(Just so you know, I wrote this article a while back, but since we were almost into the holidays at the time I didn’t want to publish it then, because I was afraid that someone who is already depressed during the holidays might take it the wrong way — and for too many people, the holidays are by far the most depressing time of the year. And even now, I will say that if you are feeling very depressed, please don’t read this article at this time. Hopefully at some point life will seem brighter to you, so come back and read it then if you like. Also, I had no idea when I scheduled publication of this article for the middle of January that the tragedy in Arizona would occur, so please don’t read this article as a response to that).
Of all the evil things to come out of fundamentalist Christianity, including the hatred of people who are not pretty much exactly like them (they don’t even like most other Christians), I think one of the most evil things is something they have promoted ever since the start of organized religion. And that is, the fear of death.
Now, I’m not talking here about the normal human tendency for self-preservation. I’m talking here about a specific control mechanism; the idea that they have planted into society that no matter how much someone is suffering, we must preserve their life above all else. To understand this, bear in mind that for a major part of human history, there was no “separation of church and state”, and therefore we had what many fundamentalist Christians (the “Christian Taliban”, as some now refer to them) would like to bring about once again: A government run by the most hardcore religious types. These are people who seek money and power and control, not the betterment of humanity. And here’s the thing to remember: The longer they can keep someone around as a productive member of society, the longer that person can tithe to the church (or, now that church and state have been separated, pay taxes to the government).
Some Democratic legislator, and I’m sorry but at the moment I can’t remember which one it was, recently famously defined the Republican health care plan: 1) Don’t get sick. 2) If you do get sick, die quickly. This legislator was partly right and partly wrong about that. Yes, that’s exactly how many Republicans seem to feel about people if there is no longer any hope that they will be productive members of society, and strangely enough, it’s also how some fundamentalist Christians seem to feel about people in general who aren’t part of their religion (try substituting the word “AIDS” for “sick” if it will help you understand how the fundies feel). But if there is any chance whatsoever that a person will live to pay more taxes or give more tithes to the church, then those institutions suddenly have a much greater interest in keeping that person around.
But the point is, for centuries the churches, in an effort to keep potential tithers from giving up on life and dying off too quickly (particularly during the huge chunk of history when many humans died in the prime of life), have promoted a theology that in a roundabout way taught people that they should fear death above all else — unless, of course, they were going into war on behalf of the church (the idea being that if you died in a righteous war, you got a free pass to heaven). Not only that, they promoted the notion that suffering is a virtue, and that everyone must suffer during their lives.
They have been so successful in promoting this fear of death that it’s gotten to the point that even the fundamentalists themselves seem to fear death. Oh, sure, on Sunday mornings they’ll sing songs about how they are looking forward to that “mansion over the hilltop” (A mansion? Where do they get these ideas, anyway? And just who’s going to clean this mansion, if no one in heaven has to do any work?), but they always want it to be “in the sweet by and by” — hopefully the very distant by and by. Because their biggest secret fear — indeed, the thing that drives them in their madness — is the fear that they will be “left behind”, that they will somehow not be found worthy, that they will miss out on heaven. And it’s a very real and present fear for them, because if you’ve ever heard a real fundamentalist loon preach, nearly everything is a sin, and any sin has the potential to keep you out of heaven (and you know what they think is the only alternative to heaven). It’s not even just the actual sins you commit, even your sinful thoughts can keep you out of heaven, according to these guys. It’s an impossibly high standard that no human could ever hope to meet, though that doesn’t stop them from trying. Strangely, they don’t seem to see hate of those not like themselves as one of the sins that might impede their upward progress.
Guess what the biggest fear of most teenage and young adult fundamentalists is? It’s that Jesus might return, or that they might die while they are thinking about sex, or heaven forbid, engaging in any “unapproved” sexual practice. I shouldn’t need to elaborate on this – if you’ve ever been there, you know exactly what I’m talking about.
So, we have the strange situation where the people who claim to be the most secure in the knowledge of what’s going to happen to them after death are actually the most fearful of death. If you were to ask most of them (and if they were honest with you), their preference would be to die at a ripe old age, long after youthful urges and “impure thoughts” have departed, and possibly while in a state of partial dementia so that their deity couldn’t possibly hold them accountable for any bad thoughts on their deathbeds.
