All Rights Reserved © 2004 Thomas W. Day
Humans are exceptional strange animals. We are the only animal capable of imagining that we are so special that we're going to a life after death. And we're the only animal that is terrified of death.
I know, you've watched the Discovery Channel and you've seen terrified prey fleeing predators, so you think all animals are afraid of death. That might be an interesting theory if those same animals didn't give in so quickly once they're captured. When a deer gets snagged by a lion, the deer usually quits fighting and waits for the end to come. I've interpreted that not as a fear of death but of pain. Once the pain is in process, the animal wants death to end the misery as quickly as possible. Humans, on the other hand, seem to be considerably less afraid of pain than of death. We'll submit ourselves to all kinds of pain to stave off even a few seconds of life before death.
The exceptions to this rule of humanity are martyrs. Martyrs are either confident that their faith is correct and that they've been "on the side of God," or that their cause is right and they are willing to sacrifice their lives to improve the lot of those that live after their deaths. The majority of humans may pretend to some kind of faith in a life after death, a benevolent god, or the cause of king and country, but they know better. Deep inside, they know once they are dead, they're dead.
With industrial age medicine, we have provided ourselves a way to prolong life and pain in exchange for putting off death. Since the first medicine men appeared, humans have tried to hang on to a few more moments of life even if those moments are full of pain and suffering and incapacity. We're not doing this to prevent our loved ones from suffering. Our suffering and disability makes life much harder for them. We're not hanging on to life so that we can take advantage of the opportunity to rectify the wrongs we've done when we were young and vital. Most folks simply return to their old life without even thanking the doctors and nurses who gave them the additional time. This is a purely selfish and faithless act and, as such, it's interesting.
The majority of educated humans do not actively participate in religious activities. Churches are finding themselves mostly loaded with low-brow fools who desperately want someone to tell them what to do next. That's a pretty ideal market for what churches have to sell, but it does limit the intellectual future of those organizations. Today's religious "expert" is the intellectual equivalent of the ordinary layperson of 200 years ago. A business or a country would be panicked at this kind of brain-drain, but religions have always catered to a baser audience so they, mostly, don't notice the loss of intellect. Certain sects are probably discovering that it is easier to find dumb kids to molest, but, otherwise, the majority of their patrons are the same dumb, unquestioning folks they have always been.
All this beings us back to the point of today's rant; the human fear of death. It ought to be obvious that anyone who is afraid of death is a person who understands the finality of that event. A "true believer" would look forward to leaving this existence and moving to the promised land. The rest of us know that dead is dead and that spirituality is just an exercise in socializing a relatively unsocial animal. Spirituality has mostly been unsuccessful exercise, based on human history at a macro or micro level. Simply entering a hospital is an act of unfaithfulness. Submitting yourself to major surgery is downright atheist.
I don't have a disagreement with atheists. All available evidence points to the fact that the universe is not designed to promote life and that there are no gods hidden in the ether to protect us from obsolescence. I do question the sanity and honesty of folks who act faithlessly and pose among the faithful. You either know that this is life your one and only shot at existence or you believe you're going to heaven to enjoy 22 virgin white grapes (or salamanders or human females) for eternity. Having it both ways is an act of disbelief and, you'd think, that would be a major sin in the eyes of most gods.