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Study Finds the Pious Fight Death Hardest 921

Stanislav_J writes "A US study suggests that people with strong religious beliefs appear to want doctors to do everything they can to keep them alive as death approaches. The study, following 345 patients with terminal cancer, found that 'those who regularly prayed were more than three times more likely to receive intensive life-prolonging care than those who relied least on religion.' At first blush, this appears paradoxical; one would think that a strong belief in an afterlife would lead to a more resigned acceptance of death than nonbelievers who view death as the end of existence, the annihilation of consciousness and the self. Perhaps the concept of a Judgment produces death-bed doubts? ('Am I really saved?') Or, given the Judeo-Christian abhorrence of suicide, and the belief that it is God who must ultimately decide when it is 'our time,' is it felt that refusing aggressive life support measures or resuscitation is tantamount to deliberately ending one's life prematurely?"
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Study Finds the Pious Fight Death Hardest

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  • by Nursie ( 632944 ) on Wednesday March 18, 2009 @02:01PM (#27244519)

    Because they don't really believe and haven't had time to consider and come to terms with their own mortality.

    • by new_breed ( 569862 ) on Wednesday March 18, 2009 @02:03PM (#27244555)
      ..or terrified that what they've believed their whole lives might actually not be true. It's the ultimate test of your faith!
      • by MightyYar ( 622222 ) on Wednesday March 18, 2009 @02:07PM (#27244617)

        what they've believed their whole lives might actually not be true

        Actually, I'd expect it to be the reverse. If I expected my eternal destiny to be judged upon death, I'd be pretty anxious to postpone my trial.

        • by Sentry21 ( 8183 ) on Wednesday March 18, 2009 @02:53PM (#27245389) Journal

          Couple that with the fact that the more 'pious' people that I've met are generally the worst Christians. They're judgmental, opinionated, closed-minded, bigoted, and full of hate. The most laid-back Christians I know are more liberal and open-minded, and follow the teachings of Christ a lot better.

          Perhaps when faced with their impending death, some of them realize just how much of assholes they've been, and how badly that's going to look come judgement.

          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            by Culture20 ( 968837 )

            Couple that with the fact that the more 'pious' people that I've met are generally the worst Christians. They're judgmental, opinionated, closed-minded, bigoted, and full of hate. The most laid-back Christians I know are more liberal and open-minded, and follow the teachings of Christ a lot better.

            Perhaps when faced with their impending death, some of them realize just how much of assholes they've been, and how badly that's going to look come judgement.

            The truly pious (your second group) are more familiar with the concept of forgiveness, and thus believe in their own salvation. The rare(?) judgmental hate mongers within a church tend to intellectually understand that they are forgiven in a cold academic way, but may not really believe it.

      • by Ambiguous Coward ( 205751 ) on Wednesday March 18, 2009 @02:10PM (#27244655) Homepage

        Or it's as simple as those that are afraid of mortality tend to cling to the idea of an afterlife. Rather than a causation here, I would guess we more likely have a correlation. The sort of people who are afraid of death will of course do everything in their power to avoid it. Additionally, the sort of people afraid of death will also be more willing to accept the idea of an afterlife.

        We're so quick to tag any "link between video games and violence found" as correlationisnotcausation, but then we get an article positing a correlation between fear of death and religious faith, and we all start hopping on the bandwagon for "oh they don't believe their own lies" or "haha, shaken faith!" but really, I'm guessing it's more likely that the one doesn't actually cause the other, but they're instead both caused by some third factor (railing against mortality.)

        • by mellon ( 7048 ) on Wednesday March 18, 2009 @02:20PM (#27244823) Homepage

          If you think you're not afraid of death, try this test: get a friend, and go to the Grand Canyon. Stand on the edge. Have your friend hold onto your shirt and push you so that your balance goes out over the edge. Don't try it too many times - your friend might slip.

          Now, were you okay with it? Did you feel any fear, any adrenaline, anything like that? If not, maybe you're not afraid of death.

          I think the actual problem here is something the Tibetans call tetsom - lazy doubt. You sort of nominally believe that X is true, and you leave it at that - you never go any deeper, never really examine it to see if what you believe really stands up to analysis. You *think* you really believe it, but your faith is foundationless.

