...offered by Dn. James Ferrenberg, a sinner at 7:18 AM [+]
I cannot recall how I stumbled upon this book review by Garrison Keillor, but this portion written of the agnostic author struck a familiar chord to me:
Thanatophobia is a fact in his life — he thinks about death daily and sometimes at night is “roared awake” and “pitched from sleep into darkness, panic and a vicious awareness that this is a rented world . . . awake, alone, utterly alone, beating pillow with fist and shouting ‘Oh no Oh No OH NO’ in an endless wail.” He dreams about being buried and “of being chased, surrounded, outnumbered, outgunned, of finding myself bulletless, held hostage, wrongly condemned to the firing squad, informed that there is even less time than I imagined. The usual stuff.” He imagines being trapped in an overturned ferry. Or locked by kidnappers in the trunk of a car that is then driven into a river. He imagines being taken underwater in the jaws of a crocodile.
Beyond the big knock-down stuff, he dreads the diminution of energy, the drying-up of the wellspring, the fading of the light.
I can vividly remember as an atheist contemplating my own demise and I can still remember the horrible darkness that would fall upon me at that moment. Some would say it is not rational for an atheist to fear death because there is clearly nothing to concern yourself with in that unfortunate event: no pain, no suffering...you simply cease to be. EXACTLY! Pause for a moment and contemplate your lack of existence. Seriously, try it...really put your mind and heart into the notion that you are simply no more. No consciousness...no being...no essence...GONE.
For me it was always a shivering thought...incomprehensible. It was as if everything within me made war against the notion and that deep down inside I was "programmed" to find the idea of my non-existence in death as obviously untrue as was the obvious truth of my existence in life. And yet...the same "endless wail" haunted me because I had no objective means of discerning and thus believing in eternity.
But it was not the participation in death that ultimately led me to become a theist. Not at all. It was not my inability to deal with non-existence. No, as I too often do now, I would simply sweep such thoughts out of my mind and run from them when they would try and press in upon me. Death itself can be ignored, but the means by which we look at death necessarily affects how we look at life and THAT is much harder to ignore.
I will always argue that any atheist who is not also a very nuanced hedonist is an idiot...or at least a hypocrite akin to television evangelists who frequent brothels. Simple logic combined with a materialist world view would dictate as much, and yet...something within us wars also against this. Something compels us to love...even if twisted and rusted and imperfect...we all are compelled to some degree of real love. Knowing this; sensing this was my undoing as an atheist.
While I would be intrigued to learn more about how Mr. Barnes ultimately comes to grips (now) with death, I'm afraid my interest isn't strong enough to propel me to read his entire book. I mean how much of this could one bear:
“There is no separation between ‘us’ and the universe.” We are simply matter, stuff. Individualism — the triumph of free-thinking artists and scientists — has led to a state of self-awareness in which we can now view ourselves as units of genetic obedience.”
And thoughts such as:
"A man can fear his own death but what is he anyway? Simply a mass of neurons. The brain is a lump of meat and the soul is merely 'a story the brain tells itself.' Individuality is an illusion. Scientists find no physical evidence of “self” — it is something we’ve talked ourselves into. We do not produce thoughts, thoughts produce us. 'The "I" of which we are so fond properly exists only in grammar.' Stripped of the Christian narrative, we gaze out on a landscape that, while fascinating, offers nothing that one could call Hope."
Sadly this is often the narrative fed to us (and our kids) by science today...as it has become the arbiter of all truth.
Death is no friend to the Christian. We do not see death as some grand freeing experience. It is as much our haunting enemy as it is to the atheist. Only we are called not to avoid thinking upon it, but to actually seek to ponder it - to stare it in the face. And to prepare for it. All the while knowing it is trampled down.