When Atheists are Dying

Years ago when I first read David Hume, my eyes were opened. Amazed at his logic, conviction and his bravery, Hume the philosopher questioned everything. He asked moral questions, he pondered out loud about the existence of God and the problem of ‘if God exists, then who could have created this God?’ He doubted a heaven and hell, because he believed mankind flittered between good and evil. This doubt was quite brave, considering that he lived pre-Darwin. Hume was a great thinker. There is one particular piece of writing that stays in my mind, about his lack of faith. In it he said, that if he did happen to say anything about God when he was dying, it would just be because of a fear of death and not because he really believed in it. He pre-empted any kind of doubt about his own doubt.

Fast forward a few hundred years, and fellow atheist Christopher Hitchens said something somewhat similar. When Hitchens was dying he admitted he could say anything in a delirium at the end (with pain killers and so on), but he wanted to also make it clear that if he did say God, or anything of the kind, then it was beyond his control and not to believe any rumors of conversion on his death-bed. The two were adamant in saying this. They did not want their lifetimes of rational thought scrapped because of a moment of weakness at death.

When he was diagnosed with cancer, Hitchens received communication from various religious people. He said half tried to convert him and have him repent before it was too late, the other half seemed to enjoy that he was going to burn for eternity in hell (which he rejected anyway). Hitchens made the great point of saying ‘imagine if atheists went around to hospitals trying to convert the religious dying to an atheist viewpoint’. That way around would be considered deeply disrespectful and yet it is as if atheists do not have feelings here.

Hitchens and Hume had a few things in common.  They were both great thinkers and during their rejection of God, both questioned God’s character. Hitchens saw God as a sadomasochistic North Korean-style dictator who wanted you to love and fear him. While Hume asked the ancient question about God and evil, that either God would do something about evil in the world, but chooses not to (malevolent) or God wanted to stop evil, but was not able to do anything about it (not omnipotent). Hitchens would refer to this problem when discussing those in awful predicaments, who would have prayed and prayed to God for help, with no answer. When people would say to Hitch “I will pray for you” he would reply with “I will think for you”.

When an atheist is dying, as with everyone, they are vulnerable. They will not see family and friends again. A belief in a God or an afterlife most likely brings great comfort to believers in this situation. So what does an atheist do? As Dawkins once said “if you are being chased by a tiger, it would be comforting to believe that it is just a rabbit, but that doesn’t make it so.” Belief systems throughout the years have attempted to explain the unknown. We still don’t really know what happens to our consciousness at death, but a faith in an afterlife seems to be primarily based on wishful thinking. When a person of faith explains what heaven will be, or who is there, or how you get there, the atheist’s response is often, “How can you possibly know that?”

It is also sometimes argued that atheists live a life of little meaning. But when we look at men such as Hume and Hitchens, the width and depths of their logic and reason, the immense work they produced in their lifetimes, it is astoundingly inspiring and valuable. Humanism is a worthy cause and when atheists die, their legacy is great rational thought, reason and courage.

 


Kevin Davis

Kevin Davis is the head writer and editor for SecularVoices, co-founder of Young Skeptics, and author of Understanding an Atheist. He is known for local and national secular activism and has spoken at conferences and events such as Reason Rally 2016 and the Ark Encounter Protest and Rally.

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97 thoughts on “When Atheists are Dying

  1. //the atheist’s response is often, “How can you possibly know that?”//

    Only to be used when you understand the conversation that you are in is not serious.

    For me, the answer is. No matter what happens, I will still consider myself to be a winner, and if a god exists, it will also know and understand this.

    If there is a heaven and I get to go there after I die, I will be a winner.
    If there is no heaven, then I will have nothing to worry about and still be a winner.
    If there is a hell and I go there, then any god worthy of worship and respect would know that I do not deserve to go there, which will still make me to be a winner.

    There is no way, whatever happens, where an atheists is on the losing end of the discussion. And this is why the thinking theists have a problem with us, they understand our position and they wonder if maybe we are correct in holding it.

      1. That might be true with “Religoius Rejectionists”, the name I attribute to the collection of people, largely in America, who specifically default to a belief in nonexistence when there is no evidence, and who follow largely the writings of people like Hitchens, Dawkins, Harris, etc. But Zen Buddhists, Taoists, etc are all atheists, but they generally do believe in gods. Even practitioners of Shinto may be considered atheists, and they often consider themselves as such, because there is ambiguity of what constitutes a god.

          1. God does not exist “in Taoism.” There are Taoists who believe in gods, but that’s a bit different. You’re confusing Taoism with syncretic religions involving Taoism, Chinese folk religion, etc.

            There is no need for a god belief in a religion, and many religious people lack god beliefs. There is a false conflation between the two, among American views of what constitutes religion. It is not consistent with the scientific understanding of religion.