          Then when your faith is tested by the approach of death, suddenly your lazy doubt catches you by surprise, and makes your fear of death just that much worse, and so of course you cling to life all that much more strongly.

          The depressing thing about lazy doubt is that I think it's behind a lot of the really pernicious things we attribute to religion - e.g., creationism is a clear case of lazy doubt. "Oh, if it turns out that things evolved, that calls my whole belief system into question, and I don't want to have to question it, so I will pretend that things didn't evolve."

          • by Ambiguous Coward ( 205751 ) on Wednesday March 18, 2009 @02:24PM (#27244895) Homepage

            I think most everyone should be bothered by the situation you described: that's just a healthy human reaction.

            But there's a difference between fear of death, and acceptance of the inevitable. Me falling into the grand canyon is not inevitable (I hope) but me dying eventually for some reason is.

          • by vux984 ( 928602 ) on Wednesday March 18, 2009 @02:29PM (#27244977)

            Now, were you okay with it? Did you feel any fear, any adrenaline, anything like that? If not, maybe you're not afraid of death.

            Or maybe they are just afraid of falling long distances and experiencing the crunch at the bottom.

          • by __aagmrb7289 ( 652113 ) on Wednesday March 18, 2009 @02:31PM (#27245013) Journal
            You can be afraid of pain, but not of death, and have the same reaction. Your test is poorly designed.
          • by neoform ( 551705 ) <> on Wednesday March 18, 2009 @03:05PM (#27245609) Homepage

            There's a difference between not fearing death and welcoming it.

        • "Everybody wants to go to heaven,
          Nobody wants to go now."

          Maybe these folks just love life, and regard it as a great gift, something they don't want to end so soon...?

          Nope, this is not a religion-bashing post, so I doubt it gets much support. I do find it interesting that so many here have to be so critical of other peoples life choices.

          Standard disclaimer: Not a religious person, personally. But so long as your religion doesn't call for you to kill me because I don't pledge my life to your Deity, then it's

      • by mmandt ( 1441661 ) on Wednesday March 18, 2009 @03:58PM (#27246525)

        I can talk about this first hand. You are all wrong. My father is very religious. He has had cancer twice. The second time was seven years ago. The doctor's gave him a 3% chance of living. He lived. And to this day, his medical bills are nuts. He works everyday to prolong his life in a manner which I know any normal mortal would be able to handle. I would have rolled over and died years ago. His quality of life sucks. He has been on a 90%liquid diet for seven years. For the past two years, he coughs up half of what he eats because it goes into his lungs. It takes him an hour and a half to eat a snack. It is an everyday battle for calories and strength. His oxygen levels are so low, that nearly every regular doctors visit, they send him to the emergency room. In fact, he went today.

        So what is it? Is it a fear of death? Hell no. If you met my father for as little as one hour, then you would know that isn't it. He isn't scared to die. It is the combination of two things,

        1) His faith gives him strength. What we may see as an unbearable life style, he has ways of dealing with it. It simply doesn't break will. He still finds joy in life.

        2) My father believes in purpose. If God has given him a way to live, then God still has plans for him. Suffering everyday means something completely different to him.


        I should not that, personally, I am agnostic. All of you pining over the idea that the religious fight death hardest because they are scared of death, which does follow some logic, are VERY wrong.

        • by pkphilip ( 6861 ) on Thursday March 19, 2009 @05:08AM (#27252907)

          I agree completely. My mother-in-law who suffers from cancer stays with my wife and I. She is going through her second episode of cancer.

          I can attest to the fact that she finds it possible to carry on only because of her faith. If she didn't have faith, she would have given up and died long ago.

          Most people on Slashdot do not seem to realize that people handle terminal illness very differently. Many just give up and then death comes very quickly. Some just don't quit - no matter how hard it gets. Mental toughness goes a long way in keeping one alive.

          I am guessing many of the more religious people probably don't quit as easily as those who are not religious.

    • by vertinox ( 846076 ) on Wednesday March 18, 2009 @02:09PM (#27244639)

      Because they don't really believe and haven't had time to consider and come to terms with their own mortality.

      I dunno. Maybe the truly pious people don't wear it on their shoulder or are so humble that they play down their amount of piety religious when asked.

