When I was a young boy, my Grandma Boyd passed away and my father became very sad. I asked him why she had died and he told me everybody has to die, which frightened me. I asked him what happens to us after death and he told me after death everything just stops and we are no more. A black abyss of nothingness. The mere conceptualization of it made me shudder. I spent hours trying to understand what it would be like.
My father wasn’t religious.
Pessimistic view aside, the very nature of life is the will to survive, or as Charles Darwin called it, the survival of the fittest. It’s genetically built into our DNA. No one wants to die.
No one, of course, except those that choose to die either by self or medically assisted suicide. Those exceptions excluded, even an insect tries to avoid death. Go and swat a fly and it wants to buzz away. Survival is what it’s all about. It’s what drives both evolution and religion.
So let’s take a rational look at death, scientifically and metaphysically.
At the dog park. My dog has jumped out of the car, charged through the gates and is happily running around in a big field. She’s enjoying life! It’s cold out, freezing cold. I live in the North Texas Panhandle where it sometimes snows. But the dog and I are enjoying the park.
Except for me and Brandi the dog, I’m alone out here. Of course I have a loving wife, a brother who checks in with me from time to time, and some casual friends at work. I have hundreds of Facebook friends. I’m sure they’ll all come to my funeral! We all have our support groups. We surround ourselves with friends and family. Nobody wants to feel alone. But we die alone.
I have no disease I know about looming overhead to kill me except my age. There might be. I dunno. Yet I’m scared of dying because I know death is inevitable and my age keeps advancing.
I really don’t want death to be the cessation of consciousness, of being, of existence itself. I’d rather be born again, or reincarnated, or go to heaven, or something along those lines. Nobody’s ever sent me a message from the other side to tell me what it’s like. So honestly, I don’t know.
And that’s where faith comes to play. Fear. If you don’t accept Jesus you’re going to hell. If you’re a Hare Krishna you’re going to go to a hellish planet somewhere and be tortured without limits. If you’re a Jehova’s Witness, you won’t get resurrected and remain forever in the grave, kinda like my father’s idea. But if you do good you’re going to have eternal life somewhere, either in heaven, or heaven on Earth, or reincarnated, or in nirvana, or some other such idea.
We choose religion or some kind of faith because we want to live. We want to survive.
People say they have had religious experiences, but could it just be chemicals in the brain, sort of like when someone takes a hallucinogenic drug? In my line of work I happen to know many mentally ill people who see and hear things no one else sees. Could it be like that? Just imagination or delusion or chemical reactions?
Probably not. Schizophrenia is a disease. There’re lots of perfectly healthy religious people out there who don’t suffer from it. Besides coffee and prescriptions, most these folks are pretty much drug free. They don’t take LSD. They collectively sit in their church, synagogue, temple or mosque and pray or talk among themselves or listen to a wise man give a sermon from a holy book like the Bible, Torah, Qur’an, or Bhagavad Gita.
People want to believe.
Science doesn’t claim to have all the answers. They never did. There’s even lots of weird stuff in the universe like dark matter and dark energy that are things they don’t know anything about except they keep the galaxies and universe from flying apart or collapsing in on itself. Evidence of a greater power, of God?
Just don’t be blinded by your faith. Use your own head. Think for yourself. Know what’s really alright to believe and what is not.