atheism school.

Hypocrisy_Central's avatar

@lillycoyote LIfe is precious, whether you believe that it is precious because it was bestowed on you by a god or because you believe it was bestowed on you by chance. If you have no worry about a death you won’t know you had but want the life you are aware of would that not make you pass on a surgery that can kill you and take your chances living without it? And would not a life in pain be better than risking it on death? It is not really so much missing those you left because you will have no memory to forget them or miss them with. If it all about survival then passing on a risky surgery would be the most logical, don’t you figure?

shilolo's avatar

Atheists are as logical as the next person, if not more so, given their logic based aversion to the mythology of religion. Thus, atheists would likely use logic to assess the merits of surgery. That is, is the probability of long term survival as weighed against the risk of death from the procedure. It’s that simple. And, of course, an atheist would be as scared as the next person who would worry about not being around for his/her loved ones.

ETpro's avatar

It seems to me that if people who are certain they will go to a beautiful afterlife in heaven and be together with the GOd they adore fear death, it is all the more logical that someone who loves life and thinks death is a full-stop end would not welcome it either. They want to live. All living things want to live.

lillycoyote's avatar

@Hypocrisy_Central What makes you think an atheist would prefer a life of pain and suffering to no life at all? Where’s the logic in that?

DominicX's avatar

Moreover, why are we using “atheist” as a synonym for someone who doesn’t believe in an afterlife? You can believe in an afterlife and be an atheist…

lillycoyote's avatar

@DominicX Yes, there is way too much “either/or” thinking in these debates. As if there aren’t a tremendous number of options and nuances as to what people can and cannot believe outside of the choose one from Column A and/or choose one from Column B choices that mainstream religions and atheism seem so determined to choose for the rest of us.

FutureMemory's avatar

@Simone_De_Beauvoir Because an atheist cares more for life than the afterlife..

Hell fuckin’ yeah! Preach on, sister.

AstroChuck's avatar

@shilolo- Not true. I majored in sarcasm at Atheist School. My best class was Weisenheiming 1A.

YARNLADY's avatar

@shilolo Which is why I used an outdated saying~

Hypocrisy_Central's avatar

@ETpro It seems to me that if people who are certain they will go to a beautiful afterlife in heaven and be together with the GOd they adore fear death, it is all the more logical that someone who loves life and thinks death is a full-stop end would not welcome it either. I would have to question any one who claims to be a Christian and is afraid to die and be with God.

@DominicX You can believe in an afterlife and be an atheist… Elucidate please, how does or in what way does this non-religious afterlife take place? You drift around somewhere until you are reincarnated? How long do you stay in this particular afterlife? Do you run into others who died here on Earth? I can’t fathom it so, please share your ideal.

@lillycoyote*What makes you think an atheist would prefer a life of pain and suffering to no life at all? Where’s the logic in that?* I was alluding to your comment about life being precious and that is why even atheist would be afraid to die. So, the logic is you would want to hang onto the life you had no matter how bad it was than risk dying even if it had the slim chance to make life better. It would be like betting $5,000 for a chance at $15. If the thought of missing out on life that you won’t remember anyhow is of such importance you would being here to remember and experience would out weight death and thoughtlessness.

downtide's avatar

As an atheist myself, and given those two alternatives, I would choose the surgery over a prolonged painful illness. I don’t like pain.

But I think for most it would be a case of fear of having this life, the only one we have, cut short too soon. Not having enough time to do everything that we planned.

lillycoyote's avatar

@Hypocrisy_Central I know you asked this question of @DominicX and that I am not answering the question that you asked of me but (I will try to get back to you later on that) ... that there might be an “afterlife” doesn’t require a belief in god; it may perhaps only require a more thorough understanding of what constitutes human consciousness and what constitutes sentience.

augustlan's avatar

Can’t you also be religious and not believe there is an afterlife? This whole thing seems to start with a faulty premise.

BoBo1946's avatar

There is a lot more to religion than the fear of death. Christian, atheist, agnostic, or whatever one’s belief, they have to make a conscience decision on what they believe before the final curtain being pulled. When that curtain is pulled whether during an operation, walking through the park, or whatever they are doing at the time, it’s final. No changing then.