          2. Well, this conversation is over. I just linked to a TAOIST website, and quoted a TAOIST web site as saying that “gods exist”.

            And here you are ‘splaining things to me, rather than accept the TAOIST web site’s explanation.

          3. Again, it is not a universal belief within Taoism. Some Taoists do believe in gods, others do not. Regardless, the key point is that religion does not require a god belief. This is a statement which is inconsistent with the anthropological view of what constitutes religion.

            You also refused to respond to my criticism of your apparent conflation between religion and mental illness. Such a position again is not in line with the scientific view of religion or mental illness. It is indeed contrary to the scientific body of theory and evidence on the topic. Therefore it is simply an unjustified attack on a large group of people, and so is nothing more than bigotry.

          4. You claimed that the bulk of the human population is mentally ill. That is contrary to the scientific body of theory and evidence on the topic of religion and mental illness. Such an unjustified attack on people constitutes bigotry.

            Furthermore, your view of what constitutes religion is also contrary to the scientific body of theory and evidence on the topic. Yes; there are Toaists who believe in gods. But these gods are not inherent to Taoism. They are gods which exist in other religions. Taoism itself is atheistic. Syncretic religions between Taoism and theistic religions do exist, but that is another matter.

            Like the typical religiophobe, and really like the typical bigot in general, you have little knowledge on that which you hate.

          5. You claimed that the bulk of the human population is mentally ill. That is contrary to the scientific body of theory and evidence on the topic of religion and mental illness.

            Citations, please.

          6. You claimed that the bulk of the human population is mentally ill. That is contrary to the scientific body of theory and evidence on the topic of religion and mental illness.

            Citations, please.

            I’m relatively friendly to anyone who uses logical reasoning and supports his/her arguments with evidence.

            In which case you are your own enemy.

          7. Kir, what exactly do you believe or disbelieve? It seems like you like to argue, and you’re coming off as a bit of a troll.

            You know very well that most religions require belief in some form of deity, and those which do not are not always considered religions. Take Buddhism or Confucianism, for example. Buddhism and Confucianism are belief systems with strong ties to religion, but are not religions in the traditionally accepted sense of the term. And, many of their adherents would balk at being called “religious.” However, it all depends on how we define ‘religion,’ as you mentioned.

            Are you familiar with Emile Durkheim, the famous sociologist/social psychologist? I think his definition of religion holds considerable weight: “A religion is a unified system of beliefs and practices relative to sacred things, that is to say, things set apart and forbidden — beliefs and practices which unite into one single moral community” (Durkheim, 1912).

            This would, of course, include systems like Buddhism. But, sacred things, in many religions, include beliefs in supernatural or otherworldly things. If atheists do not believe in deities, I find it unlikely that atheists will believe in supernatural things in general. Most atheists hinge their beliefs, or lack thereof, on whether something is supported by evidence. Where is the evidence for anything supernatural?

            As for religion and mental health, there are some studies that suggest religion can be good for mental health; and, there are other studies that suggest a negative correlation. As for whether or not being religious means someone is mentally ill, I’d suggest the jury is still out on that one.

            I think the only reason we don’t examine religious belief in this light is because religion is so deeply embedded in our collective human experience. I think if we were to really examine religious belief– and I mean religious belief in the sense of believing in things that lack evidence (gods, devils, afterlives, reincarnation, etc.)– we would see that it is indeed a psychological crutch of our own creation. I think we would all be much healthier psychologically if we cast aside beliefs in irrational, illogical things.

            Is it hate speech to suggest religiosity equates with mental illness? This is a stretch. We all have mental health concerns, and religion is typically used by religious people to combat or control those concerns. It would be hate speech if someone was recommending lobotomizing religious people. But, I haven’t seen that here. Have you?

          8. > Kir, what exactly do you believe or disbelieve? It seems like you like to argue, and you’re coming off as a bit of a troll.

            What does it matter what I believe or disbelieve?

            > You know very well that most religions require belief in some form of deity, and those which do not are not always considered religions.

            Anthropologically speaking, we would accept them as being religions. The view of religion, by the average layperson, is too narrow. You want to exclude Buddhism, Taoism, etc from being religions? Does that means states can engage in the sponsorship of such things?

            > Are you familiar with Emile Durkheim, the famous sociologist/social psychologist? I think his definition of religion holds considerable weight: “A religion is a unified system of beliefs and practices relative to sacred things, that is to say, things set apart and forbidden — beliefs and practices which unite into one single moral community” (Durkheim, 1912).

            Yes; I am familiar with the definition. There are a few issues with that one. It’s actually to broad. Royalty is often considered “sacred.” Even in many cases the POTUS is to an extent sacred. That would mean that most Brits are religious, simply for having a system involving the respect of their royalty.

            > If atheists do not believe in deities, I find it unlikely that atheists will believe in supernatural things in general.

