Your Final Thoughts

I read a blog post this morning in which the writer shared a story that triggered some thoughts I had not previously considered.

Briefly … a little background.

The blogger had been a Christian most of his life and dutifully raised his children in the faith. However, in 2007, his oldest son declared himself to be an atheist. As would be expected, this disturbed the family to no small degree, but it also prompted the blog writer to look more closely at his own faith.

Over the next several years, he spent considerable time reading and doing research related to Christianity and its roots. Little by little, he began his own journey toward atheism.

It was during this time that his aunt, who was a believer, faced imminent death and he went to be with her. Although she (and his mother) were both Christians, he said he managed to avoid discussing religion and simply shared past experiences.

Reading his story, a rather probing question occurred to me — and I’d like to ask it of my atheist audience who have had a religious backgroundespecially those who have been in the evangelical movement where the teaching of heaven and hell is so prevalent.

Imagine …

You are at life’s end. In mere moments, you know you will take your last breath and it will be … The End. Kaput. Finis. The Grand Finale. The Endgame.

My question: Can you HONESTLY say you would be totally free of ANY thoughts related to your eternal destiny?

While at this moment in time I can personally say with confidence that I no longer harbor any fears related to my demise, I do recognize the power of my former Christian beliefs related to life’s end. And I am forced to admit … they could intervene.

So what about you? If you know you’re at death’s door, are you absolutely certain of your final thoughts?

(Please remember — this question is for former believers. If you’ve always been an atheist, it obviously has no relevance. Further, I’m not soliciting thoughts related to any kind of “spiritual” afterlife. It’s all about “that moment.”)

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66 thoughts on “Your Final Thoughts

  1. Re “Can you HONESTLY say you would be totally free of ANY thoughts related to your eternal destiny?”

    Yep! Dead people have no destiny, in fact I am fairly sure alive people have no destiny. We make up such concepts to make small talk when gossiping. When a ne’er-d–well relative ends up in jail, we say “Well he was destined to end up there.” No, he wasn’t. He could have turned his life around at any point, maybe by finding Jesus, maybe by being disgusted with his life, but to say he had some supernatural destiny is just a way of talking about things we do not understand, kind of like saying our abilities are “gifted” to us, no matter how hard we worked to learn and develop them.

    While a baptized Christian I never bought into the heaven and hell concepts except as literary concepts. My only concerns will be for my loved ones, whether they will get along well without me. (I have that list pared down to a very short one, but I still have people dependent upon me financially. I don’t want to leave them hanging.)

    Liked by 2 people

    • There is a counter-argument to this, Steve. If you believe in cause and effect (and how could you not?) then you must recognise that any state is pre-determined by the state immediately preceding it. Therefore one’s destiny has been set in stone for time eternal. Any sense of human power or control over events is an illusion. That jailbird relative of yours was destined to end up behind bars by the Big Bang.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Wow! Sounds like religious gobbledygook to me, RR. DESTINED BEFORE BIRTH. Yikes!
        No offense meant, of course, you can believe whatever you want. I just hope 6our destiny is a good one. I have no such destiny, I make it up as I go.

        Liked by 1 person

        • I hardly think that you could label such a view as religious, although it may well be gobbledygook. I’m not necessarily saying that I believe it, though, since holding such a belief would render belief itself to be meaningless.
          But what I am (possibly) suggesting is that the notion of free will is an illusion. There is a reason that you and I do everything, and there is a reason for that reason, and a reason for that reason, and so on all the way back to the Big Bang. Once the first particle of matter struck the one next to it the process was put into motion. And here we are today expressing thoughts that we think we can control but which, in fact, we can’t.
          Imagine an endless line of questions from a five-year-old that responds to every explanation you provide with another “why?” Eventually this line of questioning leads you back to the beginning of time and space or it leads you to God. God strikes me as the less plausible explanation.
          So you might think that you are making your destiny up as you are going along, but that is all part of the illusion.