      That or people who fear death are more likely to have embraced religion, not that religion makes people more fearful of death.

    • by Lumpy ( 12016 ) on Wednesday March 18, 2009 @02:13PM (#27244693) Homepage

      Honestly I find it's those that are members of the "you are BAD!!!!!" and guilt based religions that do this. Real christians, those that actually follow his teachings, not the dimwits that have the fish on the car and have sunday morning Tv extravaganzas tend to be afraid of death.

      It's interesting. Do they realize on their death bed, they were actually raging assholes to their fellow man and are afraid of the wrath of their god on the other side?

      • by xch13fx ( 1463819 ) on Wednesday March 18, 2009 @02:31PM (#27245021)

        It's interesting. Do they realize on their death bed, they were actually raging assholes to their fellow man and are afraid of the wrath of their god on the other side?

        EXACTLY! It was probably fear that lead them to the church in the first place. Then they surround themselves with like minded people and yell at the rest of the world for how evil they are(really there just mad everyone else doesn't have the same irrational fears of the natural world.) and have nice fantasies of the rest of the world rotting in hell. Then on their deathbed they wonder... "Is god gonna like those fantasies of all those people burning and being tortured because that's about as much as I thought about my entire life...All I ever wanted was for OTHER people to die and goto hell".

    • by nobodylocalhost ( 1343981 ) on Wednesday March 18, 2009 @02:23PM (#27244875)

      This is a terrible survey, the base demography are of terminal cancer patients. Have the surveyor ever consider the possibility of people become pious due to fear of death? Many soldiers get sent to the battle field also suddenly become more pious. That's not something new. It'd pretty much be the same as "We've surveyed slashdot, and it seems people who post on slashdot also tend to be avid computer users." All I can say about that is "well duh!"

    • by mcmonkey ( 96054 ) on Wednesday March 18, 2009 @03:28PM (#27245971) Homepage

      Wow. A lot of dark, dark souls here on /.

      Rather than fearing judgement or beset by regrets, perhaps pious folks have led for the most part satisifying lives, and that's why they want to keep on living.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by wealthychef ( 584778 )
      I think it's the reverse. People most likely to fear death are the ones most likely to turn to religion which offers a hope in an afterlife.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by bigman2003 ( 671309 )

      I was raised, 'in the church' but I haven't stepped foot in one for at least 18 years. And I was never a 'believer' at all. (Parents taking you to church on Sundays doesn't make you a believer)

      But I'm not sweating the idea of dying. What happens- happens.

      We don't have any idea what exists in the great-beyond, but generally I don't believe it's anything like what the Christians (or any other religion) wants me to believe.

      If pressed, I would guess that the light goes out, and it's over.

      But who knows, maybe

  • If it were me (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday March 18, 2009 @02:03PM (#27244549)

    I'd be praying for a quick death so my family wouldn't have to pay the millions to keep me alive after hitting the limit on my insurance policy.

  • by A. B3ttik ( 1344591 ) on Wednesday March 18, 2009 @02:06PM (#27244603)
    Maybe, since they believe in a higher power, they believe that they "belong" on Earth and "have work to do" and that they can actually make a difference in the universe.

    Compare this with an atheist who might believe that life is futile, fleeting, and nothing they do matters in the long run... they might be more accepting and complacent.

    I'm not saying that either of these two are the case, my real point is that there are a billion different ways to look at this.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward
      Compare this with an atheist who might believe that life is futile, fleeting, and nothing they do matters in the long run...

      Atheism != nihilism. You fail it, try again.
    • by DinZy ( 513280 ) on Wednesday March 18, 2009 @02:23PM (#27244881)

      If there are billions of different ways then clearly most of these ways must be wrong on some level or another.

      Most of the atheists I know, myself included, value life a great deal. I would argue that the pious are more afraid because they spend their whole life thinking the afterlife is where life truly begins that they fail to live it to the fullest. Whereas the accepting atheist knows he/she has only 70 or so years if they are lucky to have a personally meaningful existence.

    • by Nick Ives ( 317 ) on Wednesday March 18, 2009 @02:23PM (#27244883)

      The TFA reveals the study is about aggressive, end-of-life cancer care. We're talking about people who have metastatic cancer and are on their death beds, people who have zero percent chance of survival.

