Funerals and “a better place”

66


Discussion by: John unique

Frequently at funerals and wakes, someone says to me most earnestly of the deceased, “He’s gone to a better place.”  I just smile uneasily and let the comment pass otherwise.  My honest response would be something to the effect that that’s a nice fantasy but the deceased hasn’t gone anywhere.  I don’t want to be confrontational in such a setting but I am really bothered by my seeming acceptance of such nonsense.  Anyone know a polite way of responding with a contrary view without causing offense or being argumentative?

66 COMMENTS

  1. I think it’s just about phrasing it in a non-confrontational way, the best method is to frame everything you say in a personal way so that they don’t feel that you are pushing an opinion on them, but your opinion should be a good example of a rational and emotionally intelligent way of dealing with the death. The person that just comes out with this, out of nowhere, is actually feeling profound doubt and despair, and they’re looking for confirmation from someone else so that they can keep the illusion alive. This is an opportunity to help them to truly grieve.

    “I just miss him. I keep wishing that I could still be with him and get more time with him, but I guess all I can do is cherish my memories of our time together, and feel grateful for everything I learned from him.” etc

    The idea is to reintroduce the idea that this person is truly gone, and to introduce ways of accepting this pain and finding consolation in their absence. Pity the people who are having such a tough time that they resort to fairytales to prevent emotional breakdown.

    I actually think that when someone dies we should celebrate their life, sharing memories of the person is a fantastic way to get some good feelings going in a sad time and the meaning behind the death becomes easier to perceive when we remember what this person wanted their life to mean, and how they affected the people present.

    I guess religion, especially in this context, is just self-soothing, kinda like a child that keeps sucking its thumb past its baby years. As atheists, we have the capacity to truly appreciate the meaning that arises from the death of loved ones, and we can share this kind of wisdom with the people around us. We have to truly grieve for ourselves in order to do this.

  2. I don’t think it’s good to respond with a contrary view, just because people are dealing with their emotions with the best tool they have. I would just tell them your own thoughts without specifically responding to their statement. “I’m glad he had so many people to give him their love and support in the end” or something that reflects your feelings.

    I’ve had to deal with very churchy funerals for both parents (there was a “You might die at any time, so repent now” message at my mom’s), and some of the stuff people said to me was infuriating, but they just feel a need to be heard and for the most part, mean well.

  3. I recently attended the funeral of my favorite aunt. She was 97 and was tired of living and ready to go join her loved ones. She believed she was going to Heaven and some of her children did too. Why spoil it? What does it hurt to believe this if it makes the transition easier for all?

    She won’t know she is not in Heaven and neither will her children. As has been mentioned before this is a good time to nod and smile.

    Facts are not important at these occasions.

  4. I loved him/her too. Don’t try to spark conversion at a funeral. I assume you went there knowing that it would probably be religious to some degree. Now if the person says “that dead bastard is going straight to hell”, set your phasers on kill and have at them.

  5. Perhaps just say “well, he is no longer suffering”. That should be acceptable to anyone, whether they believe in an afterlife or not. As Michael Fisher said, a funeral is not the time or place to put forward views that might cause offence.

  6. Interesting how the double standard is always there. If we went around the funeral grabbing every bodies hands saying “I hate the fact his body is rotting and he is dead never to be seen again” we would be regarded as being rude.

    But like you I would look embarrassed and try to mumble something supportive but not quite agreeing. One of the non-believing religious people in that recent book by Dennett and La Scola had a good technique where when asked something like “do you think Jesus rose from the dead” would say “the bible says …. “. That way you can tell “the truth” and “nothing but the truth” but skip over “the whole truth”.

    • Interesting how the double standard is always there. If we went around the funeral grabbing every bodies hands saying “I hate the fact his body is rotting and he is dead never to be seen again” we would be regarded as being rude.

      well yes, because it is! Kind of different from saying “now he’s in a better place”.

      Sometimes I think some atheists just need to get over it

      But like you I would look embarrassed and try to mumble something supportive but not quite agreeing.

      I’d probably do the same. Though I was once asked if I believed people went to heaven when they died. His mother had just died. I wasn’t able to tell a direct lie.

      One of the non-believing religious people in that recent book by Dennett and La Scola had a good technique where when asked something like “do you think Jesus rose from the dead” would say “the bible says …. “. That way you can tell “the truth” and “nothing but the truth” but skip over “the whole truth”.

      that’s a lousy technique. If someone uses it on me I tend to respond “I’m not a believer I don’t find your religious book very convincing”. I don’t push my (non-)belief system on people but if they ask me a direct question, so be it.

