Nov. 10, 2008

Last week I received an email from a fellow atheist and friend of the site. The topic was “Facing death as an Atheist.” The full correspondence is posted on the latest page of Fan Mail, but his initial email is posted here so that you can share your thoughts & feelings in the comments below.

Subject: Death of an Atheist

Hello Bob.
I’ve been getting a bit short of breath so I went to the doctor who sent me off for a chest x-ray.

I was told the results would take about a week so when the doctor phoned me the very next day it wasn’t going to be good news. Since then I’ve had a CT scan and next week I’ll may be having a lung biopsy.

If I do have lung-cancer words and phrases like “too late to do anything” and “abrupt” keep cropping up. In short don’t buy me a Christmas present as I may not be around to receive it.

So what’s this got to do with NBS? Well, faced with one’s own mortality is a very interesting experience and there’s certainly things to learn form it.

My “religious” feelings are and have never been strong but I think for you and many of your fans they have been. If confronted with the prospect of death it’s would be easy to seek reassurance in the familiarity of a religion and as the religious are not above exploiting the weak and vulnerable how can their clutches be avoided?

The best thing you can tell people and what I’d recommend being central to what you tell others is “Which one?”.

It’s too easy to fall back on superstitious beliefs that were firmly indoctrinated in childhood and arguing/reasoning against them is giving them a reality and credibility they don’t don’t deserve.

“Which one?” avoids this path. Don’t argue against specifics as it’s too easy to get entangled.

“Which one?” puts them all into perspective. Focusing on one, the one true one you were lucky enough to be accidentally born into, gives it a reality it does not warrant.

If there was just one thing you could say to your fellow atheists say “Which one?”. It could be more important and telling than you think.

With regards and sincere best wishes

zoo aka Peter
Continued on a new page of Fan Mail

33 thoughts on “Nov. 10, 2008

  1. SJR

    Death is an interesting subject for an atheist. When considering “which one” I immediately thought of a class I took on the different after-lifes that each religion has. They are each so different and if given a choice none of them sound all that great (especially if you read the fine print).

    This post also reminded me of being chastised by a friend because he was offended that I was an atheist. He very smugly said that on my death bed I would eventually turn to religion as everyone does in the end.

    Now while I don’t believe that about myself he had a point. I’ve been an EMT for a while now and I’ve seen death up close and personal too many times to count. I have never encountered a patient that was terminal and didn’t cling to religion in some shape or form. It almost like a default reaction.

    I think atheists fear death more than religious people do because for us it is truly the end – all the more reason to live your life the best way you can and make every moment count. It’s all too sobering though when you have death knocking at the door so I don’t fault anyone who is dying for turning to religion. But I can see even the most stout atheists having a tiny “what if…” pop up in the back of their minds.

  2. Hellbound Alleee

    Hey, Bob.

    “There are no atheists in foxholes.”

    Of course, that’s something that a believer will say, but never an atheist. It really goes without saying.

    I thought I was going to be killed, many years ago, when I was 21 years old. A burgler had his arm around my neck, and he was dragging me up the stairs to my bedroom. Did I pray, did I think, “Oh, Jesus, please save me?”

    Hell, I wasn’t even an avowed atheist at the time, and all I could think of was “I have a play I’m supposed to be in on Friday, and I can’t let everyone down.” My body took over, and all it could do was fight, flight, fight, flight. I realized I had to listen to that, because at the time, my instincts were smarter than me. So, no, there was no theist in my foxhole.

    My dad almost died 3 years ago, in the hospital. He was having an angioplasty, and treatment for prostate cancer. He’d lost a lot of blood–I don’t really know the circumstances. The nurse, or the doctor–don’t remember which, asked him if he’d like a proest or a minister to come to his room. My dad, in his typical fashion, requested a Witch Doctor to come and dance around his bed, waving shrunken heads around.

    They didn’t get it. They never get it, do they?

    I suppose it’s possible that once you’re an atheist, you can go back and become a theist. But it’s probably something that happens in your brain. Take Anthony Flew, for example. And he’s only a Deist now. But it’s never fear. That’s because losing gods IS losing fear. Becoming an atheist is, in effect, facing death head on. Becoming an atheist is not spontaneous–you’ve gotta think a lot, for years, sometimes, and for many of us, the Big Topic IS death, and the nature of it.