      This study is saying that religious people are more likely to insist on non-palliative chemotherapy and mechanical respiration even though there's no chance of it succeeding. The study found these people were the least likely to have filled in a "do not resuscitate" order.

      This could be a fear of death thing or it could just be a hope for a miracle. If it's the latter then surely it'd just be better to place your complete faith in God at that stage of the game?

      I suppose you can't expect religious people to act rationally about these things though.

  • Cause/Effect... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by fuzzyfuzzyfungus ( 1223518 ) on Wednesday March 18, 2009 @02:09PM (#27244631) Journal
    I'd be inclined to suspect(admittedly without experimental evidence) that, rather than being cause or effect of one another, piety and pursuit of aggressive EOL care are both effects.

    People with the greatest fear of death would be inclined both to fight it medically and to seek reassurance against it theologically.
  • by forgetmenot ( 467513 ) <atsjewell@g[ ] ['mai' in gap]> on Wednesday March 18, 2009 @02:18PM (#27244793) Homepage

    Probably get modded down for this.. for "religion" has always struck me as a haven for the fearful, those who lack self-esteem, or narcissistic personalities looking for external justification for their insane behaviour.

    When such an individual is confronted with the prospect of death.. all that doubt, self-loathing and regret must really be a lot to suddenly bear when they "know" they're about to face the final judge.

    • No it is not. (Score:4, Informative)

      by Chicken_Kickers ( 1062164 ) on Wednesday March 18, 2009 @09:07PM (#27250435)

      Firstly, this thread seems to forget that there are many religions, not just Christianity. Each religion treats the coming of death differently. We Muslims are actually taught to be fearful of God and the coming of death. Being fearful of God and death is judged a positive trait.I have said before and I will say it again: you do not need a God to justify doing bad (and good) things in life. Atheists are as prone to having "insane behaviour" as religious people, or any human being. In fact, we say that those who don't believe in God are the ones who are narcissistic, in that by not believing in God, they elevate themselves to Godhood.

      There are many verses in the Quran and hadiths that says every little action, good or bad that we do in this world, hidden or clearly seen, will be replayed and judged on Judgment Day and we are constantly reminded that death afflicts the young and healthy as equally as the old and sick. Muslims are taught to pray for an "easy" death, easy in the sense that the soul leaves the body without much suffering to the body. We fear death because we might not have asked people for forgiveness when we had the chance, or we had not carried out our duties and responsibilities to the best of our abilities, or we have taken more than we have given back. Yet we do not "hate" death because life and the whole Universe is an illusion, a game. We score points by doing good and lose points when we do bad things. The "real" life begins after death, one that is eternal and where we reap our rewards or receive our punishments. There are many verses in the Quran where non-believers and sinners on Judgment Day, will beg for another chance to return to this life and do better, but always the answer is it is too late.

      Thus, it is a duty of a Muslim to live as long as possible, while doing as much good deeds as he can, to prepare for the inevitable. When a Muslim is on his death bed, his family and friends will attend to him, and whisper in his ear "there is no God but Allah" and asks him to repeat it so that it will be his last words. Quranic verses will be recited in his presence to calm him down and to face death with dignity. And when he dies, it is the duty of his children to regularly pray for him so that God forgives him.

      So you obviously don't believe in God. I accept that. Then why do you belittle those who do? You choose to highlight evil religious people, yet you conveniently ignore those who serve the community and do good deeds. We Muslims are taught to praise and respect people who do good deeds, be they Muslims or not. If you don't believe in the Afterlife, does that invalidates the good deeds of those who do? Will you not benefit from the positive effects of good deeds done by the pious? Or are you ironically succumbing to the same dogmatic stance that you accuse believers of having?

  • Authoritarianism (Score:5, Interesting)

    by DynaSoar ( 714234 ) on Wednesday March 18, 2009 @02:23PM (#27244889) Journal

    People who follow the instructions of authority, believe others should follow such instructions, and tend to believe that authority is right most or all of the time, are called authoritarian. People who hold to belief systems dictated by a hidden power with perfect judgement are some such. Those people also tend to believe/believe in other authorities judgements and power. Thus, people who hold strong religious beliefs tend to be the same people who most strongly believe in (and expect results from) the abilities of health care authorities -- doctors.

