Fear of Death

by Luke Muehlhauser on December 13, 2009 in General Atheism

dead man in casket

Today I was chatting with a friend at a party, let’s call her Ashley, and she mentioned she was an agnostic. Our conversation went like this:

ME: “Let me ask you something, and this is not meant to be aggressive, I’m just genuinely curious about what’s going on in your head. What do you mean when you say you’re agnostic? Like, even though I can’t disprove fairies, I’m not agnostic about fairies, you know?”

ASHLEY: “Yeah, I don’t know. I haven’t really thought about it much. Actually, I can’t really deal with that right now. I can’t think about death. It’s just…”

At that moment I could tell Ashley was fighting back tears.

Ashley has a great life, a great job, great adventures, and a great husband. She loves life so much that she can’t bear the thought of having to leave it behind.

And so she wants to believe in some kind of God, even if she has no reason to do so. The thought of leaving this world behind made her sad.

I quickly acknowledged her existential battle, changed the subject, and cracked a few jokes about something else.

Ashley is not a fragile woman. As far as I can tell, she is among the most mature and emotionally healthy people I know. But the thought of ceasing to exist was enough to make her cry.

I don’t know why death doesn’t scare me. Maybe it’s because I’ve read the stoics. Death is not an experience of loss, its an absence of experience… and all that. Maybe it’s just not in my brain chemistry to fear death. Or maybe it seems too far away for me to worry about it yet.

It’s easy for those of us who have made peace with death to lack some sensitivity for those who struggle with it. After all, death must be a pretty big deal to a lot of people for us to have invented such crazy stories to avoid facing it.

Believers can get mad because they think we atheists are just running around sadistically popping everyone’s bubbles. “God is imaginary, you fools! Grow up, children!” Ssome people aren’t ready for that. They may not be able to handle the loss of God, or the thought of real death, or whatever.

We all have sensitivities. I certainly do.

I don’t think people’s sensitivities should stop anyone from saying “I’m an atheist.” And I don’t think people’s sensitivities should stop anyone from arguing for critical thinking and truth.

But maybe we could have just a bit more compassion.

Well, I could, anyway.

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{ 46 comments… read them below or add one }

Beelzebub December 14, 2009 at 12:15 am

My initial impression is that you misread Ashley — though I wasn’t at the party, of course. Usually when people act like that it’s because they’ve recently had some kind of traumatic loss.

I will relate a story that I would never give in person since it would compromise my manly mannishness. A few years back a high school friend of mind committed suicide and I was terribly distraught, with the usual feelings of guilt, loss, and so on. (Trust me, if anyone reading this is ever in that position you WILL blame yourself for not interceding, no matter how preposterous that may be.) Anyway, I was desperate to talk to people about it, but I knew that I couldn’t. I went to the gym, feeling rotten, and knew that I couldn’t open my mouth to my friends or the floodgates would open and I’d be blubbering like a fool. Such is the emotional straitjacket applied to males in our society.

That is my reading of the situation.

Moving on, your point is still valid. We do not talk of death easily in our society. It has been expelled, as if if we don’t speak of it, it will not exist. We push it from our minds. Every so often I have the terrible thought pop into my mind that I may not be alive much longer. Don’t know why it suddenly comes — I just think to myself something like “you know, I may be hit by a car tomorrow.”

Remember the maxim: Live each day like it’s your last — because some day, you’ll be right.

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Ryan December 14, 2009 at 12:18 am

Here is something else to ponder: Naturalistic atheism does not necessarily entail the absence of consciousness after the death of the body. What if a supercomputer was built one day which recreated the exact personalities of people from their last memories of life? To be sure, I’m not saying that this is probable. Only that it is possible.

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lukeprog December 14, 2009 at 12:31 am

Ryan,

Indeed. In fact, I think some people now living may survive to the day we figure out consciousness uploading. But a lot of that depends on science funding.

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Alex December 14, 2009 at 1:49 am

And on your theory of personal identity, of course :)

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Haukur December 14, 2009 at 2:31 am

lukeprog: In fact, I think some people now living may survive to the day we figure out consciousness uploading.

Are you going to have yourself crygenically frozen, Luke?

