The Business of Dying by Christina Knowles

seidoryu As an atheist, I shudder at the thought of a chaplain at my bedside when it’s my time to die. However, today I was privileged to listen to a truly profound and helpful chaplain guide someone close to me on “the business of dying.”

Shortly after being informed that she had very little time left, the chaplain arrived, and instead of a long dissertation on theology, endless prayers, or reading cliché bible verses, he merely accepted her word that she was confidant of her eternal life and moved on to the harder part, the present.

At first, I was concerned. He seemed pushy and inconsiderate. When he asked her what she was feeling, and she replied, “It is what it is,” he pushed, aggressively.

He led her through each possible emotion, explored them, talked about them, and acknowledged their validity. He said it was okay to grieve your own life, the disappointment, the lost time, the things that you will never be able to do, time with loved ones stolen. He asked about fear, not fear of the afterlife, but fear of the actual dying and fear about leaving loved ones behind. He validated all emotions someone might feel and empathized.

Next, he asked her what she wanted. He said she didn’t have to answer now, and that it didn’t have to be one big thing, but that she should think about that every morning when she wakes up and ask, “What do I want today?” He explained that he meant real things, good things like asking for a hug or asking to have a conversation about a memory or about what someone means to her. He encouraged her to go deep inside herself everyday to really get in touch with her heart’s desire. He said to not let these things go by undone. If she needs to say something to someone or just relive a memory with someone, ask for it. If she needed closure, to fix a relationship, or address a regret, she should have that conversation.

The chaplain told her that part of the business of dying was to celebrate the life she’s lived. He said to reflect on her life’s accomplishments, things she was particularly proud of, things she enjoyed, and things that she did right. He told her she lived a life that deserved acknowledgement.

He ended his counsel by asking her if she wanted anything else from him. She asked him to pray with her. He laughingly responded, “Is that what you want, or do you think that’s what I want to hear?” She said she did want it, and his prayer was beautiful, specifically saying that she was in control of her life and how she lived it to her last breath.

He was brilliant and profound, comforting and respectful. I thought, This is what a chaplain should do. So many times, I’ve heard the well-meaning pastor spout clichés and seemed more concerned with reinforcing religious beliefs than dealing with real emotions and concrete issues. I always cringed at the shallow recitation of the typical platitudes. Finally, a chaplain who knows what to say to the dying, what they need to know in their last days, what not to forget in the days to come. The compassionate and practical advice I heard today cut through all the nonsense of avoidance. People don’t need vapid dictums when they face the end of their lives; they need something real, something meaningful and honest to go about the business of dying. –Christina Knowles

photo via seidoryu.com

Missionary Atheism? Let’s Start by Coming Out by Christina Knowles

 

quote-a-fool-s-brain-digests-philosophy-into-folly-science-into-superstition-and-art-into-george-bernard-shaw-26-83-67            Of course, I dislike the concept. I am not a missionary. I have no religion to spread. No message to proselytize. I don’t normally care what someone believes if it doesn’t affect me. But I’ve heard the religious describe atheism as a religion we’re trying to spread, which is highly offensive. Shaking free of ancient belief systems that have no more merit than Greek mythology and expecting evidence to accept the unbelievable does not qualify as a religion.

I’ve also heard that we are scared that religion is becoming more popular, so we’ve become missionaries against their religions. We may be scared, but not that religion is growing. Atheism is growing, a natural consequence of ready access to ideas and information on the internet. Nevertheless, some of us are scared, scared of a nation that seems more inclined toward theocracy than ever before in our entire U.S. history.

When beliefs seemed more benign and simply ritualistic, not spoken of in polite conversation, there was no need give it a second thought. A bemused smile or a shake of the head was sufficient. However, our country, and even our world, is under a growing and alarming threat posed by religions that seeks to undermine basic civil liberties, impose antiquated and prejudiced values on others, and maybe most sinister of all, denies science and common sense on an unprecedented level, threatening to destroy the very earth under our feet in a way that cannot be undone. Laws can be overturned and rights restored, but we have reached the tipping point when it comes to climate change. The denial of basic science and the indoctrination of America against facts, even by people who should know better, perhaps, do know better, but are so consumed with greed and self-interest that the collateral damage inflicted by their aggressive domination of the earth is of no concern to them. The earth will last as long as they need it to, and what happens when they are gone is of no consequence to them. They lead the blind and uneducated by reinforcing archaic notions of being saved miraculously by the gods. Who cares if we are destroying the earth when our god intends to destroy it and create a new earth and promises a heavenly Eden in its place?

These politicians and corporate predators pander to a deluded and ignorant public who, because of their own confirmation bias, see these politicians as heroes of the faith. All a crafty, self-interested politician has to do to gain the support of these fundamentalists is to say that they are saving them from an imagined moral decline, pretend to care about the pro-life movement and the sanctity of marriage, and they forever own the minds and votes of this programed group. They tell them how to think, how to vote, and teach them to fear the rational educated who could actually save them. This group is already pre-disposed to indoctrination, having been thoroughly relieved of critical thinking skills by their religions.

So, is it time for missionary atheism? Do we need to take a more active stance in proclaiming reason over superstition? There is too much at stake to stay quietly in the closet. The risk of losing family and friends, to straining relationships, and to being looked upon with disdain and suspicion pales in the light of the greater threat to our world. Those of us who have shaken the scales from our eyes to see reason, to overcome childhood conditioning and think for ourselves, to demand evidence and logic for extraordinary claims must come out openly and strongly so that others may wake up from the delusions passed down from generations of conditioned superstitions and ignorance. Most of us have been there and woken up, and we were glad we did.

I’m not suggesting a massive deconversion campaign. I am asking that we no longer stay politely silent when those around us claim a god is blessing them with a new car while millions of innocents in Aleppo are slaughtered in the streets. They don’t even realize the depth and magnitude of their fallacies, and they never will unless someone is forward enough to point them out. Let’s make it socially objectionable to float around in a cloud of delusion, at least publically. Let’s show them that atheists are everywhere, in their families, in their offices, in their clubs, and on their teams. We are citizens with a voice, and we need to start using it.—Christina Knowles