    Peter said something very smart, and that was how religionists are very full of themselves. Believing that you will survive death, believing that everything that exists in the universe is simply not good enough, believing your species is favored over all that might exist in the universe, believing that you have a magic puffball ghost living in your head–that’s ego.

    Accepting that you are part of the universe, you are part of nature, you die, and the world goes on and exists without you–that’s atheism. That’s losing a HUGE chunk of “I, me, I, I, me.”

    Good luck, Peter. It’s an adventure.

  3. Sara CreamCheese

    “In short don’t buy me a Christmas present as I may not be around to receive it.”

    That has to be one of the saddest things i’ve ever read… but it’s hard to be cheery when you’re facing death.
    He is absoluetly right about them getting you when you’re down. The moment anything bad happens there are always people about(even when they KNOW you’re an Athiest/ Agnostic) who wanna whip out that love and concern that Jesus Christ has for you….. Like he was just waiting for the fucking moment.
    I can only hope that when I am about to slip away from this Mortal Coil… I have the strenght he does not to go “YES I want to believe in fairy tales so I can be taken to a magical place where all my dead pets are”
    When it’s crunch time, you never know exactly how you will respond.
    Braveheart Peter , Sara CreamCheese aka Sara Smith

  4. Peter/zoo

    Today they stuck a camera up my nose and into my lung – bizarre experience – they didn’t “see anything” but used a saline flush to do more tests. The doctor is still in non-committal mode, but if they don’t know then they don’t know which is fair enough.

    Frankly this is getting boring. :D

    @SJR – I can’t really agree with the statement that “atheists fear death more than religious people”. First off I think the absolute unknown is a least a bit strange for everyone and secondly the religious people are in total denial that they will die, so who’s the most scared?

    It does seem odd that the religious one’s think claim they are going to a “better place” but seem so reluctant/terrified to do so. Maybe they know they’re bullshitting themselves :)

    @Hellbound Alleee – love the witch doctor thing :D, if I wind up in a hospice I may try and invent something very stupid and tell them it’s my sincere belief and last wishes :D

    @Sara CreamCheese – I was smiling when I wrote that :) Please don’t be sad.

    If I do live it’s been an excellent experience… if I don’t it doesn’t really matter does it :)

  5. Apostate Lois

    Hey, Peter, lots of people with cancer surprise the doctors by living longer than what they expected, and I hope you’re one of them. Whatever happens, it’s reassuring to hear that you are at peace with who you are and the life you have lived. That can be an encouragement to others who are facing similar circumstances. Exactly which of the thousands of gods are we supposed to believe in, anyway? Which of the hundreds and hundreds of religions can tell us anything about a supposed afterlife? None of them agree with each other, and they can’t all be right. Better to disbelieve them all rather than waste time believing nonsense. If there’s an afterlife, it will take care of itself. We have enough to worry about in this life, right now–why worry about something that will never happen?

  6. Hellbound Alleee

    Peter, I can’t say that I wish I could read about what you’d say to the hospice folks about your “last wishes,” because I’d rather you didn’t have to do that.

    But I’m sure it would be fucking funny. Make ‘em work for their sincere belief in belief, if you know what I mean. Then yell “April Fool” when they do it.

  7. Sara CreamCheese

    Dear Peter Zoo:

    I could tell when I was reading it , the intent was bittersweet… however I suppose at the time it just struck me in a way that made me feel for people who have been told they are going to die. My Cat was put “to sleep” today and everything got Fucked and I was not there with her as I should have been. I’m angry that things changed and I was’nt there for her, to say goodbye, to rub her and tell her it’s gonna be alright, and I feel so awful and horribly Guilty about that.
    Since I was young i’ve preffered animals to humans because they are so capable of just pure love. Some argue that we incorrectly attribute “Human” emtions to Animals and it’s fantasy on the part of the pet owner so forth.
    I believe that to be total Shit….. Animals have just as much feeling and emotions (such as love, adoration intense connections with people they need as well as negative towards people and animlas they do NOT like).
    I am in no way comparing you to a Cat, though I would compare myself to her, in fact to any animal because humans are animals.
    Emotionally, I want to believe shes still somewhere….. happy.
    It’s because I love her so very much that I can’t bear to think of anything else right now…….
    Being Agnostic (not spiritual) I don’t know where she is…. maybe not a good or bad place, just elsewhere. A more lovely idea is that when her life essence left her body, it went into a kitten being born. THAT would be truly wonderful……
    I hope news is good for you~Sara CreamCheese

  8. Dean Alexander

    Hi Peter,

    When I was 31 I found out I had a brain tumor. The neurosurgeon who removed it told me I’d be crippled from arthritis by 40 and dead by 45. My birthday is Dec. 25th. I’ll be 45 in less than a month. I do have a little arthritis but I’m hardly crippled and I guess there’s a chance I might drop dead in the next four weeks but I could also get hit by a friggin’ meteor.

