Believers & Nonbelievers At Death's Door

Our local Hospice organization is holding a conference on October 5.  Included in the program will be a panel of people representing what is termed “faith groups”.  Each will discuss attitudes toward death of people belonging to that faith group.  Included  will be Muslim, Buddhist, Jewish, Hindu, Native  Amercian, Christian and now, Freethinkers.  Yes, I was honored to be included in this panel.

    How often would the Hospice organization provide end of life services to a Freethinker?  Not too often, if we consider our own small organization to be the only relevant part of the “faith group”.  But, according to the Pew polling group, the probability of providing these services to someone who does not go to church or identify with any church is quite large and growing rapidly.  About one person in four or five does not identify himself/herself with any religion. This group, then, comes in second in size to Christian.  It is not just larger than any of the other nonChristian groups, it is larger than all the other groups combined. In addition, the percentage of  people who say they attend church regularly is about the same as the percentage who self identify as atheists.

   When I’m out and about I encounter end of life questions from people. Just recently, I was in the McDonald’s on Main in Moorhead when a man I had never met introduced himself. He was about my age, 70’s, looked fit as a fiddle, and said, “I doing a little funeral planning. Not pleasant. But, I’d like to have someone from the Freethinkers say a few words at my funeral. There will be lots of, you know, the other stuff. Can you do that?”  I said that since he may out live me, I could not guarrantee I would be there, but someone from Freethinkers would for certain.

So, if a person does not believe there is an afterlife, where does such a person look to find comfort at death’s door?  A famous writer once said, “When you die, you just return to the same state of affairs you had before you were born. At that time, I had no complaints.”