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Death and the Afterlife: Things Christians Say That Aren’t in the Bible 

heaven and hell

One thing the religious have in common with non-believers is the fact that they will someday die. Death is the great equalizer. No matter our wealth and status, or lack thereof, there will come a day when each of us will draw his or her last breath. No second chances, no do-overs. All of us, at one time or the other, have pondered our mortality. The older we get, the more we think about death.

It should come as no surprise then that most people turn to religion to find answers about death and the possibility of an afterlife. All the major religions of the world teach that there is life after death, be it in a resurrected or reincarnated form. Being the rational creatures we are, we can’t bear thoughts of no longer existing. Countless Evangelicals have asked me, surely you believe that there is SOMETHING after this life? Other Evangelicals have told me that they would have no reason to live if there weren’t life after death.

Sunday after Sunday, millions of Americans gather in church buildings to worship a God that purportedly not only forgives their sins, but gives them eternal life in heaven after they die. If religious belief was only of value in this life and paid out no after-death benefits, I suspect many of the people pledging fealty and devotion to the Christian God on Sundays would instead spend the first day of the week engaging in recreation, working in their yards, or relaxing. Remove sin, fear, judgment, and eternal life from the script and I have no doubt that most churches would find themselves not only without congregants, but without preachers too.

Generally, the orthodox Christian belief about the afterlife goes something like this: each of us dies, physically remains in the grave until judgment Day, at which time God will bodily resurrect the just and unjust from the dead, judge them, and either send them to God’s eternal kingdom (Heaven) or the Lake of Fire (Hell) for eternity. The former is a blissful place where there is no sin, pain, suffering, or death, whereas the latter is a dark place where its inhabitants face horrific pain and suffering. Both the just (saved) and unjust (lost) will be fitted with new bodies (creations) that never die, and for those cast in the Lake of Fire, their bodies will be able to withstand never-ending torture and torment.

Now, seek out one hundred Evangelicals and ask them about death and the afterlife, and they will tell you something like this: after death, Christians go to Heaven, and non-Christians go to hell.  Does what I have written here remotely sound like what I wrote in the previous paragraph? Nope. Most Christians believe that the moment after they close their eyes in death, they will awake in Heaven and be in the presence of God. The Bible, supposedly the final authority on all matter pertaining to life, death, and the afterlife, does not teach that Christians go to Heaven the moment they die. Neither does it teach that non-Christians go to hell after death. Every person who has ever died presently lies rotting in the grave, awaiting the resurrection of the dead.

It’s not so sexy to tell people that their reserved rooms in Heaven and Hell will remain empty until Resurrection Day.  Peter? James? Judas? Moses? David? Abraham? Isaac? Jacob? Adam? Eve?  John, Paul, George, and Ringo? Your parents, grandparents? None of them is or will be in Heaven or Hell until the trumpet of God sounds and Jesus returns to earth to judge the living and the dead.

Yet, every Sunday, Christian preachers remind congregants of what awaits them after death: Heaven for the saved, and Hell for the lost. Unsaved people are implored to get saved lest they die and split hell wide open. Christians are encouraged to work hard for Jesus and promised great rewards in Heaven if they do so.  Preachers tell wonderful stories about Heaven and horrific stories about Hell, reminding people that the sum of life is knowing Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.

Attend Christian funerals and you will often hear preachers outright lie about the afterlife. I have yet to hear a preacher say that the dearly departed went to hell. In every instance, preachers found some sliver of faith/belief to hang on to, thus justifying their preaching the subject of their funeral sermon into heaven. Worse yet, preachers and family members will speak of Granny running around Heaven or Mom, Dad, and Rover too looking down from Heaven watching their loved ones. I have heard countless Christians say that some close family member of theirs was “with them” as they did this or that. None of these hopeful ideas is supported by the teachings of the Bible. Granny isn’t running in Heaven. Her bodies lies in the grave, awaiting the Resurrection. As nice as it sounds, and the warm, fuzzy feelings such thoughts give, no one is watching us from Pearly Gates.