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Sabio Lantz December 14, 2009 at 4:49 am

From personal experience, I think there are several levels to imagine death:
(1) loss: leaving those you love, missing out on experiences

(2) suffering — imagining the day, months prior, the loss of dignity etc. Some people are not afraid of dying suddenly of a heart attack or even hit by a bullet in the head. But the fear of cancer can be a debilitating fear for many. Many time, young folks who have not suffered or seen horrible suffering can’t imagine this and thus perhaps are less likely to fear it.

(3) existential — I wonder if this is really common. I think the prior two concrete reasons are more common.

Just thinking out loud.

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rhys December 14, 2009 at 5:36 am

Dying a slow painful death would be really horrible, but once death itself occurs, there is nothing to fear.

Here is a question for Christians I haven’t really heard an answer for:

(1) If Heaven exists, and you are granted entrance, have you thought about what you will do for all eternity? I mean it’s freakin eternity! Don’t you think that you will eventually get fed up?

I know I certainly couldn’t stand the thought of it. The first million years or so would be pretty cool, but then everything would lose it’s novelty, all pastimes and activities would become bland and worn out, and you would be cursed with the horror of knowing that every day would be just Groundhog Day over and over again forever

and ever….

and ever….

and ever….

and ever….

Ad infinitum.

Heaven is nothing but the most sadistically perverted fantasies of the human mind set to maximum overdrive, a neurotically amplified meme with the reproductive advantage of catering to our Darwinian egotistical self-preserving predispositions

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Reginald Selkirk December 14, 2009 at 6:29 am
Derrida December 14, 2009 at 7:19 am

I share your emotional reaction to death, Luke. It’s unfortunate that we don’t have longer lives, imagine what we could do if we had a few hundred years, but living forever seems unpalatable. I find it hard to imagine an eternal life that wouldn’t suck all the meaning out of existence.

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Apollo December 14, 2009 at 7:34 am

rhys: Dying a slow painful death would be really horrible, but once death itself occurs, there is nothing to fear.Here is a question for Christians I haven’t really heard an answer for:(1) If Heaven exists, and you are granted entrance, have you thought about what you will do for all eternity? I mean it’s freakin eternity!Don’t you think that you will eventually get fed up?I know I certainly couldn’t stand the thought of it.The first million years or so would be pretty cool, but then everything would lose it’s novelty, all pastimes and activities would become bland and worn out, and you would be cursed with the horror of knowing that every day would be just Groundhog Day over and over again foreverand ever….and ever….and ever….and ever….Ad infinitum.Heaven is nothing but the most sadistically perverted fantasies of the human mind set to maximum overdrive, a neurotically amplified meme with the reproductive advantage of catering to our Darwinian egotistical self-preserving predispositions  

The above quote displays a bad misunderstanding of what eternity is.

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ayer December 14, 2009 at 7:44 am

rhys: (1) If Heaven exists, and you are granted entrance, have you thought about what you will do for all eternity? I mean it’s freakin eternity! Don’t you think that you will eventually get fed up?

This and other questions are addressed in this excellent article by Peter Kreeft:

http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2003/juneweb-only/6-2-51.0.html?start=2

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drj December 14, 2009 at 7:52 am

I think its kind of implicit in the concept of heaven, that its a totally satisfied, perfected existence. In other words, you should never be unhappy with it.

IF it turns out us atheists are wrong, and Christianity is true, for example, you should want to go exist there.

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Edward Brock December 14, 2009 at 7:58 am

Although death itself does not scare me, the method of dying concerns me more, as no one wants to die slowly and painfully. But “god” has nothing to do with any of it. I am more annoyed than scared because I don’t know whether to spend money/time on this or that, because I might not be around to enjoy it.

I am still an agnostic though, as I cannot make that final step and say for certain that there is no god/creator/universal consciousness/etc. I am a fervent “I don’t know” person because, although I doubt there is a “god”, there might be (though if there is, I highly doubt he/she/it is represented by any so-called sacred text). I figure if there is anything after death, I will find out when I die, if not–I’ll be dead and won’t care or know the difference.

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lukeprog December 14, 2009 at 8:42 am

Haukur,

I hadn’t considered that, actually. I don’t think that would work. I probably won’t make it to the day when we achieve immortality by way of consciousness uploading.

