A question about the comparative views on death.

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Ashley Kennett's picture
A question about the comparative views on death.

Fist time posting and not sure if this fits in here please let me know if not and will lose and reopen in correct area.

Firstly a bit of context for why I am posting my question before citing it. I live in France where religion (or lack thereof) is taboo in general conversation so have very little experience of debating or discussing topics and obtaining first-person religious viewpoints on most topics and what little experience I have is limited as the conversation tends to be quickly shut down.
I was hoping therefore to obtain at least some second/third hand understanding of a particular topic.

The topic in question is relating to the differences in views on death and, more specifically, fear of death between atheists and theists.

From personal observation from reading in forums and watching a number of debates there appears to be a difference in how afraid we are to die based on whether we believe something will happen to us after death or not and there is a difference in what we will accept to avoid death.

My observation/hypothesis is this, atheists are not as afraid of death as theists are.

Now this is a highly generalized observation so I absolutely accept that there will be individual incidences where this is untrue and also is entirely based on my own personal observations so I may have completely misread and be completely wrong (especially since it doesn't entirely make sense) .

The specific example, which crystallized this impression, was from a forum post on a different subject where the conversation had turned to Christianity's God's support or lack thereof of women's rights and a particular discussion around Deuteronomy 22:28 in which it was posited by a theist, and agreed to by the rest, that being forced to marry the rapist (at this stage of the conversation both sides had agreed that this was what the section referenced) was better than starving and being ostracized (and therefore dying) whereas each and every atheist declared that considering the trauma and psychological damage involved that the opposite was possibly a preferable option in those circumstances.

Link to forum post

I am simplifying for the case of the question and have added the link above for the full conversation if complete context is needed.

So to my question is my observation accurate and if so why? As it seems rather counterintuitive since if there is a "heaven"/"reincarnation" why would someone be afraid to die?

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chimp3's picture
I am not afraid of death just

I am not afraid of death just like I am not afraid of Hitler or Nero. Was not there!. I am afraid of dying. So many horrible ways to go.

watchman's picture
@Druss ....

@Druss ....

I'm in agreement with Chimp 3 on this..... some of the processes of dying are terrifying ..... however death itself is nothing..... (quite literally nothing).

I refer you to this ,from Epicurus....

"Death does not concern us,
because as long as we exist, death is not here.
And when it does come, we no longer exist."

A little trite ,perhaps , but true enough for all of that.

Edit to add answer to OP.

Sorry ...completely overlooked the OP...

However I do tend to agree that the religious amongst us do seem to hold death in more dread than those of us with no faith. perhaps because of the possibility of judgement .....

Old man shouts at clouds's picture
@ Druss

@ Druss

I am inclined to agree with Watchman when he said "However I do tend to agree that the religious amongst us do seem to hold death in more dread than those of us with no faith. perhaps because of the possibility of judgement ....."

For myself, I do not fear death itself, I do fear the process if we do not have access to ensure a painless and timely transition, By that I mean, I want to choose both manner and time of my death.

Tin-Man's picture
Hi-ya, Druss. Welcome to the

Hi-ya, Druss. Welcome to the site. I love your question, and from my own experiences I see your observations to be fairly accurate. (Generally speaking. There are always exceptions, of course.) Most Christians I have ever known almost never liked even hearing the word "death". So actually having some type of discussion about it was certainly out of the question. Seemed to be too much worry and uncertainty for them to contemplate it. (Personal opinion/observation.) On the other hand, the few non-believers I have known in my life consider death in an almost nonchalant manner. Basically, "Hey, dead is dead. Nothing I can do about it when it happens. But I am alive right now, so might as well enjoy it while I can."