Now, this would not be a problem for the rest of us, except that these people have had enough control of our governments for so long now that our society is now permeated with an institutionalized fear of death. Even when it makes no sense, we prolong life as long as possible. In part, this is because fundamentalist Christianity teaches us that we only have one life to live, and that’s it, so we’d best prolong it as long as possible because in all eternity we’ll never again get this “wonderful opportunity” to incarnate as a human being. People of other faiths don’t necessarily believe that, many early Christians didn’t believe it, and a growing body of scientific evidence suggests it may not be true. But the church/government wanted to keep the tithe/tax-paying church members around as long as possible, so they discouraged any idea that you could escape a not so great life by dying, and possibly being reborn into a better situation (or at very least, one where you were not under the thumb of organized religion). Again, you have to keep in mind that virtually every church policy was designed to bring money and power to the church, and it just wouldn’t do for church members to be leaving this mortal coil prematurely, or to have small families or no children at all (which is why they’re really so opposed to family planning and abortion, not that abortion isn’t a gruesome practice, but sometimes the reason people say they are against something and the real reason they’re against it are two very different things).
When you think of it that way, you even have to wonder if many of the “compassionate acts” of the church had an ulterior motive. If they built hospitals with the idea of saving lives, but only because they hoped that those whose lives they had saved would be forever indebted to the church… well, that sort of puts a different angle on their acts of compassion, now doesn’t it?
Let me tell you a true story that happened to someone I knew. This lady was in her 80′s and had been very healthy, but then she developed a type of breast cancer. The cancer was successfully treated, but the treatment (which included a harsh form of chemotherapy) apparently did something that affected her sense of balance, so she started having frequent falls and broken bones, all of which were very painful, and a couple of which landed her in a drab, dreary nursing home for a time (seriously, I think some prisons are probably more cheerful inside than that nursing home was). As an aside, this lady finally started taking a 1000 IU Vitamin D supplement pill every day, and never had a broken bone after that, even though she still had frequent falls — just something you may want to think about if you have any senior citizens in your family.
She lived for another full decade, but could no longer get up and move around as she had in the past. She couldn’t do any yard or garden work anymore, something she’d always loved. If she went to the store, someone had to push her around in a wheelchair, or in one of those carts with a bench seat attached that’s designed for kids. In the final two or three years of her life, she started losing her eyesight to a much greater degree than she had in the past, so she could no longer enjoy watching her game shows and soap operas on television. In short, her quality of life dramatically declined.
What I’ve omitted from this story is that not too long after she had finished her cancer treatments, her heart started skipping beats, eventually stopping completely for several seconds at a time, and she started blacking out. The doctors wanted to install a pacemaker, and she didn’t want it but was talked into it. The pacemaker fixed the problem of the irregular heartbeat but in retrospect, her family wonders if that was the compassionate thing to do. On the one hand, she got to live long enough to see (as well as she could see anything) a couple of great-grandchildren she wouldn’t have seen otherwise. But on the other hand, she was so unhappy and depressed the last few years of her life that in looking back, it might have been better for her if everyone had just let nature take its course, so to speak. Chances are that she would have died peacefully in a still relatively healthy state, without having to suffer the broken bones, the failing eyesight, the indignity of soiling herself and urinating on herself, and many other afflictions that only beset those whose lives have been prolonged perhaps longer than they should have been.
Having witnessed that, I am convinced that this is NOT how I want my life to end. So if you are a physician and someday I am forced to be under your care and you think I’m the “patient from hell”, it may be because I really, truly, don’t want your help. Just let me go naturally, as the song says¹, so that I may get on to my next incarnation or the next plane of existence, or whatever lies ahead. I’m no longer scared of the phony-baloney, un-biblical “fire and brimstone” hell that the fundamentalist preachers love to rant² about, because I know that even if such a place exists, it’s only for the devil and the sinning angels, not for any human being that has ever lived or will ever live (once again, I refer you to Those Lazy Old Blokes of 1611 if you need help understanding that the “fire and brimstone” preachers are pretty much pulling their teachings about hell out of their collective posteriors).
