I Willingly Die Every Night…

Death is scary to many people, religious or not, and I’ve always wondered… why? Outside of having to experience an excruciatingly, long drawn-out sort of tragic accident or disease while on your way towards death, how is the actual part about being dead scary?

Troy Boyle and I must have been on the same wave-length when he recently published “The Atheist and Death”. I’d already started this piece, but hadn’t completed it yet. The “great minds think alike” cliche comes to mind or rather “Damn. He beat me to the punch!” :)

I’d have to agree with many points that Troy makes in his article, and I honed in on the “UNconsciousness” part that he refers to because that is what has always made it “UNterrifying” to me. This was to be the subject for my writing. His opinion is that this part, specifically, would be disquieting to an individual. This may be true for many, but definitely not true for me.

Each night we all willingly close our eyes to enter the rejuvenating darkness that envelops us. It heals our minds and bodies from the stress we endured to better face the following day. The fact that everyone of us can willingly do so tells me that people can accept and do not fear being unconscious because of an understanding of what sleep actually is. Continuing to wake up every morning and many mornings for many years confirms their understanding that sleeping is just a natural function.

So, how can those people who understand sleeping be terrified of the experience of being dead when they understand the concept of black oblivion or discontinuity? Why would they be disquieted and even terrified when death seems to be just like what is willingly wished for when they lay down their heads at night?

Rationally spoken death itself is not worth being terrified about, but what does create the fear is what it means beyond the physical experience (or actually, the lack of experience). Those who are fearful of being dead can’t accept that it is nothing more than eternal “UNconsciousness”.

In today’s society, particularly in the communities of faith, their understanding of death does not focus on what it actually is but, rather, takes on the mystical quality of what it means for an after-life. The biblical interpretations and explanations received during their indoctrination makes it hard for people to take a position of acceptance about death being a natural event in their lives. The woefully lacking realistic explanation surrounding death only helps to induce the irrational fears we are talking about. Gnashing of teeth, fire and brimstone for eternity is what they can expect if they were not good in the eyes of their lord, and eternal bliss and happiness if they fulfilled all of god’s expectations. It’s perfectly natural to expect they would be fearful rather than accepting that it will be a non-event when they are given this limited explanation of death as only being a possibility of not knowing where they are going come judgement day.

As I said earlier, I can understand perfectly that people are fearful if their death doesn’t come swiftly and painlessly or the time preceding it is filled with suffering, but to be fearful ‘of death’ seems irrational considering the knowledge we have today.

Our impending deaths should make us want to experience life more fully knowing that it really is just the end of being who we know we are, just like when we are sleeping and in the physical state known as “UNconsciousness”. Life should be a time devoid of angst and rich with experience. Seems to me that the best thing would be to ignore death until it makes its entrance and pledge to experience life to its fullest, making the pursuit of happiness the optimal goal!


Also published at Susi’s Soap Box

  • Openeditorialoped

    yeah, the unconscious part is probably alright–it’s what we face when we wake-up-dead that may shatter our belief–see death bed last words from the great minds among our culture–not everyone’s eternity is bliss if these quotes from those peering thru the veil are examined with scrutiny–the quotes can be accessed, as most of us know, on line

  • http://elbruces.blogspot.com/ El Bruce

    I’ve considered that logic, but still find the concept of death to be frightening, when I really reflect on it.  I can’t completely imagine it, but when I get close, something in my mind recoils at the prospect in horror.  I suspect it’s just a natural response to pondering the complete destruction of the ego.

    I think we need to compile more atheist writings providing perspectives that help people deal with various difficult things – not only facing death, but also grieving a lost loved one, facing the lack of built-in purpose and justice in the universe, and validation of numinous experiences.  Different approaches work for different people, so we should gather all of those that we can.

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/5AU7DJ4GGBKTNOMWD3HBZVBGZ4 Randall

    The problem is that going to sleep each night is not the same as dying.
    Your analogy fails.

  • Gary

    It’s not the death that scares me, it’s the leaving.

  • Nicole

    I think a more accurate analogy is being knocked unconscious by a blow to the head or fainting. I’ve been knocked unconscious several times before and between slipping and waking up I had no memory, it was like time never passed, the only reason I knew I was unconscious is because people told me. When I think of what death is, I always come to that same concept. Its not that you know you are going to be unconscious its never knowing that you were conscious to begin with because there is no end to it.

    • Tim Lewis

      During temporary unconsciousness time passes in an instant, but you can’t pass infinite time in an instant. The maths breaks down and all you can imagine is a conscious darkness with time Evenflying really fast but of course your mind has been destroyed, so you wouldn’t experience this.
      Even for Bible believing Christians you have this very same indescribable nonexistence after what is referred to as ‘the second death’. As it is by definition impossible to come back from this state it remains the greatest mystery.