Of course, as an atheist, I am firmly persuaded that death is the end-all. To misquote Hebrews 9:27And as it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this … nothing. I have one life to live and it is quickly passing by. It seems like yesterday that my wife and I, ages nineteen and twenty-one, were standing at the front of the Newark Baptist Temple altar, reciting our wedding vows to one another. Youthful in body and ready to take on the world, we had no thoughts of growing old. Yet, here we are, soon celebrating our thirty-ninth wedding anniversary, and in less than a month I will turn sixty. Now our thoughts turn to end-of-life matters: retirement, healthcare, and what to do with the few years we have left.  My older readers know exactly what I am talking about. Who among us hasn’t lain in bed listening to the beat of our heart or the ticking of the clock. We know that each beat and each tick take us one moment closer to our last day among the living.

Bruce, if you don’t think there is life after death, why then did you spend most of this post talking about what Christians believe about death and the afterlife? This post is a plea to preachers to tell people the truth about life after death. First, preachers should tell people that they cannot know for certain whether there is life after death; that all that Christians have to go on is what is written in the Bible; that the belief that people live on after death is solely a matter of faith; that there is no evidence for claims that people live on in eternity after they die. Second, preachers should stop telling people lies about what happens the moment after someone dies. Stop with the whimsical stories about what dead people are doing in Heaven. Tell the truth: Granny lies rotting in the grave until Jesus comes to get her. If preachers are going to tell mythical stories about the afterlife, the least they can do is accurately state what the Bible says on the matter. Of course, doing so might cause people to lose hope, but Christians need to know that there is NOT an immediate payoff after death.

Let me conclude this post with an excerpt from a Time Magazine interview of Christian theologian N.T. Wright:

TIME: At one point you call the common view of heaven a “distortion and serious diminution of Christian hope.”

Wright: It really is. I’ve often heard people say, “I’m going to heaven soon, and I won’t need this stupid body there, thank goodness.’ That’s a very damaging distortion, all the more so for being unintentional.

TIME: How so? It seems like a typical sentiment.

Wright: There are several important respects in which it’s unsupported by the New Testament. First, the timing. In the Bible we are told that you die, and enter an intermediate state. St. Paul is very clear that Jesus Christ has been raised from the dead already, but that nobody else has yet. Secondly, our physical state. The New Testament says that when Christ does return, the dead will experience a whole new life: not just our soul, but our bodies. And finally, the location. At no point do the resurrection narratives in the four Gospels say, “Jesus has been raised, therefore we are all going to heaven.” It says that Christ is coming here, to join together the heavens and the Earth in an act of new creation.

TIME: Is there anything more in the Bible about the period between death and the resurrection of the dead?

Wright: We know that we will be with God and with Christ, resting and being refreshed. Paul writes that it will be conscious, but compared with being bodily alive, it will be like being asleep. The Wisdom of Solomon, a Jewish text from about the same time as Jesus, says “the souls of the righteous are in the hand of God,” and that seems like a poetic way to put the Christian understanding, as well.

TIME: But it’s not where the real action is, so to speak?

Wright: No. Our culture is very interested in life after death, but the New Testament is much more interested in what I’ve called the life after life after death — in the ultimate resurrection into the new heavens and the new Earth. Jesus’ resurrection marks the beginning of a restoration that he will complete upon his return. Part of this will be the resurrection of all the dead, who will “awake,” be embodied and participate in the renewal. John Polkinghorne, a physicist and a priest, has put it this way: “God will download our software onto his hardware until the time he gives us new hardware to run the software again for ourselves.” That gets to two things nicely: that the period after death is a period when we are in God’s presence but not active in our own bodies, and also that the more important transformation will be when we are again embodied and administering Christ’s kingdom.

Wright: Never at any point do the Gospels or Paul say Jesus has been raised, therefore we are we are all going to heaven. They all say, Jesus is raised, therefore the new creation has begun, and we have a job to do.

TIME: That sounds a lot like… work.

Wright: It’s more exciting than hanging around listening to nice music. In Revelation and Paul’s letters we are told that God’s people will actually be running the new world on God’s behalf. The idea of our participation in the new creation goes back to Genesis, when humans are supposed to be running the Garden and looking after the animals. If you transpose that all the way through, it’s a picture like the one that you get at the end of Revelation.