    The last week in February of this year I found out I had colon cancer. First week of March I had half my colon hacked out and did Chemotherapy from May ‘til October. The funny thing is I had the cancer surgery at a Catholic hospital and told them to make sure some priest didn’t come in and start praying over me even if I croaked. (On the admission form under religion I put “Against”.)

    At no time since the first doctor told me I was going to die 14 years ago, did I ever consider praying, going to church or begging one of the thousands of gods to spare me. We are all going to die and there’s not a damn thing we can do about it.

    The good thing about finding out I’m not going to live to a ripe old age is I lost all fear of death. It’s seems silly to fear the inevitable. I figure if I get 15 more years I’ll be lucky. For all I know I may live to be 100.

    I enjoy life more now than I used to. The binge drinking and sport fucking has tapered off but I perform random acts of kindness when I can. Whenever someone says god bless you, I always reply……which one.

    I hope your prognosis is good but whether it is or not, live the hell out of what you have left. And that goes for the rest of you heathens.

    Dean

  9. Melanie

    Hi Bob!

    I love your site! My kid walked in as I was playing the Jesus dress up game. I had to fight him for the computer back! I kinda felt bad as he was putting the Superman costume on Jesus, but then realized….it’s freakin hilarious!!

    Keep up the good work!

  10. sattvicwarrior

    been following you off and on for a while. i DONT know how you keep up with all this.
    quite frankly your fantastic.
    I’m NOT an atheist or a religious freak. , just a person who sees things for what they are NOT for what people want them to be.
    I admire your ability to just “keep it “ right on top”.
    good for you .
    and thanks for sharing. ..
    keep up the good work. and YES it is GOOD WORK.
    that’s all I had to say.
    :)

  11. Dawn

    My kids found a dress up Jesus site but it looked different, you could put Jesus in a gimp suit. Was this a previous inacrnation of yours? Anyway, I thought it was hysterical but advised my kids not to show it to their lovely Catholic Spanish friends!

  12. nightdrive

    and the cancer guy, he’s fucked up
    haha
    the thing is, he wasn’t saved by Jesus or God, he had medical treatment, and he got cancer because he was born like this, with this disease.
    A lot of reason for people get cancer, like, those things that they put on the food we eat, the way people live their lives.
    He failed! haha

  13. Biff the Bartender

    Peter, are you still out there? What has happened with the biopsy? I hope you’ve stayed well, sir. Don’t know why your story struck me so, but it did.

  14. Lisa and Elaine

    Just wanted to tell you we love you and think are great. People need to get sense of humor. Keep up the good, though profane work.

    L and E

  15. Russ

    A response to zoo/peter
    Here is a fictitious story that sums this up quite well.
    An Atheist and a professed Christian are in an auto accident. They both die a few hours later in the hospital. They soon arrive at the Pearly Gates of Heaven and are confronted by St. Peter who has a record of their deeds in his hand. He looks at the history of the Atheist and says, “So you did not believe in God or that there is a Heaven and a Hell”
    The Atheist responds with, “No, I did not…but standing here leaves me in total shock and awe”. St. Peter paused for a minute, surveying his book, and then says, “Okay, go right in to
    Heaven and spend eternity in peace and tranquility with all your loved ones”.
    He then turns to the professed Christian, “It is recorded here that you have committed adultery a number of times, took the Lords name in vain, and in fact, broke at least five of the ten commandments. However, I see that a Priest issued you your last rights before you died so you may pass through as well. I expect you will spend eternity alone as there does not appear to be anyone here that you haven’t offended at some time in your life’.
    The Christian frowned and said, “St. Peter I am puzzled. You just let an Atheist into Heaven after he told you that in his lifetime he never believed in God.”
    St. Peter answered. “The record shows that he was a responsible person, a caring father, and a well respected individual. He led his life this way because he did not believe in an afterlife. He was determined to spend his time on earth spreading good will and then dying with respect”.
    St. Peter continued. “You on the other hand, felt confident that you had a niche in the afterlife because you were a professed Christian. You never worried about the negative impact you would have on family or friend as you could have your sins absolved each Sunday in the confessional.”
    “Who do you think a loving God should deny, You, the believer, or the Atheist whose only serious sin was ignorance?.

