The Evangelical Universalist Forum

Thanks for helping me pilot my faith through turbulence!

My faith is struggling due to an idea I have read that seems to make a lot of sense to me - put simply, that we invent religions because we can’t cope with the thought of dying. Has anyone considered, worked through and resolved the idea that we might be inventing beliefs purely out of fear of death, and come through it with a stronger faith? What did you think about, what information did you find that was relevant and did you change any of your beliefs as a result?

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"If my faith was an airplane, then unfortunately it has flown into some turbulence lately. I wrote a piece not long ago about approaching cognitive dissonance in a Christian way and now I find myself in the position of having to tackle my own.

The source of my problem came from a Christian book ironically enough. The author looked at the reasons for Christ’s death and drew upon the work of Ernest Becker, an American cultural anthropologist and writer noted for his 1974 Pulitzer Prize-winning book, “The Denial of Death”. This work of psychology and philosophy builds on the works of Søren Kierkegaard, Sigmund Freud, Norman O. Brown, Erich Fromm, Hegel and Otto Rank…

People across the spectrum of religiosity find support for their existing belief systems in the words of Becker…

One “solution” I could use to tackle the problem is to ignore it, focusing on other ideas, and/or reject it, limiting further exposure to the source (Becker’s work and its derivatives) — the way of confirmation bias — but either would be like shutting the stable door after the horse has bolted since I’m already thinking about the issue…"

What has helped me in life, are spiritual experiences. My ideas and story are covered in this thread:

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I can’t see that that would produce cognitive dissonance. Where is the contradiction within your belief system? Where is the cognitive dissonance?

The contradiction is the possibility that what I believe is a figment of my imagination created to cope with fear of my own mortality.

That is not a contradiction within your belief system:
One theory is that there is no God and humanity has invented Him in order to relieve the fear of death.
Another theory is that there IS a God who loves us and wishes us to spend eternity with Him.
There is no contradiction. Just two possibilities (of more).
I’m not sure if you are thinking that, just because one theory is desirable, it cannot be true.
The logical approach would be to accept that the desirability of one theory or another, is not a sensible approach by which to judge its veracity.


I think it sometimes helps to relax and
not to be fearful of challenging thoughts. Unfortunately, at times it would seem we are our own worse enemy, especially when our thoughts take us out of our comfort zone. Try not to wrestle or fight against them, these thoughts often have a habit of subsiding after there initial alarm. I know that’s easier said than done , so I will bare you up in prayer.

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Use reason to evaluate the evidence for Jesus’s resurrection (and also the existence of a Creator). The truth (or falsity) of these does not hinge on the natural fear humans have for death.

How much have you studied metaphysics? Jason Pratt’s STTH is excellent. I’d also recommend William Hasker’s The Emergent Self.

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Here are some into videos, to help folks out. :crazy_face:

Really is it so scary to die & then it is over? Remember John Lennon’s song “Imagine” there’s no religion, no heaven or hell? He was trying to persuade us that it’s a comforting thing to imagine no afterlife so we wouldn’t live in fear of hell. To Lennon the fear of hell was more compelling then the promise of heaven.
I was not scared of death before i believed, Jesus & God just added up for me as the only explanation that made sense and that has not changed. Your belief will stick if you perceive it’s true otherwise it won’t.

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And I wish you the same. :crazy_face:

However, if I recall correctly. You introduced the topic of metaphysics. And I shared some into videos, for the benefit of ALL, :wink:

Mike - arguing from purely rational grounds, the evidence of human religions suggests that religions did not develop as a way for human beings to overcome their anxiety about death (by comforting them with an illusion of post mortem survival). Archaic religions all seem to posit that death is unnatural - the result of some malign influence in the cosmos. However, they don’t suggest that there is anything after death; or, if there is, they surmise that the form in which we exist after death is only a shadow of our existence in this life. For this reason the dead envy the living and need to be placated in rituals so that the cannot interfere with us. This view of death and the dead is found in the Vedas of early Hinduism, in the Greek myths etc… And even in Hebrew scriptures the idea of life after death takes time to emerge. The Sadducees in Jesus day did not believe in survival after death - and some ultra Orthodox Jews to this day do not believe in the afterlife.

I think that the idea of death as enemy is a perenninal human intuition. I’m not sure that atheism can be said to deal ith this better than religion. Christian faith can certainly help people to face death fully and live life hopefully I reckon.