          Liked by 2 people

          • This (free will) has been an endless debate for centuries! Including among Christians. (I think the Calvinist view is actually the most logical in light of an all knowing, all powerful deity outside time. How could He not know at the beginning who He would bless with salvation? (Unless, as some have argued to me, He withdrew his knowledge. Which means He still created the situation in which He knew many would fall) Which means the rest of us are mere playthings for this ultimately alien, narcissistic entity which, given his Omni-ness and Aseity, cannot in any way understand human beings that he himself created as flawed beings).

            Anyway…I guess would punt on your question. There may be ultimately no “free will” but you chain of ultimate causality is so lost in the distant past and the ever branching chain of causality that to speak of “ultimate causes” and “pre determination” is effectively useless. Especially for running a society, a family, a relationship in which some degree of responsibility has to be accepted. Plus, I think some physicists would argue that causality is not as cut and dry, as clearly defined, as your summary might suggest. The universe seems to be , at least to the limited understanding of this amateur, a little more undefined than your story would suggest.

            Liked by 1 person

            • Oh yes, I quite agree. An utterly useless point of view to take since even the act of accepting it or rejecting it has been predetermined.

              So the only ‘practical’ approach is to at least pretend that it is invalid regardless of whether or not taking such a stance is a matter of choice

              Liked by 1 person

          • Thomas Aquinas. Aristotle. First cause. Pre-determination. Free will. Pre-destination. Normally those arguments are made by Christian Apologists arguing for the existence of God. Now you are tying it to the Big Bang, which is also an unproven theory.

            I didn’t leave the religion because someone was actively trying to deconvert me. I simply studied my way out of it. I studied the history of religion until I made my way back to some original gods, like the Sumerians. he formed a triune conception of the divine, in which Anu represented “transcendental” obscurity,[7] Enlil the “transcendent” and Enki the “immanent” aspect of the divine.

            There were man-gods made from mud. There were a trinity and a flood and an ark in several religions. There were resurrections and wars in the heavens and on earth; the good against the evil. All the things we find in Christianity before there was a god of the Hebrews. Christianity is just a copycat of all that came before. There is nothing exclusive or original about it. Every religion has a god who is more imminent than all other gods.

            There is a counter-argument to every argument, naturally. It is always the argument that presents indisputable facts that wins the day. You should not tell people what they must believe. That is a very Christian thing.

            If you have no control over what your actions are, I think you would not be able to express an opinion.

            On Creation:
            Democritus posited the fixed and “necessary” laws of a purely mechanical system, in which there was no room for an intelligent cause working toward an end.

            He explained the origin of the universe as follows. The original motion of the atoms was in all directions—it was a sort of “vibration”; hence there resulted collisions and, in particular, a whirling movement, whereby similar atoms were brought together and united to form larger bodies and worlds. This happened not as the result of any purpose or design but rather merely as the result of “necessity”; i.e., it is the normal manifestation of the nature of the atoms themselves.

            “It happened by accident”, said Epicurus, which drove the ‘creationists crazy.

            Liked by 1 person

            • “he formed a triune conception of the divine, in which Anu represented a “transcendental” obscurity,[7] Enlil the “transcendent” and Enki the “immanent” aspect of the divine.”

              The ‘he’ in that statement was Enu.

              Like

            • Gee…. I think you may be misinterpreting my position. From a Christian perspective, at least, free will cannot be in question.
              Religion is an answer to questions that we cannot answer otherwise. Personally, I find it to be an utterly preposterous answer.

              Liked by 3 people

          • Whatever the unending line of your thought, I cannot agree with it. All I see is chaos, though we humans love to think we can control it. We can try to give it temporary order, but there is something new just around the next corner. If your view is correct, then life is meaningless. When I see evolution, be it physical, mental, or spiritual (sorry, Nan) I see free will, and nothing but.