            Why? Again, many Buddhists, Taoists, etc are religious but lack a belief in gods.

            > As for religion and mental health, there are some studies that suggest religion can be good for mental health; and, there are other studies that suggest a negative correlation. As for whether or not being religious means someone is mentally ill, I’d suggest the jury is still out on that one.

            Religion is a natural evolved cognitive state that has persisted, without impediment to function, for the entirety of human existence, and possibly since H. neanderthalensis. To say that the bulk of the human population exists in a state of mental illness, and that a natural persistent state of human existence if mental illness, is absurd. This, taken in consideration with the fact that there are plenty of studies which suggest a positive impact of religion on mental health, and the bulk of the studies which indicate negative impact have to do with specific forms of religion, where they take a more cult like form (with recognized negative impacts of cults), means that the assertion that religion is a mental illness contradicts the bulk of the scientific theory and evidence on the matter.

            > Is it hate speech to suggest religiosity equates with mental illness? This is a stretch. We all have mental health concerns, and religion is typically used by religious people to combat or control those concerns. It would be hate speech if someone was recommending lobotomizing religious people. But, I haven’t seen that here. Have you?

            I see. So when homophobes call homosexual people mentally ill, and think that they need to be cured, that’s not hate speech? Let me guess. That’s somehow different. Right? No! Such people are ignorant bigots. So are people who spew hate against religion, as a whole.

            Let me add something else. In terms of cognitive states and the culture establishing and reinforcing those states, religion is essentially indistinguishable from the system that exists within the group of “American Religious Rejectionists.” Those are people who default to a belief in nonexistence, when there is no evidence, and therefore believe that there are no gods, afterlives, etc. They are people who self label as “atheists” in terms of group identification, free thinkers, etc. They are people like Dawkins, Harris, Silverman, and many others.

            In other words, these people, who happen to constitute a solid percentage of the audience on “atheist blogs” like this one, are, at least in terms of cognitive state and culture, indistinguishable from religious people. So, they might as well be considered religious, and yet they are also vitriolic towards religious people.

          9. Anthropologically speaking, we would accept them as being religions.

            Who are “we”? You and the turd you carry around in your pocket?

            So when homophobes call homosexual people mentally ill, and think that they need to be cured, that’s not hate speech?

            It’s uninformed speech.

            Let me guess. That’s somehow different. Right? No!

            Well, yes, it is, you dumb fuck.

            Delusions are a form of mental illness (and religion is nothing if not delusional). Period.

            Sexual orientation is not a form of mental illness. Period.

            In other words, these people, who happen to constitute a solid percentage of the audience on “atheist blogs” like this one, are, at least in terms of cognitive state and culture, indistinguishable from religious people. So, they might as well be considered religious…

            Only in the heads of fuckwits like yourself, Kir.

          10. There is no need for a god belief in a religion

            In the same way there is no need for a belief in white supremacy in the KKK.

          1. As I said, part of the issue is the failure to recognize it as hate speech. Calling the bulk of the human population mentally ill, when it is contrary to the scientific body of theory and evidence on the topic of religion and mental illness, is most certainly hate speech, as it is an unjustified attack against a group of people.

          2. Calling the bulk of the human population mentally ill, when it is contrary to the scientific body of theory and evidence on the topic
            of religion and mental illness…

            Citations, please. You keep making this claim, but you’ve offered nothing in the way of evidence to support the claim; because there is none.

            … is most certainly hate speech, as it is an unjustified attack against a group of people.

            Calling delusional people mentally ill is no more hateful than calling a cancer patient physically ill, you sniveling shit stain.

    1. After-death experiences are a religious invention. In Christianity and Islam, the implicit explicit threat is that unbelievers go to hell while believers go to heaven. In other religions, after-death experiences vary. But all of them are tied in with theology. Twas ever thus, FWIW. The Greek concept of Hades was a religious concept, as was the Egyptian concept of an after-death experience. Rinse and repeat.

      But there is not one scintilla of scientific evidence that any sort of after-death experience exists, and plenty of evidence that not only is there no such thing, but that there can be no such thing.

      Edited for clarity.

        1. Because, in general, atheists do not believe in religious nonsense. The concept of an after-death experience is superstitious nonsense, intrinsically tied to various religions’ theologies.

          If you are, as one might expect by your defensive reaction, an atheist who believes in an after-death experience, you are merely halfway to Crazy Town. Because you have to then declare WHICH after-death you believe in. All of them carry religious baggage, which is inextricably tied to the belief in god(s).

          1. > Because, in general, atheists do not believe in religious nonsense.

            This is an overgeneralization. Atheists are people who do not believe in gods, or at least not in what they consider to be gods. There are plenty of religious people who lack a belief in gods. I already mentioned that in reply to someone else.

            Also, why is religious belief “nonsense?”

