The only certainty in life is death, and thus the fear of death is everywhere. At some point, we all feel the encroaching fear that death is right around the corner, waiting to claim our bodies and drag them into the abyss of nothingness. This fear of death is what fuels religion, and makes it easier for people to surrender to it’s influence. Most, if not all religions offer the idea of an afterlife, selling it a way to immortality, further going on that if you follow their rules and behave a certain way, you will be guaranteed immortality. Atheism challenges this perception, with the idea that there is no afterlife, no God, and no karma either. This is why many religious people feel uncomfortable with atheism. After all, if there is no afterlife, then there’s no immortality.
The idea of Heaven is perhaps the cleverest invention of religion. It allows people to be content with living a life of getting the short end of the stick serving those on top, hoping their life of “virtue” will be rewarded in the afterlife. In a sense, the only real purpose is to bribe or scare the masses into conforming to the morals of Christian society. Why else would we willingly consign ourselves to a life of hardships, guilt and shame unless we thought there would be something to gain from it? Therein lies the reason the church holds on to the idea of an afterlife, because without it they would have significantly less followers.
Of course, during the Dark Ages, our ancestors were forced to accept the reality the death was everywhere because of the terribly squalid conditions of peasant life. In that environment, death literally was right around the corner. We were all too familiar with death, especially when the Black Plague ravaged much of Europe. Today, however, we have so many technological advancements that make our lives easier that we have forgotten that death is a normal part of life, and as we have forgotten this, we have become increasingly more unwilling to face the reality of death, and yet we don’t want religion anymore. It seems like humanity can’t decide its values anymore. We don’t want to think about death, but we no longer like the mechanism that kept the majority of us from fretting over it too much.
For me, the fear of death in today’s society is manifested from modern man’s ultimately materialistic worldview. We want to have possession of material things for all eternity, but that can never happen. We want our physical presence on Earth to last forever, but the laws of nature won’t allow for that. We have focused too much on the material world as a species, and so many of us have forgotten how to be content with ourselves and our lives. This attitude, I feel, risks inhibiting our ability to truly live, and this is worrying because a very strong cause of one’s fear of death is thought of not having lived a full life.
Mark Twain once said that a man who lives fully is prepared to die at any time. My feeling is that most people aren’t prepared to confront death because they feel they aren’t getting enough out of life. In fairness, there’s absolutely no telling what happens after death, seeing as nobody can just come back from the grave and tell of what transpires in death. The best we can do is try to leave a physical legacy on Earth, and that will be the truest form of immortality one can hope for. Of course, in our futile, materialistic quest to conquer death, will mankind ever be satisfied?