Personally, I do not recall a time in my life when I ever had a fear of death, even though I was raised in a Baptist family. For some odd reason, death was something that just never bothered me all that much. And there were countless times during my life I faced near-death experiences (maybe even got a few dents and scratches as a result), but never gave them a second thought. If anything, my attitude was one of, "Nanny-nanny-boo-boo! You missed me, you missed me! Better luck next time, assholes!" And I would walk away laughing. (Well, okay. sometimes carried away on a stretcher. Still laughing, though.) At the same time, I have known several friends and colleagues who had a "close call" (even if there was no physical injury), and it left them mentally and emotionally traumatized. That is something I could never relate to. Now, just like Chimp and Watchman, I might naturally get a little concerned about the method of my death. (I have seen some rather gruesome ones during my days.) Also, I would hope my family would be okay once I am gone. Otherwise, dead is dead. What's to worry about?

MCDennis's picture
I am not afraid of death. I

I am not afraid of death. I was not afraid of 1869

David Killens's picture
Bonjour Druss. I know your

Bonjour Druss. I know your fine nation well, having lived in Metz for four years.

So to my question is my observation accurate and if so why? As it seems rather counterintuitive since if there is a "heaven"/"reincarnation" why would someone be afraid to die?

In my opinion two of the most important questions we face is "what is my place in this world?" and "what happens to me when I die?"

Many, many people have fragile egos and are very selfish. We have witnessed how people initially placed this planet as the center of the known universe. Ego. And when it comes to a building block of religion, almost all prayer is directed towards a selfish purpose. Save me, I have cancer.

When one has an ego that over-rules common sense or just observation, and then combine it with being selfish, it is easy to accept the dogma that they are "special" (there is a place reserved for them in the afterlife) and that they do not really die, their "spirit" continues on.

They have a terrible fear that drives them to accept an alternative. But sadly, that fear is still there. It is like betting on a sure thing. You feel very confident, but at the back of your mind is some anxiety.

Personally I have learned to keep my ego in check, even though I have powerful confidence in my abilities and training. I know my place in the universe. I am a living creature, and my only "purpose" (just like every other living creature) is to survive and procreate. That is all the programming this universe instilled in me. Everything else is gravy, I can live in misery and depression or I can live a happy and full life. That is my choice, that depends on what I do, there is no invisible guiding hand.

Because I have been able to accept and live with the understanding that I do not have any supernatural "purpose", I am also able to accept and understand that once my physical body ceases to function, that is it, there is nothing remaining apart from rotting biological material.

Personally, I feel sympathy, maybe even revulsion towards others because they cling tenaciously to their ego and selfishness, and live a life in fear of the future, not enjoying their personal accomplishments, nor making a sincere effort to fully enjoy this wonderful planet, and those they love.

For myself, of course I do not want to die. Each day, each moment is too wonderful, I eagerly anticipate each second the future still has for me. I understand that one day my body will fail me, and it will be over. But until then, I am too busy enjoying life and waking up each morning humming a happy tune.

But fear? No. I do not fear death, I just wish I was around longer. I am having too much fun.

algebe's picture
Like others here, I am more

Like others here, I am more concerned about the manner of death than the state of death. Having seen both Parkinsons and Alzheimers in action, I don't want to go by either of those routes. I also don't want to die in any manner that would cause harm to others, such as a heart attack/stroke while driving on the expressway. Although falling out of a building and landing on top of the Australian Minister of Immigration sounds attractive.

The state of death is literally nothing. There will no Pearly Gates or Lake of Fire. I shall simply return to the nothingness whence I came.

However, I do worry about what will happen to my family after I'm gone. Then again, I stepped into the breach after my father died when I was 22, so I'm sure my son and daughter will do the same. The graveyard is full of indispensable people. And yet we somehow carry on.

I hate the Christian idea of people looking down on us from heaven. It reminds me of the song from Rocky Horror Picture Show. "In another dimension, with voyeuristic intentions, well secluded, I see all." When you're dead, mind your own damn business and keep your nose out of the land of the living.

David Killens's picture
Have theists thought this

Have theists thought this through? If I lived forever, whether in physical or other form, I would be bored after the first million years. There would be nothing remaining to explore or learn about, every day the same. No video games, no porn, no Superbowl, no beer, no good books to read, no more Game of Thrones, just sitting there on a cloud, staring at clouds, being bored out of my mind and incapable of escaping such a horrible situation.