            > If you are, as one might expect by your defensive reaction, an atheist who believes in an after-death experience, you are merely halfway to Crazy Town.

            I am someone who withholds any judgement when there is no evidence. The evidence that I generally accept includes empirical and mathematical evidence. I am also very familiar with “Religious Rejectionists” like yourself.

            Also, “crazy town” when referring to religion is really borderline hate speech. Are you suggesting that religious people are mentally ill?

            > All of them carry religious baggage, which is inextricably tied to the belief in god(s).

            Uh no. Again, there are many religions which lack a god belief. Just because you are ignorant of them isn’t really my problem. I suggest you go research the anthropological definitions of religion, as well as more general scientific literature on the topic. You might also want to look into Zen Buddhism, Taoism, etc in order to have a better understanding of religions which lack god beliefs.

          2. There are plenty of religious people who lack a belief in gods.

            In the same way there are many capitalists who lack belief in profits.

    1. Numerous anecdotal stories like Storm’s can be found, which by their
      general consistency attest to the possibility of an afterlife.

      If existence were ruled by possibility, this would be a meaningful point.

      As it stands, it’s as meaningless as claiming it’s possible that unicorns eat leprechauns and shit candy flavored rainbows.

        1. Your opinion is thickly clouded by your own bias. The scientific method helps remove human bias, which is why there is no scientific evidence for what you are claiming.

          1. You are of course asking for scientific evidence of something that is inherently transcendental and beyond what science can measure. Nevertheless, as per my previous posts you can begin to gather information, search for consistencies (if present) and start categorizing it. From the data one can determine if it appears to point to the existence of an afterlife over for example what is known about oxygen deprivation). Others have pointed out many life after death experiences reflect the culture. That is a data point. However, it also is overall consistent that an afterlife does exist .

          2. You are of course asking for scientific evidence of something that is inherently transcendental and beyond what science can measure.

            The only “things” “beyond what science can measure” are “things” that don’t exist.

            However, it also is overall consistent that an afterlife does exist .

            Wrong.

            It is “overall consistent” that people claim an “afterlife” does exist.

          3. Your assertion that the afterlife is inherently transcendental and beyond science is just that, an assertion. You want the “data” to point to an afterlife so you ignore conflicting data. By your logic sleep paralysis is overall consistent with alien abductions.

            did you ever walk into a room and it smells funny, but you don’t know why? It’s ghost farts. If you start gathering information you’ll see that the data points towards ghost farts existing.

        2. Testimonies of a life transformed by Jesus Christ; […] Sampling of phenomenon affecting large numbers of the public consistent with Christianity and its belief in an afterlife:

          The unsubstantiated blather of imbeciles does not validate christianity, any more than it would validate any other hateful, violent religious cult.

          1. The blather substantiates each other as these are individuals who do not know each other and are from diverse parts of the world yet each have a shared personal experience in Jesus Christ.
            The point is there is not found comparable unicorn / leprechaun experiences.

            >any other hateful, violent religious cult. <
            Yes, though you should review all those OTHERS that had a serious historical impact on the world. As bad as Christianity is, its ideals are the cab, engine, tires and much of the cargo bed when it comes to transporting human rights around the world.

          2. The blather substantiates each other as these are individuals who do not know each other and are from diverse parts of the world yet each have a shared personal experience in Jesus Christ.

            If two individuals who do not know each other both claim a leprechaun rode a unicorn into their living rooms and performed brain surgery on a fire breathing dragon, they share the experience of being blathering imbeciles.

            Likewise when their claims center on the mythological character known as “Jesus Christ”.

            The point is there is not found comparable unicorn / leprechaun experiences.

            The point is that anyone who claims to have an actual experience with a fictional being is a blathering imbecile.

            Yes, though you should review all those OTHERS that had a serious historical impact on the world.

            I’m well aware of the impacts of many hateful, violent religious cults. Christianity isn’t anything special.

            As bad as Christianity is, its ideals are the cab, engine, tires and much of the cargo bed when it comes to transporting human rights around the world.

            Uh, yeah; and Paul Bunyan built the bridge you’re trying to sell me.

            Do you treat everyone you meet like they’re ignorant, gullible fucking idiots?

          3. Apologies for the long wait.
            We have to understand what credible witnesses are and what they are not. Simply to categorize someone as blathering idiots because we do not agree with their point of view or whether or not we believe they stated they seen may not be in the best interests of an objective investigation..

            So even though one does not agree with Christianity, one can and should understand the quantity and quality of witnesses involved in the various miracles, cultural influence and other unusual phenomena claimed by them in comparison to others.

          4. Simply to categorize someone as blathering idiots because we do not agree with their point of view or whether or not we believe they stated they seen may not be in the best interests of an objective investigation.

            If blathering idiots were interested in objective investigation, they wouldn’t be blathering idiots.

