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Wrestling with thoughts about mortality and religion - any thoughts?

(30 Posts)
WhatsItAllAboutThen Wed 26-Aug-09 09:21:36

(Have namechanged for this, as I want to be very frank.)

So here's the thing. Ever since my children were born I have been turning over the idea of mortality in my head.

I have to admit to being utterly terrified at the prospect of not existing any more - the thought of ceasing to be just fills me with utter dread and fear.

So I've found myself wondering about an afterlife - whether there is one, whether it would be comforting to believe in one? But I can't reconcile an afterlife with my rational, scientific approach to what I believe about the universe.

And yet, when I truly consider the prospect that we are, after all, just a tiny species on a tiny rock in a vast, spinning universe that cares not one jot whether I personally live or die....well, I feel like someone in the Total Perspective Vortex from the HitchHiker's Guide. It actually makes me catch my breath in terror.

So what next? Is religion a viable way of keeping the fears at bay? Or does believing in God in order to be less scared at 3am just sound like convenience, rather than true faith?

Do I take a Kantian approach, and say it is morally necessary to assume the existence of God?

I don't feel that I truly, deep down, believe in a God. Any God. But when I'm in a crisis, I do pray to something! So what's that all about?

How do I deal with the fear? And am I bonkers, or does anyone else feel like this?

MaryBS Wed 26-Aug-09 10:51:38

The thought of just ceasing to be, I don't actually find that frightening. That fear went when I got totally drunk while at uni, and managed to get up, be ill, get back to bed and wake up in the morning without remembering doing it. I decided that for that period of memory loss, it was like ceasing to be.

I am not convinced that religion is a way of keeping fears at bay. As a Christian, I still have fears, periods of doubt, crises, etc because I am human! Ideally I could be serene, float around saying "I am saved, nothing can touch me", but that isn't the case!

Many people only pray when in a crisis. It can be comforting, but confusing too.

It sounds to me you're at a crossroads. Perhaps more research will help you find out where you want to go? If you are truly interested in discovering you have a faith, then you might want to talk to a minister. I have a friend who started going to church when she wanted to find out if she did believe in God or not - and her faith developed. That might not be for you. Some start Alpha courses just to see if that leads to anything - again that might not be for you (never appealed to me, but some people rate it highly)

Being a Christian, or any other theist doesn't give you all the answers. Some questions I just accept I'll never know the answer to. Much is a matter of faith, which has been influenced by life experiences.

Hope this helps

WhatsItAllAboutThen Wed 26-Aug-09 12:58:15

Thanks Mary - it's useful to hear your perspective on things. I think a key aspect of this for me is acceptance: you said you accept you'll never know the answer to some questions.

I think I struggle with the whole 'accepting the things I cannot change'. I'm the sort of person who is used to managing to achieve the things I want to achieve by using my brain or my talents etc, and I definitely have difficulty with things that can't be influenced in this way.

I struggled to come to terms with DS1's birth after it didn't turn out at all the way I'd hoped: I think I came to realise that it was one of those things where you can't achieve a good outcome by revising, working hard etc etc - some of it is down to luck/fate/biology, iyswim?

And death is another of those things - it comes to us all and I struggle to accept that it's one of the things you just can't change. I'm not good with inevitability. smile And a huge part of me is going 'Noooooooooooooo, not yet!' I feel life is slipping past me so fast and I'm terrified of running out of it before I've got anywhere.

As for ceasing to be - my head just can't seem to cope with the concept of me not existing on some level or other. I felt it strongly after DS1's birth, and now after DS2's birth - I wonder if it's linked to the strong emotions linked to having a baby? The feeling of being needed so much by this tiny creature, but also the knowledge that they will more than likely remain alive once we have gone?

AMumInScotland Wed 26-Aug-09 13:15:17

I think having a child makes us all think about life and death and all the big questions. I do have faith, but like MaryBS I don't think it guarantees you a worry-free life - you just get a slightly different perspective on some of the things we all worry about!

If you don't actually believe there is a God, then I don't think you can "decide" you're going to believe in one - though you can look into what other people believe and why, and consider whether you agree with some or all of it.

But I think it's better to focus on living your life in the here-and-now - you will live on in the genes you've passed on to your DS, and in the values you bring him up in, and in the effect you have on the world around you. Whether or not there will be something else afterwards is a tricky question - but even if there is, it doesn't absolve any of us from living our lives the best we can while we're here.

inkyfingers Wed 26-Aug-09 19:08:52

I agree with MaryBS. Try out a church/talk to someone who is Christian but on your wavelength. God never promises us half the stuff we all want and doesn't promise worry-free life, but I believe freedom from fear of death is promised - 'neither death nor illness, nor persecution ...' quoting from memory here! 'can separate us from love of God'.

