Friday, December 14, 2012

"If death is, I am not"

All day long we’ve been exposed to hourly-updated reports about the massacre at the Sandy Hook elementary school, which left 20 grade school-age kids dead (at last count).

In times like this, there are certain things that Christians typically say. Christians call for prayer for the survivors.

For that matter, I don’t think it’s wrong to pray for the dead children, in the sense of praying to God that he saved them before they died. We don’t need to pray for them before they died for God to save them before they died. God isn’t bound by our temporal perspective.

Of course, some Christians already believe in the salvation of everyone under the age of discretion.

Christians also take moral satisfaction in knowing that justice will be done. One of the things that angers us in a situation like this, beyond the tragedy itself, is the fact that the killer cheated justice by taking the coward’s way out. Of course, even if he hadn’t shot himself to death, there’s no adequate punishment which a human justice system can mete out for such a horrendous crime.

So those are things which Christians think and say in times like these. And what about atheists?

Well, they always call for more gun control law to “prevent something like this from ever happening against”–as the tired phrase goes.

However, even a total ban on the private ownership of guns wouldn’t prevent something like this from happening again. I suspect it would be no more effective than the proverbial “war on drugs.” It would just create a lucrative black market for weapons.

And what about the massacre itself? Some atheists express outrage.

On the other hand, it’s become fashionable for atheists to spout Epicurean platitudes about death. For instance, they’re fond of quoting Mark Twain’s quip:

I do not fear death. I had been dead for billions and billions of years before I was born, and had not suffered the slightest inconvenience from it.

Here’s another example:

Why should I fear death? If I am, death is not. If death is, I am not. Why should I fear that which cannot exist when I do?
–Epicurus, quoted by Robert Green Ingersoll in "Why I Am an Agnostic"

I wonder if they’d say that at funerals for the dead children. Somehow I doubt it would go over as well at an open-casket service for a murdered kindergartener. 


  1. I wonder if at the same funeral you would tell the parent of a deceased child that you're praying that her child isn't eternally damned. I doubt that would go over well.

    1. The two positions are asymmetrical. If atheism is true, the outlook for the dead is hopeless. They instantly pass into oblivion forever. If Christianity is true, there is hope.

  2. "Why should I fear death? If I am, death is not. If death is, I am not."

    The answer seems obvious: because you'll cease to have love, hopes, joys, thoughts, desires, etc. Many people acknowledge, when they aren't pretending to be brave atheists, that it can be better to have a life with pain and sorrow than no life at all. As the song says "I'd rather feel pain than nothing at all."