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  2. I’ve gamed that out in the past. My background with Christianity is one reason. I also have a long history of Japanese martial arts influence, which entails the philosophy of Bushido, and that involves substantial contemplation of death. So chalk me up for past membership in two sorts of death cult.

    Deathbed contemplations will undoubtedly involve recollections and thoughts of hypotheticals and counterfactuals. I will also likely have some concern over how my death is interpreted by people in my family. That’s is, the claims others may make about my disposition. Hitchens expressed similar thoughts, as did Thomas Paine before him.

    However, in my case, I believe the manner and reasons for my departure from faith negate the sorts of doubt you mention. Some people leave religion due to an emotional experience — tragedy, the feeing of aloneness, betrayal by a religious leader, etc. My own case is far removed from those reasons.

    Once you have seen the Made in China label in the bottom, you simply do not wonder if perhaps it really is an authentic antique any longer. There is a kind of deconversion that is deep, down to bare metal. As I tell people, I did not lose my faith, I repented of it. Apart from loss of mental faculties, no, my case likely won’t involve those kinds of doubt. Regret yes. Fear likely. Deep consideration definitely. But the Bushido lens wants to meet death well, squarely. I suppose that remains my hope.

    Others who “lost” faith for different reasons may differ. If they haven’t seen the label on the bottom, or if they wish it were true, or if they do not see it as an evil to be repented of, they may approach it differently.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. I am fairly certain that nothing will happen. That is to say, things will just stop. Other than that I really don’t think about death other than knowing it’s a certainty. As I’ve said to family members, I’ve had a great life and I feel very fortunate. We’ve talked about it in relation to a close (younger) relative who is facing a very grim prognosis lately — she’s not been so fortunate and that is a crying shame. To think that she’s had so much turmoil and now must face this; it’s just not right and that makes me very sad.

    But I must pass along something that just happened a couple of days ago. My husband’s mother died, at 97 years of age. About two weeks ago, she just stopped eating and gradually gave up. She was a church-going woman all of her life; made sure her children went to church, and – as far as anyone knows – believed everything she heard at church. Interestingly enough, she rarely mentioned death in the last few months, even though she expressed the question often, “Why am I still alive??” There were no private conversations about what might happen after she died, no mention of her god, didn’t ask to see the minister . . . nada. . . nothing at all about a possible afterlife. Strange, don’t you think?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Notice … I am fairly certain … . This little inkling of hesitation is what I’m talking about.

      It seems to me your mother-in-law felt certain of her “after-life destiny” so there was little to no need to talk about her pending death … with anyone. I don’t think many others have that same level of assuredness.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. You watch a movie in the big theater. And you see yourself as part of the story.

    When you leave the theater, the spell is broken and you are back in reality. That’s what deconversion should be about.

    Humans are story tellers. But we need the ability to distinguish between reality and the story. As we saw with the recent Qanonsense, some people lack that ability.

    No, I don’t think I will ever be sucked back in.

    Liked by 3 people

  5. I guess I am one of those “angry atheists” the apologists warn us about. I find the fundamental story behind Christianity “wicked”. An all knowing, all powerful (I refuse to grant Him omni-benevolence given the history of His supposed actions). being created sentient beings (us) who He had to know would fail His vaguely defined, persnickety standards. Except for a vaguely defined, confusing blood sacrifice of himself/his son, prophet a whatever? (Christians cannot even agree on who Jesus was) How DARE such a failed and flawed Creator judge us in our tentative, blinkered, questing, confused lives? In think The Judgment, if anything, should GO THE OTHER WAY.

    Liked by 2 people

    • How can such a perfect god create such an imperfect being and then curse him for his imperfection?

      Do not judge god too harshly, he too is only as good as those who created him. They gave him the qualities they found to be good in themselves and they consider themselves to be good, of course.

      Liked by 2 people

        • I am aware that there are no gods nor Gods. I do like to make a comment now and then which may draw a response from those believers who visit these pages.