    The same paradox was noted by Stanley Milgram in the Yale Experiments [] A nurse was one of the people who continued to follow instructions and "shock" a subject after the subject appeared dead, just because she was told to. At first it seemed a paradox that a nurse would follow instructions that would harm another. He figured it that he was equivalent to a doctor in the nurses mind, and so she was following his instructions to the letter without evaluation, just as she was trained to do with doctors. (Nurses these days are trained differently).

  • by shrubya ( 570356 ) on Wednesday March 18, 2009 @02:31PM (#27245019) Homepage Journal

    A few notes to remember about this study:

    1. None of the patients "got better". The only difference was that being stuffed full of plastic tubes sometimes postponed death by a number of days.
    2. On average, the highly religious were much less likely to have end-of-life planning (advance directives, durable power of attorney, etc)
    3. On average, the families of people on intensive life support were more traumatized by the death than the others. That's a "no duh".
    4. All that machinery and medical labor is REALLY expensive.

    Personally, I would much rather go for hospice care. Aside from being more comfortable for the patient, it also gives them a chance to say goodbye to everyone properly, rather than just gurgling at your horrified visitors from inside a torture chamber.

  • by VoxMagis ( 1036530 ) on Wednesday March 18, 2009 @02:36PM (#27245109)

    This study was done on terminally ill cancer patients. My wife is an RN, and in our discussions about her job it has been very apparent to her that death by cancer, slowly, causes a very different reaction in most people she has seen than other terminal illnesses.

    I'm not saying there is anything wrong with the study, but I would like to see it expanded to, for example, heart/lung failure and other forms of terminal disease, and see what the difference is.

    One aspect that I have seen in cancer end-of-life treatment is the heavy reliance on pain-killers to cope (nothing WRONG with that, just an observance). This could also have a very serious effect on EOL decisions.

  • by Theolojin ( 102108 ) on Wednesday March 18, 2009 @02:45PM (#27245279) Homepage

    I cannot speak for all the pious, nor do I know how the study defines the pious so I will speak for myself. [cue the anti-whatever snarks...]

    I believe we---mankind---were created for this world, not some ethereal place in the clouds. The Bible teaches that the people of God will live on earth forever, with a brief (relatively speaking) intermission elsewhere (between death and the return of Jesus Christ). It's quite interesting that the Bible begins with the Tree of Life in a garden (Eden) and ends with the Tree of Life in a city (see Genesis 2-3 and Revelation 21-22). Actually, the Tree of Life is still in a garden-like area that we would call a park. When Jesus returns He will create a sort of heavenly Central Park in the midst of a great city.

    God intended from the beginning that man should live on the earth and the great promise is that one day man will live on a newly recreated earth and God will dwell with man forever in a world of peace, free of greed and anger and malice and war and poverty and hunger. In other words, people were created for this world and it should come as no surprise that they want to stay in it as long as possible. If, however, one does not believe this or one believes that this world is all there is, why delay the inevitable? Non-existence can often seem more desirable than a bad existence in this fractured, fallen world. For those who have hope for a future, existence in this broken world is desirable because they believe they were meant for it all along.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by halivar ( 535827 )

      I think you did a good job summing up the position of traditional protestants. I would, however, caution against inferring the mindset of the average atheist, as you do in the second paragraph. I say this only because most of the "this is probably what they're thinking" posts by atheists/agnostics above trying to infer the mindset of the average church-goer are horribly, even to the point of caricature, off the mark. I imagine I would sound as ridiculous doing the reverse.

      In short, I think the study is mean

  • by kellyb9 ( 954229 ) on Wednesday March 18, 2009 @02:47PM (#27245317)
    I'd hardly call this a study. They took 345 people dying of terminal cancer. You can make a hundred different inferences from such a small sampling. Here's a few:

    Maybe some/most of these people were pious because they were dying
    Maybe these people actually enjoyed their life more because they were pious
    Maybe they were more pious because they were younger and didn't actually want to die

    Nothing is learned from this study other than the fact that some religious people who have cancer don't want to die.... WOW. That should be in tomorrow paper... errr perhaps they'll need a special edition.
  • by js3 ( 319268 ) on Wednesday March 18, 2009 @03:18PM (#27245821)

    After 5 years I've logged in again to /. to post a reply >.

