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Meditation 71
The Difficult Subject of Death

by Randal

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In my conversations with others on the subject of theism, I have found the issue of death to be particularly problematic. No topic is more emotionally charged than that of death, especially for those who have lost a loved one. Unfortunately, this high level of emotion tends to force logic out of the conversation. Even when others are quite receptive to my arguments in favor of agnosticism, I find them resistant to rational discussion of their justifications for believing in an afterlife.

A number of people have admitted to me that they believe in the existence of souls simply because they can’t bear to think of death as the end. Whenever I encounter such a person, I confront him or her with the mind-body problem: if the body is physical, and the mind/soul is nonphysical, how can the two interact? I have yet to encounter a satisfactory answer to this dilemma. In fact, many fail to comprehend the magnitude of the problem. Instead of altering their views, the theists I have spoken with tend to dismiss my arguments by saying they have to believe in the soul; without it, their lives would have no purpose.

Why is immortality necessary for purpose in life? Having liberated myself from any belief in personal immortality, I honestly cannot understand the theists’ need for it. Do they really find comfort in thinking some aspect of the self will continue existing in a mysterious new realm? As far as I can tell, such a belief only increases one’s anxiety concerning death, as one has to wonder what the afterlife will be like. “Will I be saved or damned?” the theist has to ask. And since one can’t go there until one dies, the theist must always deal with the self-doubt of not knowing whether his or her particular theology happens to be right about the afterlife.

Personally, I find the idea of an afterlife problematic and intellectually unjustifiable. As for fearing death, I agree with Epicurus: death is “of no concern to us; for while we exist death is not present, and when death is present we no longer exist.” I am happy not believing in personal immortality. All I have left to worry about is living well in this life. That task is monumental enough to occupy my time.