CyanoticWasp's avatar

I’m not afraid of dying. It’s dieting that scares the hell out of me.

poisonedantidote's avatar

Instinct. for example, i could get a rattle snake, remove its poison and its teeth so there is no logical or rational reason to fear it, but when i wave it in your face and its hissing at you, you will take a step back.

logically, if you are guaranteed to die of the condition, with a 100% chance of death, the best thing to do is have the operation, even if the operation only gives you a 0.01% chance of living. but really, when you put instinct in the equation its different.

for example, if you are driving down the street at dangerous speeds, and you are totally ok with how you are driving, maybe you would not be so ok with the same speeds if i was driving for you. because you have the aspect of control taken away.

there are many things you can take away from a human to make them uneasy. take away control, take away certainty, take away the ability to fight back, etc… on an operating table, passed out, you have no control, you are not certain of the outcome, and you are passed out so you cant even fight back. all the little elements add up in to a fear.

personally, i have no fear of death (i even find the idea a little exciting and entertaining) but, if the risk of the operation is too high for my taste, i would not have the procedure and take the time i have left.

EDIT: atheists are logical, humans are illogical, atheists are human.

thekoukoureport's avatar

Actually I would call it a fight or flight response. Inherent in all living creatures. Man is the only being to use logic to overcome. But the reponse is still there nonetheless.

Blackberry's avatar

This is getting old. You have been on Fluther for how long? Why are you assuming that atheists are fearless warriors when it comes to death? Did you read Simone’s answer?

ETpro's avatar

@Hypocrisy_Central wrote: “I would have to question any one who claims to be a Christian and is afraid to die and be with God.” I won’t take any issue with that if you in turn will agree that quite a few such folks can be found among those who self identify as Christians.

Hypocrisy_Central's avatar

@Blackberry I read her answer hope I am not disrespecting her by calling her “her” but its for lack of a better word, I respect it but it is a non-starter. Logically to me if you do not believe you have an afterlife you would be wasting time worried about when it might or it won’t happen. The very moment you die if there is no afterlife you won’t even know you had died.

Now, since you know you are living and you are going to worry about how much life you have left because in the here and now you know you are alive that worry could happen anytime you step from your home or maybe if you are still in it, because an accident you never imagined coming could take you out in a snap. If you are worried about the here and now then logically to me depending on how much you care you’d avoid the surgery and have an ideal of how long you will last, no matter how poor the quality that remaining life would be. If you are thinking of the future you have the surgery with the hope that you would beat the odds and have a longer time expected but there are no absolutes. If and atheist decides to gamble on a better life or pass away on the table once they go under if they gambled wrong they would never know it. I know they won’t be “fearless worriors” because the brain is not wired like that but to care about life and here basically because death is an unknown unless you believe, but if you don…..

If I took a hot air ballon tour over Napa Valley vinyards if I never suspected there was a malfunction that would cause the balloon to explode in a fire ball dropping me to earth in a firy heap would I worry about it? Or would I be busy snapping pictures? If I don’t know the moment I was going to be dead why worry about it, especially when I would not know when it happened?

@ETpro I won’t take any issue with that if you in turn will agree that quite a few such folks can be found among those who self identify as Christians. I will agree, many will take on the moniker of Christian as well as atheist but don’t trully believe either to default levels. That is the premis of the whole question.

If it is about the here and now and you know it is just a prolonging of a death that is coming 4, 6, 18, months, etc. down the road as oppose to right away in the OR, the only difference will be how that person lived before the actual time of death because that actual time of death will be the same and nothing befor it would have mattered to the peeson who died, just who was left, which still don’t mean anything to the dead. With that, if the person has to gain a better life in which they hope will be many more years, logic wouls say go for it, why not?

Blackberry's avatar

@Hypocrisy_Central Death is not a preoccupation so much that it would prevent anyone from rejecting surgery in 2010…....it’s not 1812 where there were weak medical advances.

I’m an atheist; I don’t think about dying when it comes to daily life, that causes unneeded paranoia. Even when I went skydiving I thought about death for a fleeting moment, but my mind was preoccupied with all the fun I was going to be having.

zannajune's avatar

I wouldn’t want to die because there are things I still want to experience in life.