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PhaseEight December 14, 2009 at 9:26 am

Why Atheism gives me hope.

Regarding the notion that the Atheist theory of there being no afterlife is hard for people to accept, let me share a personal story that may give another perspective on the matter. This particular story only has relevance when comparing the Atheist viewpoint with that of Christianity.

I had two good friends, Sandra and George, who had been married for several years. While on vacation with them some time ago, George had set out on his regular routine of a morning jog. Tragically, part way through his exercise routine George suffered a massive heart attack. He died almost instantly. Needless to say, this event turned the vibrant and happy vacation into one of shock, sadness and dread.

Both George and Sandra had had a wonderful marriage with four magnificent children. George was a good man. I had many good conversation with him and knew that he was dearly loved by all his children, relatives and even those who had worked under him.

Naturally, Sandra was in deep state of sorrow and grief over the loss of her beloved husband. Losing someone so close is never easy. But there is more. You see, Sandra was a born-again evangelical Christian and her husband, George, was not. Despite years of prodding, George refused to accept Christianity or make it a meaningful part of his life. He had been raised in a Christian household and it had been forced on him for most of his childhood. He refused to let this continue into his adult life. I can’t say I blame him.

The problem: Sandra believes George will be separated from her for all eternity. More importantly, however, is that she believes that George will suffer the fiery torments of Hell. This inconvenient little fact, which forms the backbone of Christianity, gives little comfort to those who will lose “unsaved” loved ones. To be sure, the notion that this good man may very well have been suffering in Hell as we paid our respects at his funeral put a malaise over the entire affair. You see, as good as he was, without Christ no one is ever good enough to escape the eternal torture chamber known as Hell.

In what sick, demented universe does a good man like George deserve to be tortured for all eternity? Fine, don’t let him into heaven. Fine, put him into an eternal state of non-existence. But torture him without end, is this the hope that the doctrine of William Lane Craig and the rest of the fundamentalist Christians offer humanity?

Now I don’t know for sure, but I’ll take a chance here and venture a guess that if Sandra had a choice between giving up her eternal bliss to save her husband from eternal damnation, she would welcome the Atheist’s reality of eternal, unconscious non-existence. I know I sure would.

So, while I certainly applaud Atheists for showing compassion when talking about their lack of belief in the afterlife, know this: for someone like myself and many others, this gives us hope. Because, if Christianity is true, there are *far* worse things then going into an eternal nothingness.

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Steven December 14, 2009 at 9:39 am

It’s certainly true that a “hellist” version of Christianity is far worse news than what atheists claim.

I don’t think being agnostic about God, which can mean “the point of it all” or “is there meaning” or “where did it all come from?” and stuff like that, is exactly the same as being agnostic about fairies. Of course, if God is a white-bearded man in the clouds, then it’s a good point. But I think most people are thinking of much larger questions when they ponder the existence of “God” (whether those questions are meaningful ones to ask or not).

Sounds like you handled the situation quite well.

And yeah, maybe we’ll reach a point in technology a million years from now where we can harness quantum possibilities and reconstruct every person who has ever existed? Of course, then we have to jump universes to avoid the imminent heat death……well you never know. Or eternalism is true and every moment of time exists at one – the passage of time is how our consciousness deals experiences it. who knows…

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ayer December 14, 2009 at 10:14 am

PhaseEight: In what sick, demented universe does a good man like George deserve to be tortured for all eternity? Fine, don’t let him into heaven. Fine, put him into an eternal state of non-existence. But torture him without end, is this the hope that the doctrine of William Lane Craig and the rest of the fundamentalist Christians offer humanity?

You’re assuming that the proper interpretation of hell is some kind of physical torment for eternity; perhaps you should consult other evangelical views, such as C.S. Lewis’ “The Great Divorce” or John Stott and Greg Boyd’s annihilationist interpretation.

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Jason Finney December 14, 2009 at 10:16 am

Rhys: Here is a question for Christians I haven’t really heard an answer for:

(1) If Heaven exists, and you are granted entrance, have you thought about what you will do for all eternity?