TIME: And it ties into what you’ve written about this all having a moral dimension.

Wright: Both that, and the idea of bodily resurrection that people deny when they talk about their “souls going to Heaven.” If people think “my physical body doesn’t matter very much,” then who cares what I do with it? And if people think that our world, our cosmos, doesn’t matter much, who cares what we do with that? Much of “traditional” Christianity gives the impression that God has these rather arbitrary rules about how you have to behave, and if you disobey them you go to hell, rather than to heaven. What the New Testament really says is God wants you to be a renewed human being helping him to renew his creation, and his resurrection was the opening bell. And when he returns to fulfil the plan, you won’t be going up there to him, he’ll be coming down here.

TIME: That’s very different from, say, the vision put out in the Left Behind books.

Wright: Yes. If there’s going to be an Armageddon, and we’ll all be in heaven already or raptured up just in time, it really doesn’t matter if you have acid rain or greenhouse gases prior to that. Or, for that matter, whether you bombed civilians in Iraq. All that really matters is saving souls for that disembodied heaven.

TIME: Has anyone you’ve talked to expressed disappointment at the loss of the old view?

Wright: Yes, you might get disappointment in the case where somebody has recently gone through the death of somebody they love and they are wanting simply to be with them. And I’d say that’s understandable. But the end of Revelation describes a marvelous human participation in God’s plan. And in almost all cases, when I’ve explained this to people, there’s a sense of excitement and a sense of, “Why haven’t we been told this before?”

What are some of the other things that Christians say about death, heaven, and hell that either aren’t in the Bible or are distorted by preachers? Please share them in the comment section.

Christians Say The Darnedest Things: John Piper Advocates Threatening Children With Hell

john piper
John Piper

A question from Michael: “Pastor John, how can I talk to my 6-year-old son about hell? When any loved one has died who has also been a Christian, I have told him they have gone to heaven. But if somebody dies who is not a Christian I do not want to lie and say they have gone to heaven, but I do not know how to teach him about hell. He has extreme anxiety about death and I am afraid talking about hell may make him more anxious. He also gets very upset when he makes any kind of mistake or when I have to correct him. I do not want him to worry that if he disobeys that he will be sent to hell. How in the world can I teach him this?”

Let me start by turning the tables and saying, we should be one hundred times more concerned about a 6-year-old who has no fear of death [Yes, because it is absolutely “normal” for children to fear death and hell.] and hell than we are about a child who fears death and hell. One of the reasons we may not feel that is because when a child has no fear, we tend to go along as though all is well. He’s such a happy little fellow, and she’s such a cheerful little girl. [Pity the happy, joyful, well-adjusted child, right?] When a child has anxieties, nightmares, fears, then all of our parental instincts and mind go into gear, and action, because we want to help them, not realizing perhaps that the child with no fear needs even more help from parental vigilance and concern than the child with much fear.

I want to encourage Michael that the problem he is dealing with is a good problem to have. If he were not dealing with it, there would be more reason to be concerned than there is now. How do we help a 6-year-old child deal with the terrifying reality of hell and death? The main thing is to realize that God intends for our real and wise fear of hell to be a means of clarifying and establishing in our hearts at least five great realities.

….

1. The fear of hell is a golden opportunity for treating God as big and glorious and utterly real. It is hard for human beings who are sinful to feel the reality of God, but if God is the one who created hell, and whose majesty makes hell just and understandable, then this is a golden moment. The reason hell is so terrible is because God is so great that despising him is so evil that it deserves this terrible punishment.

In other words, the horror of hell is a signpost concerning the infinite worth and preciousness and beauty and goodness and justness of God. If he were small, if God were small, hell would be lukewarm. Because he’s great, scorning God is a horrible thing. This is a golden moment for how to teach a child about how real and how great God is.

