"Concedamus Mortem Religionistis"
"Let Us Not Concede Death to the Religionists"
Greta Christina has a great new article:
Do We Concede the Ground of Death Too Easily?
“Sure, atheism may have better arguments and evidence. But religion is always to going to win on the death question. A secular philosophy of death will never comfort people the way religion does.”
I’ve heard this idea more times than I can count. And here’s the weird thing: It’s not just from religious believers. I hear it from atheists, too. It shocks me how easily non-believers concede the ground of death. Many of us assume that of course it would be lovely to believe in an eternal afterlife… if only that were plausible. And largely because of this assumption, we often shy away from the topic of death. We happily talk about science, sex, reality, other advantages the secular life has to offer… but we stay away from death, and concede the ground before we even fight it.
Very nice! However, there is one part that worries me:
Secular philosophies of death can withstand scrutiny. The idea that we didn’t exist for billions of years before we were born, and that wasn’t painful or bad, and death will be the same? The idea that our genes and/or ideas will live on after we die? The idea that each of us was astronomically lucky to have been born at all? The idea that death is a deadline, something that helps us focus our lives and treasure the experiences we have? The idea that loss, including death, is necessary for life and change to be possible? The idea that things don’t have to be permanent to be meaningful? The idea that your life, your slice of the timeline, will always have existed even though you die? The idea that death is a natural, physical process that connects us intimately with nature and the universe? These secular philosophies of death, and others, can withstand scrutiny — because they’re based in reality. (Most of them, anyway. There are secular notions of death that I think are self-deluded… but they’re the exception, not the rule.)
This gets close to one my pet peeves about what many atheists say about death. Zinnia Jones wrote about this very thing not too long ago:
The false dichotomy of the afterlife
It's fairly straightforward to point out that belief in an afterlife can have the effect of devaluing this life, causing various misconceptions about its purpose, and influencing people to act for the sake of an imagined eternity that will never take place. This much is obvious. But not so much thought has been given to the impact that beliefs in an afterlife have had on the views of atheists. All too often, the repudiation of an afterlife is accompanied by various proclamations about how important it is that we live a limited life and experience genuine death. We see it in the shallow aphorisms claiming that "death gives meaning to life", as though finding a meaning for our lives is only possible if everyone eventually dies. Such a stunning lack of imagination about how to find personal meaning barely deserves the time of day, but it's interesting to consider where this notion might come from.
When religious people are frightened by the reality of actual death, some atheists reassure them that there's nothing to be afraid of, and it'll just be like taking a very long rest - as if they'll even be able to experience a state of restfulness ever again.
But just because an idea is wrong or bad doesn't mean the reverse of that idea must be right or good. If it were that simple, the most ignorant among us could become a source of unparalleled genius, simply by inverting everything they believe. This is clearly no guarantee of rightness or truth, and common atheistic views on death actually end up sharing certain similarities with their religious counterparts. Both religious followers and many atheists ultimately agree that death, whatever its nature, is a good thing that's very important to our lives, and nothing should be done about it.
In other words, theists and many atheists alike say that not only is death something that happens, that it should happen because it is thought to be something good.
Zinnia also says:
Sure, science is great for curing diseases and extending lifespans - at a slow enough pace that no one's too uncomfortable about it - but dethroning death itself and eliminating the universal inevitability of our demise is apparently a step too far.
In other words, many atheists believe that even the elimination of death would be wrong.
And here is a great ending:
Our present mortality may influence how we live our lives, but that doesn't mean it must be our only source of purpose. People might say death is what gives meaning to life, but no one is especially eager to optimize for this alleged source of value by seeking to bring about more and earlier death for everyone. After all, if this life is really so important, then why should we have less of it when we could have so much more? Why not seek out the most joy, the most love, and the most discovery we can possibly achieve? Why not enjoy life as much as we can, for as long as we can? And why should this ever have to end? It doesn't - if you're ready to do something about it.