ETpro's avatar

@Hypocrisy_Central As a personal decision, I would most likely risk the knife and a shot at a whole and pain-free life thereafter. But it’s a personal decision and I wouldn’t question the integrity or logic of someone, regardless of their professed belief system, if they chose to just tough it out rather than risk surgery.

Jabe73's avatar

Well if the risk of having the surgery would still be less than not having it then no one is losing here regardless of what you believe. If the surgery is just for other circumstances (comfort of living standards) a theist would be just as scared. When I was a Christian and went to church I was always scared of something killing me very unexpectedly (I had several close calls) because of the threat of eternal hell and eternal horrible suffering.

P.S Just because someone believes in an afterlife (even a good one) it does not necessarily mean you will undervalue life. I am always scared of losing any more family and friends. Death unfortunately is something we all will be faced with (others that are close to us and inevitably our own.)

Hypocrisy_Central's avatar

@Blackberry Death is not a preoccupation so much that it would prevent anyone from rejecting surgery in 2010…....it’s not 1812 where there were weak medical advances. I would agree in this day and age medicine is doing things that even 12 years ago one would have said impossible. Most people go through the day with little thought of death. It can find you nonetheless, only God knows when our time is up, we can choke on a piece of hamburger, catch our shoe lace and tumble down the stairs breaking our necks, get whacked by that speeding drunk driver, etc. People don’t think of those events the same way they think of riding a motorcycle, mountain climbing, hang gliding etc., people associate those things as being more risky and thus more likely to cause death. I am not saying that similar risk would not be taken into account by atheist just because there is no afterlife.

@ETpro As a personal decision, I would most likely risk the knife and a shot at a whole and pain-free life thereafter. But it’s a personal decision and I wouldn’t question the integrity or logic of someone, regardless of their professed belief system, I am not questioning the logic of if an atheist would risk life or not or the process of dying, I am trying to phantom the very moment of dead and why that would be a deterrent for an atheist not having an operation that has the chance of giving them a better quality of life if it did not kill them 1st because to me without an afterlife there is not much to lose. You have the choice of skipping the procedure and living a bit longer with an eroded quality of life, the slim chance of a better quality of life (and hopefully a longer one), or dying on the table trying to get there. If you should die on the table you won’t know it. It won’t be like you are feeling your last breath coming, no feeling cold, no pain, you are ”knocked out”. If that moment of death hit, you’d never know it happened do I can’t see the risk if there is no afterlife. I once had to have a procedure done and I remember being in the OR then the next thing I remember was coming to in the hospital room. I had no dreams no thoughts and I was thinking if I had had complications and died the only way I would know it was because I had ”passed over”, but if there was no God as atheist believe I would not have ”woke” to anything therefore I would never know I was dead. The only reason I knew I was still alive was my eyes opened and I was conscious again. If it had been a high risk procedure and I had the chance of living longer without pain or shorter with pain I think for myself the procedure would be the best bet, because there is little down side to it. If it worked my quality of life would be better, if I died no more pain and I would not even know it. The worse would be if it didn’t work and my pain was the same or worse.

@Jabe73 Just because someone believes in an afterlife (even a good one) it does not necessarily mean you will undervalue life. I would agree but that is not the main question here. To decide on a risky procedure or not is not being reckless unless it was for pure vanity reason and did not have to be done in order for you to live your life. If there is no afterlife that moment you die is just that, you in certain instances know you are dying but at that moment, zip, nada, you don’t know.

When I was a Christian and went to church I was always scared of something killing me very unexpectedly (I had several close calls) because of the threat of eternal hell and eternal horrible suffering. One main point right there. Death had a pall over you because you were thinking after you died there might be eternal suffering, etc. If one was an atheist there would be no eternal suffering or pleasure there would just be nothing. So when that death hit you, you would not know it because there would be nothing after that. Back when the Beltway Snipers were running amok I seen a blurb on the news where one of their victims was pumping gas when he took one to the head. More than likely he was dead before his body hit the pavement. I was thinking IF he knew he was going to take that bullet and there was no way to avoid it would he have wasted lunch on a taco or gone for the most expensive steak? If he would have went for the steak why would that matter since he would no even remember if he chose the steak over a taco once that bullet splattered his head into pizza toppings? The only comfort he would have had knowing his last meal was a prime steak would be up to the point the bullet met his skull then after that nothing would have mattered at all. I believe if he was a Christian he would have known what happened because he would have passed over before his body hit pavement.

