Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Facing Our Mortality

Many if not most theists are under the impression that in a life-threatening crisis, atheists will see the "error of their ways" and turn to God for help. However, that is an erroneous assumption.  Like many other non-believers, I know  this from personal experience.  I recently came through a personal (health) crisis involving what appeared to be a possibly life threatening medical condition. But fortunately, the  test came back negative.

During this time not once did I waiver in my  position that there is no evidence for the existence of a  supreme being to save me, especially one who requires prayer (groveling) to consider intervention and who then  may or may not intercede depending on what kind of a mood he's in and on whether or not I've said the magic words and in the right way.

Of course, while waiting for the examination and then its outcome I was very distressed as I don't handle uncertainty very well.  But my biggest concern is how would I tell my wife if the results turned out positive.  In short a sky daddy was hardly on my radar during this period.  In 2002 I wasn't so lucky and was in fact diagnosed with a severe illness but made a full recovery.  At that time I likewise "kept the non-faith".

Yet what I've experienced is nothing compared to that of noted author Christopher Hitchens who is is suffering from esophageal cancer.  Hitchens  is a prominent atheist and  has remained steadfast in his non-belief.  In spite of his ill health, he participated in a debate with Tony Blair in November about whether or not religion is a force for good in the world and proceeded to clean Blair's clock.

Regarding his illness, Hitchens has said that if his condition deteriorates and as a result, he become a theist, let it be known now that he would not be in his right mind for doing so.

In the final analysis people like Hitchens are not only an inspiration in a society that for the most part is guided by irrationality regarding religion. He is a reminder to believers that there certainly are atheists in the proverbial fox holes after all and when the going gets tough, the tough use reason.


Andy said...

Nice post. There have been several times I have had a brush with death and at no time did I think of God.

Skepticat said...

I'm very glad to hear that your results were negative!

I am recovering from a life-threatening emergency myself (albeit on a faster scale) and I noticed that god never once entered my mind the whole time I was suffering with either the trauma, the uncomfortable cure, or the rather painful recovery. Since I was brought up religious, it's almost always been a reflex to think of God in some way even if I don't believe it. For the first time I was focused on the science and the proper treatment and I must say I'm proud of that.

Oddly enough, I watched the 55 minute January interview with Hitchens a couple of nights after my event and I envied so much his courage and strength. I especially admire his willingness to participate in experimental treatments and projects in the hopes of helping future cancer patients. You'd think anybody would be glad to have such a person in the foxhole with them. I know I sure would!

Secular Guy said...

Andy and Skepticat,

First of all, I meant to create separate comment forms to respond to each of your replies to my post, but I goofed. My apologies.

Thanks for the compliment. Several brushes? That's gotta be scary.

From your accompanying photo. I'm surprised that your hair (as per your photo)isn't prematurely gray.

Thanks for your support.I'm happy to hear that you made a full recovery.

As you say, it can be difficult to break away from a religious environment, and I'm glad that you were able to do so. It must have been difficult.

I agree with you about Hitchens. I don't see eye to eye with him about some of his views, but he truly is a brick.

Alan said...

Mazel tov on your test results!

Death is the Grand Canyon betwseen theists and non-believers. It is the very prospect of death that motivates all religions, and that same prospect that challenges the courage of each humanist. If, as Hitchens notes, a devoted unbeliever crosses that canyon, he can be considered insane.

I was interested in how Rabbi Wine would face death. I expected that he would be a role model, as always, but I never got to find out, because he was killed in a car crash.

The fact that you didn't crack this time gives me great hope that you won't, ever.

I despise bedside conversions, especially if clerically-motivated.

Secular Guy said...


If I crack, then like Hitchens, let it be known here and now it will be due to a loss of marbles.

As today is Darwin's birthday, it's noteworthy to mention the often told story of his alleged deathbed recantation of his work. As it turns out it was of course just a myth.

Ani Sharmin said...

Sorry to hear about the health concerns, and I'm glad you're okay. Hitchens is being really brave in the face of all he's going through.

For me, fear of death and of there being no afterlife was the biggest thing for me to face when leaving faith. It's still difficult to deal with, but I hope that I can be even a fraction as brave as Hitchens is being.

Secular Guy said...


Thanks for your good wishes.

Perhaps the longer Hitchens can hang in there, the more he will shake up theists by his perseverance.

I think that finally facing that there's no proof of an afterlife is one of scariest--and yet at the same time most exhilarating realizations--for those who are breaking free from religious faith. Perhaps this is because you know that whatever moral decisions that you make will be by your own lights. The power rests in you and not in a fabled supreme being. What a feeling.

Ani Sharmin said...

"Perhaps this is because you know that whatever moral decisions that you make will be by your own lights. The power rests in you and not in a fabled supreme being."

I've noticed that as well. There isn't the option to ask God for forgiveness, so it is motivation to actually do better.

Secular Guy said...

With rationality to guide you, you can't miss.

Lorena said...

When my times comes, I am sure that knowing that there is no god will make things much easier. For one, I won't be wondering what GOD IS TRYING TO TEACH ME.

But I'm sure it won't matter. When I bit the dust, most certainly my Christian relatives will make up all kinds of stories about me being a Christian deep down inside. They will say that I just gave lip service to my unbelief to bug them. Otherwise, how could I have been such a nice person? Nobody can be good without god.

Anyway, nice post. Glad to hear you're OK.

Secular Guy said...


Thanks for your good wishes.

I know what you mean about the meaningless of the phrase that God is trying to teach us, or if we have a bad experience, God is testing us--(why doesn't he just give a true / false quiz instead?).

It's really sad when family members can't accept atheists for what we are. Denial works in mysterious ways its blunders to perform.