            So even though one does not agree with Christianity, one can and should understand the quantity and quality of witnesses involved in the various miracles…

            Of which there are none.

            cultural influence

            Division.

            … and other unusual phenomena claimed by them in comparison to others.

            “In comparison to others'” – “If two individuals who do not know each other both claim a leprechaun rode a unicorn into their living rooms and performed brain surgery on a fire breathing dragon, they share the experience of being blathering imbeciles.”

          5. >>”In comparison to others'” – “If two individuals who do not know each other both claim a leprechaun rode a unicorn into their living rooms and performed brain surgery on a fire breathing dragon, they share the experience of being blathering imbeciles.”<<

            How newsworthy is that scenario compared for example to Fatima 1917?
            That is what is meant by "in comparison to others."

            The phenomena, whether or not we believe it as advertised, has nevertheless garnered a considerable amount of attention.
            Hence, for a valid comparison, we need to look at other similar claims and their scope of influence.

            The associated phenomena at Fatima, for example, has generated interest in the major news media, various books and references as well as the Vatican and various popes referred to.

            Jesus Christ was a hinge point in human history whose view of the afterlife made it accessible to everyone at the close of this life regardless of prior actions and social standing.

            Whether or not one believes in the afterlife, Christ's view of it and associated philosophy upended ancient Rome.

          6. How newsworthy is that scenario compared for example to Fatima 1917?

            The newsworthiness of the claims of blathering imbeciles has absolutely nothing to do with the validity of the claims, you idiot.

          7. There is always going to be skeptics no matter what. We have to understand not every person is going to accept every piece of evidence no matter how probable the conclusion. The radical skeptic in particular reaches an endpoint in their discussion when they have to resort to the time honored tactics of figuratively or literally shooting the messenger who shares information such a skeptic disagrees with.

            So while skeptics complain, in the In the meantime, the religionists exited Egypt and crossed the Red Sea; and eventually founded Judaism and it has contributed much good to human civilization. While skeptics complained, Christianity scaled up and offered the afterlife for Jew as well as everyone else as Sons and Daughters of God, equal regardless of earthly station, their vision of the afterlife freed mankind from the slavery of reincarnation and other forms of ritualistic religion and philosophies that made unreasonable demands on human patience. Christianity has moved ahead to accomplish among other things:
            1. Christianity gave value to Children. in the ancient world children were routinely left to die of exposure — particularly if they were the wrong gender.
            2. Christianity helped fuel the universal literacy. The ancient world tended to reserve it for the elite.
            3. Christianity institutionalized compassion. The Council of Nyssa decreed that wherever a cathedral existed, there must be a hospice, a place of caring for the sick and poor.
            4. Christianity gave value to humility as an admired virtue alongside courage and wisdom
            5. Christianity gave prominent publicity to forgiveness, loving your enemies
            6. Christianity is at the forefront of humanitarian reform, inclusion of women, slaves and other “Now there is neither Jew nor Gentile, slave or free, male and female, but all are one in Christ Jesus.” Thomas Cahill wrote that this was the first statement of egalitarianism in human literature.

            http://www.huffingtonpost.com/john-ortberg/six-surprising-ways-jesus_b_1773225.html
            summary here

          8. There is [sic] always going to be skeptics no matter what.

            Are always going to be skeptics, idiot.

            As for that wall of mental vomitus you posted, save your sermons for churches. This is the real world, and that kind of bullshit has no place here.

          9. Lets take a look at another example here related to Fatima 1917 in the sense it involves Mother Mary. Remember Fatima had Mother Mary as the spokesperson as per the 3 children present, the Virgin being seen by them and later by some witnesses together with Joseph and Jesus as part of the phenomena when the actual event occurred in October. Fatima attests to eternal life because they should have died long ago, yet they are, particularly Mother Mary and Jesus, perennially way ahead of all other personages involved in appearances at several well known scientifically unexplainable mystical phenomena, visitations and experiences. We do not see any comparable similarity of this coming from the secular world with any of their personages such as Elvis or Karl Marx to name a couple.

            The example I refer to is Harvard law professor, Professor Vermeule who recently converted to Catholicism indicated in a recent interview that some sort of mystical experience with Our Lady was involved with his conversion.
            https://churchpop.com/2016/11/03/harvard-prof-mystical-our-lady-conversion/

          10. Lets take a look at another example here…

            Let’s not and say we did, and that you failed to make a case for anything other than the fact that you are a gullible idiot.

          11. The great wound is the natural tendency is to blame others for what is wrong with the world. This means to put the world right, the people who are the problem must be disposed of. As this process is entered into, for one reason or another, all of them can never be removed or silenced; or other threats appear unexpectedly. Hence, more the propensity drift into even more irrational rage.

            While we were still sinners, Christ died for us, meaning God cared about our situation, and rather than waiting around until we were good enough to approach Him, he offered a way out of the rage and violence by sending his Son so that we might have Eternal Life by believing in Him.

