This essay is based upon the post, The How of Atheism?, from the blog ‘TheCommonAtheist.’
Fear is a normal human emotion. Usually, it’s a beneficial one. But it can be a choke point in human progress.
For example, when I first started riding a motorcycle I progressed to high-speed highway driving. With no seat belt, no metal cage surrounding me with air bags, and no safety devices, other than what I was wearing; traveling upwards of 70 miles per hour surrounded by cars with drivers poorly skilled or foolish, with parts of my body passing unprotected only inches from hard, hot pavement, and all of me exposed to natural and unnatural elements; I was scared riding my motorcycle. It is inherently dangerous. Known danger begets fear, but sometimes the same risk elicits pleasure.
Anytime while riding a motorcycle you need to be alert but relaxed and loose enough to respond at any speed. Instructors will tell you to be relaxed because body tension will hamper both physical response and mental judgment. I agree. Being alert and aware was no problem. However, the amount of body tension caused by fear is overwhelming and no amount of relax, relax, calm down was going to alleviate it. Experience over time helps, but the other side of the confidence curve has probably resulted in more serious accidents than bodily tension.
Fear of extinction (Psychology Today’s term for fear of death or dying) is a big deal. It’s normal, they say. If you add to that religion’s threats of permanent torture (Hell), you have raised someone’s anxiety level regarding death significantly. But not for everyone. There have always been atheists in fox holes and some have died there. In the USA, we remember them on Memorial Day.
To many believers merely doubting the existence of god is your ticket to Hell. It doesn’t matter how wonderfully charitable and loving you’ve lived your life. Religion has its dark and irrational side.
In his post, Jim postulates that atheism mitigates that fear better than a religion, especially Christianity or Islam.
I do not fear extinction. I agree in that I fear the pain and suffering of the dying process more than I fear its completion. Leonard Cohen said the same thing in an interview. Cohen also said, I was dead before I was born, and I recall no problems (I’m paraphrasing).
I recall my mother declining my offer to call a priest for last rights when she was dying. Mom was not atheist, but she said that after years of ignoring her religion she was not about to start then, a remarkable thing for a Catholic to say about the last sacrament in the face of death. She also said, “when you’re dead, you’re dead.” I did not request elaboration.
Leaning on parts from Jim’s post a bit more, Atheism is
trusting your own judgment and weighing evidence,
realizing that humans are easily deceived and manipulated by guilt,
accepting the natural goodness and innocence of humanity,
accepting human rationality, reason, and the inevitability of death.
acceptance of the here and now and responsibility derived from reality;
a fundamental rejection of fear-based belief in gods and religious prescriptions of morality associated with fear of retribution.
And it embraces the uniqueness of the individual and it is a personal claim to integrity.
To paraphrase (Jim and Paul), Oh death, where is my fear of thy sting?
Here are a few more quotes that are linked to the source. But they certainly stand alone and are based more on academic research than this old skeptic’s pondering.
First, that fear motivates religious belief, and second, that religious belief mitigates fear. And…While the fear of actual death—painfully, slowly—is apparent, the existential crisis encountered at the prospect of nothingness appears to cause the most anxiety.