      A brief conversation:-

      Another: well he’ll be rotting in hell now [about a bad person]
      Me: I’m an atheist I don’t believe in hell.
      Another: so do you believe in heaven then?
      Me: see previous response

  7. I also wonder sometimes why do I keep quiet in such occasions. But I think that we should say what we think and not be silent any more. Look at them, they are not. And as we keep our mouth shut, out of some decorum or politeness, evil is spread on, like infection. When You want to say what is on Your mind, it is honest thinking, and You do not have to justify Yourself to nobody. You are a grown up person and You can take your own responsibilities for Your actions (that is actually a fundamental difference between an atheist and theist). They shift their responsibilities to an imaginary friend. :)
    So try next time to say exactly what You wrote here, and wait to see what will happened :) , I shall also ! ;)
    Good luck!

  8. And another thing. I think that we do not owe politeness to anybody, but we owe ourselves the truth. In my eyes politeness is a form of lie. And a person who is most affected by this lie is ourselves,… we continue to think about it, and we should not to. :)
    You don’t owe them anything but the truth! If someone can not take it – pity. :)

    • In reply to #11 by Modesti:

      And another thing. I think that we do not owe politeness to anybody, but we owe ourselves the truth. In my eyes politeness is a form of lie. And a person who is most affected by this lie is ourselves,… we continue to think about it, and we should not to. :)
      You don’t owe them anything but the trut…

      Truth is an important virtue, but so is mercy and kindness. A funeral is the wrong place to try to set someone straight. A grief stricken person isn’t likely to be in the mood for a philosophy lecture. If these are people you are close to there will be many, much more appropriate, times to engage them in a dialog about science, magic, fairy tales, and truth.

  9. I do not know such response, but I would like to ask such person: why do you think that the place the deceased lived in was that bad?
    Or, ok, we can asked these persons to describe that better place and tell, what is so good about that place.

  10. This thread has hit upon the great disadvantage of atheism verses a life of faith. Death and funerals call to our minds questions of purpose and comfort. I’m compelled to remind you that “The Truth” you speak of is merely “your truth” in the minds of billions of believers, and we don’t buy it. Just as you disbelieve because of the overwhelming lack of evidence for the existence of God, I believe because of the overwhelming evidence for His existence in my life. I cannot offer the scientific evidence you crave, but neither can I offer scientific evidence that I dreamed about my sons last night or I can see a beautiful tropical beach in my mind’s eye right now.

    But back to purpose and comfort. I have battled cancer for eight years, and death has camped on my back doorstep. As my body decays and weakens, I find great comfort in the future resurrection of my body and an eternal home without pain or suffering. Being reunited with friends and family is also a great source of peace for me. This comfort has strengthened me, prevented me from spiraling down into anger and despair, and provided great inspiration for those around me. I believe everything I do has great purpose, eternal permanent purpose. Without my faith, everything I did, whether good or ill, would be soon be worthless. The time I poured into my sons’ lives would crumble to dust when their lifeless corpses were lowered into the ground. All my words of hope, kindness and encouragement to others would echo through a lifeless universe unheard. All love and hope would be nothing more than illusions. Perhaps my efforts might last an extra generation or two, but soon everything I’ve done on this planet would be forgotten and ultimately useless.

    As time marches me closer to my final demise, I much prefer my truth over yours. My truth comforts me and makes me a better person in the midst of chemo pain and beneath the shadow od death. After all, even if you’re right, what will it matter in the end anyway?

    • In reply to #13 by Nordic11:

      “The Truth” you speak of is merely “your truth” in the minds of billions of believers, and we don’t buy it.>

      Though I feel terrible in taking you to task at such a dreadful time of your life, I simply can’t let this pass without comment. “Your truth” may well be “the truth”, no one can be 100%. There is a “truth” to be had and a great many of us are going to be wrong. You are on one side in your reckonings and I am on another. I guess we’ll all find out the reality of the situation soon enough, though to my thinking, I won’t be able to bask in an “I told you so” moment.”

      • In reply to #19 by Nitya:

        In reply to #13 by Nordic11:

        “The Truth” you speak of is merely “your truth” in the minds of billions of believers, and we don’t buy it.>

        Though I feel terrible in taking you to task at such a dreadful time of your life, I simply can’t let this pass without comment. “Your truth” may well be “the…

        Perhaps I should amend that and say, “if ‘my truth’ happens to be ‘the truth’, I won’t have my moment”.