        3. “Jesus Christ” doesn’t “transform” anyone’s life. If anyone changes, they’re doing it themselves. Please see “placebo effect.”

      1. Yes, the consistency being many in their experience attests to the idea there does seem to be a continuing existence beyond this one.

        1. Yes. In every near death experience, they EXPERIENCE something, by definition. Why does the fact that some people experience something, when near death, constitute evidence of an afterlife?

          1. Apply quantitative and qualitative methods of data gathering to see which stories and claimed experiences are consistent with what we think is an afterlife while categorizing the remainder to see if there are any meaningful patterns being developed. The web site that Howard Storm’s story is on has gathered a number of such stories, though I cannot attest for the overall notability of that site. Combine that with the various Marian events that have occurred over the years. I particularly find the Marian events intriguing since they affect large numbers of the public, some of them involve multiple simultaneous witnesses of diverse backgrounds.

          2. > Apply quantitative and qualitative methods of data gathering to see
            which stories and claimed experiences are consistent with what we think
            is an afterlife while categorizing the remainder to see if there are any
            meaningful patterns being developed.

            Who is “we?” Which story should we take as “accepted?” Why? What does the possibility of some stories matching it imply about the validity of the story?

          3. I think he’s proposing that you take all the points that are common to both each other AND to classical Christianity, and discard the rest.

          4. OK. How do you reconcile Howard Storm’s story with those that claim to see a different deity, or none at all?

          5. I imagine having Marry shoot miracle milk out of her “lett’n it all hang out” like dual fire hoses while expressing the virtues of maintaining the “humors” is quite the experience XD

          6. It’s not surprising that NDE visions of the afterlife are consistent with already existing notions of what an afterlife would be like. Both come from the same brain. People who have experienced Marian events already had Mary on the brain. The brain makes unrecognized phenomenon fit the patterns and ideas it already has.

          7. “Sometimes she confirms views that turn out to be tied to contemporary errors. For example she mentioned to one influential visionary (Maria d’Agreda) in the seventeenth century that she owed her physical condition to the perfect balance of the “four humours”. This seemed reasonable when Christians were still wedded to Galenic medicine, but now seems unlikely.”

            “As Western society has become more prudish, so has the Virgin. In earlier centuries she was free with her breasts and distributed vast quantities of her breast milk to work miraculous cures.

            Miraculous Lactation of Saint Bernard by Alonso Cano,1650, Madrid, Museo del Prado
            the Virgin Mary is expertly squirting her breast milk into the mouth of St Bernard

            In keeping with modern mores Mary is now much more reticent about these mammary exhibitions.

            “Virgin de la Leche with Christ Child and St.Bernard Clairvaux” by an unknown artist from Peru – 1680 – Oil on canvas – Peyton Wright Gallery, Santa Fe. In previous times the Virgin Mary distributed her breast milk freely, but she has become ever more reticent as her followers have become more prudish.”

            EDIT TO ADD: “Vast quantities of her nail parings had been miraculously preserved along with copious amounts of her breast milk. In Germany, the Virgin’s milk was known as liebfraumilch, and the quantity of it that Mary produced can scarcely have been less than the quantity of modern white wine that commemorates it. (Calvin observed that had Mary been a cow or a wet nurse she would have been hard put to produce such a great quantity of milk6.

            Detail from Mary, Queen-of-Mercy by Pedro Machuca (16 C) from the Prado, Madrid
            Mary and Jesus are squirting Mary’s breast milk onto souls in Purgatory, below.”

            http://www.badnewsaboutchristianity.com/fda_miracles.htm

            Yes, quite the Marian experience!

          8. A very interesting website, I’ll have to study it more closely. That site seems to handle the subject with a mocking sarcastic tone, hence as a scholarly source of information, it may be lacking, yet it draws attention to these nevertheless, at least a beginning research point.

            Not sure if those Mary incidents there are on the Church approved Marian lists, there are so many sightings (hundreds)and the Church approves a small fraction of them, ruling out the crazies, the fortune hunters etc; one of the most spectacular approved is Fatima 1917 in Portugal (see earlier post). Visionaries attest to being shown different aspects of the afterlife.
            https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marian_apparition
            http://www.patheos.com/blogs/kathyschiffer/2014/10/so-that-all-may-believe-the-miracle-of-the-sun/

          9. Why would the Church have anything to do with validating the miracles? They claim Mary is still alive, so the word of the Church is unnecessary if we can just ask Mary, “Hey, know anything about this?”

    2. The fact that lots of people believe ghosts exist does not attest to the possibility of ghosts. It attests to the fact that people believe popular stories. That lots of people believe in an afterlife is zero evidence for an afterlife, but plenty of evidence that people like the idea of an afterlife.

