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So the afterlife is meant to be considered as a reward?

I recently got news about a cancer researcher who just tragically died (from cancer). Among the many replies that were sent in response to his death were several along this vein:

"Our prayers will be with his loved ones. On another note, he most likely is already in possession of the secrets we all want to uncover!"

This confuses and annoys me on multiple levels.

- was the man who died religious? I know that Christians seem to think "I'll pray for him" is some kind of general purpose compliment, but if they thought about it even for a second they would understand that saying "I'll pray for him" over a dead atheist is a huge insult. First you dismiss their views on religion and then you make a statement that can only be either meaningless (the atheist was correct and there is no God) or implicitly assumes the atheist is undergoing tormet (the atheist was wrong and is therefore in hell). Not to mean the confusion in what the prayers are meant to do, are they similar to the bat signal in that they bring some message to God that he would otherwise be unaware of? Or more like signing a petition to influence God's decision?

- these "secrets we all want to uncover"? I guess since this was sent out to a list of cancer researchers they would be the secrets to curing cancer? Presumably these secrets would indeed be known to God if he existed. But wouldn't God be kind of a jerk if he let a cancer researcher painfully die of cancer and then introduce him to heaven with "obviously medicine has not cured cancer yet, now that you are dead I'll let you know the secret".

Reader Comments (8)

I assume they didn't know he was an atheist?

July 5, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterCedric

I don't know if he was or not. Most scientists are, but plenty are not.

July 5, 2011 | Registered CommenterAdrian Liston

I wish I could start a new argument but sadly I agree with pretty much everything you wrote in this post :-(

July 5, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterCedric

Ouch! I'll try to write something tomorrow for you to disagree with ;)

July 5, 2011 | Registered CommenterAdrian Liston

You've been crazy-productive on this blog for the past 2 weeks though, where do you get the time/energy to write so much?

July 5, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterCedric

Sometimes I spend way too much time writing, so I save them as drafts and leak them out over a week.

July 6, 2011 | Registered CommenterAdrian Liston

I do not agree. Praying for someone is not an insult, it's an act of compassion with the other person, even although that other person is atheist. If praying for an atheist is an insult, do you think that not praying for a dying christian,... is an insult as well?

Would you, Adrian, see it as an insult if a friend of you dies (and he is a christian for example) and you would go to his christian memorial service in the church. I would rather see it as an insult if an atheist would not go to this religious service for his friend. And vice versa, a religious person should go to an atheist wedding, baptism,... if it is the wedding of a friend or family member.

July 13, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterSarah.

I think that is a false equivalence. Let's say that someone is widely known to hate cut tulips. It would be a rather thoughtless and tacky act to lie tulips on their grave. Let's say that someone else is widely known to love tulips. It may be nice to lie tulips on their grave, but that does not make it nasty not to lie tulips on their grave.

On the example of a religious vs a non-religious service - again the difference lies in inaction vs action. Yes, I would go to a religious wedding for a friend (for a funeral... that hasn't happened yet, so I am not sure. Unlike a wedding, my friend no longer exists in that scenario).

If a religious friend of mine died I would not go up to their family and say "the person that you love no longer exists, they are not looking down on you, they are now only a memory. Just cherish the memory rather live a delusion that you will see them again in some fantasy afterlife". I would be thinking that in my head, but it would be nasty to tell that to a grieving family. In the same way, if a Christian wants to pray in their head for a dead atheist, go ahead. But to go up to their atheist family and to sprout religious nonsense - that is really thoughtless and tacky. I am all for challenging people's beliefs, but there is a time and a place and that is not during the grieving process.

When I die, I would prefer people to directly spit on my face than go up to Lydia and tell them that they are praying for me - it would be less hurtful to Lydia and less disrespectful to my memory. Likewise, when my brother died I was really hurt when people who knew his beliefs told me that they were praying for him and that he was waiting for us in the afterlife. It showed a complete lack of understanding of Russell and a complete insensitivity to the notion that different people have different beliefs and that a time of grieving is not the time to challenge them on it.

July 14, 2011 | Registered CommenterAdrian Liston

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