Well Intentioned Morbidity
This week another friend of mine from High School passed away. As one gets older, this makes sense but it’s nonetheless hard to deal with since with every passing I feel my own mortality pulling in ever closer.
Being a former Evangelical Christian (a mix of Nazarene and Southern Baptist upbringings) and now an ardent skeptic and freethinker, I have struggles with mortality and the thought of non-being pretty frequently. While I am utterly unconvinced that there is any such thing as a consciousness without a mind, nor that there is any kind of afterlife for followers of any particular faith based ideology (see the Podcast episode with Matthew O’Neil where we discuss his book on the subject), I do still have a sort of general worry about death.
When I was a believer, I was constantly assured that when people left ‘their worldly body’ that they were being magically whisked away to the promised land with streets of gold and mansions for everyone. Through the eyes of a child, it never dawned on me to ask why God would so suddenly, violently and often horrifically rip people away from those they love only to move them into a better neighborhood. Nor to ask why a non-corporeal being would need mansions or streets paved with ridiculously impractical surfaces like gold. Or why winged version of my former family members would need streets at all.
Now days when I have someone pass from my life, I have to take stock of that person. I have to take on that loss and recognize they are gone. I will never get a chance to say “hello”, “goodbye”, or “I love you”. There will be no new memories made with them, and old memories will soon be distorted and forgotten. I have to deal with the guilt I carry about how I did or didn’t treat them. I have to figure out how to deal with a finality to life that I simply wasn’t brought up to be able to process.
People will sometimes ask “Why are you so MAD at God?”.
I’m not mad at god. I’m no more mad at the Christian God than I am Zeus, Harry Potter or any other mythical character of lore. I AM however mad at some religions, mad at some traditions, and absolutely furious at some people. I’m furious at those who so thoughtlessly retarded my understanding of the real world. That they would so easily put aside what’s real and true for what’s wanted and hoped for, leaving me to be completely unprepared for the day it all stopped making sense. The same people who told me the stove was hot and would burn me are the same people who told me god is vengeful and will also burn me only a billion times worse, forever.
The same people told me that my grandmother was only sleeping, and I would get to see her again.
Here is where I predict a divide in my readers responses. One group is wondering why I’m making such a big deal, and the other is sitting with their jaws either gaping in shock or clinched in anger.
Because of my traditional Christian upbringing, I never got to really tell anyone I lost goodbye. I never, while standing with them that last time, understood what I was losing and what I needed to do to properly mourn the loss and process the change. Instead I now have this strange cognitive dissonance around death. Part of me is unconvinced in the afterlife, and part of me still has the notion that I’m on a path to see my family and friends again when I die. I know they can’t both be true, and yet….
Then there is the problem of “What’s going to happen to ME?!?!” This thought process for me usually goes something like ‘Well… it will probably be a lot like before I was born and as far as I can remember, that wasn’t too bad… or good… or… anything.’ But therein lies the problem, we don’t know anything OTHER than being. Literally we have no memory of nonexistence. We simply can’t properly make our mind think of a world without that mind in it. Sure, you can picture the future without you, but you are still envisioning that world through a disembodied mind within that imagined future.
So, what are we to do?
First off, simply stop propagating fairy tales to children and ignoring the reality of death. Death is, as far as ANY observational research has shown, final and we need to raise people in a way that comports with reality.
Secondly, we simply can not continue to live in two worlds, one of science and one of faith and fantasy and expect people to be able to deal with reality or each other in any reasonable manner.