2. The fear of hell is a golden opportunity to teach about the nature and the exceedingly great seriousness of sin. Hell is all about the outcome of a life of sin, and therefore a child needs to understand what sin is. Sin is all about falling short of God’s glory; that is, failing to see God as glorious and to honor him and thank him as glorious, and to follow him and praise him and glorify him. We need to make sure that our children see the direct connection between hell and sin.

The great and frightening tragedy of growing up feeling no fear of hell is that in a life like that, children will not be able to see sin as serious. It just won’t ever get to the point where sin is ugly and outrageous, because they haven’t schooled themselves on the penalty for sin, namely hell — that they will not see it as a great and horrible offense against God. Fearing hell is a golden opportunity for bringing our children into the light concerning the horrible darkness of sin.

3. The fear of hell is a golden opportunity to bring the child to an awareness of the reality and justness of God’s final judgment. This is a great and central biblical teaching that all human beings will stand before God to give an account of their lives someday. Hebrews 9:27, “Just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment.”

What a gift for a child to grow up deeply convinced that the whole world will face judgment someday. This will give seriousness to the child’s life. Parents worry far too much that their children will be unhappy in the fear of judgment when they ought to worry that their children will be happy with no fear of judgment. Hell is a golden opportunity to bring children into the light and the reality of God’s final judgment.

….

Don’t run away from this opportunity. Don’t miss this golden moment of using the fear of hell as a means of clarifying and establishing the truth of 1) a great and glorious God, 2) a horrible nature of sin, 3) the reality and justice of future judgment, 4) the greatness of the cross and Christ’s rescue from hell, and 5) the glory of a fearless life of faith.

— John Piper, Desiring God, Explaining Hell to Our Children, May 2, 2017

Thoughts About Life and Death: God Kills Aspiring Model by Hitting Her With a Train

fredzania thompson

Last week, aspiring model and college student Fredzania Thompson was tragically killed when a train hit her while she was standing too close to the tracks. CBS News reports:

The mother of a 19-year-old Texas woman says her daughter was killed when she was struck by a train while having photos taken of her on the tracks in a bid to launch a modeling career.

Hakamie Stevenson told The Eagle newspaper that her daughter, Fredzania Thompson, attended Blinn College in Bryan, Texas, but wanted to put her education on hold to begin modeling.

Authorities say Thompson was standing between two sets of tracks on March 10 in Navasota when a BNSF Railway train approached.

She moved out of the way of the train but was apparently unaware that a Union Pacific train was coming in the opposite direction on the other tracks and was struck.

In this post, my objective is not to focus on the nature of Thompson’s death as much as the reason given for her demise. Sambreia Glover had this to say about her 20-year-old cousin’s death:

Everyone knew the real Zanie … very free-spirited, just goofy. Everyone loved her. She never met a stranger. She was just very friendly and sweet. it’s tough, but God makes no mistakes. It was just her time, but she will be truly missed.

According to Thompson’s cousin — who is likely an Evangelical Christian — God — who supposedly makes no mistakes — killed Thompson because it was just her time to die. She’ll be missed, Glover said, but hey the Giver and Taker of Life knows what he is doing.

What reason could the Christian God possibly have for killing a bright, energetic 20-year-old girl? Does God assign death dates to every human life at birth? If so, and if, as pro-lifers say, life begins at fertilization, that means God assigns a death date to every aborted fetus. This also means that children who died of cancer did so because it was their time to die. According to many Evangelical pastors, everyone has a divine appointment with death. The Bible seems to be on their side. Hebrews 9:27 says:

And as it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment

This verse can be interpreted several ways. One way is to say that the appointment in question is the death of all humans, not anyone in particular. After everyone is dead and the events of the book of Revelation are fulfilled, everyone will be resurrected so they can stand before God and be judged. Another way this passage is interpreted — the one most commonly used by Evangelical preachers — is that everyone has a set-in-stone death-day. In Thompson’s case, March 10, 2017, was her day to die.