        • In reply to #20 by Nitya:

          In reply to #19 by Nitya:

          Hi Nitya,

          If I’m right, there will be no gloating or “I told you so” moments. We’ll just have a good laugh about it and move into eternity.

          Cheers to you and many blessings in the new year to you and yours!!

          In reply to #13 by Nordic11:

          “The Truth” you speak of is merely “your truth” in the minds of billions of believers, and we don’t buy it.>

          Though I feel terrible in taking you to task at such a dreadful time of your life, I simply can’t let this pass without comment. “Yo…

  11. A funeral is the wrong time and place to try to dispel reassuring fantasies. Being kind, and courteous trump teaching how the universe really is. Common sense and courtesy are important.

  12. I would smile warmly nod to acknowledge that I understand and say, touching my head, “and for me X is here, where I can enjoy his company whenever I want.” I would then talk about some aspect of X’s life that has changed the present and will likely change the future. “We were lucky to have him.” This kind of response seems never to be rejected in my experience.

  13. Nordic11 ;

    The time I poured into my sons’ lives would crumble to dust when their lifeless corpses were lowered into the ground.

    When the body of my lifeless son was lowered into the ground, only numbness, shock and anger kept me going. His body is/was in a quickly decaying wicker coffin and he is buried in Highgate Cemetery about 100 yards away from Karl Marx. He had a good life but too short. I’m glad I knew him from day 1 to his last day. He wouldn’t have wanted any of us to grieve. We did / do anyway, but at least we had a good piss up afterwards. He had a good send off into oblivion. That’s what he would have wanted. No holy person was invited to speak at his funeral. Indeed only people that knew him spoke. The “better place” where his body resides is actually a very nice place with loads of wild life all around. Life from death. I always did like Highgate Cemetery.

    As time marches me closer to my final demise, I much prefer my truth over yours. My truth comforts me and makes me a better person in the midst of chemo pain and beneath the shadow od death. After all, even if you’re right, what will it matter in the end anyway?

    Come on cheer up Nordic !! At least St Peter will let you through the Pearly Gates ! The rest of us here are bound for the fiery lake !

    • Hey Mr. DArcy,

      So sorry about your son. I can’t imagine what you must feel. I believe we’ll all be walking through those gates, and your son is already there.

      Cheers and a very happy holidays to you!!
      In reply to #18 by Mr DArcy:

      Nordic11 ;

      The time I poured into my sons’ lives would crumble to dust when their lifeless corpses were lowered into the ground.

      When the body of my lifeless son was lowered into the ground, only numbness, shock and anger kept me going. His body is/was in a quickly decaying wicker coffin and he is…

  14. Well, it depends on how close you are with the deceased person and how close the people making these remarks are. I know when my mother died it really pissed me off when some distant relatives who barely knew her still felt the need to make these kinds of remarks in my presence. I guess, people often say these things because they really don’t have anything better to say and they think it’s what you are suppose to say at these events. At least to me, these remarks often strike me as quite insincere and mundane. Phrases you utter because that’s what you think you are suppose to say, when you really have nothing of importance to say. I actually don’t think these statements have anything to do with trying to comfort others or ourselves. They are too much of cliches in order to reflect any real emotions. At least that’s what I think. If you are really close to the person who died and you feel these remarks make you uncomfortable I think you have the right to point out your inconvenience. You don’t necessarily have to make a big fuss about it. But I don’t think it’s insensitive or cruel to point out that you are offended by these remarks. Especially if the dead person wasn’t particularly religious.

  15. I agree with You Nonbeliever. These words like “he’s gone to a better place”, and similar are basically only meaningless phrases :). Perhaps a lot of people don’t even think about it, when they repeat them like parrots, because they don’t know anything nice to say about deceased one. I don’t understand why John unique sincerity would hurt somebody feelings in such matter that they would begin to argue. He has a right to say what he is thinking (without arguing), as much as the person who said that remark about “better place”. If he respects a freedom of that person why not respecting his own? There is no reason for a fight.

    And, about “your truth”,… “mine truth”,… . There is no “mine” or “your” truth, but there is only one truth. Truth is based upon facts. I was not aware that resurrection is a fact! And, we are not debating here about what makes someone comfort, but should John unique respond to such phrases. ;). Somebody freedom ends where yours begins :).

