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This was yet another insightful post. I have this conversation with a semi-believer all the time; he has given up most religious beliefs but clings to the "hereafter."

He balks when I attempt to pin down the details: what precisely survives after death, are our "souls" younger embodied versions of ourselves or do they carry the appearance of the person at the time of death? And do the surviving souls wear clothes or are they naked?

Much simpler if you acknowledge that we return to star-stuff.


My Dad has been diagnosed with ALS. He's a sweet, intelligent, always-put-the-poor-first, God-can & does-intervene-in-my-life-because-of-Quantum kind of Catholic. I'm not exactly out to my family as an Athiest. I go to the Unitarian Church (sometimes) & allow my Dad to think of my ideas about religion as ditzy. The thing is, a couple years ago he self-published a book of poetry, wannabe Thomas Merton kind of poetry. There are intstructions at the beginning to his children & grandchildren about how to read 1 poem a day and then think about it. The point is clearly that sharing his personal experience of God is going to lead us back to the true faith. One of my sisters outright refused to read it. I've been putting him off with comments like "I read a couple & they're OK." Now it looks like I ought to read the whole thing & say something about it, darned if I know what. Of course I can see that my problem is trivial compared to his, but, well, as
Pooh says, Help & Bother!



You could tell your Dad that everyone has their own conception of god - and that some don't even believe in one - but of all the religious perspectives you have known, his is one of the most interesting.

Just a thought.

John the Drunkard

The loss of a cat can be worse than the loss of a close person. With the cat, the hard decisions fall on us, we have to act 'in loco deus.' This is the price we pay for our special custodial relationship with the beasts.

I know that I suffered more pain from Abigail's life ending as I held her in my lap that I did from the loss of my marriage, my home and my job--all of which came in the same half hear.

I have shed more tears over Abigail than if have for my mother.

Linda H.

Thanks for your blog. It is a wonderful resource of well-thought-out arguments on pertinent topics.

I searched your blog for "learned optimism", and found nothing.( I did read your terrific article, "Lydia's Cancer, and Atheist Philosophies of Death." I agree that atheism is a much healthier perspective on death than traditional Christianity. Of all people, in my experience, conservative Christians are the most terrified of death, other than at the moments when they are reciting their beliefs about salvation and Heaven. It makes sense that they put it out of their minds, and therefore are unprepared for it. But another interpretation is that everyone who believes that God sends most people to hell subconsciously fears death, because they can't be sure of of their own salvation. That is one reason why traditional Christianity used to work pretty well to oppress people into conformity.

I wonder if you have addressed the idea that a religious belief could function as "learned optimism?" I have embraced Jesus as my Savior, not because I believe anything like what my parents did/do, but because of an experience I will describe below, and because my upbringing was framed in Christianity.

To understand this, you have to know that I was raised Southern Baptist in the 60's. I rejected Christianity as harmful, maybe evil, when I was in my teens. In college and in my twenties, I became very interested in Eastern religions and philosophies. Marijuana had shown me that dropping certain fears and tensions that I had held continuously for many years, allowed my mind to observe and entertain delightfully fascinating new ideas. Meditative disciplines gave me some power over anxiety as well. I found that when I suspended rational judgment and read certain sacred texts, I gained more traction. In my experience, all spiritual paths that have a mystical component can be used in this way.

Getting control of anxiety is a critical issue for me. (Though my current best estimate is that I actually can't control it, working with it is and has been a beautiful, rewarding process.) I have had to deal with moderately severe panic attacks for much of my life. In the course of the last really bad one I had, I felt that I might immediately die and go to hell. (This was despite having totally rejected that possibility with my rational mind many years back.) I was beside myself with terror. I tried my childhood religious incantations, aware that I was never more sincere than in that moment. But I still was terrified, thinking the terror alone was enough to cause a heart attack in that moment. I then had the following stream of thoughts: I can't know if God is going to send me to hell. But in this moment I am alive, and not in hell. It is not going to help me in any way to worry whether God is going to send me to hell. Letting go of the worry, fully and finally, is by far my best course of action. I have fulfilled all the requirements of the fearful superstition I was imbued with (that God sends people to hell, and to avoid that one must accept Jesus as Savior.) There is nothing more I can do, but let go of the fear.

I did not go back to believing any of what I call the superstitious propositions of Christianity. But I remembered that Jesus is my Savior - the loving Jesus that the littlest Christians are allowed to have for a few years. I transformed the superstition into a useful mantra. It works pretty well for me. And I want to evangelize - everyone who had the same superstition and terror drilled into them. So I am working at that, in connection with a liberal church. In this way there is hope that Christianity can be redeemed. Radical, real love is a tremendous power for good, as anyone who as contemplated what love is, knows. Tradition, ritual, music, and mutual caring make for a healthy community. In a way, I am a sincere Christian Atheist, as I don't believe in God as described by fearful and superstitious people. But the language of religion comes to me to describe my reality. There is no final, ultimate division into which reality is permanently cut. Reality is the one God. The question is, whether that reality is evil, good or indifferent to me. My life goes on, and I keep choosing to believe and act as though it is good with me. That makes my life possible, as I would have killed myself with anxiety otherwise.


What happened with Lydia?

Nurse Ingrid

@ Randi:

Lydia passed away a few weeks after Greta wrote this piece. Here is the obituary:

Thank you so much for your thoughtfulness.

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