I was reading an article by Fr. Robert Barron about the film Gravity. I am not going to give away any of the film (because I haven’t seen it yet either) but a comment in the comboxes caught my eye. I had been thinking of just such a subject not too long ago.
Here is the quote:
It struck me, while reading Barron’s essay, that Christianity and many other forms of religion) and atheism represent different stages of grief according to the Kübler-Ross model. We grieve when considering our own obvious mortality, and thus grieve for ourselves. Christianity’s distinctive form of grief is, in the Kübler-Ross model, a mixture of Stage 1, Denial (“After I am dead I won’t really be dead!”) and Stage 3, Bargaining (“In return for the mere promise that I can live forever, I’ll believe ‘X’ and do ‘Y’!”). Atheism’s form of grief is Stage 5, Acceptance (“When I die, I will be no more, and that’s that!”).
First I am only going to concentrate on what this person says and ignore such objections as whether Christianity, or atheism for that matter, can be reduced to representing different stages of grief.
Obviously the author’s opinion is only the atheist stage is the correct one. But here is the rub. I was an atheist up to just recently, a fully convinced, philosophical, committed atheist, and I can assure you the atheist does do step number 5, but this person does not tell how he does step 5.
The atheist performs step 5 by never letting the step become fully real. Death, for the atheist, is always an abstraction. Now part of this is not his fault and part of the commenter’s flaw in logic is that the grief he talks about is a projection while the model he discusses is for actual loss – his whole point contains the abstracted methodology the atheist employs to arrive at a disinterested Acceptance. The atheist never comes into intimate contact with his own mortality, to do so for any length of time would produce a morbid fixation, neurosis, or a need to join that “other camp”, or to jump into the plasma of blind life.
Words are terribly easy things to say. Nothing is more abstract than that, supposed, distant day. Hell, sometimes nothing is more abstract than the next day. Even the “I” is a merely a word, an conjured letter even, tossed out as another abstraction, a reference to the self. But only a part of the self because we only know ourselves as an integrated totality. It is not merely “I” this consciousness (and what this I is varies according to your flavor of atheism) but I this totality, body, mind, soul, knowledge, experience, feelings.
Whatever a Christian may feel about the end of his life on earth, he should know it is the end of his self and his existence as he knows it. An atheist should, if he is going to claim the stage 5 of Acceptance on the KR model, viscerally accept his annihilation. I would prefer that word but emphasize it a little more – utter annihilation. Because you don’t live on in your kids, nor in the memory of others, nor in a legacy, nor what is left of your body. You were an integration, and every bit of it counted for your existence, you miss a piece, you are annihilated.
The point is the atheist can’t really claim step 5, he hasn’t gone through any of it. I will not assert what the Christian can or cannot claim, I do not know. But I do know the atheist soul, his light treatment of the heaviest things of life is because he keeps his distance.