  16. I would make the point that nobody has any idea where that person has gone after death. Science doesn’t have the answer and probably never will. Their view that they have gone to a better place can never be proved either right or wrong. I take comfort in death, that all the bits of me will be absorbed into bits of other things. Is that a better place? Certainly if i was in pain.

    • In reply to #25 by Delphan:

      I would make the point that nobody has any idea where that person has gone after death. Science doesn’t have the answer and probably never will. Their view that they have gone to a better place can never be proved either right or wrong. I take comfort in death, that all the bits of me will be absorb…

      Science has a very rational well supported answer as to where “people go” when they die. They don’t go anywhere because they no longer exist. We may not have a good definition of consciousness that we all agree on but we can agree on some things and that is that consciousness is a result of electrochemical activity in the brain and that when that activity stops the person no longer is conscious.

      • In reply to #26 by Red Dog:

        In reply to #25 by Delphan:

        I would make the point that nobody has any idea where that person has gone after death. Science doesn’t have the answer and probably never will. Their view that they have gone to a better place can never be proved either right or wrong. I take comfort in death, that all…

        The point is that science may have some very rational theories but it does not have anything factual to say of what becomes of our consciousness after death. In the same way science can not answer how that starts. It is a mistake for todays science to believe it can answer these questions, there may be a day when it can but it isn’t 2013 . If our consciousness exists at all surely it exists within us. As nothing truly disappears because we are absorbed by other creatures and the earth who knows? When we know nothing why not believe in something that gives you comfort?

        • In reply to #27 by Delphan:

          what becomes of our consciousness after death.>

          There’s no suggestion of anything happening to our consciousness after death. Why would anyone think that, when we can’t even remember our dreams shortly after waking,( for the most part)? Compared to remembering dreams, consciousness surviving death is a huge leap.

          • Im not saying it does. All I’m saying is we cant prove it either way? In that context someone taking comfort from something remaining is not contradictory to science?

            In reply to #28 by Nitya:*

            In reply to #27 by Delphan:

            what becomes of our consciousness after death.>

            There’s no suggestion of anything happening to our consciousness after death. Why would anyone think that, when we can’t even remember our dreams shortly after waking,( for the most part)? Compared to remembering dreams, c…

          • In reply to #29 by Delphan:

            Im not saying it does. All I’m saying is we cant prove it either way? In that context someone taking comfort from something remaining is not contradictory to science?

            In reply to #28 by Nitya:*

            In reply to #27 by Delphan:

            I’m not in favour of an all-out campaign to rid old folk of their cherished notions, but I think an effort should be made to educate the upcoming generations on the inevitability of death and an appreciation of the life we have. It’s just a mindset after all, and if we approach the topic rationally, without dread and hushed tones I think young people will take it in their stride the same way they respond to everything else. As with most contributors here, I’m closer to the end than the beginning so I’ve had to think it through.

            By way of comparison, many people choose to sneak away when leaving their toddlers in the care of someone else for a set time, thus avoiding the inevitable signs of separation anxiety. I could never bring myself to do this. I always stayed there until my kids were ready to accept my leaving. It took longer and required more patience, but in the long run I think it was the better strategy.

            There are no indications that any sign of consciousness existing without a functioning brain, in fact quite the contrary, so why construct a possible scenario in which this could eventuate? It beats me!

          • In reply to #29 by Delphan:

            Im not saying it does. All I’m saying is we cant prove it either way? In that context someone taking comfort from something remaining is not contradictory to science?

            Actually science can mount a pretty good argument that there are no gaps to allow the mind to persist after the brain is destroyed. Have a look at Sean Carroll’s lecture here.

            Even without that argument it would be contrary to science to believe in an after life for which there is no evidence and which adds complexity to the theory rather than the simpler hypothesis that there is no after life and that the mind is just wonderful patterns in the structure of the particles and fields in the brain.

            None of the above mind you would motivate me to give someone a lecture on the standard model, materialism and Occam’s razor at a funeral.

            Michael

        • In reply to #27 by Delphan:

          As nothing truly disappears because we are absorbed by other creatures and the earth who knows?

          Structure disappears. We know the fine detail of neuronal structure has profound effects on the quality of our conscious experience.

          When we know nothing why not believe in something that gives you comfort?

