If you live long enough, eventually you will experience the loss of a close friend or family member. When it happens, it is a reminder of your own mortality. I watched the widow of a close friend throw a handful of dirt on his casket last week. I had lunch with him a week before his fatal heart attack. We reminisced about old times and then he told me that he was having a stent operation in a few days. He had been experiencing chest pains on his daily walks. His cardiologist’s examination showed partial blockage of an artery near the heart. He wasn’t worried about it. Inserting a stent is a low-risk, non-invasive procedure.
The operation went smoothly, and he returned home the next day…the Saturday before Super Bowl Sunday. While watching the Super Bowl, he started having severe chest pains. His wife called 911 and he was taken to a nearby hospital. He died there four days later.
David was younger than I by a little less than two years. I became an octogenarian last December. Attending his funeral was a stark reminder of the relentless dwindling of my remaining days.
Religious believers are consoled at times like this with the “knowledge” that their dear departed is “with Jesus now,” or cavorting in Paradise with a bevy of virgins. The fear of death is a great motivator for religious belief. As a nonbeliever, I have no such comforts, and the loss of David hit me hard. Our lunch together was a pleasant banter between two old friends…and then…he was gone. Soon, I too will be gone.
The Bible makes it clear to Christian believers that most of them won’t end up with Jesus. That is the “narrow path” that he described in his Sermon on the Mount.[i] He said that only a few will take that path. The rest are headed for you-know-where. But I suspect that the vast majority of Christians believe that they will trod that narrow path, despite what Jesus said. It reminds me of the soldier heading into battle. He is sad, because he knows that many of his comrades will not return with him.
The soldier and the believer are both in denial, but the soldier at least has the mathematics of probability in the real world to justify his “faith” that he will not be a casualty. The Christian believer has only the writings in an ancient book of doubtful origin to justify belief in the immortality of his soul. Their denial gives them both comfort and reassurance, even if it may deny reality.
The question that follows logically is this: If people hold delusional beliefs that give them comfort and reassurance is this good or bad, right or wrong?
Religious belief does give a lot of people comfort, when staring into the abyss of death and oblivion. Is it better to be rational and horrified, or irrational and content?