Most of the time we will be celebrating the fact that we chose the right door. :D

I mean it’s freakin eternity! Don’t you think that you will eventually get fed up?

No, but YOU will.

I know I certainly couldn’t stand the thought of it. The first million years or so would be pretty cool, but then everything would lose it’s novelty, all pastimes and activities would become bland and worn out, and you would be cursed with the horror of knowing that every day would be just Groundhog Day over and over again forever

What an absolutely POVERTY STRICKEN imagination you have mate!! Good Lord no wonder you don’t believe in God. What happened matey, did mum read you quantum physics for bedtime stories as a babe? I tell you what you need. You need to take up an art. I want you to learn an instrument and learn how to compose music. That should open your mind up a bit and allow some out-of-the-box possibilities to flow in. If anything, it will help remove that horrific shelter from your mind.

Heaven is nothing but the most sadistically perverted fantasies of the human mind set to maximum overdrive, a neurotically amplified meme with the reproductive advantage of catering to our Darwinian egotistical self-preserving predispositions

No mate, what you just described was Las Vegas.

Really, I want you to expand your thinking, Luke. You have been sheltered. You have no imagination. Only bitterness and repressed rage.

Aw come on I kid the Luke!

Cheers and beers!

Jason

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Sabio Lantz December 14, 2009 at 10:34 am

LOL ! – What started as a post encouraging compassion, is ending in a comment food-fight over eternity with character assassinations.

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PhaseEight December 14, 2009 at 10:39 am

Ayer:

“You’re assuming that the proper interpretation of hell is some kind of physical torment for eternity; perhaps you should consult other evangelical views, such as C.S. Lewis’ “The Great Divorce” or John Stott and Greg Boyd’s annihilationist interpretation.”

Yes, thank you, I will. I am very open and interested in hearing other interpretations. I will fully admit that my experiences are from a particular brand of Christianity which adheres to the doctrine that Hell is an eternal, physical form of torture. I would find the annihilationist or mental torment to be far less ethically problematic. Thanks again.

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Jeff H December 14, 2009 at 10:48 am

So as I read this post, I (because I’m a nerd) was immediately reminded of Terror Management Theory. Wikipedia has an article on it here:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Terror_management_theory

It’s essentially the idea that the idea of our own mortality can cause us great anxiety that pulls us toward bolstering our own self-esteem and our cultural (or religious) worldview. I know some work has been done in this area, but I’m not sure entirely how much. Anyway, thought I’d provide it for anyone who’s interested.

Safe to say, though, that a fear of death can cause us to do some strange things. I have to say that I have never suffered from a crippling fear of death myself. I mean, I’m somewhat afraid of dying, but not of being dead. I suppose part of it might have been an early exposure to death – when I was young, several of my extended family members died, so I was no stranger to funerals. I hesitate to place an explanation entirely in childhood experiences, but it might have played a role.

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Paul December 14, 2009 at 10:58 am

ayer: This and other questions are addressed in this excellent article by Peter Kreeft:

http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2003/juneweb-only/6-2-51.0.html?start=2

I hope the 2nd half of the article is much better than the first half (approx) I read.

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Conor Gilliland December 14, 2009 at 11:21 am

Luke,

I have never had much concern for death either. It neither scares me nor compels me to any belief one way or another.

I think sometimes, though, that it’s mostly because death hasn’t hit very close to home. I’ve been to two funerals in my life, one a great-grandmother who I met twice and a grandfather who I only saw at holidays (and apparently didn’t like our family).

I had a very good child-hood friend who died, but at the time of his death we hadn’t talked for over a decade. A teammate of mine from high-school football and wrestling died in Iraq and that death has hit closer to home than anything else.

I wonder if death hasn’t hit very close to you either.

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Bebok December 14, 2009 at 11:43 am

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lukeprog December 14, 2009 at 1:21 pm

PhaseEight,

True, dat.

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Beelzebub December 14, 2009 at 4:58 pm

PhaseEight,
I agree with you that the apparent immorality of the “hellish” Christianities makes a mockery of compassion, but things really start to get weird when you figure that Sandra will presumably go on to her great reward, and when she gets there, she will feel nothing for the loss of George. This is where Christianity starts to have aspects of The Invasion of the Body Snatchers, the idea that you will be remade in an altered heavenly form that will be devoid of poignant feeling and perception that really ought to remain with you. I’m afraid even C.S. Lewis’s great divorce (God forgetting you) can’t remedy this one. It isn’t so much God’s predicament as it is ours.