          We know an increasing amount about the sources, processing and qualities of our conscious experience. Scientist/philosophers have been making accurate predictions of, for instance, new colour experiences based on a seemingly accurate model. This work demonstrates that this cluster of colour experiences are self-related by (a physical and logical) structure. We will almost certainly find all our experiences are formally related by such structures.

          So, we increasingly know something. Why lie and give false hope which may falter? If you don’t lie to kids from the outset it has been my experience that they come to terms with mortality and its enormous gifts quite readily. Evolution both genetic and cultural depend upon it. Young minds see things anew and move us on. What is more the greatest poetry is not accessible to those without the expectation of total loss. Under threat, we come alive and life is the sweeter.

          • That is a very well worded response and i agree with your argument. But If somebody already has that belief (which is the context of the original question) it is scientifically difficult/impossible to disprove and certainly does not help the emotional state of the person who has suffered the loss. In those circumstances what value is there in contradicting a thought that gives comfort. Until science can offer fact not theory it should be very careful in these circumstances.

            In reply to #30 by phil rimmer:*

            In reply to #27 by Delphan:

            As nothing truly disappears because we are absorbed by other creatures and the earth who knows?

            Structure disappears. We know the fine detail of neuronal structure has profound effects on the quality of our conscious experience.

            When we know nothing why not believe in…

          • In reply to #31 by Delphan:

            But If somebody already has that belief (which is the context of the original question)

            I completely agree with this. Harm is done by trying to talk those who are in some ways near to the experience of death out of such expectations of a second endless life. They know atheists exist and may have pity on us when we openly admit we think other than them. But so long as we show our deep appreciation of “the loved one” we shall be excused. So, even if-

            science can offer fact not theory [about the non-existence of a spiritual self say]

            I think we should still stay schtumm about such things with those deluded and near to death.

            My dad taught me not to fear death. He took particular pains to do so as he lay dying. He had dropped hints all through his life that we needed to die “to bequeath a better seat in the house” to our kids and their kids, and at the end reminded me of this and how happy he was having had the best seat once gifted to him, to do his selfless bit and hand it on.

        • In reply to #27 by Delphan:

          When we know nothing why not believe in something that gives you comfort?

          If I am going to make the choice to believe a particular hypothesis in the face of a lack of a clear or definitive conclusion, I should at very least want to have that belief founded upon some sort of sound evidence or rational reasons that it has going for it.

          Not only can I not find that with regard to the theorized existence of an afterlife, I can find many more reasons for not believing in an afterlife.

          I like how Hitchens put it:

          “…we can’t say any more than we can say there is no god, there is no afterlife. We can only say there is no persuasive evidence for or argument for it.”

          • By the way, with regard to the original topic of this thread, I think our original article writer has the proper approach already; just meet such comments with respectful silence. Silence does not have to mean assent (nor is it necessarily interpreted that way) and such situations are not the time and place; pursuing such conversations within that context would almost assuredly cause far more harm than good and would show a lack of sensitivity and tact. It would be rather like an overzealous Christian pointing out at that moment that the person’s loved one may or may not be in a better place; “they might be in Hell.”

          • Context is everything. I believe everyone on this boards agrees that there is a time and place for the debate and someones funeral is neither.
            Putting that aside; i think science can damage its position if it argues too strong a view on areas where its evidence is shaky. I think this stance reduces the impact of the factual debate against religion as they somehow get mixed together. It is a fact that the earth is not 6000 years old and it is a fact that we are descended from the apes. It is also a fact that their is a lot unknown about how life starts and what constitutes consciousness. If we argue otherwise i think we allow a muddying of the more certain arguments against religion. I personally take some comfort that i get broken down into my constituent parts after death and go on to be part of the universe in other forms. It reduces the impact of sudden end! But that is very different to believing in any continuation of consciousness.

            In reply to #33 by Russell W:

            In reply to #27 by Delphan:

            When we know nothing why not believe in something that gives you comfort?

            If I am going to make the choice to believe a particular hypothesis in the face of a lack of a clear or definitive conclusion, I should at very least want to have that belief founded upon some sor…

          • In reply to #37 by Delphan:

            Context is everything. I believe everyone on this boards agrees that there is a time and place for the debate and someones funeral is neither.
            Putting that aside; i think science can damage its position if it argues too strong a view on areas where its evidence is shaky.

            It is also a fact that their is a lot unknown about how life starts and what constitutes consciousness. If we argue otherwise i think we allow a muddying of the more certain arguments against religion.