  16. Tom

    Just a quick comment to say, thanks for the fun. Of course I should be commenting in the hate mail, that’s where all the fun really is hardee har har.

    Keep up the good work Bob.

  17. Anonymous

    “If a man has a hundred sheep but one of the sheep gets lost, he will leave the other ninety-nine on the hill and go to look for the lost sheep. I tell you the truth, if he finds it he is happier about that one sheep than about the ninety-nine that were never lost. In the same way, your Father in heaven does not want any of these little children to be lost.”-Matthew 18:12

  18. Bob Null

    Hello,
    I am a muti faith guy, But I love your site. I love someone who does an equal joking of religion. People take faith sometimes way too serious. I am Wiccan, Voudoun, and Native Spirit. But I really respect someone who offers a chance to laugh at the way we veiw religion.

    Keep up the excellent work bud

    Blessings or no blessings you call
    Bob Null

  19. Marty Downs

    You’re a genius Bob! I’ve gotten a lot of laughs from your website and Youtube. The hate mail from the Jesus Braindead is hilarious! I have to go now. It’s time for me to worship the Flying Cow who dost bring all great things, etc.

  20. Scottska

    I remember being shown this site over 10 years ago, and suddenly (like the lord calling me) I remembered about it today. How I missed the Jesus dress up. During that decade I have managed to live the life of an atheist quite successfully, my fondest memory being when I had the knock on the door from some Jehova (excuse the spelling) witnesses, a dear old lady and a young lad, maybe 13, prime for their devious brainwashing. After thoroughly taking apart her preacher views (dinosaurs, carbon dating, hundreds of rewritten stories and fairy tales), I focused on the boy, and hammered home one main point: question everything, every single thing they try to tell you, question it, and think for yourself. There is nothing wrong with you for questioning them, and you will often find contradictions, and horrific truths that these people believe in, open your eyes, enjoy your life and just be a nice fucking dude to people. I mean look at the pope kid, he’s never been laid, do want that to be you??!?! I think that clinched it.

    I was glad to see that same kid just weeks later (small town) donning a Metallica t-shirt when he came to my shop to buy his first guitar, which was a Warlock by BC Rich (for non guitar people google the image…)

    My work here is done.

    If there is a God I’m fucked. But the Devil has the best tunes anyway.

  21. PJ Corona

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts about your pending death. I would like to be comforting or consoling but I think that is just the knee jerk response when I hear someone is going to die.

    You have made a difference with me. It will be easier to deal with death, my own or others because of your attitude.

    Enjoy the rest of your life and I will do the same.

  22. dj

    the next time u see a guy holdin up a free hugger sign u should make ur own sign “saying better hugs 2$” and stand right next to him
    get new jeans with the money u saved up
    and then brag about it to the quarter guy

  23. Jaycee

    Hey Normal Bob,
    Your website is one of the best I’ve seen in a very long time. It’s very original, funny, kooky, realistic, and witty. I found out about it through the New York Times while I was visiting the city. I got to say now that I’ve viewed the site, I love New York City even more! :) And this is coming from a “Southern-Griswold who believes in God”. I wish people wouldn’t hate on your site so much and grow the f*** up. I may believe in God, but I’m a realist and very open-minded. So keep up the good work, and please keep adding more to your website. lol :)

    Sincerely,
    Jaycee
    aka Ms. Kooky-jezebel

  24. old

    Bob Smith you are like a true realist logical thinker…a breath of fresh air in a world of ignorant farts!!!!! Sure there was a talking donkey in the Old Testimanent…it’s what all college history professors teach. The bible is as true as Harry Potter ever was!!!!!

