So this past Sunday (Christmas) was the day on which I was born. On Facebook a sister-in-law wished me a "happy birthday". In response I wrote "I now refer to it as the day I am one full closer to death". This is a view I adopted a few years ago. The SIL replied that she thought this is a "dismal outlook".
Yes, anyone who knows me knows that is my general disposition. I am not an optimistic person. On the other hand, declaring that my outlook is dismal; that struck me as judgmental, and that the judgment was not good. That I SHOULDN'T have that outlook. But, while my reason is that I am a pessimist, there are people who have this view regarding death who aren't.
This I know because just that day I had listened to someone express such a thought. "I think it gives me this more palpable sensation with being alive" Julia Sweeney said, explaining why she LIKES to contemplate death.
Julia Sweeney is an atheist. Atheism makes no sense to me, and (as an atheist) Julia Sweeney's view on death makes no sense to me. If she had expressed similar thoughts AS A CATHOLIC, then I'd say that makes some sense to me. And I'd say I agree with some of what she said. Some of what she said in a conversation with Marc Maron on 11/24/2014.
I just fininshed listening to the audiobook version of Julia Sweeney's It it's not one thing, it's your mother and I decided to seek out other audios of hers. She has a few books, but most of her output takes the form of what's called "autobiographical monologues". I'd heard God Said Ha! years ago. There is another titled Letting Go of God and I thought, well, I don't want to PAY to hear someone tell religion is ridiculous and there is no God, but I'll listen. Maybe if I can buy the 2-CD set cheap. Really cheap. I obtained "God said Ha!" cheap by buying it along with some other items on eBay (and therefore the shipping cost per item was lesser, whereas if you buy a CD on Amazon, the shipping itself is 3.99 per item. More than I was willing to pay in total).
So, after looking around, I found it was not available cheaply enough. But I did find it on YouTube. So I listened. And yes, she points out the ridiculousness of Christianity (much of which I was already aware of). But do I want to be an atheist? No, I do not. I couldn't live as an atheist. The ridiculousness in the Bible exists because it was written by men. I do not believe in Biblical inerrancy.
In fact, listening to "Letting go of God", while it did not convince me to become an atheist, it did convince me (even moreso) that my view that the Bible is NOT inerrant is correct. But that isn't a reason for me to leave the Christian faith. Julia Sweeney would have good reason to leave the Catholic faith, one of the more silly versions of Christianity, IMO. Because Catholics believe there exists an infallible representative of God here on earth.
And that leaders of the Catholic church can rewrite laws governing how Catholics live their lives. And frequently these laws don't have anything to do with what is in the Bible. For example, some years ago I heard that they got together and decided that Limbo no longer exists. Previously Catholics were taught that if a baby dies before being baptized that the baby's soul goes to Limbo. Now? I guess it just never existed. Although it is a totally made up concept to begin with.
My point is that Catholic nonsense gave Sweeney good reason to leave the Catholic faith. That would have been a very sensible thing to do, IMO. But that didn't mean she needed to abandon her faith all together. IMO. Although she does discuss this possibility in her "Letting go of God" monologue (switching religions). But ultimately decides there is no God.
Although some of her views on the matter of the afterlife remain Catholic in nature it seems. Or conforming to a religious view of the afterlife, which is why I found her thoughts on the matter a little perplexing. Thoughts expressed to Marc Maron on 11/24/2014 in a discussion for his WTF podcast.
This was following the release of her book, "If It's Not One Thing..." in 2013, and it's Julia Sweeney's life (in general) that they talk about. Death is a topic that comes up right away, and it's the first 4 minutes (roughly) that I decided to transcribe as follows...
Julia: I just bought a cemetary plot for myself in Spokane.
Marc: That's an uplifting way to start the show. Is it a nice plot?
Julia: It is. It's with our family. It's other people in the family. Actually, just this morning I paid the final check on it.
Marc: So, it's all ready to go.
Julia: Now I feel like, I don't have to visit Spokane that much anymore. I'm going to spend a long time there.
Marc: That's my post retirement plan.
Marc: Oh, my God. Do I need to get one of those? When do you get one of those?
Julia: I don't know because my husband and I kept going back and forth about it. Because he doesn't care at all about that. And wouldn't even discuss it. And the only reason I did is because I had a couple siblings die and other family members - and they're in this area we have visited in Spokane. You know, the cemetery. We were like a Mexican family. We'd go have a picnic at the cemetery with our [dead] relatives.
Marc: You did?
Julia: Oh, yeah.
Marc: But you're a Catholic Family?
Julia: Irish Catholic. We just had to stop by all the time. If we're on the North side, it like... We'll pop in and say hello to Henrietta...
Marc: Your grandparents?
Julia: Yeah. And so, it suddenly occurred to me that's meaningful. Not everyone has that. That's meaningful. And, I had happened to talk to this woman who sells cemetery plots there, and she goes... you know, the spot right next to your two brothers is available. And I was like... I'm in! I am so in. And then, I have two other siblings and I was trying to get them to buy the spots next to me, and they were like... I don't want to be next to Aunt Barbara.