            But there is a huge amount to be known and considering we only got to the starting blocks of these issues in the mid twentieth century when the right investigative tools started to become available, we have made enormous strides, so much so the general public are lagging substantially behind. It is not in the least the time to hide what new has been discovered. What we know already is entirely pertinent to the debate with the fundamentalist religious and is fit for purpose.

            What the religious need to see is how year on year their little gap of god filled unknown silts up with knowledge before their very eyes. They must see the process in action. It is not for their benefit but for their children’s. The sooner we stop them being misled by the well-meaning but under-informed the sooner they will not be hurt in later years.

            More poisonous than the specious promise of life after death is the threat of eternal punishment after death. I have an account from a friend whose mother was absolutely beside herself with fear over this RCC teaching. Her declining years were made hideous by her childhood indoctrination.

          • What we already know makes any religion look ridiculous yet it doesn’t appear to make any difference. I agree that eternal afterlife is much less benign than eternal damnation. The problem is the state. It should be illegal to teach these things in schools. For all of the reasons that are obvious round the world.

            reply to #48 by phil rimmer:*

            In reply to #37 by Delphan:

            Context is everything. I believe everyone on this boards agrees that there is a time and place for the debate and someones funeral is neither.
            Putting that aside; i think science can damage its position if it argues too strong a view on areas where its evidence is shaky….

        • In reply to #27 by Delphan:

          In reply to #26 by Red Dog:

          I would make the point that nobody has any idea where that person has gone after death. Science doesn’t have the answer and probably never will. Their view that they have gone to a better place can never be proved either right or wrong. I take comfort in death, that all…

          as I commented in my previous post we have no good evidence or reason for survival after death. Occam’s razor then says there is no survival after death.

          The point is that science may have some very rational theories but it does not have anything factual to say of what becomes of our consciousness after death. In the same way science can not answer how that starts. It is a mistake for todays science to believe it can answer these questions, there may be a day when it can but it isn’t 2013 .

          why not. Consciousness is a physical phenomenon. When the substrate is destroyed the consciousness is destroyed. Consider if I get a bang on the head my consciousness is disrupted, maybe permanently. Why can you believe in brain damage but not in death?

          If our consciousness exists at all surely it exists within us.

          yes.

          As nothing truly disappears

          popular misconception. Information is destroyed all the time. If I burn the last copy of a book it’s gone. Forever.

          If I shuffle a pack of cards thoroughly I have a unique (52! is a really big number!) arrangement. If I shuffle the pack again it’s gone. Forever. If I turn of my computer a whole bunch of transient things called processes just disappear.

          …because we are absorbed by other creatures and the earth who knows?

          no we aren’t. Just the molecules and atoms that make up our bodies are absorbed. The arrangements that made up our memories, personalities and consciousness are gone.

          When we know nothing why not believe in something that gives you comfort?

          because it’s childish? I’m not able to make myself believe something just because it would make me feel better (I tried when I was younger)

      • Hey Redog,

        Considering the scientific evidence offered for near death experiences, I don’t think you can be so dogmatic about life after death. A lot of questions remain that need to be answered.

        Cheers!
        In reply to #26 by Red Dog:

        In reply to #25 by Delphan:

        I would make the point that nobody has any idea where that person has gone after death. Science doesn’t have the answer and probably never will. Their view that they have gone to a better place can never be proved either right or wrong. I take comfort in death, that all…

        • In reply to #40 by Nordic11:

          Hey Redog,

          Considering the scientific evidence offered for near death experiences, I don’t think you can be so dogmatic about life after death. A lot of questions remain that need to be answered.

          Cheers!
          In reply to #26 by Red Dog:

          In reply to #25 by Delphan:

          I would make the point that nobody…

          There is nothing in NDE that contradicts the basic science that tells us that consciousness equals electrochemical brain activity. There are many explanations for NDE that do not require a soul or life after death and are at least as consistent with the data.

          Saying “a lot of questions remain that need to be answered” is not an argument. You can say that for just about any interesting question of science and most of the questions that relate to human cognition and behavior are open questions. So yes of course there are a lot of questions that need to be answered.

          Michael Schermer had a good book on pseudoscience a while back in which he identified various patterns that everything from climate deniers to creationists fall into and the “there are many questions that need to be answered” ploy was one of his examples. You can say the same for the question of evolution, a lot of questions need to be answered, that doesn’t mean that theories that completely contradict what we currently know need to be treated as real possibilities just because we don’t know everything yet.