          That remains the question; How does a perfect god create imperfection? I didn’t think that was too complicated. I stand by that comment. It is always open for discussion. I’m sure that thought has come up before. Thanx.

          Liked by 2 people

  6. But back to the original question…..I am less afraid of death than I of pain…and the modern medical torture industry. 🙂 And most especially (dementia does run in the family) of losing my faculties. I have no children and probably not enough money, so I can’t imagine any “assisted living” or “memory care” facility that I would be trapped in would be very pleasant. THAT scares me more than death. I am less in denial of death than in denial of aging.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Doesn’t do much good to deny aging, Brian. 🙂 It’s gonna’ happen. But I do understand your concerns.

      In any case, let’s say you have all your faculties at “that moment.” Do you think any former religious training will play a role in your thoughts?

      Liked by 1 person

      • No. as I noted above, even if the Abrahamic monotheisms were true, and even though it would be futile in the face of such power, the only moral response to coming before any “Throne of God” would be anger and rebellion.

        Liked by 1 person

  7. You’ve done it again, Nan. Kudos. A hypothetical which we all recognize as real to us all and we will deal with it.

    When I was afflicted with the religious bug, death was often on my mind, and that is how religion is supposed to work. There is always that tension of whether or not you were living up to the standard. The same religion that teaches you must be good, reminds you that you cannot. Under the laws of God, the Israelites had to return year after year bearing sacrifices for the same sins. The advent, crucifixion, and resurrection of Christ were supposed to be the ultimate blood sacrifice to once and for all atone for the sins of man. Well, I’ll be damned. Yeshuah Messiah came and did all that He was supposed to do, but I still cannot escape the burden of sin.

    Examine yourself, and drink of that cup.

    Examine those who oppress you with the threat of hellfire and damnation. Where does their authority come from? Why does the goal post keep moving? You may be examining the wrong player. The power of religion is fear.

    As Brian said, it is probably the dread of the suffering that is worst to face.

    The Epicurean Remedy:
    Don’t fear god,
    Don’t worry about death;
    What is good is easy to get, and
    What is terrible is easy to endure.
    We need food, water, shelter, and safety.

    Ah, it sounds so easy. I may die with all the honor of a Samurai. I also may squirm like a worm in hot ashes. The spirit does not live on after the brain ceases to function. My spirit did not precede me and it will not exist after me.

    “I do not fear death. I had been dead for billions and billions of years before I was born, and had not suffered the slightest inconvenience from it.”

    Mark Twain

    Liked by 4 people

  8. Ah, Nan, you have censored me before I get to start. But should I get to a peaceful end to my life, which I doubt, I hope not to be thinking about life or death, but rather about recording my dying experience for as long as I can talk, which to my knowledge has never yet been done. As you have mentioned, I cannot stop talking, even here. I hope to be talking when I die.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Not to worry. There will be many opportunities to share our thoughts. I am going to copy Nan’s main point onto my clipboard and paste it into every comment box first thing. Just to keep me on the subject. I mean, that is what I intend to do.

      Like

  9. I can’t guarantee I won’t have lingering thoughts of an afterlife when I’m at deaths door. But I’m pretty confident there is nothing there so I don’t think I’d entertain them for long.

    What I’m more confident about is that I don’t find the Christian idea of an afterlife particularly attractive.

    Liked by 2 people

  10. Is certainty possible in a world that is so uncertain? And can one control the thoughts that occur to them? If there is one thing that I know for certain, it is that I don’t want to die just yet. Whatever thoughts that will appear I hope they will not be as to make me die in a manner that would let others say he died a screaming and begging.

