Essay:Fear of Death
In an article appearing on the God and Science.org website, the claim is made that the fact that humans fear death is proof of the existence of God and the supernatural, in the Christian sense. However, the author's claim is poorly supported and contradicted by evidence.
Self-Preservation in Animals
In the description of the article here, it states "If we are just animals and there is no afterlife, why should you fear death?... unless Christianity is true and judgment awaits." The suggestion then is that animals do not fear death, which is contradicted by the existence of the near-universal self-preservation instinct. It is certainly a common feature among all mammals, a group to which humans belong, to avoid and even fear any injury, and in particular any threat to life. On these grounds alone, there is no need to assume God's judgement as the primary reason for fearing death.
Assuming, as the article's author does, that the primary reason humans fear death is a fear of God's judgement, then it would be impossible for a non-Christian to overcome, particularly when combined with the instinct for bodily self-preservation. And yet, the self-immolation of Buddhists and others in an act of protest would contradict this assumption. If these individuals were truly in fear of God's judgement, which would certainly be against them as non-Christians, then it would not be possible to quietly accept death, and certainly not at their own hands. Other, less dramatic, examples may be found in the cases of atheists and other non-Christians who enter death with acceptance, and yet do not recant their ideas before the end.
By way of Biblical evidence, the article's author provides a total of three quotes, one in the body of the article and two in a footnote.
- He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the hearts of men; yet they cannot fathom what God has done from beginning to end (Ecclesiastes 3:11, italics added).
- And the heavens proclaim His righteousness, for God Himself is judge. Selah (Psalms 50:6)
- The heavens proclaim His righteousness, and all the peoples see His glory. (Psalms 97:6)
It is significant to note that none of these quotes have any direct connection to the point of the article, that the fear of death is solely motivated by fear of the Christian God's judgement and, presumably, an eternity in hell. Instead, the author merely contents himself with asserting that God is righteous, omniscient, incomprehensible and holds the position of judge. All of this totally fails to argue the author's point, that this judgement is something to be feared, nor that there is any particular consequence of this judgement, nor what criterea it is based on.
The nearest the author's provided quotes come to supporting his argument is the assertion that God "set eternity in the hearts of men", thus apparently setting them aside from animals. However, there is no evidence that animals do not see things as eternal, and indeed it is possible that humans are unique in seeing the world around them as finite. In this, the author basically demonstrates a total lack of support for his arguments.
Furthermore, even the Bible itself would seem to contradict the conclusion of the article, considering the number of passages that focus on God's mercy and comfort - most famously Psalms 23:4-6
- Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me [...] Surely goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever.
...but also Psalms 100:5:
- For the LORD is good and his love endures forever; his faithfulness continues through all generations.
- O Israel, put your hope in the LORD, for with the LORD is unfailing love and with him is full redemption. He himself will redeem Israel from all their sins.
The same these is found often in the New Testament, such as Eph. 2:4:
- But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, 5made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved.
...and Jas. 2:13:
- For judgment is without mercy to one who has shown no mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgment.
From the evidence at hand, it is clear that while fear of God's judgement may indeed be a valid fear for some believers in Christianity who have trouble following, or perhaps understanding the religion's tenets, this is far from a universal, and far from any standard of proof. It may be safely said that the fear of death in humans is not unique, nor does it provide any sort of evidence for the existence of the Christian God.