Thursday, March 19, 2009

Religious People More Afraid of Death than Atheists

According to this article on the BBC, those who are the most religious are three times more likely to receive intensive life-prolonging care, and are much more likely to die in a hospital rather than at home with their loved ones.

I know the Atheist community likes to point to studies like this and ask, "What are you afraid of?" It seems logical that those who believe in an afterlife would be less likely to fear death than those who don't. So Atheists are fond of implying that the faithful, by fearing death, show that their faith really isn't that strong.

I don't buy this argument. I don't think a fear of death should be held against anyone, whether religious, agnostic or Atheist.

In fact, it could easily be just the opposite: Those who don't fear death in the first place are far more likely to become Atheists. It could (for example) be that our desire to live, and our consequent fear of death, is more of an inborn trait, or something that we acquire as children as loved ones die. Who knows? And those who, for whatever reason, happen to fear death the most, would naturally have the hardest time accepting the Atheist's understanding of the world.

Death is a sad thing, no matter what you believe. To paraphrase Clint Eastwood in the movie Unforgiven, when you die, you lose everything you ever had, and everything you'll ever be. Your friends and family lose your love, your wisdom, and your friendship. Your coworkers lose your skill and knowledge. There is nothing good about death, except that from an evolutionary point of view, it makes room for the next generation.

I suspect that the truth about why religious people fight death so hard has very little to do with any lack of conviction in their faith. If anything, I believe it's the other way around, that their faith is (in part) inspired by their fear of death.

It takes a certain degree of calm and fortitude to be an Atheist. It's hard to accept that when you die, you're dead and gone. The desire for immortality — life here on this Earth with our friends and loved ones, not some abstract second existence — is strong in all of us, even if some of us don't believe it will come true.


  1. Well, whose to say that's the only possible reason for the seeming desire to prolong one's life? Maybe they enjoy life more. Maybe they want to do more for others. There could be many reasons other than fear of dying.

  2. It could also be that their are two aspects to faith, first you have to believe in God and He's got an afterlife for you, second you've got to believe that your actually following him and he isn't going to send you to the second warmer afterlife

  3. If they're more afraid of death than we are, that could be the reason that they are religious in the first place. And it also tells me that they don't buy into their religion totally if they are still afraid of it even though they believe.

  4. Fear of dying is fear of being dead, not fear of not live enough. Religious people have their hears pumped with the death subject everyday, their rituals, their idols, a lot about death and most believe that their actions in here define were you will end up after death. One of the reasons Im more willingly to trust an atheist than a religious is because atheist whent they are good people is because they are good people, religious people are pressured to be good people or they might end up in hell, it doesn't comfort me that idea.

  5. I think you're exactly right. Fear of death is the main motivation for believing in Religion.... so that you can imagine that you're one of the "good" people that's going to Heaven and live forever in a trouble free place where nothing ever goes wrong. Hahahahaha! That's so ridiculous. I'm an atheist, because I don't see any evidence for a personal God that cares anything about any of us. It'd be nice if there was such a being, but I just don't see it. I too am afraid of death. I can totally understand how this fear drives people to religion. I think we need to have to courage to admit to ourselves that there's probably no Heaven, and that we probably won't live forever... to accept that and get over it, so we can accept reality in all aspects. I think it'd make us better people to accept that, but I understand why people are afraid of those thoughts. I also think that fear of death is what indirectly causes people to believe other weird stuff like psychokinesis, tarot cards, faith healers, ghosts, mediums, psychics, etc. All of that stuff that "science can't explain" helps to lead credence to the idea that there's something out there that transcends this material world... even if these things are seen to be Satanic or Evil, it's still comforting to believe in them because it looks like some kind of evidence for something beyond the material world. Why is it so important for there to be something beyond the material world? Because that opens up the door of possibilities... that maybe religion is true, that maybe there really is a heaven, etc. Unfortunately, if you look at that stuff, it's pretty much all hokum. The "Amazing Randi" is an ex-magician that has $1 Million in a bank account he's willing to give to the first person that can successfully show that any of that weird stuff is true. His $1 million has been sitting there for several decades now waiting for that first successful test. What it boils down to is that this is a material world, despite how much we hope that there's something more. And what's more, the material in this world seems to obey laws that can be written mathematically.... there's not connection between any kind of "concern for us" and these laws... it appears that the universes is utterly indifferent to our lives... indeed these laws regulate our lives, but are ultimately indifferent. That's just the way it is, no matter how afraid we are.

    1. I agree. Fear of death. And fear of the unknown. The agnostic/atheist is willing to admit that he or she is ignorant about the origins of life and the universe. Religion does not accept that and inserts a supernatural being. I think it's what spurs people to believe in an afterlife, because it's more comforting. Like this article pointed out, it takes a lot to come to terms with the fact that this life may be all we have - that when we die, we simply cease to exist. I don't believe in heaven, but will admit I would love to see my family again. But just because I want it to be true doesn't make it so. My intellectual integrity overdrives my desire. I'm just a very logical person. But then, merely existing for eternity seems almost as daunting. Won't you get bored eventually? Especially if it's a paradise; or is it a dystopia? Also, eternity... I'm still not sure whether or not time fundamentally exists which makes the question almost irrelevant. We may not even be perceiving reality because we're limited to three dimensions. But that get's more into relativistic physics rather than philosophy. I digress. I just find it fascinating to think about, but eventually my brain gets overwhelmed.

  6. Just because Clint Eastwood is popular, doesn't mean that I am going to believe him. Birds aren't religious, but they always fly away from you. I disagree with your entire post, because you too must be frightened about death.

  7. Christians should be happy when fellow Christians die because it means they're going to Heaven. That fact that Christians are sad when their Christian friends die proves that they don't really believe in Heaven. They cry because deep down they know that Heaven doesn't exist.

  8. Religious people find the thought of non-existence terrifying. They devote their lives to worshipping a creator who loves them yet makes them prone to illness because they offer them a second chance at existence.

    I was born with a terminal illness that will cause me to die at an earlier age I don't feel the need to believe that magic will save me. I accept that death is inevitable and in fact I would rather just close my eyes in the end and cease to exist instead of being immortal.

    Deal with mortality.


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