Report on April meeting: A not-so-grim look at death

A report by one of our members on the talk given to SHG by Matthew Simpson.

Maybe death is the real ‘last taboo’ today. It has become somewhat invisible in our society, unlike in the past where many children would witness, say, the death of a grandparent.

Matthew Simpson pointed this out in a highly entertaining way, and went on to propose an idea which had certainly not occurred to me, that the biggest difference between atheists and those with a religion is not belief in a god, but belief or non-belief in an afterlife.

He talked about how as we cease to talk about death, belief flourishes in fairies, vampires, guardian angels, out-of-body experiences and psychics.

But do believers really, deeply believe in an afterlife? Surely then a death would then be cause for rejoicing, at least for the person moving on.

To a non-believer the impermanence of life actually enhances it. It is important to remove the fear of death. Many religious people think, quite wrongly, that atheists will change their minds at the end of life, and can adopt be a patronising attitude.

Matthew finds, as a Humanist celebrant, that people realise at Humanist funerals there is clearly no fear, and that this can be sensed. However, with any death, it is those left behind who are in want of comfort. Here Humanists can help, maybe at funerals and through chaplaincy. The NHS spends a great deal of money on religious chaplains, but very little on non-religious, although there are signs this could be changing.

So what is death like? Describing it as akin to sleep is not helpful. We dream in sleep, and in the end wake up. It is probably better to describe it as being the same as before we were born.

Matthew left us with several quotes on this subject from some respected thinkers.

It is hard to believe anyone could make this topic as acceptable and relaxed as Matthew did. I won’t tell you the answers to his quiz in case you have not yet heard him speak. (But apparently it is true that President Jackson’s pet parrot was removed from Jackson’s state funeral when it started swearing!)

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