I am always scared of losing any more family and friends. Death unfortunately is something we all will be faced with (others that are close to us and inevitably our own.) Why most people hate funerals. Funerals are only bad for the living. After the funeral of a friend or relative we are still here to see the aftermath and deal with the grief. We see the pain of those who lost wives, children, beloved grandparents, etc. We know (or hope) there will be those who would miss us even though their heart would ache. Once we die all those thoughts about what it would be like for those who are left won’t add up to a hill of beans because you won’t even remember having them, (maybe you won’t even with an afterlife but you’d know you left here). Imagine you never went to church and they never told you there was an afterlife would you have ever thought of it in a real sense? Would you come to think of it like x-rays, etc? Until it was discovered how many people thought or believed x-rays? If you never thought of it, you’d never think of what it could do, it would be as if it never existed.

Berserker's avatar

What the hell? Atheists are defined through their lack of belief, not an apparent lack of fear of death.

ETpro's avatar

@Hypocrisy_Central You wrote “I am not questioning the logic of if an atheist would risk life or not or the process of dying, I am trying to phantom the very moment of dead and why that would be a deterrent for an atheist…”

I can’t speak for anyone but myself. To the degree I might fear risky surgery, it would be out of my wish to live, and not anything tied to the exact moment of death. I think that such a fear, whether someone was a theist or an atheist, would be highly irratinoal. In surgery, you are going to be totally out under heavy general anesthesia. You wouldn’t have any idea you were slipping over the abyss into death. If the atheist is right, they would just never know the operation failed. If the theist is right, they’d presumably wake up in the promised land, far happier than they would have been in a sick body on Earth.

Justice13's avatar

Because he/she doesn’t have the comfort of ignorance in the belief of a supposed afterlife?

crazykookycat's avatar

i being with an apology for my aversion to capitalization.

i must say that i find your quote:

“I will agree, many will take on the moniker of Christian as well as atheist but don’t trully [sic] believe either to default levels. That is the premis [sic] of the whole question.”

to be rather reductive in it’s reasoning. to assume that there is any default within a religion (or non-religion) is insulting. for example: just think how angry a protestant is when confused for a catholic. to cast blanket definitions onto large groups of people and try to tether out reasons for their hypothetical situation and reaction is non-productive and, quite frankly, obtuse.

no two atheists are the same as no two christians are the same. faith, lack thereof, or interpretation of what said faith entails are all culturally and personally formed. hell, a protestant can be a baptist, a calvinist, or a unitarian.

attempting to understand something different does not begin with assumptions. it begins with investigation and a firm grasp on one’s inability to truly “know” anything.

an atheist may or may not fear death. both options are available. in fact, one can surmise that fear is merely the absence of understanding, thus any living thing can fear death because they do not understand it much the way many people fear muslims, jews, christians, and atheists.

when involving subjects like religion it’s best to avoid prejudices. remember your socrates: things cannot be so easily contained through definition.

Hypocrisy_Central's avatar

@crazykookycat to [sic] be rather reductive in it’s reasoning. to [sic] assume that there is any default within a religion (or non-religion) is insulting. Only if people were unaware of the religion or position they are following. Religion even more so that politics don’t have sides. There are no left leaning Protestants, or Liberal Mormons, and if there is it is simply the choice that particular member thought up. The Bible, the Vatican, there is a core belief and everything else is just those who don’t want to life under them.

an [sic] atheist may or may not fear death. both [sic] options are available. in fact, [sic] one can surmise that fear is merely the absence of understanding, thus any living thing can fear death because they do not understand it much the way many people fear muslims, jews, christians, [sic] and atheists. The one thing most atheist I have ever come across seem to hold true enough to the point to tell me I am off in La La Land believing in myths they don’t understand? That would be like a Catholic not knowing what the confessional is. If they belief so hard there is no afterlife that there is nothing once you die, to worry about what you won’t even be aware has happened is a lot of misplaced worry. Scientist say one day out sun will nova or something, they don’t know when, they expect it to be so far off I would be long dead by the time it happened. If it happened or a comet struck the Earth I would be wasting worry on it if there was never an indication it was about to happen.