WhatsItAllAboutThen Wed 26-Aug-09 21:39:03

Sorry for not being back, had incredibly busy day. Thank you for all your thoughts and advice - you make a lot of sense.

AMuminScotland - I agree, I think a lot of this angst stems from the feeling that life is passing me by and that I need to make something of it soon. Part of that is probably exacerbated by being on maternity leave watching my second son grow and develop so fast, while I seem to be stalled in one spot, if that makes sense? But I need to work out what I want to achieve and what would make me feel like I'm not wasting my life away.

inkyfingers I like that quote - I was brought up a Catholic and although I am definitely not in agreement with the Catholic church, I do find a lot of Christianity appealing. Particularly some of the very beautiful writings and teachings.

Not sure the Alpha Course is for me, but I have considered going to talk to someone - a vicar or something. Does RevJustAbout still run her Reluctant Worshippers thread?

I think I've always agreed with Voltaire that if God did not exist, it would be necessary to invent him. I think maybe what I'm feeling is exactly why it would be necessary to invent him - this feeling of void in the soul that needs to be filled somehow.

I'm rambling - am going to go to bed. smile

lazyemma Wed 26-Aug-09 21:44:21

"And yet, when I truly consider the prospect that we are, after all, just a tiny species on a tiny rock in a vast, spinning universe that cares not one jot whether I personally live or die....well, I feel like someone in the Total Perspective Vortex from the HitchHiker's Guide. It actually makes me catch my breath in terror."

Yup - been there! When I first read that bit of HitchHikers I was so relieved - at last I could tell someone else had experienced what I do, and had a way of telling other people what it feels like. I've since learned though that lots of people feel like you - it's just not often talked about, partly because on the face of it, it seems a kind of a solipsistic fear right? Everyone dies, after all. And also partly because we're just not comfortable talking about death full stop these days.

I'm a kind of pessimistic agnostic, and I've had times since early childhood when I've been overly preoccupied with death and other related mind-bogglers like the concept of eternity, the vastness of the universe, etc. I've always found the most reliable way of cheering myself up is to focus on the comforting mundanities of day to day life. Also mindfulness might be worth looking into - I've got this wonderful book by this Zen buddhist monk called Thich Nhat Hanh - "Peace Is In Every Step" - which, when I remember to read it, has helped me anchor myself in the present moment and stops my mind fretting pointlessly about things I can't understand or control. Hope you find your own way of coping -

PortBlacksandResident Wed 26-Aug-09 21:54:19

Whenever i get this 3am terror i think of this quote:

"You are a little soul carrying around a corpse." Epictetus

Which imo is a fabulous and upside down way of looking at life smile.

MaryBS Thu 27-Aug-09 06:03:22

Justabout is 'resting' the reluctant worshippers thread, but I was one of the contributors (and have just finished my training as a Lay Reader, which is similar to a deacon, but not ordained). You can email me if you like?
"suttonmb" at
"talktalk" dot "net"

I too have had that sense of life passing me by, in fact, its only now you say that, I'm thinking, when and how did I stop feeling like that??? I guess its to do with feeling like I'm part of something, that I'm more comfortable where I am, doing what I'm doing (although unemployed ), being WHO I am, if that makes sense.

The other thing of course, is that having a child/children is life changing, and seeing that new life makes you wonder where your own has gone? Can I ask how old you are?

Incidently I'm another former Catholic, so we have that in common

WhatsItAllAboutThen Fri 28-Aug-09 14:42:18

Hello! Sorry for not responding to all your lovely messages, we were out last night (I know, out in the evening, with a babysitter and everything!) and both boys are being particularly demanding at the moment. I did read them all but just haven't had time to respond - am grabbing a moment now while DS1 plays with his new lacing cards and DS2 is quiet for 5 minutes, which is rare.....

PortBlacksandResident - what a fantastic quote! That made me laugh a lot.

lazyemma - thank goodness I'm not the only one who experiences the Total Perspective Vortex moment! I might seek out that book you mentioned and see if it helps, but I do agree that immersing myself in mundanity helps. Am going to make a cake today, can't get much more mundane than that. I do worry though that by burying my head in day to day things, that I'll find suddenly that I'm at the end of my life without really paying much attention,iyswim. I feel like I've been skimming over the surface of life, not really taking it in or absorbing it properly.

This has been made worse by the sudden realisation that I can't remember a lot of things or events very well that were very significant to me at the time - my memory seems to be a lot worse than it was, or maybe I've just got a lot of life to remember now, and it feels like it's all slipping away from me, and that I didn't pay enough attention at the time and that's why I can't remember it now, iyswim. A bit frightening to realise how much of DS1's babyhood I can't remember, for example sad

MaryBS that's very kind of you offer to chat off the board. For now I think I'd rather stick to this thread for a bit, but I might take you up on the offer later on, if that's ok?