  25. Amichai Jesurun Schneller

    I like your black ink work that you’ve done,those illustrations remind me of some of Clive Barkers
    prints,”the theif of always”…good stuff man…you should checkout out the movie “Coraline” originally it was a book by Neil Gaiman…great writer…I also want to give praise to that drawing
    of Lewis Carroll…i read the book too,amazingly you would think that it’s not for children!!
    your art could easily reflect Coraline and other awesome tales of oddity and the darkside of humor
    and or just the darkside of anything,being an artist myself,I draw and paint alot of my dreams and
    nightmares,being inspired by the feelings of hovering over a giant abyss strapped to technical diving gear,or drowning inside a submarine….nightmares are much more interesting,don’t you think??
    SINcerly,
    A.J. Schneller

  26. Auzziegob

    I write this to all the godgobbers who reckon prayers protect them.
    I’m writing because of the past and recent drownings of many refugees in boats trying to get to Australia.
    godgobbers lost their right for respect long ago and I give no apologies for my comedic sarcasm.
    ==============================================================
    How come these supposedly all powerful super being gods carnt stop prayer mongers from drowning.
    Aussie Life Savers do it everyday somewhere on an Aussie beach.
    They do it for free, they do it voluntarily. And they do it without useless ridiculous gods muck.
    This notion of life saving protection by a bloke whe floats around in the universe is a deadly joke of ongoing mammoth proportions.
    These refugee drownings prove that prayer mongering and gods muck wailing of any description doesn’t stop death. Never has and never will.
    On the other hand, gods muck continues to cause untold millions of deaths through godgobbers fighting each other and by nutty fundie kooks who reckon a medieval spirit can protect them.
    The cataclysmic 2004 Banda Aceh tsunami killed around 230,000 people. Obviously their god was having a day off and their super spirit protector let them down in a mega stuff up.
    Most of the victims were either blokes who spent their lives uselessly pointing their prayer mongering date holes skyward to a god who, of course, has now let them down. And besides these dead blokes, this so called almighty protector also let scores of thousands of prayer mongering women drown too. They couldn’t swim to safety because they were covered head to toe in blanket type garb to stop themselves getting raped by the arse pointing blokes.
    Tens of thousands of their old mothers needlessly carked it too. Because apparently, even these huge, lumbering, disgustingly obese, lard arsed sweaty old muzzy grannies needed to cover up as well. For fear of akbar shouting granny rapers who root anything female, because their arse pointing prayer crying antics haven’t scored them a mono browed cousin to marry, so they can have a legal fuck.
    All this fucking misery and these crazy godgobbers still reckon their god is great.,.,.,Ha ha ha ha. I told ya these prayer wailing goddy groaners are a larf a minute.

    In 2010 I had another goddy groaner induced larf when hundreds of thousands of prayer puking Haitians became earthquake victims. The Haitis, by and large, are kooky fundamentalist prayer thumpers or zombie dancing maniacs. They were also let down by their super daddy sky floater as well.
    As usual I get a few extra larfs when the inevitable rescues happen a few days into a calamity. Guess what world,.,a mighty spirit man woke up and performed a stupendous FUCKING MIRACLE !
    A few people survive out of hundreds of thousands of OTHER PEOPLE WHO WERE BURIED ALIVE. So of course the media numb nuts ramp it up,.,”it’s a miracle”.
    The miracle surviving godgobbers crawl to the media spotlight for their 5 minutes worth of jesus junk and god induced survival stories.
    The dopey devotees scream “jesus saved me”, while the stinking filthy smell of hundreds of thousands of their gods unsaved rotting human corpses reeks away in the background.
    I’m larfing so fucking hard at these prayer mongering morons I’m choking and nearly going blind with the bucket loads of salty larfter tears.
    It’s amazing how bloody fucking stupid godgobbers are. This useless addiction to a protection from death by prayer muck malarky or jehovah jiving jesus junk is the biggest protection racket scam on the planet.
    I get a fucking good larf out of godgobbers and their comedic disaster shows. Especially by catholics and their pope and priest parades and egghead hats. Or news footage of rows of farting muslim arses pointing skyward. As though sticking ya butt hole skyward can achieve anything more than an escaped fart into some other dopey arse pointing prayer mongers face.
    I larf me fucking head off when I view the work of a mob of nutty islamists who have slaughtered some other islamist’s kids while screaming god is great. It’s bad luck for the kids but that’s life and death in the prayer mongers world.

    Then I’ll trot off to see what the latest atrocity the jews have just committed. I just know a prayer mongering jew must have committed some type of murderous crime TODAY, somewhere in the name of their own weird mystical sky spirit.
    There’s a big chance it’s probably another army jew snipers bullet into a Palestinian babies head as it was held by it’s ALAH AKBAR screaming mother.

    AINT RELIGION FANTASTIC,.,.,.,never a dull moment hey folks !

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