  • Peter

    When I go to sleep at night I fully expect to wake up. No fear in that because there is no unknown (other than the mundane life experiences which will happen to me tomorrow) to be worried about. Death is an unknown despite the anecdotal stories of coming back from death. Death is, by definition, non-living, and I’ve already done that. In fact for the vast majority of time in the universe I have been non-alive, and I have absolutely no awareness of that. I will just go back to non-living when I die. Death is not the big deal; dying is.

  • Jack

    I agree with your rationale, but the outcome for me has been to start fearing falling asleep! I find the fears of falling sleep and dying are both due to them being terminal events (for a given state of being); the end of a day or the end of a life, neither of which are recoverable or repeatable. Interestingly, I only get the fear when falling asleep at the end of the day, but not if I nap during the day or stay in bed during the morning. Strange eh?

    • Ab

      Oddly enough you can never ever remember the moment you fall asleep as you slip into the dreamworld.

  • Anthony Clements

    For me, it’s the end. THE END. Let’s say I spend a little time slowly shutting down, fully conscious and in lots of pain, then one second BAM. Nothing. It’s not like sleep at all, we know what happens when we close our eyes every night, we usually wake up. When we die, we just stop. Everything we were/are goes away. I don’t know where, but honestly I’m terrified of existing one minute then not, the next. It’s not a matter of belief, or not believing for me. A few things really scare me, brain trauma, alzheimer’s, death. Why? Because in each of those we lose ‘who we are’. I understand my reasons may not make sense in a way, but it’s just me.

    • Ab

      This is something akin to my line of thinking. When you have blank periods of memory or unconsciousness such as going under your mind suddenly switches on and there you are again with memory in tact. Perhaps the brain and energy of thoughts are simply on pause hence the ability to come back a bit. Mental illness is the strongest case of a no god, as a sense of self is destroyed or malfunctioning. If this blank period is just as before being born and after the lights turn off the true answer lies before the beginning of the big bang. If energy can never be destroyed, then the energetic development of coherent thinking through cells, food, water and air we breathe needs to go somewhere? Purpose of consciousness is difficult to fathom as it seems a burden to have mind and reflect on ones existent – perhaps life is like Sam Beckett in Quantum Leap, whereby you jump into another life through the flick of a switch and bam you are and therefore you is!

  • Tim

    Okay atheists, here’s your biblical definition of death:
    Psalm 146:4 His breath goes forth, he returns to the earth; in that very day his thoughts perish
    Ecclesiastes 9:5 For the living know that one day they will die, but the dead know nothing, they have no further reward, and even the memory of them is forgotten (not sure if referring to own memories or legacy)
    Ecclesiastes 9:6 Their love, their hate and their jealousy have long since vanished; never again will they have a part in anything that happens under the sun.
    Job 14:12 So man lies down and does not rise. Until the heavens are no longer, He will not awake nor be aroused out of his sleep.
    Genesis 3:19 ….. for dust you are, and to dust you will return!
    So now the footing is equal – even if I believe in life after death I don’t believe in life DURING death!! Does this belief have any grounding, going from nonexistence to existence? Conception and birth is a form of ‘resurrection’ by this definition. I do think the ability to have a conscious mind does have a sort of specialty to it that seems hard to explain from a materialistic perspective (I don’t believe it’s inherently immortal though), or even what process decides the mind to body assignment as such? If every body has a mind that can think, then who gets what?

    Now the concept of a finite sleep isn’t really scary – it’s just a bit of missed time, you know you’ll just wake up when it gets light. A never-ending sleep is hard to imagine (how do you skip infinite time?), so I think there is some fear of the unknown, although fear doesn’t exist in permanent sleep!! I could ask the question “Why is asking a girl out scary?” she’s either going to say “yes please” or “no thanks” – fear of the unknown again! But I think it’s because we LIKE existing! It’s hard-wired into us to keep existing! From an evolutionary standpoint, not fearing death doesn’t get very far. Watching unique human personalities become elements of the earth is not fun.
    Also if it’s a finite sleep (as described in the bible, the second death is the permanent sleep) but it could last 1000 years or more, you don’t know when and where you’ll wake up.

  • Tim

    It’s hard to get a clear boundary of conscious to unconscious with sleep, but when I had my anesthetic, I felt the liquid go up my arm, the room swayed a bit (like when drunk), and then they said “all done” I didn’t even experience blackout. I bet if there was a clock on the ceiling, I could have watched the hands jump.
    The Bible symbolically describes the state of eternal unconsciousness as “the blackest of darkness” although you wouldn’t even experience dark because your mind/soul had been destroyed

  • Roger Brown

    We’ve already been dead… before we were born we didn’t exist and after we die we won’t exist.