In response to your question, I'm 35 - classic mid life crisis moment I guess.....grin

I do comfort myself with the thought that most major events, like childbirth for example, seem completely unlikely and frightening and daunting before you actually do them, but you find that when you're ready for them, they just sort of happen, iyswim? So maybe, assuming I live out my natural life span, when the time comes I'll feel ready for the end? I know I've heard elderly people say they've had enough now, I guess it might be like a really good party - if someone tells you you have to leave half way through, you really don't want to, and you can't imagine ever wanting to leave, but when it's 5am and you're tired and everyone's going to bed, then you feel quite happy to leave. Does that make sense?

Rambling again now.....

MaryBS Fri 28-Aug-09 17:40:06

Yeah, sure any time! I think I was 35 when I started asking the same questions. Soon after that I started going to church, and now look at me! hmm

And it makes total sense about the party, I think I probably feel the same way! Although sometimes I feel like leaving early and going to bed wink, but that's usually when the kids have run me ragged!

DutchOma Fri 28-Aug-09 17:57:18

I hope you will forgive me if you think I am being too simplistic but I've just got to say it:- from what you have told me, you have a God shaped hole in your life and nothing else can fill it. It you want to find God you will find Him, that's the promise.
And, no, it won't answer all the questions...

WhatsItAllAboutThen Sat 29-Aug-09 21:01:23

Hi DutchOma - we met before on another thread but I was wearing a different name at the time - we discussed Dutch

You may well be right, but I have problems reconciling my rational, scientific, Dawkins type outlook with the existence of a God. I do feel that a belief in God, on the whole, makes people live their lives in a more fulfilling and considerate way (with some notable exceptions) but I'm not sure that's enough reason, for me, to embrace all the teachings of a church, if you see what I mean.

I do find the concept of mindfulness resonates with me, the idea of being in the moment and being mindful of the moment - I wonder does it matter if one is mindful for one's own sake or for a God's?

And yet I look at the wonderful women who run my toddler group, who come from the local church, and I feel drawn to be part of the thing they are part of - or something similar.


DutchOma Sat 29-Aug-09 21:56:32

Not a clue what your previous name was, nor that I ever discussed 'drop'. Ah well, Omas are allowed to be forgetful.

I don't quite know how to respond to your last post, apart from to say that the Christian life is a completely different thing to a 'worldly' life. It isn't about being more meaningful, about being more considerate, it is all of those things, but it is a totally new and different sort of life. If you haven't been grabbed by that (yet), there is nothing I or anybody else can say that will make it so.

Even God will give you the time and the space to work things out for yourself, so anybody who professes to be 'on the way' with Him will do the same.

Only when you actively want to find God, for His own sake, not for what you can get out of it, will you get anywhere.

And then your problems will really begin.

God promises to make you into a 'new creation'. Caterpillar to butterfly. That can be a very uncomfortable and painful process. Worth it though.

WhatsItAllAboutThen Sat 29-Aug-09 23:13:56

Sorry DutchOma, wasn't expecting you to recognise me, I just meant it was nice to see a familiar face. We only chatted once, but it was pleasant. smile

I think what I'm trying to say is that I'm not sure where to go from here - how does one start finding out if it is God we're looking for, or something else? And I'm not sure what you mean about 'not what you can get out of it'?

kateGB Sat 29-Aug-09 23:42:37

I don't know how you 'find' God if you didn't beleive he existed to start of with. I've heard a lot of people talk about how the came to God but they went to church and said their prayers as Children but then "came to God" after some amazing revelation. I've never heared a real story about how a total non-beleiver suddenly beleived in God, I would be interested to hear.

I am a Christian, I was raised and always beleived but didn't become a churchgoer and try tolive my life with God until I had children and then it was because I wanted my children to have another support network outside their small family.

What I have found is greater thought in my actions towards others. The three a.m. terrors of "what if I die" still exist but I know that God's plan is Gods plan and that with Him my family will survive as I will too with Him.

It's also made me more contented, if that's the right word. My dreams and hopes as a young person far exceeded the reality but my life has been given to me by God and He will help me if I ask. I believe God's plan for me to be a Mum and to be blessed with a roof over my head (althogh leakygrin), a DH who is is my partner and 2 DD's far exceeds my own plan held when younger.

I recently ready 'A letter from your Father' which is written like a letter from God. It is hugely moving.

Not sure what it reads like if you dont beleive in Him though!

Good luck with your search. The Alpha course from what I've read asks some big questions but it's basic question is that Jesus existed, historical fact, so was he mad, bad or telling the truth? If he was mad whhy did he make such sense? If he was bad why did his 'stories' tell of a better moral way of leading your life?