    Anyway I wanted to say that there's nothing impossible in religion. Those who are religious tend to hang on longer because they believe a higher power is at work and can solve impossible things. It has nothing to do with being afraid of death, rather being hopeful that their terminal ailment CAN indeed be cured.

    Meanwhile the non religious would normally just give up and die.. because some guy said so.

  • by w0mprat ( 1317953 ) on Wednesday March 18, 2009 @03:20PM (#27245849)
    In outright atheism one may find oblivion appealing rather than a compulsory eternal life, one may also treasure the finite term of consciousness a little more and when you're done you're done, there's not a sodding thing you can do about it. That's not what I think myself, but thats possibly the point of view of many non-pious, they've already found their peace in life and fear nothing.
  • by LanceUppercut ( 766964 ) on Wednesday March 18, 2009 @03:34PM (#27246085)

    Obviously, the entire post was crafted with one and only purpose in mind: to make a trollish statement about "nonbelievers who view death as the end of existence, the annihilation of consciousness and the self". The rest was added for the sole purpose to make the trolling less obvious.

  • by speedtux ( 1307149 ) on Wednesday March 18, 2009 @03:39PM (#27246185)

    The data is pretty easy to explain based on the hypothesis that religion is motivated by an irrational fear of death; the same irrational fear of death also motivates the desire for excessive medical intervention. The religious are also are much more afraid of violent crime than the rest of the population.

    Unfortunately, the paranoid fears of this group is responsible for bad public policy, such as imposing unwanted life extending measures on others, irrational security features, human rights violations in the name of national security, and an irrational and unforgiving "get tough on crime" approach.

  • by AB3A ( 192265 ) on Wednesday March 18, 2009 @03:41PM (#27246221) Homepage Journal

    People pray a lot. The question is what they actually do with their lives.

    Many church regulars will tell you about people they know who attend every Sunday, yet who live some of the most amoral lives imaginable.

    So prayer itself isn't a measure of religiousness. It may even be a measure of self delusion so that people can live with what they have done with their lives.

    Too many people don't know why they live. They don't really believe in anything, so the thought of death scares them to no end. They seek prayer as an affirmation that they're basically good people, even if they don't feel like their time on Earth was a good thing.

    I call that a guilty conscience, not a pious person.

  • by eviltangerine ( 1435339 ) on Wednesday March 18, 2009 @04:03PM (#27246611)
    Another possibility (that doesn't seem to be already mentioned) is that the more "pious" are on life support with the belief that God will "come through" and heal their loved ones despite what the doctors claim to be a "hopeless cause."

    Personally, I'd classify myself as a "Christian" and this is the main reason that I can believe -- while I am totally comfortable with death (not to the extent that I'm going to go play on the freeway) I also see the possibility of "supernatural events" aka "miracles" to occur and thus can see that prolonging a loved one's life via life-support seems plausible, particularly for a younger individual. However, myself, if I was old and have had a full life, I don't think I see the need to be on life support -- I've done what I need to do in this life.

    This idea isn't discussed in the originally linked BBC article, but comes up in other articles on the same study ( for example)

    So no, I disagree that it's patients being "unsure" about the afterlife or that they're unwilling to accept death. I just think it's relatives that are praying for a miracle.

  • by kklein ( 900361 ) on Wednesday March 18, 2009 @10:48PM (#27251161)

    I was raised a very "on fire" Evangelical Christian, but have since seen the light and accepted myself as my Personal Lord and Savior--a spiritual condition which has brought me much more happiness and peace than Jesus ever did.

    As such, I think I have a very keen insight into the psychological differences between highly religious people and agnostic/atheistic people.

    Basically, the belief in an afterlife that is great (for you and people who agree with you, anyway) really shields you from ever having to sit down and think, "I am going to die. It's not going to be some other person--some old man--who looks like me. It's going to be me. Just like I am now, but I'm going to look like that old man." Instead, the whole concept of mortality is couched in language like "going to a better place" or "being with Jesus" or whatever. Your entire concept of death is euphemistic. As a result, you have a sense of peace and well-being because you don't need to worry about death.

