Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Fear of Death

The most obvious purpose of religion from the viewpoint of the adherent is to help assuage the fear of death.  Man is unfortunately able to comprehend the inevitability of his own death starting at a very early age.  If a person is facing imminent death (or even death in the near future), then it is understandable that the person should think about the subject very often and perhaps even see his life and the world differently than before. 

For most people, during most of the years of their lives, such a fixation is not rational or healthy.  There is really no point in worrying about something that will not, in all likelihood, occur for years or decades and which cannot be changed in any event.

Harboring a strong fear of death constantly even when one is relatively young and healthy is a clear example of what psychologists call emotional dysfunction, which is the term applied to someone whose emotions are too strong and perhaps even out of control.  This is a sign of mental illness.  Such a person cannot function properly because he or she is simply not able to rationally control his or her feelings.  Consequently, he or she will be unable to rationally control his or her actions as well.

Losing one's composure in the face of imminent death is understandable.  For most people, however, there are decades in which to prepare oneself mentally and emotionally for this inevitable experience.  There is certainly no reason to let it rule one's life or thoughts in the meantime and certainly no reason to let it alter one's ability to see objective reality.

I fully expect my consciousness to cease to exist upon death.  As someone once said (it may have been Mark Twain):  I was dead for billions of years before my birth, I will be dead for billions of years afterward.  I see no reason to expect the two experiences to differ.

I think that I will at some point simply lose consciousness and never regain it.  I may have a dreamlike experience at that moment, which is what I think near death experience probably are, but after that I expect oblivion.  (Interestingly this is what the classic Buddhists consider to be Nirvana--the cessation of existence--and therefore suffering--brought on by the cessation of wants and desires (in their view).)

If fear of death is offered as an argument for belief in god, first point out that it is another of the "I know it's a delusion, but" arguments, then mention the points I have made here.

First, you can say:

"You realize that you are simply explaining why you have your delusion about an invisible friend who helps you overcome death?  You are not telling me why it's true, you're just telling me why you need to believe."

You can follow up with:

"It doesn't make sense to let fear of something in the distant future that you can't change rule your life and your mind."

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