DutchOma Sun 30-Aug-09 10:32:43

Maybe, if you are serious about wanting to find God, you could start by reading the Bible? St Mark's gospel? You could try finding a quiet spot and say:"Well God, if you are there, I would really like to find out" and see what happens?

I think that what I mean by 'not for what you can out of it' is that we cannot come to God with our agenda and expect Him to fall in with that.

It is difficult to explain how I know that God exists, I have no doubt that He does, but how? But most people I know who are Christians will tell you the same thing.

And I must make a caveat here: I can only speak of God from experience as a Christian. I have no idea what other world religions think of as
god(s) and if your interest is in any of the other world religions I have no experience whatsoever.

lazyemma Sun 30-Aug-09 14:19:08

Hello! - just to clarify, I wasn't suggesting that immersing yourself in mundanity is any sort of Life Plan - more that, when I'm really frightened about things, I try to focus on predictable day-to-day stuff.

As for mindfulness, I would say it's about really experiencing things fully at the time they're happening, rather than living in the past (or worrying about the future). It's about paying attention, in other words, which sounds like it might be helpful to you.

I have that worry about memory too, and as a result have been trying to keep a diary for about the last three years - I find even the act of writing things down stamps them more firmly in my memory and reading pages back even a few months later brings all the details to life again.

Mouette Mon 31-Aug-09 19:31:48

I am a Christian but it doesn't stop me being afraid of dying. Except now I'm more afraid of DS dying. I would recommend reading Karen Armstrong's book "The case for God". It's very interesting. It's always worth reading the Gospels, I think everybody should read them at least once anyway.
I don't think trust in God takes away the fear of death (note I say trust, not belief). But if you try to live your life the way Jesus taught us (in as good a way as possible, it's not exclusive to Christianity), then you will be focused on others not on yourself. And that is the best way to deal with our mortality I think. xx

Notquitegrownup Tue 01-Sep-09 10:30:03

"I have problems reconciling my rational, scientific, Dawkins type outlook with the existence of a God."

Hi Whatsit. Just found your thread and your sentence above resonated with me. I am a Christian, married to a sensible scientific Dawkins type atheist, and know all about the problems of reconsiling those views - well, I haven't entirely reconsiled them, but I know that they can co-exist. I do believe in the logic of evolution and selfish genes. But I also know that when I pray, read the Bible (and take it seriously) that I behave differently and do things which shouldn't logically work out, but do. I believe that God is real and that He wants a relationship with us. Jesus described him as our Father, and I believe that if you want to find out about him, you can ask him, and he will help to nudge you towards the right answers. After the Bible, MN can be a great help in trying ideas out and talking to people about it.


(Hoping that reluctant worshippers manages to get back soon, too!)

slug Tue 01-Sep-09 11:16:53

"I have to admit to being utterly terrified at the prospect of not existing any more "

But you will continue to exist, in a form after your death. Your children are made up of you. Their personalities and memories have been shaped by your existence. I take great comfort from the idea that I will continue to live on in DD's genes, her memories and in in the memories and lives of all those I've interacted with.

Mouette Tue 01-Sep-09 14:56:32

I agree with notquitegrownup - if you ask God to help you, he will guide you. I firmly believe that He helped me after my father's death and after I lost my first baby last year (late mc). Some things don't look believable but they're real.

Snorbs Tue 01-Sep-09 21:32:25

Maybe one approach for you is to try to not necessarily think of a belief in a Christian God as being the only non-secular answer but instead to look at some other religions and/or spiritual beliefs as well and find one that fits for you. Buddhism, for instance, may work better for you as it has no gods as such and is more philosophy than religion and hence has less friction with a scientific view of the universe. You might also want to look into the Tao as well.

choosyfloosy Tue 01-Sep-09 21:43:17

An afterlife is to me much scarier than peaceful oblivion... though i wonder if this is because i've never lost anyone close unexpectedly. At the moment I'm not able to reconcile the idea of an afterlife with any sense of reality; it just seems a ridiculous idea. But I've felt differently at other times in my life.

I do think prayer, particularly silent prayer, can have an effect on the pray-er and is well worth doing.

WhatsItAllAboutThen Tue 01-Sep-09 22:30:35

Hello! Sorry for long delay in posting - DS2 is teething so there isn't much downtime in this household right now.

Thank you all for your posts, they are much appreciated - I have been reading them, just no time/hands to type.

I think I need to somehow find some time for quiet contemplation, although how on earth I'll find that I don't know! It's very reassuring to hear from all of you who have a faith, even if I'm not sure that sort of faith is for me.

slug - I do feel better about my living on in my children, but a hugely selfish part of me just wants to be there as well. Guess I'm quite self centred.....grin

oh poo DS2 is awake again - have to go

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