Changing subject, for those who have a taste for trans-humanism, you really ought to check out The Hedonistic Imperative for a mind bending take on a possible future heaven on earth — and one where we don’t need to leave others behind.

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Jeff H December 14, 2009 at 5:25 pm

Conor Gilliland: I think sometimes, though, that it’s mostly because death hasn’t hit very close to home.I’ve been to two funerals in my life, one a great-grandmother who I met twice and a grandfather who I only saw at holidays (and apparently didn’t like our family).

Lol interesting. Apparently my theory is that early exposure to death can appease fears of death, and your theory is that a lack of early exposure to death can do so. Well…so much for psychoanalysis :)

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Lee A. P. December 14, 2009 at 6:09 pm

ayer: You’re assuming that the proper interpretation of hell is some kind of physical torment for eternity; perhaps you should consult other evangelical views, such as C.S. Lewis’ “The Great Divorce” or John Stott and Greg Boyd’s annihilationist interpretation.  (Quote)

Annihlation, while better than eternal torment, is still hateful. “What? You do not believe what the ancient book says about Jesus? You are to be annihlated from existance.”

Also what is to be made of the ressurection of the body? Everyone gets ressurected before judgement. In the “hellist” version God ressurects man, gives him his “perfected” body and send him to heaven or hell. In hell this perfected body cannot be destroyed, only tortured and/or tormented for eternity. In the annihilation view God give the damned a new body only to judge them and annihilate them right after.

It all sounds pretty hateful to me. Its all based on what people believe about an ancient book.

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Conor Gilliland December 14, 2009 at 6:14 pm

Jeff,

That’s interesting. I wonder if experiencing death in the immediate family or very close friends early on changes that. I remember feeling very distant when extended family members died. Almost like watching it on tv, as if it was a celebrity that died or something.

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Mandy December 14, 2009 at 9:39 pm

I’m an atheist who is freaking terrified of death. Granted, I come from a conservative Christian background (that I’m still recovering from, at least I hope I am), but frankly, annihilation doesn’t seem all that better to me than eternal torment (my exact words to Christians who said it was more merciful were “it seems merciful because it’s not going to happen to you”) And C.S. Lewis’ idea of hell as the great divorce…

Let me tell you about mental anguish. Nothing has happened to me; I have experienced no trauma or abuse by anyone. Yet my life is miserable because of a terrible mental disorder. Other people who suffer from it call it their own personal hell. I torture and torment myself.

And that’s not much better than eternal torment and annihilation.

So death? Terrifies me.

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Supernova December 14, 2009 at 10:11 pm

Lee A. P.:
Annihlation, while better than eternal torment, is still hateful. “What? You do not believe what the ancient book says about Jesus? You are to be annihlated from existance.”Also what is to be made of the ressurection of the body? Everyone gets ressurected before judgement. In the “hellist” version God ressurects man, gives him his “perfected” body and send him to heaven or hell. In hell this perfected body cannot be destroyed, only tortured and/or tormented for eternity. In the annihilation view God give the damned a new body only to judge them and annihilate them right after.
It all sounds pretty hateful to me. Its all based on what people believe about an ancient book.  

You’re now stumbling onto a theological question, rather than just a philosophical one.

With regards to Christian theology, there are two judgments: The Great White Throne and the BEMA. One for the non-believer and the other for the believer.

You say it(the doctrine of annihilation)is better than eternal torture, yet say it’s still hateful. Seems like you want it both ways. In Christian theology, God is loving, merciful, and just. The non-believer wants nothing to do with God and b/c he did not accept God’s grace, God will show his love and mercy by not forcing the non-believer to be with him(God) forever. If God forced the non-believer that would not be merciful and certainly not loving. It would be kidnapping.