          • In reply to #42 by Red Dog:

            I’ve had at least a full score of NDEs and, while highly entertaining, they were all so wildly inconsistent as to resemble nothing even approaching scientific evidence.

          • I agree with Peter Grant. It is a mistake for science to claim it has the answer to everything today. It weakens the arguments where the facts are clear. Dismissing thoughts or views without evidence for or against is un scientific

            In reply to #42 by Red Dog:

            In reply to #40 by Nordic11:

            Hey Redog,

            Considering the scientific evidence offered for near death experiences, I don’t think you can be so dogmatic about life after death. A lot of questions remain that need to be answered.

            Cheers!
            In reply to #26 by Red Dog:

            In reply to #25 by Delphan:

            I wou…

          • In reply to #44 by Delphan:

            I agree with Peter Grant.

            No, you don’t!

            It’s times like this that I want a dislike button

          • Im not sure you needed the button. You got your views across..
            I can see why you get invited to many funerals.

            In reply to #45 by Peter Grant:

            In reply to #44 by Delphan:

            I agree with Peter Grant.

            No, you don’t!

            It’s times like this that I want a dislike button

          • In your defence though your right i dont agree with you i agree with nordic11 the previous point but clicked the wrong reply button!
            The scientific evidence for NDE is shaky but science should not be so sure to dismiss concepts it cannot disprove. Surely a good scientist keeps an open mind until the evidence shows them otherwise.

            In reply to #47 by Peter Grant:

            In reply to #46 by Delphan:

            Im not sure you needed the button. You got your views across..

            Good!

          • In reply to #44 by Delphan:

            I agree with Peter Grant. It is a mistake for science to claim it has the answer to everything today. It weakens the arguments where the facts are clear. Dismissing thoughts or views without evidence for or against is un scientific

            I agree that it would be a mistake for science to claim it has the answer to everything. But that isn’t what I was doing. Saying we don’t have all the answers (quite true and no competent scientist would disagree) is not at all the same as saying we can’t look at some hypothesis and say it’s nonsense based on what we do know.

            I agree there are uncountable numbers of interesting unsolved questions about consciousness and related phenomena. However, to claim that just because some people who were near death had similar hallucinations that that somehow supports the hypothesis of a soul or life after death is totally unwarranted. A much simpler explanation, and one that seems to be getting support as we strip away the hype and the BS from the actual research, is that NDEs simply reflect common shared memes that naturally tend to get invoked by people in the same culture under stress and that they also reflect (e.g. the white light) common physiological activity that can occur in such times.

            Now I’m not claiming that is a complete answer, I agree there isn’t a complete answer yet. But to overthrow essentially everything we know about psychology, biology, and the mind/brain based on a few unexplained bits of data would be very bad science.

            If you really care about the truth you don’t just throw out random speculations. And also if you care about the truth you are especially critical of random speculation that supports cherished folk beliefs that are guaranteed to make people feel better and catch their interest. If you care about the truth then when you come up with an idea you need to think through how that idea fits in with the rest of established science. The less it fits the more skeptical you should be.

        • In reply to #40 by Nordic11:

          Considering the scientific evidence offered for near death experiences,

          none.

          I don’t think you can be so dogmatic about life after death. A lot of questions remain that need to be answered.

    • In reply to #25 by Delphan:

      I would make the point that nobody has any idea where that person has gone after death. Science doesn’t have the answer and probably never will. Their view that they have gone to a better place can never be proved either right or wrong.

      this is just god-of-the-gaps arguing. There’s no evidence that anything of the personality survives death and no particular reason to think so. Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. There are no gods or unicorns or teapots orbiting saturn. And there is no immortal soul or survival after death. Occam.

      I take comfort in death, that all the bits of me will be absorbed into bits of other things.

      how odd

      Is that a better place? Certainly if i was in pain.

      the “you” is no longer anywhere.

  17. I don’t go to church funerals. I will attend private receptions and wakes. While there, I keep my discussion to events in the life of the deceased, and comments in support of his or her friends and family. Philosophical questions can be deferred by book suggestions (that none will probably actually read), and if the subject of “an afterlife” comes up, I tend to ask my standard question about who you think was your first ancestor to have “an afterlife” and leave it hang with that.