Let’s assume, for a moment, that the notion of everyone having a set-by-God death-date is true. What does this say about God? Think of all the various ways humans die. Think of all the suffering, pain, and agony people go through before drawing their last breaths. Think of all the bizarre ways people die — wrong place, wrong time, BAM! you’re dead! What kind of monster is God with his macabre, psychopathic, torturing-kittens ways of strangling the life out of those whose creation was supposedly his crowning achievement? If death is a divinely ordered necessity, why not let people on their death-day die in their sleep? Surely that would be good not only for the dead people, but also their families. Instead, God — the First Cause of everything, the Beginning and the End, the First and the Last — throws people off cliffs, murders them in dark alleys, blows them up in crowded bazaars, drowns them in swimming pools, fries them with lightning, and, as in Thompson’s case, hits them with trains.

Some Evangelicals will argue that God, as creator, can do whatever he wants to do. The Apostle Paul makes this very argument in Romans 9God is the creator, Paul said, and we are the created. How dare we challenge God’s right to do whatever he wants.

Another argument made for God’s chosen methods of human-killing is that the more graphic, violent, and awful the death, the more likely it is that people will pay attention to it. Who wants to watch the Hallmark Channel when you can watch HBO, right? Since heaven or hell awaits everyone and this is determined by whether people are Christian or not, news-worthy deaths are warning signs from God. On Sundays, countless Evangelical pastors use this very approach in their sermons, giving graphic illustrations of people who died horrible, untimely (from a human perspective) deaths. The goal is to scare people into getting saved. I used countless such illustrations, hoping that congregants who consider their frail mortality, soon death, and eternal destiny. Such illustrations in the hands of skilled emotion manipulators usually lead people — with tears streaming down their faces — to put their faith and trust in Jesus Christ.

Thompson’s cousin also said that “God makes no mistakes.” I wonder if Christians, in light of the Bible, consider whether statements such as this are true. According to the Good Book, God created Adam and Eve. How did that work out? If God is the First Cause, isn’t he responsible for the fall of Adam and Eve into sin? If God knows E-V-E-R-Y-T-H-I-N-G, he must have known Adam and Eve were going to eat of Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, and, according to orthodox Christianity, plunge the entire human race into sin. Think of all the evil, violence, and suffering on display in this world of ours. Evangelicals trace all of these things back to our sinful nature. Surely, it is fair to say that God screwed up big time when creating Adam and Eve as he did. In other words, God made a colossal mistake.

Several thousand years later, humans had procreated themselves into a six-million or so species. Also roaming the earth were fallen angels. These angels were having sex with human women, resulting in the birth of angel-human hybrid children. Bizarre TV show from the SyFy channel? Nope, straight from the Bible, Genesis, chapter six:

And it came to pass, when men began to multiply on the face of the earth, and daughters were born unto them, That the sons of God saw the daughters of men that they were fair; and they took them wives of all which they chose. And the Lord said, My spirit shall not always strive with man, for that he also is flesh: yet his days shall be an hundred and twenty years.There were giants in the earth in those days; and also after that, when the sons of God came in unto the daughters of men, and they bare children to them, the same became mighty men which were of old, men of renown.And God saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. And it repented the Lord that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him at his heart. And the Lord said, I will destroy man whom I have created from the face of the earth; both man, and beast, and the creeping thing, and the fowls of the air; for it repenteth me that I have made them.

Note carefully what the Bible says: And it repented the Lord that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him at his heart…. And the Lord said, I will destroy man whom I have created from the face of the earth. This sure sounds like it is saying that God is admitting that he made a mistake in creating humans, and that the only way to fix his mistake was to kill everyone (save Noah and his family, eight in number) and start over.

The most humorous part of this story is that after God flushed the earth and started over, the first thing that Noah and his sons did was commit some sort of sexual sin (Genesis 9:19-24). Poor God, he can’t seem to get it right. He should have killed Noah’s family too.

Evangelicals are fond of saying, PRAYER CHANGES THINGS! Implied in this statement is that through prayer God can be moved to act on their behalf. Need something from God? PRAY! Need a job, home, money, car, a wife? PRAY! Need deliverance from alcohol, heroin, or porn? PRAY! Pray long and hard enough, the thinking goes, and God will come through for you, giving you that which you ask for. God, then, is some sort of divine vending machine. Keep putting quarters in the slot and pulling the handle, and God will sooner or later drop a package of Peanut M&Ms from Heaven.