    All that changes, I imagine, however, when the time actually comes. Suddenly you can't be euphemistic anymore. It isn't so much this "meta" idea of death. It is your lungs filling up with fluid. It is pain wracking your body as the cancer spreads. It is the heartbreak of knowing that you and your loved ones are going to be separated now, and you don't know when you'll see them again, or in what form (this is assuming you really believe in heaven). Suddenly it's not so beautiful. Suddenly it's the nuts and bolts of your body--the only vessel you know--falling apart and failing you. Suddenly it is very real and very immediate.

    And you weren't ready for that.

    Atheists, however, accept death--the nuts and bolts--as inevitable, and probably first thing you have to come to terms with if you are an atheist is how you're going to think about death. And, I think, most people have to put themselves through that process of thinking and realizing that, yes, you are going to die. Your lungs will fill with fluid. Your body will be wracked with pain. By the time you get to that point, you have already thought a lot about this, and have resigned yourself to the pitiful, painful, undignified end almost all of us eventually face.

    So you don't see any point in fighting.

    Furthermore, a mindset that believes in a "super-natural" world--a world and truth and story that supersedes and explains everything we experience and in which we play an important part--comes to see death as more important than it really is. Part of the benefit of religion is that it makes one feel that everything they do is part of a Grand Plan, that everything fits together and has meaning. As an atheist, I know that it doesn't. I know that whether I live or die is wholly inconsequential. I am the product of an incredibly complex physical system that started moving billions of years ago when something exploded. Whether I lived or did not makes no difference whatsoever.

    And herein lies one of the most important distinctions between religious people and atheists: Religious people find that viewpoint hopelessly sad and question why we would want to live. Atheists think that the pleasure of typing into a textbox on Slashdot while nibbling black licorice is plenty reason to keep processing oxygen and sugars for as long as they can. The warmth and camaraderie of friends and family are enough. Life is worth living for life's sake. That may be the genes, who are selfish and want to be propagated, talking, but who cares?

    Religious people's peace and happiness are conditional, and when the conditions change, they often don't know how to cope. Atheists are unconditional, and therefore don't kick up such a fuss when it's over.

    My $0.02.

    • by evilviper ( 135110 ) on Thursday March 19, 2009 @04:18AM (#27252665) Journal

      Atheists think that the pleasure of typing into a textbox on Slashdot while nibbling black licorice is plenty reason to keep processing oxygen and sugars for as long as they can.

      Okay. So, you've enjoyed yourself. In a very short time, it's over. You don't go to an old folks home where you can reflect back on how much you enjoyed your life. You are oblivion. Now what? Everything you've done, alone, is gone. It might well have never happened. So what is the point?

      It really sounds like you haven't thought it through, yourself.

      If life is about enjoying yourself, then extreme hedonism, while doing unlimited harm to those around you to get it, is the only way to go.

      On the other end of the spectrum, if we exist in what we leave behind, you should start making endless donations at the nearest sperm bank, to propagate the genes as far and wide as possible. With that part taken care of, start building an army, death ray, whatever, to REALLY make your mark on those who survive you.

      After all, your genetic material and your societal impact are the only thing which will last. And in both cases, no matter how much of a mark you make, it's likely to be completely erased within a couple centuries anyhow.

      Religious people's peace and happiness are conditional, and when the conditions change, they often don't know how to cope. Atheists are unconditional, and therefore don't kick up such a fuss when it's over.

      Sounds like atheists are actually the ones whose happiness is conditional on their good health, and just give up. Meanwhile the more religious find a way to be happy, even after intensive medical treatment. In fact, this WAS the conclusion of the study, not the trolling anti-religion spin put on the /. submission.

      Of course, the REAL answer is pretty obvious. The most popular forms of religion command their followers to maintain their own life as much as possible. There was a minor controversy when baseless rumors began spreading that Pope John Paul II refused life-extending treatment near the end of his life...

      Now, with the Catholic church having spread the doctrine that the faithful are obligated to extend their lives as much and by any means possible, some morons just feel obligated to spin that simple fact around, to try and promote their own agenda.

"In matrimony, to hesitate is sometimes to be saved." -- Butler