  18. There is no polite way to disagree with people under these circumstances. Empathy for those going through the hardship demands as much, in most circles, currently. It didn’t sit too well, a couple of months ago, when the funeral director lady told us my baby niece now “watches over” us. My bereaved sister is accepting of some spirituality and not definitely an atheist. No urge to voice some contrarian response crossed my mind, I can tell you.

    Are you seriously bothered, OP, by your inability to confront illogical statements at funerals? If so, your best defence would be to ensure those around you are educated and benefited by atheistic discussion well before you attend their funeral. Every person you know. Every member of their families. Simple, then you won’t have to “let things pass”.

    Less sarcastically, I do know where you are coming from. I grimaced somewhat, internally, when it was decided by my mother a priest’s attendance was necessary at the baby’s funeral. But as for seeking methods of disputing people’s feelings and methods of coping, during a funeral? I doubt anyone can “help” you there.

    • I have not often agreed with Peter Grant because he is sometimes too abrupt and thus nonsensical, but I must say, without the slightest reserve… I’m with him on this one – 100%.

      In reply to #41 by Peter Grant:

      I always answer, “No he hasn’t.”

      End of story. I don’t need to preach science or reason, at that point. I made a lot of friends during my time spent in oncology wards, so I go to a lot of funerals, especially recently. Everyone has gotten to know by now that I refuse to mourn death. I celebrate the life that was. Look into my dying eyes and disagree, mourner or not. I will tear them a new one, on the spot. The deceased will always be with me, in me and part of me, specifically in my “heart”, for lack of a better term, and in my memories. Either, I learned and loved, or not – which is a lesson in itself. That is their ultimate gift to me and to nobody else – my time with them. Forget them and it will be as if they never existed. Meeting them in the hereafter would be a poor consolation for having been forgotten while you were still here. I really don’t want to hear that they are waiting somewhere nice for me, to buy the farm and raise daisies, or, gargleblot forbid – I’ve gone to hell and they never see me again, anyway.

      [Removed by moderator]

      Life is too short and precious to bleat about the eternal meaning. I am going to kick the bucket soon enough and it will be by my own hand, on my terms, in my own time. Exactly when I am ready. Everyone around me has accepted that and, given my history with this illness, agrees with the intent and the outcome, joyfully. I will sap every ounce of joy from this life, while I can and then the fat lady sings. I’m not going to sit around doped up to beyond my ears waiting for a horrible end, while the people I love more than life sit around in a different agony to my own, but agony, none the less, waiting for the inevitable.

      [Removed by moderator.]

      My life is not so utterly empty that I feel the need to fill it with some greater purpose. I have raised my children properly, I love my family deeply, and have given them all the tools they need to survive and flourish in this life; whether they choose to utilise those or not is up to them.

      I have done my job and take great pride in this accomplishment. Very few people do it properly. Living my life to the absolute maximum every single day has inspired more people to suck the marrow from their life daily than any sermon I’ve ever heard or all of them put together, for that matter. I get thanked almost daily, often by complete strangers that hear my story second hand. The absolute knowledge that when I end my life, there will be no more pain and no more suffering, is a great deal more comforting than some maybe-maybe-not belief system – well, one of the zillions out there, all of which “know” that their one is the right one.

      I have very little anger and exactly zero despair. What does anger me is having to bear witness to any second of life that people waste chasing some or other ideology or equally trivial nonsense, when this life is so precious and so much better spent doing things that really matter.

  19. I think in some respects to keep peace, especially given the occasion, it is better to say nothing. I totally agree with you. I have been to funerals of a young person or a person who died young due to disease, where people say or a priest will say, “God wanted him or her”. I have always been annoyed at how believers rationalize any occurrence, whether bad or good, as somehow being the will of “god”.
    Trying to question any of these statements with family or friends immediately produces a wall of hostility. Their belief is stronger than reason, and gives the comfort of magical thinking. If I try to discuss any of this, they turn on me. My family hated me because I wouldn’t christen my children, as I saw now reason for it and did not believe in “original sin”.

  20. As so many people have stated, a funeral is hardly the time to dash the hopes of the bereaved. However even as I write that it feels like it must be so ingrained in me not to offend the religious that I should simply ignore my beliefs (or lack of them) so as not to upset anyone. On the other hand if the person making the comment knew I was atheist then arguably it is insensitive of them to make remarks to the effect that my beliefs are simply wrong. Yet that is exactly what we are saying here. We atheists should tread lightly in case we offend the religious while they are free to make up their own fairy tales about what happens after death and share them with us even at a funeral.

Leave a Reply