Along with prolonging life to the point that people suffer, it’s the self-righteous fundamentalists that are often in the forefront of the anti-drug hysteria. Ever wondered why? Well, it’s because certain “illegal” drugs, though definitely not all of them, have valid uses as religious sacraments, expanding the consciousness and in the process, potentially revealing that some of the fundie teachings are unadulterated b.s. The problem with that is that some of the drugs to which they are so opposed could dramatically ease the suffering of those who don’t have much time left (and often at far less expense than the “approved” painkillers that don’t work nearly as well). What is so bad about giving heroin to a terminal cancer patient, to ease their pain and suffering? Seriously, you have to wonder how evil these people are if their goal is to prolong life, only to prolong suffering that they won’t lift a finger to relieve. Oh, they’ll pray for the sufferer? All well and good (and they should do that³) but sometimes a bit more practical form of pain relief is also needed. With some of these guys, you’d like to see which they’d prefer if they were in severe pain — a bunch of people coming around to pray for them for a few minutes, or a good strong painkiller!
I’ve said if before and I will say it again, if there is such a thing as an antichrist⁴, he or she or it will likely come right out of fundamentalist Christianity, and the fundamentalists will love him/her/it, because it will be telling them exactly what they want to hear – much of which is the exact opposite of what Jesus taught. Hate your neighbor because he’s not a fundie like you? Have little to no compassion for the poor and the dying? Preach doctrines that come straight out of a religion obsessed with power and control? Sure sounds like something an antichrist would do, doesn’t it? Maybe organized religion is the antichrist, and if and when Jesus reappears, they won’t recognize him at all, and may even seek to kill him again.
As a parenthetical note, you may be asking, do I actually think there is a chance Jesus could reappear? Well yes, but probably not in the way the church envisions. There are three possibilities I can think of (which is not to say there aren’t others I haven’t considered). He could reincarnate and be reborn into a new body, though I think that’s somewhat unlikely. He could be an interdimensional being, and at some point he will use whatever advanced technology is available on “the other side” — or maybe some form of spiritual method, for want of a better term — to cross the veil between dimensions. Or, he could be an alien from elsewhere in the universe, where the lifespans are much longer than they are here on earth (early Sumerian tablets say that the Annunaki had incredibly long lifespans compared to humans, such that our ancestors thought they were immortal). I tend to go with the second option, if only because it’s my belief that our universe is comprised of multiple dimensions and when we are resting between incarnations, we live in another of those dimensions, so there’s no reason to think that Jesus couldn’t occupy another dimension from us — that thought really shouldn’t even challenge anyone’s theology. But if he does come back, I suspect he’s not going to be any more approving of today’s churches, preachers, and evangelists than he was of the religious institutions and leaders of his day.
I just find it very interesting that of all the peoples on the earth, fundamentalist Christians seem to be more fearful of death than anyone, and their deep-seated fears have to some degree crossed over into society at large. Yet those who have had near-death experiences usually say they have no fear of death at all (by the way, they also report that committing suicide is a very bad thing for your spiritual development and for those around you — I mention that only in case someone reading this is encouraged to think that suicide is a great way to escape your troubles. It isn’t — in your next incarnation you’ll likely get the very same troubles, or worse, and some report that you don’t even get the usual rest period in between incarnations. So, don’t even think about it). And many people of other faiths, and even many non-religious people, seem to have far fewer concerns about death than the fundamentalists do.
I’m not looking to check out early or anything, but in some ways this life has been a disappointment (and I think a lot of older people feel that way, particularly when we realize that our children and grandchildren have less freedom and fewer opportunities than we did⁵). So if I ever do get really sick, I’m probably not going to look too kindly upon any doctor or institution that tries to prolong my life. The only thing I really want them to do is ease my pain insofar as is possible, and let me die naturally!