when [sic] involving subjects like religion it’s best to avoid prejudices. remember your socrates:[sic] things cannot be so easily contained through definition. In this case I don’t believe that holds true because if that is what they believe, it is. I do not say to them, as they do me, I am chasing a folly. I just want them to explain why are they afraid of a risky surgery because of they died trying to make their life better or last longer they would never know it. Since they won’t know they are gone worrying about who they will miss or what is irrelevant, you won’t miss it because you won’t remember it, you are nothing, gone, off in the great white zephrom; lights out, game over you won’t be driving home safely.

crazykookycat's avatar

i still won’t capitalize.

again, you are making sweeping judgments. “atheist” is a very large group of people, and they also have no common doctrine other than a lack of belief in god. this doesn’t mean much when it comes to death, since death can be understood without god, as well as an “afterlife” of sorts. in fact, if all atheists are what you seem to claim they are why not ask “why don’t atheists just kill themselves since they don’t believe in an afterlife?”

as for the “most atheists” you come across: saying “most atheists” already implies that not all atheists are the same. how is it hard to imagine there are atheists that vary greatly. i also wonder why you believe atheists don’t understand your myths, or the myths of other religions.

you are using straw man tactics in this case, albeit i am willing to give you credit that you didn’t intend to do so. i believe you have specific atheists in mind, which is fine. however, i would submit that it is better to phrase the question asking why certain atheists you have met may feel this way. otherwise you’ll be drawing from far too deep of a well and achieving lukewarm results. it would be as if i asked “why do christians believe that bread and wine actually turn to flesh and blood?” it’s a limited question on far too large of a subject neglecting to acknowledge a rich history with numerous divisions, nuances, and traditions. atheists are no different. atheists have been around for as long as any religion. ancient texts from india speak of just such a thing, in fact.

“Only if people were unaware of the religion or position they are following.”

this comes off as incredibly niave and prejudice. religion is not a static thing that can be easily defined. there are countless theorists that have attempted and still fall short.

”...and if there is it is simply the choice that particular member thought up.”

that’s what religion is silly. all religions are based off of something someone thought up. then they develop followers. after that, if they find persecution or resistance, the movement gets a new name. jesus was a jew, and then he thought up rejecting some of the concepts of judaism. he was still a jew when he died, and his followers were initially jews that later changed their name to christian, which then became roman catholic and eastern orthodox, which then became protestant, ad infinitum. one problem here is that atheists don’t typically congregate (though some do) and name themselves (though some have) so they get lumped into a giant misunderstood stew. it’s not unlike “hindus” which is a stupid term in and of itself imho since it seems to do nothing but cause trouble to try to lump everyone into one category initially dictated from outsiders.

crazykookycat's avatar

I know this is an older thread, but is there anything else you’d like to say on the subject? I am particularly interested in this topics over others.

Hypocrisy_Central's avatar

@crazykookycat My line of thinking was mostly apart from religion is just the moment of death. No matter who you are and how you think of death before you die once you die and if there is nothing after that, you will never know you were dead. It would be like “I can’t breath, things are getting fuzzy….” then there would be nothing and you won’t even remember things were getting fuzzy.

So back to the athiest who needs a surgery, if they are told there is a 17% chance of full success, 8% it will devilver a partial success, and 75% chance it will fail and the patient will not make it off the table. Success means another 4 maybe 7 years of life but to do nothing means death in 7 months. Why would an athiest fear taking the surgery if all they will lose is 7 months if they did nothing anyhow and the surgery failed? All they would be afraid of mising in those last 7 months if they did nothing they won’t remember the moment their heart stopped and their brain went dead. So, why not take the chance at 4 more years? Then if it worked the patient will be able to keep on mamking memories they won’t remember when they died for another 4 to 7 years.

crazykookycat's avatar

Well, assuming your atheist is the of the hardcore Richard Dawkins variety you seem to be driving at: it wouldn’t matter what they were going to feel when they go under, the fear would be before the anesthesia hit. Hence, the fear is not based on a source of unconsciousness, but on the anticipation of unconsciousness, therefore having nothing to do with what one’s “last memory” would be. The source of anxiety is stemming from the anticipation, not the actual event.

Also: Thank you for responding. I find this topic the most interesting so far.

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