Marc: Oh, really?
Julia: It was like... will my husband and I be together [said Julia's sister]? And then my other sibling [Julia's brother] was like... I don't want to be next to her husband.
Marc: Do you have to buy more than one [plot]?
Julia: You can have up to four... actually, we could all go in one plot. They just upped it from two people to four people. Can be in one plot.
Marc: Have they changed the distances, or is it...?
Julia: No, it's because people are cremated now. it used to be that you couldn't be cremated if you were Catholic.
Julia: But they changed the rules. So now it's just a heyday at the cemetery. Because you can pack a bunch of people in a plot.
Marc: It's cheaper to cremate, I guess.
Julia: Oh, yeah. Especially if you're not in town when you die.
Marc: (laughs) Transportation is easier.
Julia: Right. You can go on the plane... you're carry-on.
Marc: It's funny. It's not morbid. I think Catholics are pretty good at that. The idea of having lunch at a cemetery, I think there's a comfort with death.
Julia: I find that so true. Actually my daughter just said - because my husband's [family], they're Jewish atheist basically... And proud 3rd generation Jewish atheist... and my daughter said to me recently... you know, Dad's side of the family, they don't talk about - they don't even believe in an afterlife. But they don't talk about people dying that much. But your side of the family, they all believe in this afterlife (even though she knows I don't). And yet, you're totally comfortable talking about being dead... this person is doing to be dead, and soon we'll all be dead. And soon we'll all be in the ground.
And I think that's healthy. I like it.
Marc: However you can accept death, I think it's a good way to go. That's the one thing we don't want to confront. Or we want to deny. But I think you get to a certain age. I always knew that I would die. But when you get older you're like... it might be soon.
Julia: OK, here's my new thing... I'm actually trying to think about death a lot. Like, just think about it.
Julia: I think it gives me this more palpable sensation with being alive.
Marc: Accept it and realize it.
Julia: Kind of contemplate death. Just to have it. But, anyway, my new thing is that when I see babies anywhere, I think that when that baby is my age, I won't be alive. It gives you a little tingle. It's coming up. Soon I will not be around.
Marc: I don't like that.
Julia: I don't know why that makes me... it's that time of life.
[End excerpt from the 11/24/2014 Marc Maron WTF Podcast]
Personally, I'm inclined to believe that when you die, you're dead. Although when God returns there will be a resurrection of the dead and God will establish his kingdom here on earth. Meaning, I don't believe in heaven being a place in the sky where people go when they die (a place where they sit around on clouds playing harps, etc).
But I do believe there is an afterlife, which Julia Sweeney, as an atheist, does not. And I don't understand why contemplating death would produce a "palpable sensation with being alive". If I believed that this life was all there was, the sensation it would produce in me is hopelessness. Because life is ALL SO POINTLESS. I mean, any one individual person's life is (in the big picture sense) incredibly short. And then you die. And if you're GONE FOREVER, what is the point? Your loved ones will remember you, and you will "live on" in that sense (in their memories), but they too will die one day. And then you will be wiped from existence.
Historically significant (and famous people) will "live" on. In the history books and in pictures and on film. But, for the rest of us, it will be as if we never existed. And that day will come quickly (given the short amount of time any individual person has on earth). The point is that I just couldn't go on if I thought there was NO POINT to this life. Which, IMO, if you die and that is it? Then there is no point. Given how short life is, meaning that the time you will be here will be insignificant compared to the time you (weren't) and won't be here.
So I can't fathom why thinking of death would be something an atheist would do. I would fear it greatly if I thought that was the end. Or, actually, I'd think let's get to it. Since life is completely meaningless and therefore why live it?
But if Sweeney were still religious? Then her view on death would make more sense to me. Even though, she ISN'T going to be spending a lot of time in the Spokane cemetery, since you cease to exist when you die. Atheists spend time nowhere after death. Not that I think anyone spends time anywhere after death. They may or may not hang around anywhere. I'm not sure, which is why I said I'm INCLINED to believe that when you're dead you're dead. But that God will resurrect the dead when he returns.
Soon we WILL all be dead. And soon we WILL all be in the ground. Or cremated (another inane Catholic rule rewrite. Before cremation was bad and your soul would be in trouble if you were cremated, but now it's acceptable). But I do think that's healthy. As opposed to being a "dismal outlook". It absolutely does NOT, however, give "me this more palpable sensation with being alive". Although I can imagine for someone that it might. Just not an atheist. That an atheist would look at death this way is something I seriously do not understand.
Note that she said that her husband's side of the family does not talk about death. And that they are 3rd generation Jewish atheist. She does, and that is (I think) a holdover from being Catholic. But as an atheist, believing that when you're dead that's it. THAT, I think is a significantly more dismal outlook. And, for me - as a serious pessimist who embraces a dismal outlook - that's a dark place that I can't go.
Video: Episode 553 of Marc Maron's WTF Podcast from 11/24/2014. Note: I start the video at 28:25 because that is when the interview with Julia Sweeney begins (Marc interviews someone else first). The portion I quote above begins at 30:41.