Thursday, October 11, 2012

Confronting Death As An Atheist

“What will you do with me when I die?”

I was asked this by my, then four year old, daughter at lunch one day. I quickly discovered why adults hold onto the lie of heaven. As adults get older they let go of other lies told to them as children; Santa Clause, Eater Bunny, the tooth fairy and a lot of adults even let go of the idea of a personal god but still cling to heaven. Heaven…that’s what I wanted to say to my daughter, because it sounded a lot nicer than what I actually told her.

I sat there trying to craft a response when it occurred to me that she wasn’t asking an existential question. She was asking a literal question about what will become of her body. I wanted to make sure. I asked her what she meant. She said, “Where do you put me when I die?”

I told her the truth. That she will be put into a coffin and then buried underground.

“Forever?” she asked as she stuffed her mouth with macaroni and cheese.

“Yes. Forever, honey”, I said through gritted teeth as memories came rushing back of nearly having to do exactly that to her just two short years prior.

She said, “Okay”, in a nonchalant tone.

I realized that adults don’t give kids enough credit. Heaven is not an innate idea in children. They are taught it, just as they are taught religion. Children are not born religious. Children are not born with a god. They are, perhaps, born into a family that has a religion and god, but are not born with either.

It was this conversation with my daughter that finally helped me let go of my own hang-ups. It was this conversation in which I learned; children are born atheist.

I have always had an idea of how my funeral should go. I do not want a preacher, priest, and no clergy of any kind to speak at or officiate my funeral. I want friends and family to take turns telling stories, while some of my favorite music plays in the background. Open bar is a must.

I understand that a story about that one time when I was drunk may not help the religious family and friends that are grieving. I get that. I want to offer an alternative to having some preacher there claiming to know where people go when they die.

I found an atheist eulogy idea. It is written by Aaron Freeman and you can read the entire post here.

Here are a few excerpts from it.

“You want a physicist to speak at your funeral. You want the physicist to talk to your grieving family about the conservation of energy, so they will understand that your energy has not died.”

“And at one point you'd hope that the physicist would step down from the pulpit and walk to your brokenhearted spouse there in the pew and tell him that all the photons that ever bounced off your face, all the particles whose paths were interrupted by your smile, by the touch of your hair, hundreds of trillions of particles, have raced off like children, their ways forever changed by you.”

“And you'll want the physicist to explain to those who loved you that they need not have faith; indeed, they should not have faith. Let them know that they can measure, that scientists have measured precisely the conservation of energy and found it accurate, verifiable and consistent across space and time. You can hope your family will examine the evidence and satisfy themselves that the science is sound and that they'll be comforted to know your energy's still around. According to the law of the conservation of energy, not a bit of you is gone; you're just less orderly. Amen.”

Listen to it here

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