IMO living forever would be Hell.

ZeffD's picture
I too have no idea if

I too have no idea if religionists (overall, statistically) have a greater fear of death, but it does seem to be an important reason why many people feel a need to believe in an afterlife. All people probably fear a distressing process more than the event.

Realism, self-knowledge and a sound understanding of the world probably make for a more relaxed outlook than clinging to religious faith.

In my experience, non-believers talk about how to manage the process while religionists waste time wondering "what happens when we die".

Grinseed's picture
Will Rogers once said "I want

Will Rogers once said "I want to die like my grandfather did. Peacefully in his sleep. Not screaming and yelling like the passengers in his car."

mykcob4's picture
I have seen people die.

I have seen people die. Everyone dies differently. The ones that you think could handle it don't, and the ones you think would just go out in a panic seem to die quietly. Pain and the fear of pain has a lot more to do with the way we die than most things. I watched my terminal ill father more afraid of pain than death.

Sky Pilot's picture
One of the best death scenes

One of the best death scenes in the Bible is found in 2 Maccabees 14:45-46 (CEB) = "45 While still breathing and burning with anger, he rose up, ignoring the gushing blood and the terrible injuries, and made his way through the crowd to stand on a pile of rubble. 46 Entirely drained of blood, he tore out his intestines, took them in both hands, and threw them at the mob. As he did this, he called out to the one with authority over life and spirit to return his insides to him, and in this manner he died."

Cognostic's picture
I agree on personal grounds.

I agree on personal grounds. I am 65 and approaching the end. I am an advocate of euthanasia. I strongly believe that quality of life is more important than quantity. I gain my experience from watching people in nursing homes die horrible deaths and from the cold calculating nature of the the death industry to feed off dwindling family resources, and insurance claims to keep the beds full until all runs out, and then, not give a damn.

How any conscionable doctor can take a Hypocritic Oath not to cause harm and then support the death extension industry is beyond me. Death comes to us all and we have the right to choose where, when and how we die when possible. It's just that simple. No fear at all.

If there is any fear at all I have of death, it would be the fear of not being allowed to die. Being forced to stay alive as senility, cancer, gangrene, diabetes, or any number of degenerative disorders robbed me of the pleasure of life. Waking every morning to shit stained sheets and wallowing in it for an hour before assistance arrived with or without cognitive awareness is a horrible thing to do to another human being. We put our frigging pets to sleep when they are suffering but because of our theological beliefs and common hospital practices, we extend life to the nth degree, or until the money runs out. My fear is being in a place where I am unable to die,

Sky Pilot's picture
I have never died but I have

I have never died but I have seen people die from assorted illnesses. Intellectually I prefer a quick death or at least one in a coma. When I start circling the drain I don't know how I will react or what I will do. Maybe I will go for the full experience as most people do and endure the pain and suffering.

My general advice is to make out your will, pre-pay your funeral, write your obituary, and organize your personal affairs. Maybe write some notes to your survivors. Remember, there's no guarantee any of us will make it through the day so just because you might be young it doesn't mean that you will see tomorrow.

Sushisnake's picture


"... if there is a "heaven"/"reincarnation" why would someone be afraid to die?"

Between you, me and the gatepost, I think they're afraid they won't get into heaven or will be reincarnated as a maggot. They have to account for themselves to their god and they've done things they're ashamed of, as have we all. They've done their best, but they're afraid their best wasn't good enough. They're afraid they'll be punished. The children will admit to the terror - often, so often you go from atheist to anti-theist in a heartbeat on hearing it - but the adults, not so much. Admitting that would mean admitting they've noticed their god is a little...um...capricious...too, just as we have.

Our mob, on the other hand, have all kinds of fears about how we might get to dead- egregious pain and suffering, loss of personal agency and dignity - but the being dead part doesn't worry us at all. No one's going to be standing there with a bloody great ledger to hit us over the head with if we don't make the cut, never mind the meet and greet you're dead meat BBQ that comes afterwards forever and ever amen.

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