At the same time God is also showing his love and mercy by not allowing you to spend eternity with him b/c you are broken since you did not accept what Jesus Christ did on the cross. Why would a ‘broken/non-perfected’ person want to be in a place where everything is now ‘unbroken/perfected.’ It’s like whenever I am feeling depressed or blue the last place I want to be is around a bunch of happy people who are perfectly content with life. It makes me even more depressed. This same analogy goes for the non-believer spending eternity on the ‘New Earth’ (heaven). It would be torture for God to allow a ‘broken’ person into heaven, so since God is loving and merciful he decides to send you away from him completely. Some say this this place is the ‘Lake of Fire’ (hell), I say God annihilates/destroys the soul. – Matthew 10:28

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lukeprog December 14, 2009 at 10:27 pm

I’m sorry to hear that, Mandy, but thanks for sharing!

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rhys December 14, 2009 at 10:39 pm

http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2003/juneweb-only/6-2-51.0.html?start=2

Hahahaha I’m sorry dude, but this article made me laugh out loud. This guy claims to have knowledge of intimate details of what goes on in some magical place noone has ever seen or experienced, kinda smells of bullshit. Thats me being as prudent in my language as I can too.

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rhys December 14, 2009 at 11:08 pm

“I want you to learn an instrument and learn how to compose music. That should open your mind up a bit and allow some out-of-the-box possibilities to flow in. If anything, it will help remove that horrific shelter from your mind.” – Jason Finney –

My bemused response:

Dude I am an adamant musician! I would shrivel up and turn into jello if I didn’t have my trusty guitar and drumkit by my side at all times. It was actually music that made me realise how stupid religion was! I admit it wasnt for really intellectual reasons, I was a huge Slayer fan, and the day I found out that Tom Araya was a butt buddy of Yahweh’s my teenage self was devastated beyond repair. Then I discovered Ray Comfort and the rest is history. (Albeit a history loitered with incessant facepalming and headdesking)

btw did anyone else get a free copy of Ray’s Origin book?

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rhys December 14, 2009 at 11:16 pm

Also has anyone noticed that if we grant the Kalam cosmological argument as being true….

It disproves the existence of Heaven!!

Think about it, if Heaven is eternal, that means there is an infinite set of events that will occur in Heaven. You cannot say it is potentially infinite because God is meant to be all-knowing, so He should know everything that will happen in Heaven!

Thanks kindly Dr Craig!

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SteveK December 14, 2009 at 11:44 pm

Hahahaha I’m sorry dude, but this article made me laugh out loud. This guy claims to have knowledge of intimate details of what goes on in some magical place noone has ever seen or experienced, kinda smells of bullshit.

Save some of those laughs for those who dismiss that knowledge because they think they have some insight into what won’t, can’t or mustn’t go on in a place they’ve never seen or experienced.

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ayer December 15, 2009 at 8:12 am

Lee A. P.: Annihlation, while better than eternal torment, is still hateful. “What? You do not believe what the ancient book says about Jesus? You are to be annihlated from existance.”

Isn’t “annihilation from existence” exactly what the atheist expects to happen (assuming atheism is true)? So the atheist is no worse off after death under the Christian doctrine of annihilation than under his own view.

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Mandy December 15, 2009 at 9:36 pm

Luke,

I just wanted to put in a few cents from an atheist who is scared of death and is not comforted by the usual things with which some atheists can be comforted. Most of the people who commented seemed to have found their peace with it.

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lukeprog December 15, 2009 at 9:39 pm

Yes, thanks, Mandy. That was the point of my post – to say there are more people out there like you than some of us realize.

One of the reasons I changed the subject on my friend “Ashley” was because I had no idea what to say to help her feel better about it. I don’t think anything would – it probably doesn’t have much to do with reading the stoics or anything like that.

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rhys December 16, 2009 at 2:14 am

Save some of those laughs for those who dismiss that knowledge because they think they have some insight into what won’t, can’t or mustn’t go on in a place they’ve never seen or experienced.

Don’t switch the burden of proof man. It is dishonest and I think you know it.

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SteveK December 16, 2009 at 10:32 pm

rhys: Save some of those laughs for those who dismiss that knowledge because they think they have some insight into what won’t, can’t or mustn’t go on in a place they’ve never seen or experienced. Don’t switch the burden of proof man. It is dishonest and I think you know it.  (Quote)

It’s not direct knowledge in the sense that they’ve been there or experienced it. You said that yourself. It’s based on knowledge received in the form of divine revelation, and accepted as a matter of trust.