    Liked by 3 people

  11. This is a good question, Nan. Thanks for asking.

    Several things make me optimistic that, if I still have my reason, I will be able to approach the end of my life tranquilly. I didn’t experience any fear or doubt about Hell during my deconversion, though I know many former Christians that did (and still do). As I get older and death draws nearer, I’m not experiencing any fugitive “but what if…?” thoughts or anxiety about it. I fear pain, sure, but not death itself. It’s been a good and fulfilling life, on balance, and I think I’ll be satisfied to lay it down peacefully when the time comes.

    [I get a wry grin on my face when I remember Christopher Hitchens talking about this: The bad news “not that the party is ending, but worse: The party is going to continue, but you have to leave.” I think most of us want to stay at the party as long as we can, but none of us can stay forever.]

    But no, I can’t say for certain that’s how I’ll react when the time actually comes. My grandfather was a pastor and one of the most stalwart Christians I ever knew… and he experienced some mental decline before his death, and was very afraid of death in his last days. I think it could happen to any of us. If it happens to me, I believe it will be an “only natural” human thing, not some final “conviction of the Holy Spirit”.

    The thing I fear most is not death, but losing my reason before death… being unable to see reality and being captive to irrational emotional fears. But there’s not much any of us can do about that possibility; que sera sera.

    Liked by 3 people

    • To Brentwood, in response to his grandfather’s death, I know a lot of xians who grew more afraid the closer they got to their deaths, and for some I know that fear was well-deserved. For all their piety, and pomposity, they knew deep inside their lives were not worthy of heaven. They pretended they were good people, but they were SOBs, and worse. They believed in hell, and knew which direction they were headed. Luckily for them, they never got there.
      (That’s it, Nan, no more comments on this post–even if I feel compelled.)

      Like

      • Hm. Do some Christians fake it? Sure they do.

        Is it possible my grandfather was faking certainty of his salvation and eternal destiny well enough to fool us all? Yes, possible, but I’d say really unlikely. I used him as an example because I knew and observed him for a long time, including during unguarded moments, and I think if anyone was sure he was saved and heaven-bound, he was. So far as I was able to observe, he was the real deal. And yet at the end, he was afraid.

        My point here (and I think the question Nan was asking) is that any of us — whether atheist or Christian or whatever our beliefs — can be nearly certain we know what lies beyond death, and still when that moment comes end up experiencing doubts and fear. My grandfather did, from one side, and I might, from the other side; who knows. I think this is a human thing. Death is big and the emotion of it can overwhelm our reason.

        Liked by 1 person

  12. Well, not to ruin anything for anybody, but as to me: over my life, I’ve watched with enough people who are passing to know that nothing’s on anyone’s mind in those final moments. I don’t know if that helps, or just throws another monkey wrench into the mess. I hope not! My intent is not to mess things up on this very orderly-comfortingly so!-blog. If this does mess it up, please delete this one. I love this place, too!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Your comment in on-point … no worries.

      It probably depends a lot on what’s going on with the person at “that time.” IOW, if they know they’re dying –and believed in the Christian story– I would think there is always the possibility they might have some “scary thoughts” in their last moments. Then again, I suppose it depends on how “strong” their faith is.

      In the case of a person being sedated with morphine, chances are there won’t be any last thoughts. The person will simply pass on.

      BTW — thank you for your support of my blog. ❤

      Liked by 1 person

  13. A little bit late to the party, but here’s my take on this matter:

    My mother was what, in Aotearoa New Zealand, could be called “Christian” although perhaps more aptly could be called a “cultural Christian”. She accepted some vague, broad, non-fundamentalist/evangelical concepts about a deity, its involvement in the world, and some type of afterlife. She attended church for weddings, funerals, and baptisms, but apart from that I have no recollection of her attending church, even at Easter or Christmas.

    My father was either an agnostic or an atheist. I’m not sure which as it was a topic he was very uncomfortable discussing. He was neutral regarding others holding religious beliefs of any type, but he was vehemently opposed to prothletising – what he described as “shoving religion down my throat”.