      1. One has to separate belief and actual experience
        Yes there are people who believe ghosts.
        However there are those who claim to have actually seen phenomena that appears to be consistent with what is “known” about “ghosts.”These witnesses can be examined (inasmuch as they allow) to determine their credibility.

        If diverse witnesses of a large group are so interviewed who claim they saw a phenomenon, or different groups of witnesses seeing the same thing and at different times, and no alternate explanation can be demonstrated or adequately explained without going against what we know about science, sociology medicine and other investigatory disciplines, there is no reason to disbelieve them, except perhaps, a disposition that knows such phenomenon does not exist.

        1. There is every reason to disbelieve them. There is no evidence for their claims of an “afterlife”. That people who are near death and subsequently revived have reported seeing visions is true, but that an oxygen-deprived brain produces unusual effects is no surprise. Countless people have dreams in which they can fly, but humans can’t fly.

        2. It’s not as if there haven’t been teams of people looking to photograph or otherwise provide evidence of ghosts. And these aren’t skeptics but believers. And still nothing. This isn’t about being closed minded as the believers would say. It’s that there’s no evidence and it’s not like people haven’t tried to provide it.

        3. “If diverse witnesses of a large group are so interviewed who claim they saw a phenomenon, or different groups of witnesses seeing the same thing and at different times, and no alternate explanation can be demonstrated or adequately explained without going against what we know about science, sociology medicine and other investigatory disciplines, there is no reason to disbelieve them”

          Well, there could be a good reason to disbelieve them, but you are correct that it’s not automatically warranted. Do you have an example of such a phenomena being witnessed?

          1. Fatima , Portugal 1917 easy to research online.-Approximately 70,000 people of diverse backgrounds visit Fatima Portugal in 1917 in response to an nondescript miracle that was predicted months earlier to occur. The event happens within the same hour as predicted by three children, seen by some miles away and astounding even to the unbelievers present. for example, anti-Catholic witness, alternately described as atheist/agnostic chief editor Avelino de Almeida of the “O Seculo,” an anti-clerical Lisbon daily paper, writes excitedly in his article—I saw it … I saw it … I saw it!”

          2. That”s Joe Nickell, biased point of view, leaves out a lot of information, uses reduction logic, has some good ideas good time to time though; explodes the retina looking at the sun idea since he noted persons were NOT looking at the azimuth the sun was actually on:

            “Joe Nickell claims that the position of the phenomenon, as described by the various witnesses, is at the wrong azimuth and elevation to have been the sun. ” paste into google or similar to find the sources of it

            A biased website debunking the anti-Fatimas
            http://www.markmallett.com/blog/debunking-the-sun-miracle-skeptics/

            yes read the Wikipedia article as well, it strives for balance…
            EDIT add another website:
            http://www.markmallett.com/blog/debunking-the-sun-miracle-skeptics/

          3. Precisely what happened at Fatima has been the subject of much controversy. Church authorities made inquiries, collected eyewitness testimony, and declared the events worthy of belief as a miracle (Zimdars-Swartz 1991, 90). However, people elsewhere in the world, viewing the very same sun, did not see the alleged gyrations; neither did astronomical observatories detect the sun deviating from the norm (which would have had a devastating effect on Earth!). Therefore, more tenable explanations for the reports include mass hysteria and local meteorological phenomena such as a sundog (a parhelion or “mock sun”).

            Dumb ass.

          4. Those things go against what we know about sundogs and mass hysteria. If we go against what we know about science, sociology, medicine and other investigatory disciplines one has just created anther type of mythology.

            I invite you to read other websites for more detailed information. Skeptics were at Fatima with full intent of debunking it when they expected nothing to happen However something did happen and the ( alternately described as atheist/ agnostic )and certainly anti-Catholic editor of a newspaper who saw it wrote about it explaining how surprised he was that it did indeed occur .

          5. Yes, Those things do indeed go against what we know about sundogs and mass hysteria.
            ie sundog is stationary phenomena. The pinwheel, sun in the sky dancing phenomena witnesses describe would be a be among the first PRE-PREDICTED sundogs ever, and also the first sundog ever to display that unusual behavior, and it occurred only at Fatima.

            Mass hysteria does not mean what you think it means, ie mass hallucination, several people of varied backgrounds seeing the same thing at the same time that is been proven to have been a hallucination, has not been successfully demonstrated.

            If you have to explain a purported GodDidIt phenomena scientifically by using an explanation that goes against what is known about nature, ie you have to describe what amounts to be a miracle to explain a miracle, not sure then what your point is.

          6. Yes, Those things do indeed go against what we know about sundogs and mass hysteria.

            No, they do not, dumb ass.

          7. Ok your simply asserting your view without giving any information why you believe it is correct; Got it.

          8. Ok your [sic] simply asserting your view without giving any information why you believe it is correct;

            I am pointing out facts, not beliefs.