So again, save some of that laughter for those who are doing the same thing and trusting some form of received knowledge about what heaven is like, or worse – basing their comments on pure guesswork. Which are you doing?

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rhys December 17, 2009 at 11:21 pm

So again, save some of that laughter for those who are doing the same thing and trusting some form of received knowledge about what heaven is like, or worse – basing their comments on pure guesswork. Which are you doing?

Dude all I am saying is that someone who claims to know what goes on in Heaven is talking out of his ass, I’m not making some sophisticated deep point here. I can’t help it, my bullshit detector starts losing it when I read articles like that, guess that was just the way I was designed.

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SteveK December 18, 2009 at 9:42 am

And all I’m saying is save some of that laughter for yourself. Just sayin’ ;)

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Sogn Mill-Scout December 19, 2009 at 1:44 am

Mandy:
Luke,
I just wanted to put in a few cents from an atheist who is scared of death and is not comforted by the usual things with which some atheists can be comforted. Most of the people who commented seemed to have found their peace with it.

I just want to say I’m touched by Mandy’s comments, which resonate deeply with me. I would distinguish my feelings from hers only in that I don’t personally fear death as extinction – to the contrary, it often strikes me as a desirable cessation of suffering. Nevertheless, I could never make peace with Death (note the capital) as so many atheists/naturalists seem to, or say they do. Viewed from the perspective of sentient (not just human) life, and on a large scale of space & time, this world is a nightmare of suffering, punctuated only by rare and ephemeral sparks of joy or pleasure. And then it’s all absolutely and irrevocably gone – “everything is dust in the wind,” to quote a great old song. No suffering is redeemed, no tears are wiped away. Eventually it will be as if no sentient life ever existed. Death, i.e. absolute annihilation and oblivion, is repugnant, an outrage; it is evil, the ultimate evil. It need not be feared, but it ought to be hated.

In full disclosure, I add that, like Mandy, the many miseries of my life have been partly caused and quite exacerbated by mental illness, particularly chronic and often acute depression, plus other issues. Notwithstanding that fact, I stand by my philosophical reflections on death. My attitude toward life and death in large part is simpatico with Bertrand Russell’s A Free Man’s Worship:

Brief and powerless is Man’s life; on him and all his race the slow, sure doom falls pitiless and dark. Blind to good and evil, reckless of destruction, omnipotent matter rolls on its relentless way; for Man, condemned today to lose his dearest, tomorrow himself to pass through the gate of darkness, it remains only to cherish, ere yet the blow falls, the lofty thoughts that ennoble his little day; disdaining the coward terrors of the slave of Fate, to worship at the shrine that his own hands have built; undismayed by the empire of chance, to preserve a mind free from the wanton tyranny that rules his outward life; proudly defiant of the irresistible forces that tolerate, for a moment, his knowledge and his condemnation, to sustain alone, a weary but unyielding Atlas, the world that his own ideals have fashioned despite the trampling march of unconscious power.

I think the best we can do in the face of the wretched circumstances and vicissitudes of existence, and their inevitable culmination in total extinction, is to embrace the mindful and tragic stoicism extolled by Russell and others. (And bear in mind that many people cannot, for any number of reasons, attain that state of mind.) But never, ever make peace with, acquiesce to, the “sure doom” destined to pitilessly obliterate everything good and beautiful that has ever existed. Better to proudly and defiantly shake our fists in the face of the “wanton tyranny” of mindless “omnipotent matter”; that gesture is no more futile than our lives are ultimately futile.

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Sogn Mill-Scout December 19, 2009 at 2:33 am

I forgot to mention that the best cinematic presentation regarding death is here:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WlBiLNN1NhQ&NR=1
I may hate death, but I have a sense of humor about it. ;-)

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Sabio Lantz December 19, 2009 at 2:46 am

Sogn and Mandy do us a wonderful service of illustrating how our dispositions determine our outlooks and often the flavor our philosophies. Their words help us remember, it is people we should care for before their ideas. Thanx guys for sharing.

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