Death and the Rational Mind


Being in and around the atheist community as much as I am, I hear conversations about death and how atheists deal with it rather often. Now, most of us are comfortable with the fact that when we die….we die. That’s it. Nothing more. After all, what will we care?

Sure, we may have deep conversations on the nature of energy and whatnot, but in the end, most atheists, myself included, don’t seem bothered by death.

However, there is one question that I get often. It seems to be something that springs to the mind of many atheists, inevitably in a way, due to our atheism.

What do you say to someone else who is grieving?

Not too long ago, I was getting the mail pretty late at night in my apartment complex. There was a middle aged woman walking a dog and I said a brief hello as I passed.

When I was coming back from the mailbox, she stopped me. She was crying. She said…

“Excuse me. I know you don’t know me, but I don’t have anyone here. You see, I just found out that I’m dying. Do you think I could have a hug?”
I didn’t know her. I didn’t know her beliefs. What do you say to that?

I obviously wouldn’t give pretty lies like “You’re going to a better place.” or “God has a plan.”

My rational mind looks at death very differently than the mind of the general theist who believes in an afterlife. I find solace in the fact that, as Neil deGrasse Tyson put it…
“Recognize that the very molecules that make up your body, the atoms that construct the molecules, are traceable to the crucibles that were once the centers of high mass stars that exploded their chemically rich guts into the galaxy, enriching pristine gas clouds with the chemistry of life. So that we are all connected to each other biologically, to the earth chemically and to the rest of the universe atomically. That’s kinda cool! That makes me smile and I actually feel quite large at the end of that. It’s not that we are better than the universe, we are part of the universe. We are in the universe and the universe is in us.”

Of course, I didn’t say that either.

I could have told her to live life to the fullest for the time she had left, because it’s the only life she’s got!

But I didn’t.

In the end, what do you say?

All I could say was “sure.” And I gave her a big, genuinely caring hug. Then, I went home and went to bed.

In the end, it’s times like that that it doesn’t matter what she believes or what I believe. What matters is that another human being just needed to feel like someone cared, even if just for a moment.

What would you say?

Contributor: Robert Sacerich

Robert is a Philosophy of Science and Bioethics student, as well as blogger and science advocate/activist. He has worked extensively within the secular community for various secular nonprofit organizations and public communication causes.

See his full bio!

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