            Dumb ass.

          9. Think about it this way:
            All miracles have challenged by skeptics:

            Plagues of Egypt
            Parting of the Red Sea
            God sustaining the Israelites for 40 years in the desert
            Virgin Birth of Christ
            All miracle performed by Jesus Christ during his lifetime
            Resurrection of Jesus Christ
            Bodily post-resurrection appearances
            His ascension into Heaven
            All Biblical prophecy

            Natural explanations have been offered by skeptics for all of the above miracles. There are no undisputed miracles.
            According to their beliefs, they are claimed typically the result of hallucination, fraud, misinterpretation of natural phenomena, no matter how improbable.

            The same is true of Fatima, 1917.

            If Fatima is of naturalistic origin then there should be reported phenomena closely resembling Fatima “induced” in other contexts such as Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist or even secular such as at ballgames or rock concerts.

          10. Except that not all the claims of witnesses are the same, and sun miracles are quite often claimed by people who stare directly at the sun. Are all sun miracle claims legitimate?

          11. Re>>>Except that not all the claims of witnesses are the same, and sun miracles are quite often claimed by people who stare directly at the sun. Are all sun miracle claims legitimate?<<<

            Apologies for the delay. One has to look at the exact claim of the each particular "sun miracle." The 6 month in advance pre-predicted miracle at Fatima was not then advertised as a "sun miracle," it was nondescript. There have been some attempted sun miracles since. Fatima is unique in the large numbers of witnesses seeing some type of unexplained phenomena at the same time, most commonly described in solar terms, however some saw Mary, Joseph and Mary, others unusual lighting effects, in some cases as far as 28 -32 miles away. The muddy ground from the rain was quickly dried, and when the sun appeared it would to crash to the earth, people did not panic and run away, instead feeling of repentance and end of the world in an religious apocalyptic sense.

            Some UFO ologists have tried to explain the phenomena as a UFO, however the inconsistency in all aspects of the experience make it difficult to accept, since UFO sightings tend to be more consistent in description among witnesses present. Fatima had an accompanying underlying religious-theological message consistent with the Catholic faith ( if details about the Rosary are not too finally parsed, acceptable to Protestantism as well). Fatima still affects some aspects of Catholicism and there is an ongoing controversy, for example, if Russia, as per Fatima message, has been sufficiently consecrated through the Rosary. Protestants should not find it objectionable to pray for Russia.

            In any case, if a naturalistic phenomena; one would expect close replication of it at other large crowd gatherings in their belief context, ie Muslim or Hindu or even crowds at a ballgame, however at this time, this is not the case.
            Fatima site with some details about the afterlife revealed
            https://www.fatimamovement.com/i-miracle-of-fatima.php

        4. Or we could examine actual evidence, none of which brings us to “ghosts” nor an “after-life”.

          1. If I was unclear, I also meant to convey inclusive of situations where diverse witnesses saw the same thing at the same time (which would exclude Hallucinations, specifically “mass hallucination” since there are no reproducible incidents of such) .

          2. Google “Mass psychogenic illness” for some interesting reading, but beyond that I have personally experienced something that might be relevant. In my previous life as an evangelical raised child, at a christian camp people were invited to let the spirit move through them… After a while some people started shaking and falling down, and I was dismayed that the spirit wasn’t “moving through me” … For various reasons, in that moment I began to will the effects I was seeing upon myself, and lo, my brain responded. Looking back at this there are probably a number of socio-psychological factors at play, but ultimately, this was a wilful self delusion in response to group dynamics – if others in the auditorium were like me, then this is an interesting chain reaction effect that just relies on people wanting to fit in and doesn’t even require neurological error to be explained…

          3. That is what’s so interesting about studying phenomena such as Fatima diverse crowds of varying beliefs and an experience has never been duplicated.

          4. I forgot to add before I hit “done” the study Joan of arc for example; how it is a peasant girl with no social standing or political power is able to leverage herself to become a general of a national army actually be competent enough to win spectacular battles that ended up changing that nations history . And she claimed it was a mission from God . If we are trying to understand the placebo effects, this type of success goes against what we know about placebo, about science, sociology and peasants suddenly being passed to become generals especially women peasants .

    3. Except that nobody has actually DIED and come back to tell us about it.
      Here’s the thing about NDEs… Not everyone experiences them. And of those that do, they aren’t exactly universal in content, and are highly affected by cultural expectations that have been internalized during life. In no way can they be accepted as evidence for an afterlife. There is far more evidence that they represent what the dying human brain does neurologically prior to the actual death of the organ.

  2. When Mark Twain was asked if he was afraid of death he said “I was dead for millions of years before i was born and it did not hurt me in the least”

    1. Hitchens said something similar: “Nonexistence didn’t bother me before I was born, so why should I worry about it after I’m dead?” (Or some such, IIRC.)

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