There's nothing like a big unhealty dose of acute bronchitis to get you contemplating lack of a future. Reality, so called, sharpens to an almost unbearable sequence of images, almost all of them surreal, such as leaving the doctor's office and stopping off at the health food grocer's, there only to be accosted by a scruffy looking customer who apologizes in order to catch your attention. What does he want, I ask. "Are you a Christian?" Hesitant, I ask myself, what is this, a come-on? A guy I know in my profession, a devout Catholic who once told me I could have as clients all the nuns in the archdiocese if only I'd convert, regularly enjoys making fools of street people, e.g. telling the pan-handlers seeking money for lunch, "I'll take you to a nearby restaurant," knowing they'll almost invariably beg off, some with honest admissions they're only seeking the cash for liquor or beer.
Feeling lousy, I couldn't think of anything to say except "No, I'm not," adding, in a cold voice, "and I am not religious, either." Had I felt better I would have said something blatantly atheist, but as it was, I only wanted to be left to my own devices. I just wanted to get rid of him, fast. Bob Dylan in a movie made the sound-over point that American capitalism uses fear to get us to buy things we don't really need, but I think he copped that notion from Burroughs, who said that our government and that nebulous thing we called, in the 60s, "the Establishment," put out conflicting messages ("believe this, don't believe this") in order to put us in a perpetual state of conflict, such that we buy things we don't need, thinking they'll distract us from our fears. Then, too, Eldridge Clever said that we would never have another revolution so long as the supermarkets stay open.
Dis-ease does something else to you, too: it heightens awareness of the truths of atheism, including the explanation that we are not conscious of life before birth, nor will we be conscious of it after death. Also, that the moment of birth is the time we begin to die. Dylan said that, too. One also finds less hostility to Christians who say that they're praying for you. Burroughs said "Pray in one hand, shit in the other; see which one fills up faster." Knowing from my awful cough, wheezing, and spitting gunk into tissue, at least three of my clients this week have said, "We're praying for you." I could set them straight, telling them, for example, that actual studies of prayer for seriously ill hospital patients showed not that prayer helped them but that it caused the prayed-for patients to die in greater numbers. But when you are seriously ill, you are not exactly in a mood to pick quarrels with people. And all of the drugs I've been taken have rendered me ineffective in debate.
Facing death is harrowing for some. I hope I can emulate the great Christopher Hitchens, dying of a brain tumor, incurable. I hope I can go out like he did, without retreat to belief, especially belief in that other country from which no one returns. But will I? Will I have that courage. To me, religion preys on people more than it prays for them. Like the Consul in John Huston's film of Malcolm Lowry's Under the Volcano, I would like to believe but I can't. The scene of the Consul going into a cathedral and staring up at one of those waxy-faced Madonnas so prevalent in Mexican churches especially, is pure John Huston (the director of the film). In interviews, the atheist filmmaker said he wanted to believe but could not, that he actually envied those who could. He had emphysema and eventually died of it. I hope my acute bronchitis goes away soon without putting my lights out just yet. But I ain't gonna pray it away. If I die after their prayers, they can always say God works in mysterious ways. There's no mystery to me. You're born, you live, and you die. Life is what you make of it, and you don't need deity to get there.
Thanks, you old buccaneer!
BTW, what was it like filming those movies with Johnny Depp?
Ho hum... I told em pirates are intrinsically interesting. No need for magic and special effects ;-P
"Prayer, the next best thing to doing something."
Edward - yes exactly
I have no fear of deathbed conversion. That could only happen if I had a brain tumor that destroyed my capacity to think.
I only fear a deathbed conversion because I have multiple personality syndrome.
Death bed thoughts are one thing that keeps me from giving in to pressures to work longer hours, self-sacrifice more for things I don't believe in, and give in to the ideas other people have about what I should do or not do. I know I won't, on my death bed, be thinking I should have met more performance measures, or pretend to be religious, or give to a cause that I don't believe in. I do hope I can look back and think, I was a good man, I did the best that I could do, I was kind to others, and there were some who thought well of me. That seems comforting.
As to whether I can, at the last minute, suddenly believe there is a loving god who will take me into his arms as I head to the light, I can't imagine that. It's comforting to me that the evil, bellicose, sadistic god that I was brought up to believe in was just a fantasy held by cruel and manipulative people.
I think my atheism and anti-theism give such pride to me, I would not be able to let go of them. But if I do, or you do, no problem. We all did the best that we could.
Thanks, Melinda. BTW, I am going to officially be a grandpa soon. My oldest son (34) is marrying this October, and they're already planning children. I couldn't be prouder. I doubt they will bring him up religious. Although the spouse has a Polish name, I doubt she is Catholic. Take care, --j.
I damn sure plan to!
I have recently been through some severe health crises. I had renal failure and pneumonia. At one point I was certain I was dying. All I thought of was getting help from my medical professionals. The whole idea of dying was very matter of fact. I lost two days of my memory I'll never get back. Never did it occur to me to have a conversion to religion.
I am very sorry to hear about this, Marcus. I can certainly sympathize, as I am just getting over acute bronchitis, and the horrendous coughing bouts had me gasping for air and keeping me up all night. I almost wished I was dead. Hope you are getting over your own period of distress. At least you did not summon a priest for "extreme unction." (What a curious term for such a silly bit of nonsense. One suspects that the priest is really hoping for a new will leaving all your possessions both real and personal to the Ratzinger.)