¹ The particular song I have in mind is “And When I Die” by Blood, Sweat, and Tears, a song I hated when I was a teenager, by a group I didn’t care for at all. Possibly one of the more weird and/or depressing songs to hit the charts (at least for those times), but it comes to mind now because of this verse: “Give me my freedom for as long as I be / All I ask of living is to have no chains on me. / All I ask of living is to have no chains on me, / And all I ask of dying is to go naturally. / Oh I want to go naturally.” To me, this seems like a plea for freedom in life and death, and it seems like there are far too many in our society who are determined to give us freedom in neither.
² Does anyone besides me find the speaking style of some preachers really annoying? You’d think they were living in the days prior to the invention of vacuum tube amplifiers, the way they shout and carry on, but what really gets me is the way they deliberately change the inflections of their words. It’s almost as if they’re trying to hypnotize the audience by their speech patterns. If that’s really the point, then what does that say about the actual message? That you have to hypnotize people and turn off their critical thinking facilities before they’ll accept the crap you’re shoveling?
³ There is pretty good scientific evidence that prayer actually works — but the dirty little secret the fundies don’t want you to know is that no one religion has a monopoly on the power of prayer. So if you are sick and someone of another faith offer to pray for you, I’d suggest you don’t turn them down or assume that their prayers will be ineffective, because you might be denying yourself some real “help from above.”
⁴ When talking about Biblical prophecy, we must keep in mind that few or no prophets throughout history have ever foretold the future with 100% accuracy, mostly because the future is malleable and we do have the power to change it. Plus, there’s the case where Jonah (of “Jonah and the big fish story” fame) predicted the destruction on the ancient city of Nineveh, the people supposedly repented of their evil, and the god of the old testament changed his mind (leaving poor Jonah twisting in the wind — who’d believe him after that?). Maybe the people really did change their ways, or maybe the god of the old testament discovered that his destructo-ray wasn’t working as well as he’d hoped, and he wouldn’t be able to destroy the entire city (which was huge by ancient standards) — but the point is that a Biblical prophet foretold something that didn’t happen. So maybe if an antichrist is supposed to make an appearance, something might occur to prevent that from happening.
⁵ I also tend to blame the fact that our kids have less freedom than we did on the fundamentalist “one life to live” philosophy, and the resulting desire to prolong this life as long as possible. Because that way of thinking has taken such a strong hold in Western society, I think that today there is a very unhealthy overemphasis on safety, to the degree that our kids are only allowed to live life, and not really experience it as our generation did. Back then most parents did not know where their kids were every single minute of the day; all they knew was that we were out playing in the neighborhood somewhere. Now it’s like, ohmigod, if I let my kid out of my sight for two minutes there are ten guys hiding in the bushes waiting to kidnap him or her. I’m just wondering how long it will take before out government decides we should all be locked in rubber rooms from cradle to grave so we can’t hurt ourselves or be harmed by anyone else. At the same time, and on the flip side of that coin, our little darlings know that the government wants above all else to keep them safe, so if they want to get an adult in trouble all they have to do is lie a little and say that an adult did something that harmed them in some way, and suddenly the adult is facing an inquisition (if you know a teacher, ask them if any of the kids have figured out how to manipulate the system and cause trouble for school personnel they don’t happen to like). I figure in about four or five years there’s going to be a huge market for wearable video camera/recorders, sold to adults who work with kids so that they have a video record of every interaction with a kid, to prevent trouble because some bored-to-tears kid lied through his teeth, just to create a little drama in his life.
Think about it: If you don’t fear death, and think that we come back (reincarnate) many times, you’re probably going to be less concerned about being absolutely safe at all times, and you’re probably going to be more willing to enjoy life and take chances. You might still be mindful that if you do something dumb and check out early, it’s going to make your relatives and friends feel pretty sad, but it won’t be the same kind of paralyzing fear that seems to grip many fundamentalists.
- Scientists probe brief brushes with the afterlife (christiancentury.org) — Note especially this sentence: “A 2009 study at Dana Farber Cancer Institute found that patients with a religious faith were more likely than nonbelievers to ask for aggressive life-saving techniques in their final days.” (emphasis added)
- Jim DeMint Spells It Out: Fundamentalist Christianity Required to Be a Conservative (littlegreenfootballs.com)