How The Fear Of Death Works In Favor Of Religion

death_with_angel_wings_by_darkisatoI got some very interesting comments on my last blog post about what I think happens after death. Almost as if by fate, yesterday I was browsing YouTube and I found a supremely interesting video about stories we tell ourselves about death.

Philosopher Stephen Cave breaks down the four narratives that seem to reoccur throughout history. Christians who responded to my last post will instantly recognize one of those recurring themes, which is the resurrection myth. Jesus is the latest actor on the stage, but he was far from being the first.

The three others are the elixir story, which has recently been reincarnated using science, where a scientific or magical elixir will be discovered that can prevent death, reverse the aging process or halt time. If that sounds confusing, just think about the numerous fountain of youth stories that have popped up throughout history.

Christians will be very familiar with another of the stories we tell ourselves, which is about a soul that is independent of the body. This got me to thinking about how some religions (Christianity is a primary one) are extremely powerful because they have two of the four stories we tell ourselves hardwired directly into the religion. This means that not only can Christians pretend they can escape death in one way, but Christianity offers them two escape routes. Of course, atheists can put this one to good use as well, by telling ourselves we can freeze our bodies till a future date or (my personal favorite) that we can upload our thoughts and personalities into a computer, allowing us to cheat death.

The last story can be handily utilized by atheists – it’s called ‘the legacy’. The idea involves beating death by leaving behind a legacy. I suppose religious people can also use this story to their benefit.

The Ted Talk also breaks down how a bias works, and how our fear of death works against us. This terror of death and the bias it creates allow us to convince ourselves that all sorts of nonsense is true. Rather than try to work within the bounds of the reality of death, many of us choose to take refuge within comforting myths, no matter how improbable they might seem when we’re thinking rationally. It allows us to ignore the evidence in favor of the comforting idea that we won’t really die, and if we do, it’s only temporary.

Blogger, Alex Capo, recently wrote a post in response to mine where he does a fine job of trying to fit his religious beliefs within a framework that makes sense.

For example, he said:

Here we see something very interesting, Jesus compares death with sleep. As the story continues, for those who have not read it, Jesus ressurects Lazarus. Why, on God’s good Earth would Jesus raise Lazarus if he had been in paradise with God, himself? I think the answer is simple.

When we die, our bodies return to the dust and our consciousness remains in a sleep state. Not a normal state of which would include dreams, delta, alpha, and beta waves, but rather, a sleep with no such thought process at all!

While something like this might sound comforting, Alex’s stance rests on there being a God, which he has yet to demonstrate is true. Then it relies on the assumption that this God is the Christian God, and not one of the thousands of other Gods that have been invented by humanity over the course of our history. Then it relies on the bible being an accurate account of this Gods thoughts and ways of doing things.

Alex’s stance also relies on all kinds of bias, including the fear of death. How much nicer reality would seem if we merely went to sleep instead of being swallowed by the void and forgotten by time. Then this deity will reawaken us and off on our merry way we go. The likely reality of death is so much harsher than this, and why would you want to believe in the void when you can believe in the fuzzy goodness of Jesus?

However, I think we need to look for the truth, no matter how harsh it may seem. I think comforting lies and myths lead to all sorts of other errors in judgment, and I think we need to learn how to deal with how the universe and our existence in it really work.

I hope you’ll stop by Alex’s blog and read his entire post. It is an excellent blog…but I don’t buy it. I know death can be terrifying. It’s like looking into an abyss that you know you can’t escape. I would rather have the courage to face the darkness and live in the light that remains. One day that light will go out, but at least I’ll know that I tried my best to find the truth, no matter how uncomfortable, and that is what’s important to me.

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15 Comments

  1. I don’t think anyone is really afraid of death per se, since that is literally to be afraid of nothing. It is more like a resentment that others will go on living after one is finished. So it’s a kind of selfishness, but it’s misguided, because no individual thing in this universe persists, from mayflies to galaxies. Patterns persist. We call this life. We can serve to improve this pattern, and gain a kind of immortality that way.

  2. Thanks for stopping by, Linux.

    I think it’s the approach of death that scares us. The idea that we will no longer be conscious. Of course, we’re also hardwired as a species with the instinct to survive. I also think some people are afraid of the dying process.

    In the video, Stephen Cave does point out how your view makes being scared seem unnecessary.

    Thank you for your comment!

  3. I have no idea what it will be like in the 22nd Century. When the 22nd Century gets here, I won’t be alive, and again, I will have no idea what it will be like. So nothing is different. There’s nothing to fear.

  4. Very good points. Just remember the rest of what Jesus told his followers. They were comforted saying “he sleeps” then Jesus, in my opinion had a mental *facepalm* and told them flat out “He’s dead guys.” I’m not scared of death, I know many Christians who are, though. No clue why, if they die and the stories of the bible are true, they are in no need to be worried! If nothing happens, what did you lose? Your life? Not so. As humans, we need to take the time to accept death as certain and live eachmoment as if it were our last. Like the Taoists, enjoy life today, for it is the greatest gift we have ever recieved, the present.

    Alexander Capo

    P.s. Thanks a million for the Shoutout. Enjoyed this read.

  5. I don’t think a discussion on this topic is complete without talking about people who want to die. Clinical depression is one side of this, but since I’m pretty much fresh into grief, I’ve had plenty of time to wish I could just skip this painful bit and get to the end already. When my husband was sick, he went through times when he feared death and times when he wished for it. Near the end, he even said the word euthanasia.

    I have the luxury of believing that my emotional pain will ease with time. Escaping grief doesn’t have to end with death for me. But for those who can’t imagine things ever being better, where does the fear of death go?

    Back on your tic though, I found the narrative that gave my husband the most comfort was probably tied to legacy. The fact that we make the world a better place for others by having lived is a powerful thought. Purely subjective, of course, but humans live in a subjective world, after all.

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