Death lurks in the shadows for every one of us. Some days death seems closer than other days. Older people think more about death than younger people. Sick people think more about death than well people. But regardless of age or physical condition we all of think about death. Whether it is just a passing thought now and again or a morbid fixation on it, death is the one thing that the atheist and the Christian have in common.
The great hope of Christianity is that, through the merit and work of Jesus Christ, every follower of Jesus Christ will enjoy a life after death in the presence of God. Atheists often underestimate the power of a promise of life after death. Regardless of the truth of it, immortality is powerful motivator. Remove the promise of eternal life from the Christian message and all that will be left are empty houses of worship. This promise is the glue that holds the Christian faith together.
When a Christian is dying those around him encourage him to be faithful to the end. He is encouraged to hold on to Jesus, to trust the promise that Jesus gives to all those who follow Him. Bible verses are read,songs are sung, prayers are said, and stories of those who have gone before are told, all to encourage the Christian as he faces death.
After the Christian dies his funeral service is used as an opportunity to not only praise the faith of the departed but to also remind the living of the importance of keeping the faith. Death is coming for us all, are you ready to go?
I am not afraid to say that Christianity offers people something that atheism can’t. Christianity offers hope for life beyond the grave. It offers the follower of Christ comfort and peace at the time of death. It offers hope to those left behind. Yes, grandpa died and went to heaven and yes you miss him but remember someday you will die too and then you and grandpa will be reunited again, says the preacher.
It doesn’t matter whether or not Christianity is true. In fact, there is no way to prove the truth of Christianity. Atheists are on a fool’s errand to spend very much time trying to disprove Christianity. Christianity is a faith-based religion that rests outside the realm of proof. Christians are just as foolish when they try to prove to non-believers that Christianity is true. When they try to prove their faith they make themselves easy targets for atheists who live in a world dominated by what can be proved, rather than what is believed.
Christian commenters on this blog spend significant time trying to prove that Christianity is true, that their faith is true, and that Jesus is the only sure hope for humanity. What they fail to understand is that Christianity is a religion of faith and not provable facts. Either a person believes the Christian message or they don’t. Faith is required of all those who embrace Christianity. As I have said many times I do not have the requisite faith to believe. I don’t have the faith necessary to believe the Bible is truth. I don’t have the faith necessary to believe in a god who became man through a virgin birth, who worked miracles,and who was killed and came back from the dead three days later. As skeptic I want evidence that these things are true. Of course there is no proof, there is no evidence for these things ,and that’s why faith is required.
I am quite willing to grant that Christianity suits people well when it comes time to die. Too bad most Christians don’t live like they are dying. While their bodies are strong and full of vim and vigor Christians don’t live much differently than unbelievers do. But, when it comes time to die Christianity offers a hope that atheism can not offer. At the moment of death truth doesn’t matter to the Christian. His hope is that his faith will soon become sight. His hope is that his faith will soon be reality. If the truth is that there is no life after death he will be none the wiser because he won’t know that his Christian faith was a lie. He will be dead, end of story.
What about the atheist? How does an atheist face death? Atheists face death just like every human being does. Every human fears death. When a person tells me they don’t fear death they are either 20 years old or a liar. Fear of death is a normal feeling regardless of what a person believes about life after death. Death usually brings people to a place where they reconcile their life. Expressions of regret are common. Often, when death is looming, the dying person reaches out to those he is estranged from. He doesn’t want to die before setting his affairs in order. Once again, regardless of what he believes about life after death the dying person desires to leave the world at peace with others.
The atheist has no faith in a life after death. I have no doubt that many atheists, when confronted with a death soon to come, will struggle with the certainty of their atheism. For those of us who were Christians for many years I am sure thoughts of hell might cross our dying minds. Let’s face it, if the God of the Bible truly exists the dying atheist is going to draw his final breath on this side of eternity and draw his next breath in hell on the other side of eternity.
The dying atheist also has to deal with Christian family members who are heart-broken that the atheist is soon to die without knowing Jesus and will spend eternity in hell. Some family members or friends will try one last time to “reach” the atheist. They will plead and beg the atheist to just pray the sinner’s prayer. Recant atheism and embrace Jesus. I have no doubt that some atheists do indeed recant, perhaps out of fear or a desire for their friends and family to be at peace. I am not inclined to judge harshly atheists who take this path.
I can not speak for other atheists. Who knows how each of us will face death. I have appreciated the Vanity Fair articles that Christopher Hitchens has written about facing death. If you have not read these articles I would encourage you to do so.
As a person who suffers with an illness that sucks the life out of me day by day I have frequent thoughts about death. I don’t morbidly dwell on death but I realize that death is a reality that I will face some day, sooner rather than later. Believe me, I want to live until I am 90 years old but I know that is not going to happen. I am smart enough to read the physical signs that my body displays, so I know that death is not going to wait for me very long. (very long in the sense of 90 years as opposed to 70, which is only 16 years away) There is no cure for what I have, and please no emails about this or that latest cure, drug, or treatment. Trust me, I already know. I have embraced the fact that I am going to die and sometimes, when my body is screaming in pain, I say TODAY. But tomorrow comes and I am grateful for another day.
Who knows how they will face their last days of life. I can only write about how I hope I will face death. I want to be surrounded by family and my friends. I want to be surrounded by those who love me for who I am, not what I was, who they hope I would be, but who I am. I want to spend my dying days reflecting on the life we shared. The good, the bad ,the ugly. When a person is dying there is no time left to put off business to another day. The accounts must be settled. I want to leave this life at peace with those I love and, in True Bruce form, giving the finger to those who will claim my death is the judgment of God for my atheism. I know many former Christian friends will wail over my passing because they fear that my atheism secured me a berth in hell. There is nothing I can say to them that will ease their grief.
Many Christians think that a life lived without Jesus is a meaningless life. They are quite certain that the meaninglessness of it all become quite evident when it comes time to die. What they fail to realize is that the atheist finds purpose in life as it is lived. There is no need of a promise of a life to come for the present to have value.
It matters that I love. It matters that I help others. It matters that I invest my time and money in making life on this earth better for others, especially those of my own household. While I live I have an opportunity to shape the lives of my children and grandchildren. I have an opportunity to make a mark on the world I live in. Life matters as long as I am alive. Live matters as long as there are people to love.
When it comes time to draw my last breath I hope I am surrounded by the greatest expression of the fact that life matters: Polly, Jason, Nathan, Jaime, Bethany, Laura, Josiah, Sarah, Cristina, Jamie Lynn, Victoria, Karah, Levi, Emma. Gwen, and a few grandkids that are yet to be born.
If there is one thing that atheism has taught me is that family is what matters the most. Living life by loving others is enough for me.