Saturday, April 18, 2015

Death, Grieving and Belief: Is it easier for them than us?

My eighty-seven year old neighbor from up the street died last week.  He and his wife were among the first people we met when we moved to New Hampshire - a delightful couple. Both were old and frail, but sharp as  razors. 

They did not have a formal funeral, but today there was a memorial service, a celebration of his life,  at the local Christian – Lite church (about the only kind we have around here) for friends and family. Mrs. Hump and I paid our respects, sitting in the back of the church.  
The agenda included prayers, testimony from attendees praising the deceased’s gentle qualities and goodness, readings from the bible, and hymns (who knew that the old Cat Stevens ballad “Morning has Broken” was actually a 19th century hymn?). 

As I sat there and listened to the pastor talk about the old gentleman being beyond pain and sickness, and being in heaven forever in the comfort of Jesus’ presence it became very clear that the concept was to his widow's and the mourners’ sadness like a pain relieving salve on a serious burn. How nice for his wife, herself ailing, to imagine rejoining her husband of some sixty-five years for an eternity of peace and love.

To think that their reunion will be but a couple of years or months, in the future; to believe that the pain of his absence, thus her loneliness, will be but a brief moment of separation; to “know” that an eternity of renewed life awaits surrounded by ones welcoming ancestors and loved ones who have passed before must be enormously comforting.

Oh, to be able to willingly accept without a moment’s doubt the imaginary lands of the dead that await the believer - Valhalla, the Elysian Fields, Vaikuntha, the Fields of Aaru, Paradise, Heaven and their promise of the ever lasting embrace of those we loved and who loved us.

Alas, for the atheist, the freethinker, the self deception of these fairytale lands and renewed eternal life can never be. We are condemned by reason, by intellect, by our respect for reality to face the finality of death, ours and our loved ones’, as a finale to a life well lived; to the return of our wasting corpse to its basic elements - what Carl Sagan called “Star Stuff”; to be no more; to enter that state of non-existence that preceded our own birth; to share the very same condition to which every life form, animal or vegetable, must inevitably succumb.

When I consider these things I must admit that the true believer benefits emotionally from their buy-in when it comes to dealing with the end of life -their own or their loved ones’.  It is perhaps the one aspect of supernaturalism that trumps reason. I’m happy for them in that one regard.  But given all the other baggage that invariably accompanies religiosity, I’ll take the pain of reason and self reliance over the self-imposed deceit, and dulling of the sensibilities and intellect of belief any day... and wish them peace. 


Jacquie said...

We used to sing Morning Has Broken at school assembly long before Cat Stevens got hold of it :) In the UK all schools are Church of England schools and every morning starts with a religious assembly which it is possible to opt out of if you have other beliefs or lack thereof.

Dromedary Hump said...

I was just about to start singing along, as I knew the words by heart from Cat Steven's least the first verse. Then I realized I was in a church and the last thing I'd want is for someone to mistake me for theist.

MissBizzyLizzy said...

Couldn't agree with you more, Bart. This is the only aspect of blind faith that I miss. But... I'd rather make my own peace with the reality of death than to suffer the guilt, craziness and self loathing of religion.

Sing along if you feel like it!!! I still sing 'Amazing Grace' and a few other hymns but it doesn't change reality one little bit. Nothing is so soothing as singing along to a good song. I don't believe in fairies or Santa but nothing stops me from singing along to Loreena McKennit or Christmas tunes. So sing along if you want. There is no way anyone would ever mistake you for a theist. Not in a million years. ;-)

Dromedary Hump said...

Haha! Thanks. Next time I'll jump right in with abandon.

Tina said...

What I find intriguing, is those that purport to believe in Heaven most faithfully also seem to be the most afraid of death.... if you truly believe you are going to a "better place", why are you dragging your feet about going??

Dromedary Hump said...

Indeed..that's quite a conundrum.
My guess is they only partially believe their own foolishness...and aren't in a big hurry to find out if it's real.

longhorn believer said...

Nice post and comments. I look forward to Hump's new singing career!