If prayer can indeed change things, wouldn’t this mean that God changing his mind about a matter is him admitting that his first plan of action/inaction was wrong? If God is perfect, the same yesterday, today, and forever, doesn’t the very act of answering prayers say that God is NOT any these things?

If God is all that Evangelicals say he is, shouldn’t we expect God to get it right each and every time? What does it say about a supposedly all-knowing, all-powerful God that he is neither? What it should say to anyone who is paying attention is that this God is a figment of human imagination. People desperately want to believe that there is some sort of higher power controlling the universe. They also want to believe that their life matters to God and has meaning and purpose. Life isn’t worth living, Christians say, if these things are not true.

Of course, the mere existence of atheists, agnostics, pagans, humanists, and countless other non-Christians, suggests otherwise. Earthly, godless life can be and is filled with wonder, meaning, and purpose. Evangelicals may not be able to wrap their minds around this fact, but that doesn’t mean it is not true. Millions and millions of people live in the present, acknowledging that death lurks around the next corner. Today, tomorrow, or 50 years from now, death — the great equalizer — will claim us all. The difference, of course, is that unbelievers know that to some degree they can control when and even how they die. Yes, genetics, environment, and luck play a big part, but we are NOT passive players in the drama called life.

Every day, all of us make decisions based on the evidence at hand and probabilities. Living on Earth is both wonderful and dangerous. Having lived for almost 60 years, I can say that I am lucky to be alive. Forty-five years ago, 15-year-old Bruce was walking home from the YMCA one evening with his friends when a stopped train blocked his path home. After 10 or so minutes, the daredevil boy with flaming orange hair decided he had enough and started to climb underneath the train. My friends laughed and cheered me on, but none of them was willing to following me across the tracks to the other side. Perhaps their reason for not doing so was the train lurching forward as I made it halfway to the other side. My friends’ laughs and cheers turned into screams, fearing that the train was going to crush me or cut off my legs. Fortunately, I safely made it to the other side. (And astoundingly, I waited until the tracks were clear so my friends could praise me for my bravado, forgetting that my reason for doing this was to save time.)

The story of Fredzania Thompson’s tragic death and my story of keeping my legs for another day have much in common. Both of us foolishly thought that it was okay to play on train tracks. Both of us, filled with youthful life, had no thoughts of death. Thompson just wanted a picture, and I just wanted to get home. Thompson’s roll of the dice resulted in her death, mine became a story to tell forty-five years later. The difference between the two stories? Luck. I could just as easily have been killed or turned into a legless example of youthful stupidly.

At the time, I thanked God for saving me from the train, but now I know that I was one lucky boy. Had my life ended that night, none of what I have experienced since them would have happened. Surviving many such experiences has taught me the importance of carefully considering possible outcomes. Not that I still don’t make stupid decisions. I do, and perhaps one day I will die, the result of one stupid decision too many. (Please see Death by Duck: The Photograph that Almost Killed Me.)

I certainly empathize with Thompson’s family. Her death came way too soon, long before it should have. She should have had a full life ahead of her, including a modeling career and perhaps a husband and family. So much potential, snuffed out in an instant because of a thoughtless choice to have her photograph taken on busy railroad tracks. God is not to blame (or credit), because he doesn’t exist. The blame squarely rests on Thompson, and to some degree, the photographer — who should have assessed the risk involved in taking the photograph. All of us know that train tracks are dangerous, yet every year hundreds of Americans are killed by trains. We KNOW, yet we allow the thrill of the moment or lateness to override our thinking, resulting in death and serious injury. One thing is for certain, future Thompsons will be warned about the danger that railroad tracks present to them. This is how we survive as a species. Not by attributing everything to God, but by learning from our ignorant, foolish, ill-advised decisions. Much of life and death rests with us. If we want to live long, fulfilling lives, we must learn to assess danger, weigh probabilities, and act accordingly. We still might end up dead, but it won’t be because we threw caution to the wind and put ourselves in harm’s way.