    That was the atmosphere I grew up in. Then, in her late 50s, my mother started to attend a Baptist church regularly where one of the pastors there happened to be towards the liberal end of the Christian spectrum. My mother and her became good friends and a few years later my mother became became a committed Christian. While his attitude to organised religion didn’t significantly change, my father recognised it did met the needs of his wife, and he too became friends with the pastor.

    Around 40 years later as my father lay dying it became very clear that my parents had very different attitudes to death. It was very evident that my father was very afraid of death. It was the end of his very existence and he clung desperately to life. My mother was concerned that he was hanging onto life out of consideration for her. But In fact it was taking quite a toll on her.

    One day while we were all in attendance at hospital. our mother ushered us all out of the hospital room so that she could speak to our father. We could see them both through the window from the hallway. We knew what she wanted to tell him was that it was okay for him to “go”.

    He didn’t take it well. Although he was not capable of speaking, he made it abundantly clear that he had no intention of “going”, by turning his body away from her as much as he was capable of and refusing to look at her. He was clearly angry and it was a few days before his anger dissipated completely. He hung on for another six weeks before taking his last breath.

    My mother was not afraid of dying although she loved life to the full. Several years later my mother suffered a major stroke from which there was no chance of recovery. We all knew the “end” wouldn’t be far away. Family would take turns at being with her even though her moments of consciousness were decreasing by the day.

    One day my bother joked to her that this dying process was taking a long time and she should hurry up as everyone’s life was in limbo until she died. Although my mother was at this time incapable of moving or speaking. she made a very obvious attempt to hold her breath in order bring the ordeal to a close. Of course it didn’t work and it was apparent that she was disappointed.

    If assisted dying had been legal at that time (it is now), and my mother was deemed capable of giving informed consent, then I have no doubt that she would have requested it, even though she was a Christian. On the other hand, there’s absolutely no way in (a metaphoric) hell that my father, a non-believer, would ever contemplate such an idea.

    I consider myself religious, but others have described me as “spiritual but not religious” and like my father I’m only leaving this life under strong protest. I’m not persuaded there’s an afterlife existence in any form and consider speculating the possibility a waste of time. But there’s so much more I want to know, experience, discover and understand that one or even a hundred lifespans will be insufficient. If I’m aware of my final breaths there will be much for me to be disappointed about, even regret, but with no fear.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Profound story, Barry, Thank you. I would agree with your mother…hanging on in pain and suffering (for myself and others) seems like an awful way to go. I still miss the Michigan blogger who had serious health problems and he finally decided to stop fighting.

      I always jokingly say I will start “saving the pills” towards the end. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      • My father was in intense pain almost constantly for that last 40 or 50 years of his life. Health professionals had recommended that he accept a prescription for morphine to manage the worst of the pain. After trying it once he never used it again. While it reduced the pain, he loathed the sense of altered reality it created.

        In spite of the pain and limited mobility, and being a wallflower socially, he had a passion for life that few others can match.

        As for “saving the pills”, that’s no longer necessary in Aotearoa New Zealand as assisted dying was legalised after massive approval in a referendum last year (65% support).

        Liked by 1 person

    • A moving story, Barry. Thank you for sharing. And I think you speak for many about wanting to “experience, discover and understand.” Yet … THAT time WILL come for all of us.

      I tend to think (and this seems to be confirmed by many of the comments) most people don’t really (want to) consider their answer to the question posed in my post. And that’s understandable. Death is most definitely not one of our favorite subjects. Yet we must all face it … and if a person has been exposed to the “death fear” that some religions dwell on, the potential of it rearing its ugly head at “that moment” is, IMO, highly possible … even if we think it’s been buried.

      Thanks again for giving us a glimpse into your personal life.

      Like

  14. I for one will welcome whatever comes after. I no longer believe the full story of the Bible, nt, or Jesus. I don’t know, but whatever comes after… even if that is nothing… I will embrace.

    Liked by 1 person

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