Morbid insecurity

Among the advantages of illness, is the opportunity for contemplative thought. One may think of a subject, for instance deaths — by my age, I have encountered plenty. Or just about one’s own death, a non-statistical fact. Or displace this, by thinking of, say, the death of one’s father.

A famous Welsh poet told his father to “rage, rage, against the dying of the light.” I would not make this suggestion to gentle reader. My own father, who had lost most of his marbles in the course of events, went quietly. He was seraphic towards his (biological) end. But he had thought of death thoroughly, before, back when he was fully equipped for intellectual adventures. He was impressively courageous, and took the view that, “Death is exciting. One wonders what comes next. There will be something, I’m quite sure.”

His daughter once told me that the fear of death is overdone. “Suppose you knew that you were going to die tomorrow afternoon. You could still do stuff in the morning.”

To which I would add, forget the expenses. Either your papers are in order, or they’re not. If not, they are a problem for other people. And lo: death puts an end to taxes, at least for you. As to your worldly goods, why worry? You won’t be needing them any more.

I am taking a “practical,” rather than philosophical view. I was discussing this matter with an Atheist, recently, and found we were, neither of us, worrying at that moment. If your consciousness becomes extinct in perpetuity, there is nothing to think about at all. If it continues, transformed, one is nevertheless free of this planet. In many ways that would be a good thing. But even if one is a “clinger,” towards biological life, it is still over. No matter how shamefully one has lived, there will be no biological consequences. You left your life as an author leaves his book. The book itself has no “feelings.”

For the Christian, of course, one’s life is just beginning. One’s reputation is on a different thread. One had, from the beginning, a much different Reader. But for either Christian or Atheist, what people say either no longer matters, or never did. Anxiety becomes as pointless as it was before. Your biological death was on the cards, all along.

Should everyone around you also die — from instantaneous climate change or whatever — it won’t increase the drama. No one will be checking the news, next day. Those who looked forward to a dramatic martyrdom will be disappointed, but the disappointment won’t last.

It was all in the prospect.

Everyone believes in God, even when they are in denial. (I am quite sure of this.) They can’t help it, they were wired that way. Atheists suffer the most. This is because their theological opinions are the most primitive. The kindergarten God is petty. He is ruthless, basically, always out to get you. One way is by killing you off; though another was by making it rain today. The joy in existing is muted, at best, because Something would have to take credit for that. For even Atheists secretly realize, they did not create themselves.

To my observation, the triumph of the “Nones” (i.e. people without religion, the large majority today) is revealed less in statistics than in this joylessness. And behind it, a very real pathology, based on a theology in which God, though apparently powerful, is small and somewhat mindless. He likes to punish people, often for no reason. We are anxious about what he will do to us today. Maybe He will give us cancer. Maybe He will make the stock market plunge. If He’s in a mood, He may shoot down our aeroplane.

But God is not petty.