The Sounds of Fundamentalism: Mama’s Teaching Angels How to Sing by The Isaacs

isaacs

This is the one hundred and forty-seventh installment in The Sounds of Fundamentalism series. This is a series that I would like readers to help me with. If you know of a video clip that shows the crazy, cantankerous, or contradictory side of Evangelical Christianity, please send me an email with the name or link to the video. Please do not leave suggestions in the comment section.  Let’s have some fun!

Today’s Sound of Fundamentalism is a video clip of The Isaacs singing Mama’s Teaching Angels How to Sing. Based on my understanding of orthodox Christianity, the lyrics of this song are patently heretical and untrue. Not that such things have ever stopped Christian artists from writing cutesy lyrics or singing sappy songs.

Video Link

Lyrics

There’s a voice now missing in our little country choir
Rock of Ages will never sound the same
God heard her singing heaven was not complete
Now Mama’s teaching angels how to sing

Mama’s teaching angels how to sing
Heaven’s halls are silent when Mama sings
David lays down his harp and heaven’s bells won’t ring
When Mama’s teaching angels how to sing

The old home it’s now empty it’s lonesome since she’s gone
And it’s hard to know she won’t return again
But I’ll meet her in that morning on heaven’s golden hills
Where Mama’s teaching angels how to sing

Repeat

When Mama’s teaching angels how to sing

Quote of the Day: Secular Grief by Greta Christina

atheism death

When someone we love dies, it can intensely undermine our sense of stability and safety. Our lives have been changed forever, generally by forces we had no control over—and it can feel as if nothing’s in our control. It can feel like the ground under our feet, which we once thought was stable, has suddenly gone soft. Our sense of being able to act in the world, and of having some reasonable expectation of what the consequences will be, can be deeply shaken.

….

This feeling can be especially strong if the person who died was someone we were exceptionally close with and who had a large presence in our everyday lives, like a spouse or a partner or a child. It can be especially strong if they were someone we knew for all or most of our lives, like a parent or a sibling. And it can be especially strong if the death was unexpected, like an accident, a sudden illness, or death by violence.

….

Typically, religion teaches us to cope with these feelings by denying them. It tells us that, no matter how insecure we may feel, in reality we’re completely safe. The people who have died aren’t really dead—we’ll see them again. Their death hasn’t actually changed our lives permanently. In fact, the next time we see them it’ll be in a blissful place of perfect safety. (There are exceptions—many Buddhist teachings, for instance, focus on the inherent impermanence of existence.)

The opposite is true for nonreligious and nonspiritual views of death. Nonbelievers don’t deny this experience of instability. So instead we can try to accept it, and find ways to live with it.

The reality is that safety isn’t an either/or thing. We’re never either entirely safe or entirely unsafe. The ground under our feet is never either totally solid or totally soft. Stability and safety are relative: they’re on a spectrum. We’re more safe, or less safe.

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Coping with grief and moving on with it doesn’t mean that the ground feels entirely solid again. It means that the ground feels more solid. It means we feel more able to make plans, more trusting that our actions will have consequences that are more or less what we’d expect. We still understand that things can come out of left field—terrible things, and wonderful ones. We can go ahead and make plans; and make contingency plans in case those plans don’t work out; and do risk-benefit analysis about possible actions and possible outcomes; and accept the fact that a sudden wind could rise up and radically change everything.

There’s no such thing as perfect safety. That can be difficult to accept. But it can also be a relief. Imagine an existence where there are no surprises, where everything happens exactly as you expect. It would be tedious to the point of derangement. It would be sterile. It would be isolating.

When we let go of the search for perfect safety, it can be frightening and upsetting. But it can also be comforting. Letting go of the struggle for something that can’t be attained, and letting go of the guilt or resentment when we don’t attain it, can be a relief. It can even be liberating.

The fear that grief can bring on, the anxiety about an unstable, unpredictable world, is still frightening. And none of this philosophy makes that pain or fear go away. But it may make that fear more manageable, less overwhelming, and easier to accept.

— Greta Christina, The Humanist, Secular Grief, and the Loss of Stability and Safety, June 28, 2016

Bruce Gerencser