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Alexis Kauffmann

Wonderful, Greta! But I see a meaning in death, one you didn't count: the matter - or energy - that's is retained in this body that I call "mine" is released to form other lives. That's why I don't want my body to be burned, as such a procedure will worsen greenhouse effect and global heating. If "my" body is buried, it can feed other forms of life and become part of the miracle of life cycles in this planet.

Loving Kisses for you and Ingrid,

Louis Doench

Wonderful Greta. I've moved your blog to a the top of my Google HP Atheists page so I won't miss a delicious word. (oh, and congrats on getting published in a real grown up newspaper)

re: Alexis, I've thought a lot about what to do with my mortal remains and I've been inspired by the great John Prine, who sings

"Please don't bury me, down in that cold cold ground. I'd rather have them cut me up, and pass me all around. Throw my brain in a hurricane, the blind can have my eyes. And the Deaf can take both of my ears of they don't mind the size."

So I'll be donating my body to science.

Actually, I'd like to donate my body to MAD science.
Then I can terrorize villagers.


Well, it seems to me death cannot be separated from life; the one is impossible without the other.
Without death, life could not have developed; imagime the horror of a society where no one dies! It would grind to a halt; not enough space for new life.

Sid Schwab

Thanks for your links! To echo the comment above; if there weren't death, there'd be no reproduction, no having children...

When I was very young, talking to my mom about death, the concept of being dead forever and ever, for trillions of years, with no end, scared me. It wasn't until I realized many years later that it's be just like it was for the gazillion years before I was born -- and that seemed OK -- that it became understandable.

There's no doubt in my mind that cognizance and fear of death are the central reasons for religion; and that the need to deal with the dissonance is why even very intelligent and rational people -- in other aspects of their lives -- cling unquestioningly to the self-contradictory and absurd tenets of their religion. To me, it's a much higher morality to live a life of respect for others, of caring, when one has no religions, than to do so mainly for fear of punishment or promise of reward after death... And I look forward to the rest of your thoughts. All people need to deal with the knowing of death; I'm not much interested in the easy and thoughtless answers of the religious.


A godless view of death has the same advantage as a godless view of disease. We can admit that death and disease is bad, and do something about it. Not everyone wants to reproduce and die and would like to have the choice to live as long as we wish. (In the long run, we can easily get enough resources both to live and reproduce if we don't reproduce exponentially: at most one child per parent.)


Alexis: I don't think there's any long-term ecological difference between burning and decay. It's not as if being burned into CO2 and H2O removes you from the ecosystem! Plants will draw you back down. And compared to being buried in concrete, or even treated wood, you enter the ecosystem a lot faster... Heat from the burning is insignificant against your life's energy usage, and isn't unique to cremation anyway: decay produces heat, as the energy in the organic matter is "burned" slowly by the bacteria doing the decay. And your carbon will probably hit atmosphere eventually either way -- not that it matters for global warming, because you're biological carbon, passing from air to plant to soil to air many times.

Now, if they use fossil fuels to get the body burning properly, that would contribute to global warming. Then again, they probably used fossil fuels to create and transport a coffin.

Not to convince you about burial or cremation, either way, but don't avoid cremation because of a mistaken belief that it removes you from the cycle of life.

Deb on the Rocks

I'm interested in the concept of fairness as you hit on it. It seems to be a primal human response, but it does presume a higher order. If it is not an innate reaction to hardship, when was it learned? Or is it a version of competitiveness that prompts survival?

Good post. Thank you.


Deb, you wouldn't be in a lighthouse in Ohio would you?

I was thinking about fairness, too. It seems like the concept of fair starts when we're young. If you're supposed to share an apple with someone and you give them one bite and you eat the rest - that's not fair. But when it comes to things like death or illness it seems like we start to take it personally. There's the 'I don't like it, it's not the way i wanted it to be' aspect and there's the 'jI have no control over this and it's permanent' aspect.

I guess it's about whether or not something is under our control. Dad can make your sister give you half the apple, but he can't bring you pet rabbit back to life.

Ursula K. Le Guin's version of Chapter 16 of the Tao Te Ching describes death as 'returning to the root' and emphasizes 'understanding what must be and knowing what endures.' She says 'to know what endures is to be open hearted, magnanimous, regal, blessed' and that undertanding that this is way things are 'the body comes to its ending, but there is nothing to fear.'

I find that inspiring and comforting.

Greta Christina

Deb, I think that's a hard question to answer. But my understanding from what I've read of evolutionary biology is that our sense of and desire for fairness is wired into us as a social species. It's a big part of what drives out ability to co-operate successfully.

And I think Angie has a very good and interesting point. Our instinct for fairness slops over from human beings divvying up the food and resources equitably, where it makes sense, into a feeling that the larger natural/ physical world is or should be fair... where it really, really doesn't make sense.


Good one.

When I was a kid I wanted to be able to live forever. Now I'm old (well, relatively), that thought seems horrific.

Life is too short.

Struggling to make it a bit longer (and even more importantly, of higher quality, however long we get), like much else we struggle to achieve, is a fine goal.

Life is precious. We need to live it while we can, because it's all we get.

An existence stretching on forever? Forever is a really, really long time. Everything could be done "tomorrow". And none of it would mean much, because anything you did could be surpassed later, assuming you could be bothered to get out of bed.

These days, death doesn't just seem natural to me, but, ultimately, necessary.


It's interesting to read others' thoughts on this. I've always felt like an alien because my own death doesn't scare me. Others' deaths? Yep, been there and I hate it, and my experience of it has never been softened by a belief that I will "see them all again someday." But my own death has nothing after it for me, and I'm good with that, mostly because I won't be around to care. Plus, it doesn't bother me that I can't live forever, either on earth or in some sort of cloud-ridden fairyland. Living forever sounds irritating. As for my body after death? Wrap me in something biodegradable, stick me in the ground and plant something edible. I'm thinking a blackberry bramble, since they're tough and prickly and sweet.


Fairness: making sure you don't get less than anyone else.
Some people may realize that no one else wants less either, and jump straight to the fair split, rather than fighting over it.

Anyway, a sense of fairness seems to be in monkeys; google 'fairness' with 'monkeys' to see a slew of articles.


Great article and comments. Becoming/being an Atheist is soooo liberating, and cheaper too.

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