I’ve shared on this forum that I’m (or at least was for most of my life) apeirophobic (feared living forever). There are actually quite a few “immortality curmudgeons” (I think this term was coined by John Martin Fischer) in philosophy – people who think immortality would be a bad thing. That is the lesson of the Makropulos Case, that we shouldn’t dread the prospect of our nonexistence but rather be relieved by it.

After some extremely painful (but ultimately cathartic) confronting of my phobia head-on, I’ve concluded (albeit from my position of ignorance) that immortality would be better than annihilation. (I still don’t see how existence could be good forever, but I’m willing to accept the possibility on a leap of faith).


Immortality will not suck:

Your fear of immortality gives an example of why there is, what seems to be, a foreseeably impossible goal that God has for all creation: granting some form of enjoyment of existence [during every moment, for all time] to all of His creatures.

As God’s creation comes closer to perfection over time, “ruts in life” will generally have less depth and duration - since more of God’s creatures will be effective at helping each other enjoy life - and since God gives fulfillment to those who do help each other enjoy life.

Perhaps more in depth, there is always a consideration of the whole of creation - at times present and times future - in determining whether God can fulfill a person for their good works.

But, in total:

There will always be a difficult goal for creation; Creation’s ability to fulfill that goal will have a trend-line increase over time; And thus the fulfillment that God gives for pursuing that goal will have trend-line growth over time as well. Existence will eventually become fulfilling to all people.

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Thanks for all the thoughts you all have shared which I am thinking about.

Eric Reitan’s book, “Is God a Delusion?” may indirectly be helpful on this topic. He contends that pagan religion (full of efforts to assuage the apparent wrath of the deities) was indeed focused on coping more wishfully with the negative, mostly the cruelties of life in this world, yet death could be included as a negative for which to seek reassurance. But Reitan argues that the impulse of mature religion is the opposite: rather than motivated by the need to explain or cope with the negative, it is prompted by a sense that the positive wonder of our life and the creation needs explanation, and that our sense of gratitude implies a Creator as available to receive our thanks.


Depends on what you mean by that. Atheism accepts the unknown. There is no reason to believe in an afterlife, because no one has been there and came back. People have claimed to have done such, and even if true, would still not result in first hand accounts. It still exists as heresay.

I would say atheism deals with it the way it appears. That we die and return to dust. That isn’t to say it is correct, but from the observable sandbox we live in, claiming anything more would have to be a personal revelation which no reasonable person would expect others to believe them solely because of their revelation.

So the way I personally see this topic is that I have not seen God. I don’t see evidence for an afterlife. I do see an emotional need to cope with that reality, however. Thus, I am far more skeptical over people telling me that things are not as they seem. They may have been given a personal revelation. But such a person shouldn’t expect that what was given to them, and not me, should cause me to take them at their word.

If I was given such a revelation, I would not expect someone else to believe on my testimony. I just wouldn’t, even if I felt and was sure that my reveleation was divine and true. They will have to get their own.

But as such, I have had no such revelation, though I have asked for it in times past. I have learned to accept the grave. If it turns out that there is joyous afterlife, great! But I am not banking on it. That causes me to value the here and now, rather than put it off. Rather than tell myself I’ll see my parents in heaven for all of eternity, so I can spend less time with them now is an abuse of such a belief, imo. I spend time with my parents, cherishing them, for I won’t always have them and if I do happen to see them in eternity? Then I’ll have a head start on a strong relationship over everyone who decided to wait for eternity to spend time with their loved ones.


Very well put. And a couple of good,honest points there, that I happen to agree with,

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It is quite a leap of faith to say: I choose to only trust what I can see.
As great a faith, it seems to me, as choosing to trust what we see AND what God wants to show us to shed light on what we see.
Noone can avoid a faith-commitment of some sort.

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Good point Gabe – I haven’t explained what I mean here. I’ll be a bit more thoughtful about it. I simply meant that people who have no beliefs in anything or anyone beyond the physical level of reality are still ‘living in the face of death’. There are non-religious ways of denying this too – like seeking immortality though fame celebrity, or pretending that death through various addictions to triviality. I think that there are toxic and creative ways of dealing with the fear of death for both religious and non-religious people. I don’t think that religion has the monopoly of either denial of or obsession with death.


I don’t think that’s a leap of faith, but many atheists/agnostics do make leaps of faith when it comes to morals. For non-divine command theorists, the leading metaethical theory for moral realists who actually aknowledge that metaethics matters is intuitionism. IOW they just feel that certain things are right and wrong. It’s no more logical than faith in God because creationism (either in general or in a specific religion’s creation story) ‘feels’ true.