Deathbed Duties, redux

bought_more_crapA while back, I offered some thoughts on faking conversion for the sake of a dying loved one. One of the comments in that post prompted me to consider the topic from the other side — what if you’re a dying atheist with loved ones who desperately want to believe you’ll be sitting on a cloud instead of a pitchfork in the hereafter?

Should you feel obligated to put their minds at ease by pretending to have found Jesus (or whatever deity they would prefer)? I say no.

If you want to, that’s fine. You’re dying. Do whatever you want to make yourself more comfortable, as long as it doesn’t hurt anyone — and maybe even if it does. Which kind of gets closer to the issue of whether you should try to spare your loved ones some pain and anguish during your final moments or days (or months or years — “deathbed” is kind of a nebulous concept, thanks to modern diagnostic technology).

The thing is, there’s a reason a deathbed confession is considered to have greater weight than some other confession. If you have the (arguable) luxury of knowing in advance that you’re about to die, you have an opportunity to set the record straight, to settle old differences (or even old scores). It’s a time for truth. And if the truth is that you don’t believe in the deities your loved ones do, then there’s no better time to explain that than on your deathbed.

If anything, I’d say your deathbed is a good place to “come out of the closet” as an atheist, if you’ve been hiding it your whole life. There’s a danger, of course, that your religious loved ones will ignore their religious instruction about respecting others (whatever religion theirs is, there’s probably something about that in there) and launch a full-blown offensive to convert you (and “offensive” is definitely the right word, however well-meaning it may appear, or actually be). But if you’re up to it, I don’t see any problem. And hey, you’re dying — even if they get really obnoxious, you won’t have to put up with it for long (look on the bright side, and all that).

Also, if you feel any affiliation with your fellow atheists, it’s more important than ever to stand up for your (un)beliefs on your deathbed, since while you were healthy, lots of theists were probably comforting themselves with the notion that you’d feel differently about God once you were face to face with your own mortality.

You may feel like you’re hurting your loved ones by refusing to fake a deathbed conversion, but how many atheists, all over the world, are you hurting by faking a conversion and lending credence to the fatuous notion that there are no atheists on deathbeds (or in foxholes)?

One response to this post.

  1. I don’t really see the two situations as comparable. If we wanted to do nothing but soothe our loved ones during their lifetime, none of us would ever come out of the closet.

    I certainly agree that faking a conversion on one’s deathbed would do nothing but give religious types more ammunition. In particular, it would reinforce our loved ones’ notion that they were right (after all, in the end we saw it their way).

    However, I still contend that reassuring a dying love one of a fake conversion is a humane thing to do. It’s not as though they’re going to go spread the word that you’ve “converted”…they’re going to be, y’know, dead. You don’t have to rent a billboard and advertise that you’ve found religion. You just have to hold their hand and reassure them that everything is going to be all right. That seems to me to be a kind thing to do.


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